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Purvishill Tower, cultivation terraces, enclosure and tower

A Scheduled Monument in Tweeddale East, Scottish Borders

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Latitude: 55.6262 / 55°37'34"N

Longitude: -3.0268 / 3°1'36"W

OS Eastings: 335439

OS Northings: 637432

OS Grid: NT354374

Mapcode National: GBR 739D.H0

Mapcode Global: WH7WC.GVW8

Entry Name: Purvishill Tower, cultivation terraces, enclosure and tower

Scheduled Date: 12 March 1964

Last Amended: 27 October 2009

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2391

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: tower

Location: Innerleithen

County: Scottish Borders

Electoral Ward: Tweeddale East

Traditional County: Peeblesshire


The monument comprises an extensive system of cultivation terraces, the site of a tower and an adjacent enclosure. The cultivation terraces and enclosure survive as upstanding earthworks; the position of the tower is probably indicated by a raised platform and by displaced fragments of masonry but buried remains of this structure are also likely to exist. The monument is located on the N side of the Tweed Valley, on predominantly sloping S-facing ground north of the A72 road and north-west of Caberston Avenue, Walkerburn. It lies between 150m and 210m above sea level on land mainly used as pasture. The monument was first scheduled in 1964 but the documentation does not meet modern standards and an inadequate area was included to protect the nationally important remains: the present scheduling rectifies this.

The platform where the tower probably stood measures approximately 10m square by 0.4m high. At least two fragments of fallen masonry have been built into an adjacent field dyke and these include part of the corner of a stone structure, probably the tower. The enclosure lies about 50m to the east; it survives as a low curving bank defining an area measuring about 65m E-W by 40m transversely. The NE quadrant of the feature does not apparently survive. An area of narrow rig lies about 10m south of the enclosure, and three terraces lie further down slope to the south. The largest and best preserved cultivation terraces lie at least 70m south-west of Purvishill Tower, and cover an area of up to 200m E-W by 140m transversely. The terraces range from 10m to 30m wide and survive to a height of up to 3m.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan and includes the remains described and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduled area extends up to but specifically excludes all walls, fences, gates and stiles lying on the boundary of the scheduled area as shown in red on the accompanying map. Also specifically excluded from the scheduling to allow for their maintenance are the above-ground elements of a stone wall with gate running E-W across the NE part of the scheduled area, the top 300mm of an unmetalled track running E-W close to the S boundary of the area, a metal water trough in the NW corner of the area and the above-ground elements of a small stock enclosure of posts and boards towards the NW corner of the area.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The cultivation terraces are the best preserved part of the monument and survive as earthworks in excellent condition. Buried remains have the potential to provide additional information, such as the depth of topsoil on the terraces and whether they were created by cutting into the natural geology, building out from it or a combination of the two. At present, there are contradictory indications of how they were built. Inspection of a quarry face has suggested that one terrace was cut into solid rock, whereas inspection of a drain dug in 1919 suggested that some terraces were constructed with large stones at the front, perhaps forming some sort of revetment. Artefacts and ecofacts with the potential to reveal the date of the terraces and types of agriculture/horticulture practised in the vicinity may survive in topsoil on the terraces or in deposits sealed during the construction phase.

The main interest in the tower and enclosure rests in the fact they were an integral part of the same landscape as the terraces, a landscape which suggests a long development sequence. The NE corner of the site represents a potentially long-lived settlement focus. The enclosure indicates a possible late prehistoric origin for settlement here and while this may be a much later feature, buried remains have the potential to clarify its function and origin. The tower is considered to derive from the late Middle Ages or post-medieval periods and to represent a high-status dwelling. Its occupants may have been responsible for laying out the terraces. A farm steading and farmhouse succeeded the tower. Buried archaeological remains may preserve evidence which could allow the different archaeological elements to be dated and related to one another. Given their unusual scale, character and location, the terraces may have been intended to provide level ground for gardens or orchards, although a more utilitarian agricultural function is also possible.

Contextual characteristics

The tower, enclosure, and terraces represent part of the wider Tweed valley landscape, in which later prehistoric enclosures and medieval or post-medieval towers are well represented, but where cultivation terraces are rare. The terraces have often been compared with other groups at Romanno, Venlaw, and Neidpath Castle (Peebleshire), as well as with examples in Holyrood Park and in North Northumberland. The most comprehensive review (by Graham) has identified 136 groups of cultivation terraces in Scotland, with two clusters in SE Roxburghshire and in the upper Tweed and Clyde valleys, but with only very occasional examples lower down the Tweed in the vicinity of Walkerburn. However, the author noted that the distribution must be used cautiously because the study area was focussed on SE Scotland and many unrecorded sites may have been lost in the past. Cultivation terraces are difficult to classify on the basis of their dimensions, as these are a product of slope and location, and may vary within any one group. Nevertheless, Graham did identify a group of 'step-like terraces' which included Purvishill and Romanno, as well as others as far afield as Fife. Compared with other examples, the Purvishill terraces appear to have particularly wide treads, partly reflecting the use of a slope that was not particularly steep.

Cultivation terraces vary in form and dimensions, as well as in aspect and height above sea-level, and it is probable that they were created by more than one type of activity. It has been noted that many groups of cultivation terraces show an apparent association with either later prehistoric forts/enclosures or with towers or castles. The latter might suggest that some were built for ornamental purposes as terrace gardens or orchards. However, Graham questioned the apparent association with nearby landscape features, pointing to the lack of clear evidence for a specific relationship. This lack of stratigraphic evidence also hampers the dating of cultivation terraces, but it seems probable that many were created between the late Iron Age and the late Middle Ages/post-medieval period. While some terrace systems are succeeded by rig-and-furrow features, others appear contemporary with rig. If a variety of landscape and literary evidence is considered, it seems likely that many groups of cultivation terraces derive from the later Middle Ages and were out of use by around AD 1700. For example, in 1726, Gordon could not find any local tradition to explain the use of the Romanno cultivation terraces; their function appears already to have been forgotten.

The spatial association of the Purvishill cultivation terraces with an earthwork enclosure and the site of a tower means that it would be highly valuable to compare this site, and its associated buried remains, with cultivation terraces elsewhere in the Scottish Borders and beyond.

Associative characteristics

An account published in 1855 describes the steading as 'now deserted', noting that it was accessed via a road ascending one of the terraces. The Ordnance Survey six inch map surveyed in 1856 indicates the 'Site of Purvishill Tower' and depicts a single roofed building marked 'Purvishill' about 10m to the south. The cultivation terraces are shown and labelled 'Ancient Terraces'. Two whinstone quarries, already relatively large by 1856, are shown cutting two terraces at their E end. This, together with the fact that the derelict steading was accessed via one of the terraces, reinforces the antiquity of these features.

The terraces are a notable feature of the modern landscape and give it a distinctive character.

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 to the study of cultivation remains and medieval or post-medieval towers. The cultivation terraces survive to a marked degree and they are of enhanced value because of their spatial association with a possible contemporary settlement focus. Within the scheduled area, there is no evidence for significant disturbance to the terraces or below ground components of the tower. This indicates a high potential for survival of buried material such as artefacts and ecofacts either sealed when the terraces or tower were built, or relating to their use and abandonment. Cultivation terraces on this scale, and particularly of this width, are rare in the Scottish Borders and in Scotland as a whole. The monument can help us understand the how cultivation terraces may relate to nearby enclosures and towers. Its loss would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand medieval or post-medieval pre-Improvement agriculture and settlement in the Scottish Borders.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as NT33NE 2, NT33NE 10, and NT33NE 14.


Chambers R 1855, 'On ancient terraces of cultivation, commonly called Daisses', PROC SOC ANTIQ SCOT 1 Part 2, 128-33.

Eckford R 1928, 'On certain terrace formations in the south of Scotland and on the English side of the Border', PROC SOC ANTIQ SCOT 62, 107-20.

Graham A 1939, 'Cultivation terraces in south-eastern Scotland', PROC SOC ANTIQ SCOT 73, 289-315.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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