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Boyken Burn, township 695m west of Westerhall

A Scheduled Monument in Annandale East and Eskdale, Dumfries and Galloway

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Latitude: 55.1923 / 55°11'32"N

Longitude: -3.0815 / 3°4'53"W

OS Eastings: 331245

OS Northings: 589204

OS Grid: NY312892

Mapcode National: GBR 68XD.NH

Mapcode Global: WH6XB.MRTC

Entry Name: Boyken Burn, township 695m W of Westerhall

Scheduled Date: 4 June 1986

Last Amended: 16 March 2010

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM4385

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: settlement, including deserted, depopulated and townships

Location: Westerkirk

County: Dumfries and Galloway

Electoral Ward: Annandale East and Eskdale

Traditional County: Dumfriesshire


The monument comprises the remains of a pre-Improvement township that was occupied from at least 1376 until the later 18th century. About 30 platforms, some with low wall foundations on top, represent the positions of the buildings. The platforms form four distinct settlement clusters that lie along the line of a dyke that climbs diagonally up a steep E-facing slope at the mouth of the valley of the Boyken Burn. Below the dyke to the south-east are the remains of ridged fields, representing part of the township's arable land. On the steep slopes above the dyke are several superimposed fields bounded by turf banks, some containing cultivation ridges. The site is located in rough pasture between 120m and 260m above sea level, overlooking the junction of the Boyken Burn with the River Esk.

The township remains straddle an area measuring 500m NE-SW by 80m transversely. The highest cluster of buildings lies at the south-west end of this area at about 200m above sea level. The two longest buildings are set out parallel to the contours, which is relatively unusual for platform buildings. They measure 25m and 32m in length. A small enclosure with spade-dug cultivation ridges and a pond lies just down slope from the cluster; a second enclosure lies immediately to the south-west and the remains of a kiln lie to the north. The second cluster of buildings, about 150m to the north-east, comprises four smaller, more tightly grouped structures laid out up and down the slope, the largest examples being 11m and 12m long. There is a single associated enclosure with spade-dug cultivation ridges. A smaller group of structures stands 80m to the north-east and the final, larger cluster lies a further 80m north-east. The latter comprises buildings joined to a series of interconnecting terraced yards that step down the slope. The largest of the buildings is nearly 20m long and three of the platforms show clear traces of stone wall footings. The cultivation ridges downslope of the buildings extend for about 80m as far as the upper limit of the 18th-century improved fields that have removed all traces of earlier cultivation in the valley bottom. The turf-banked 'outfields' above the settlement can be traced for about 500m as far as the top of the slope. Further north-west, recent forestry planting has masked evidence for earlier land-use.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan to include 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 the dykes that bound most of the area. The scheduled area also specifically excludes the above-ground elements of the electric fences sited inside the dykes to allow for their maintenance. The monument was first scheduled in 1986; the present rescheduling improves the definition of the scheduled area and its associated documentation.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument contains a wide range of settlement and agricultural remains, many of which survive as upstanding features in good condition. The remains include around 30 individual platform-buildings including several with upstanding wall footings, small yards and garden enclosures, a kiln, a hollow way, a probable head dyke, areas of cultivation ridges and several turf-banked outfields. The remains reveal the layout of the township and show the relationship between settlement areas and different types of field. The platform-buildings are particularly well preserved and several show the uphill extensions that are a particular characteristic of this type of structure. Most are aligned up and down the slope, terraced into the hill at one end and built out at the other as is typical of this building type, but rarer examples laid out along the contours also exist.

Although the monument is visible as a concentration of prominent upstanding features, significant and extensive buried archaeological remains will also exist. These remains can help us to understand more about both the structures and contemporary agricultural activities conducted in the vicinity. Examination of post-holes, padstones and wall foundations has the potential to provide detailed information about platform-buildings and can help us to understand more about their design, construction, phasing and function. The probable presence of house remains from different phases may inform issues such as the duration of house occupation and the nature of abandonment processes. Negative features such as post-holes and pits may also contain archaeologically significant deposits, including artefacts and ecofacts. These materials could help us build up a picture of the activities that took place on the site and contribute to an understanding of domestic architecture, society, ritual, economy, agriculture and the environment and land cover at the time of occupation. Potential exists for the survival of buried land surfaces beneath the platforms and field banks. These could preserve information about the environment before the site was constructed, adding to the time-depth represented by the remains. Documentary sources indicate a long development sequence and this is evident also in the earthwork enclosures that exist above the buildings. Thirty test pits excavated during the 1990s confirmed that the field systems derive from successive reorganisations over a prolonged period. Further archaeological excavation has the potential to clarify the occupation sequence and identify instances where medieval and later farmers have reused or adapted structures for secondary functions. Particular potential exists to examine whether occupation of different parts of the site was continuous or characterised by abandonment and re-use; this will help to inform knowledge of changing patterns of settlement distribution in the Middle Ages and the post-medieval period.

Contextual characteristics

This site represents one of only two pre-Improvement townships known to survive in the east of the former county of Dumfriesshire. Although many such townships once existed, agricultural improvements instigated in the mid-18th century have obscured or destroyed almost all of these. Researchers believe that this monument owes its rare survival to the fact that, though it lay on one of the principal farms of Eskdale, an improved steading was never constructed. Elsewhere, pre-Improvement settlement remains survive almost exclusively in the uplands, away from the better soils, and generally represent the expansion of agriculture into less favourable areas. The settlements are relatively small and Spoon Burn is the only other site where it is demonstrable that the surviving remains represent more than the farmstead of a single tenant. This monument is thus a locally rare example of a township, providing evidence about a type of settlement that has been almost completely lost elsewhere in the region.

The monument also provides the best-known example of a group of platform-buildings. Archaeologists coined the term to describe pre-Improvement rural buildings that, in Eskdale, are characteristically constructed on platforms.

The township remains at Boyken Burn are associated with a variety of other prehistoric and pre-Improvement features that exist in the immediate vicinity. On the opposite side of the valley are at least three single farmsteads, largely lacking in documentary references. One at Hole Sike has shows evidence for three buildings and a kiln comparable with the example at Boyken Burn. Two platform-buildings at Shaw Hill lie beside an extensive area of cultivation ridges and four buildings are known near Calkin Cottage, again close to cultivation ridges. Several enclosures and field systems also extend west from the Boyken Burn township, some containing cultivation ridges, and two enclosed prehistoric settlements lie within 800m to the west and south-west. These remains provide a useful context in which to consider the Boyken Burn township, enhancing its significance.

Associative characteristics

The site is referred to in a medieval document, the rental of the barony of Westerker, and the reference implies that it was occupied in 1376. Roy's map depicts it, but not on an estate plan of 1810, suggesting that the site was abandoned in the later 18th century. The Ordnance Survey 1st and 2nd Edition maps show no trace of the township.

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 pre-Improvement townships and farmsteads in SW Scotland. It survives to a marked degree and displays well-preserved field characteristics in its structural evidence. The lack of significant later disturbance over most of the area indicates a high potential for survival of buried material such as the artefacts and ecofacts that were either sealed when the monument was built, or relate to its use and abandonment. This is a complete, pre-Improvement fermtoun, rare in its regional context, with a long documented history and no disturbance from later building. As such, it provides invaluable evidence for all the townships in the vicinity that have been lost. It also provides the best example of a group of platform-buildings, structures, which are specifically characteristic of Eskdale. The monument can help us understand patterns in and underlying reasons for settlement over an extended period. Its loss would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the pre-Improvement occupation of SW Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS record the site as NY38NW 29. Dumfries and Galloway Council's SMR records the monument as MDG7928.


Corser, P 1982, 'Platform buildings: medieval and later settlements in Eskdale, Dumfriesshire', Scot Archaeol Rev, 1 (1), 38-44.

RCAHMS, 1997, Eastern Dumfriesshire: An Archaeological Landscape. Edinburgh, The Stationery Office.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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