Ancient Monuments

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Rockhall Mote, motte-and-bailey castle

A Scheduled Monument in Lochar, Dumfries and Galloway

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Latitude: 55.0755 / 55°4'31"N

Longitude: -3.4821 / 3°28'55"W

OS Eastings: 305468

OS Northings: 576671

OS Grid: NY054766

Mapcode National: GBR 493R.XD

Mapcode Global: WH5WL.HP2F

Entry Name: Rockhall Mote, motte-and-bailey castle

Scheduled Date: 13 September 1937

Last Amended: 28 January 2010

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM707

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: motte

Location: Lochmaben

County: Dumfries and Galloway

Electoral Ward: Lochar

Traditional County: Dumfriesshire


The monument comprises the remains of a motte-and-bailey castle likely to date from the 12th century AD. It survives as a large mound and associated earthworks in grassland mixed with gorse. The monument is located on gently sloping land on the E side of Nithsdale, east of Dumfries and at approximately 170m above sea level. The monument was first scheduled in 1937, but an inadequate area was included to protect all of the archaeological remains: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The central feature, the motte, is a conical earthen mound that partly cuts into the supporting bedrock. It measures approximately 7m high by 7m in diameter across its top and, despite localised erosion from cattle and burrowing animals, it is substantially intact. Its top originally was the platform upon which a timber stronghold was built. At the bottom of the motte there are the slight remains of an encircling ditch, in places up to 3m wide and approximately 1m deep. This may have supplied quarry material for the mound during its construction. The outworks that partly surround the motte are visible as a set of earthen bank and ditch features that are most visible in the N and E quadrants. They suggest the orientation of the outer enclosure (the bailey) and buildings or structures associated with the settlement here. As with the motte, the bailey was probably originally protected by a wooden palisade.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described above 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.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

Rockhall Mote is relatively well preserved and retains a large proportion of its estimated original shape, extent and structure, despite the impacts of later land use and burrowing animals. The motte is substantially intact as an earthwork and is likely to seal deposits relating to the structure(s) and palisade built on its top. The outworks reflect the wider use of space beyond the motte and surviving deposits can tell us about the buildings and defences that were erected here and the activities of those using them. More generally, the buried deposits (including paleoenvironmental remains) can help us understand the site's construction, use, abandonment and the wider environment at that time.

Contextual characteristics

This is one of over 300 fortified earthworks in Scotland dating from the 12th century. These fortified settlements were likely to be as symbolic as they were functional in marking the defended lands of emerging lordships. They tend to be located in the lowlands at strategic, commanding locations and are spread along the Solway and its tributaries, the major river systems of the central lowlands and along the coastline of eastern Scotland (outliers are located further afield in Argyll, Caithness and the Highlands). The group in SW Scotland is of particular note as researchers suggest they strategically mark important territory on the routeways into Scotland from Cumbria and the Solway Firth. It is one of 17 similar examples in this area of eastern Dumfries and Galloway.

Rockhall Mote represents the emerging system of control over land, economy and local administration in later medieval Scotland. Along with the chapel at Rockhallhead it represents the vestiges of an estate that was subsumed into what is now Lochmaben parish and as such a forerunner to the parish system. It reflects the growth of fortified settlements and places of refuge as centres of lordly power.

It occupies a strongly defensible position, from which there are commanding views over Nithsdale, the frontier lands of Galloway to the south and the Solway Firth. There is no strong evidence for substantial reworking of the site and this may suggest, as with other examples, that Rockhall was abandoned earlier rather than later in its life in favour of a stronger, stone-built complex, or in favour of another location.

Associative characteristics

The monument appears on first edition Ordnance Survey mapping.

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 the construction and function of medieval lordly residences and defended sites built in the 12th century. It can inform knowledge of their role in the security and control of land, especially close to the border with England. Its relatively good preservation, interesting form and known period of use enhance this potential. The loss of this example would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand settlement and land tenure in later medieval Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the site as NY07NE 1. Dumfries and Galloway Council Sites and Monuments Record records the site as MDG 12125.


Field Meetings, 1919, 'Field Meeting 11th September 1919. Mouswald District', Trans Dumfries Galloway Natur Hist Antiq Soc, 6, 203

RCAHMS 1920, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland Seventh Report with Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Dumfries, HMSO: Edinburgh.

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

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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