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Hill of Barra, fort

A Scheduled Monument in Mid Formartine, Aberdeenshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 57.3214 / 57°19'16"N

Longitude: -2.3298 / 2°19'47"W

OS Eastings: 380233

OS Northings: 825694

OS Grid: NJ802256

Mapcode National: GBR N9LC.RC3

Mapcode Global: WH8NQ.57TP

Entry Name: Hill of Barra, fort

Scheduled Date: 28 October 1977

Last Amended: 5 March 2009

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3997

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: fort (includes hill and promontory fort)

Location: Bourtie

County: Aberdeenshire

Electoral Ward: Mid Formartine

Traditional County: Aberdeenshire

Description

The monument comprises the remains of a multi-vallate hillfort on the summit of the Hill of Barra, to the north of the River Don near its confluence with the River Urie. The monument is of likely Iron-Age date and shows evidence of multiple phases of construction and use. Both the interior and the surrounding hillside outside the fort are covered in later rig-and-furrow cultivation. Within the fort is Wallace's Putting Stone, a large glacial erratic with a mythical association with William Wallace. The monument was first scheduled in 1977 but an inadequate area was included to protect all of the archaeological remains; the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The monument comprises the well-preserved remains of an Iron-Age hillfort. Both the ramparts and ditches are clearly visible round the circuit, with a total of three circuits from two phases of construction. The outer two circuits represent the earlier phase, enclosing an area of around 165m E-W by around 130m transversely. These consist of two ramparts with external quarry ditches; on the north-west there is slight evidence for additional lines outside of this, although whether these were further complete circuits is uncertain. The defences survive best in the NE arc of the circuit, and are poorest in the west, where they have been denuded heavily and, in the case of the inner of the two earlier ramparts, removed entirely on the surface in places. Four entrances appear to have been present in this earlier sequence, one each in the north, east, south and west of the circuit. Of these, the E example is the best preserved, with the ramparts visibly returning around the ditch terminals; the N return of this entrance is revetted with boulders, a feature also visible on the N and S examples. The S entrance has been blocked by the later sequence of construction in the fort, and the W example has been blocked by a later stone wall seen on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey (OS) mapping.

The third, innermost circuit is of the later construction phase, comprising a rampart and external ditch and with some evidence for a counterscarp to the east. This encloses a smaller area of around 120m E-W by around 95m transversely. This later rampart shows evidence of having been stone-faced, although the stones visible now appear to belong to the wall shown on the early OS map. In the inner rampart are two distinct entrances, one in the west and one in the east. Of these, the E example is the better preserved, with a distinct causeway crossing the ditch and large boulders flanking the break in the rampart. The W entrance is less well preserved, with the rampart being more poorly preserved and the later wall having blocked the entranceway. The causeway on the W side is still visible though, allowing the entrance to be identified easily.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described and an area around them within which related material may be expected to be found, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of all fences and stiles, to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument is an excellent example of a multi-vallate fort, likely dating to the Iron Age. It retains its physical characteristics to a high degree, with almost the complete circuits of all three ramparts visible on the ground. The clear evidence at this site for multi-phase construction and occupation presents the opportunity to understand its two separate phases, the transition period between them and the reasons for this. The number of artefacts of various periods uncovered in and around the fort show that the potential for the survival of buried remains is very high. These include a variety of ceramic remains, dating mainly to the Iron Age, but there are also neolithic sherds, and a single sherd tentatively dated to the Bronze Age. A number of carved stones artefacts including a macehead, a bronze axe-head, several stone axes and numerous flint arrowheads balls have also been located in the area. It is clear from the finds that the site of the fort and the surrounding hill were in use long before the construction of the first phase of the fort, and that remains of these earlier uses have survived to some extent. The artefactual evidence is also important as very few forts in the area have been systematically excavated. Such buried deposits have the potential to inform our understanding of the construction, use and abandonment of this site and of similar sites of this class and period, and its relationship to the earlier remains found here.

Contextual characteristics

This monument belongs to a class found across the country, with the majority situated on the E coast, particularly in SE Scotland. This particular example bears a strong similarity to other examples of the type, including the nearby example at Barmekin of Echt, intervisible with the Hill of Barra site. Few examples of forts survive in the Strathdon area in any upstanding form, however, making the quality of survival of this example particularly noteworthy. It also dominates the landscape surrounding it, with extremely strong views in all directions, except the S-SE arc, where the view is slightly shorter. The fort's commanding location suggests that visibility and landscape control were important factors in its construction, as well as the obvious defensive value. The site therefore has the potential to enhance our understanding of the landscape position of such sites, the relationship with other contemporary sites and the reasons for these. As noted above, the fort is within direct view of the similar fort on Barmekin of Echt, as well as the rest of the Bennachie range. Bennachie itself is a crucial point in the landscape of the area in the later prehistoric and early medieval periods, evidenced by the wealth of remains found across the range, and especially on the Mither Tap.

Associative characteristics

The presence within of Wallace's Putting Stone, and the legends associated with it, shows that the site has continued to be known and valued in local consciousness.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular Iron-Age hillforts in the Strathdon region. This particular example is clearly a multi-phase site, allowing the opportunity to examine the relationship between the phases of the monument as well the phases themselves. The excellent survival of the monument above ground enhances the potential for valuable information to survive beneath the ground. Buried deposits from such sites have the potential to tell us about wider society at the time, how people lived, where they came from and who they had contact with. Its relationship with other similar sites nearby can tell us more about the socio-economic situation in the Strathdon region at the time of its construction, use and eventual abandonment. Its loss would impede our ability to understand the use of such monuments, their placing within the contemporary landscape both in Strathdon and across Scotland, and the building practices, social structure and economy of the time.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS record the monument as NJ82NW 4, Barra Hill and Aberdeenshire SMR as NJ82NW0003, Barra Hillfort.

References:

RCAHMS 2007, IN THE SHADOW OF BENNACHIE: THE FIELD ARCHAEOLOGY OF DONSIDE, ABERDEENSHIRE, Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Feachem R W 1963, A GUIDE TO PREHISTORIC SCOTLAND, 1st Edition, London: Batsford.

Shepherd I A G 1986, EXPLORING SCOTLAND'S HERITAGE: GRAMPIAN, Edinburgh: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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