Ancient Monuments

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Durness Old Church, Balnakeil

A Scheduled Monument in North, West and Central Sutherland, Highland

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Latitude: 58.576 / 58°34'33"N

Longitude: -4.7686 / 4°46'6"W

OS Eastings: 239109

OS Northings: 968649

OS Grid: NC391686

Mapcode National: GBR G6L2.4GD

Mapcode Global: WH26J.QPFY

Entry Name: Durness Old Church, Balnakeil

Scheduled Date: 24 March 1938

Last Amended: 9 October 2001

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM1894

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: church

Location: Durness

County: Highland

Electoral Ward: North, West and Central Sutherland

Traditional County: Sutherland


The monument consists of the remains of a post-Reformation parish church and burial ground, which served the parish of Durness. This parish included Eddrachillis and Tongue parishes until 1724. The monument was originally scheduled in 1938. On this occasion an inadequate area to protect all the associated remains was scheduled: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The parish church is believed to have been built in 1619 and had an aisle added to the N in 1692. It remained in use until about 1814. The earliest reference to a church at Durness occurs between 1223 and 1245 when it was assigned to find light and incense for the cathedral church at Dornoch. However, the church is traditionally believed to have been founded by St Maelrubba. The medieval references to a church at Durness together with the E-W alignment of the main body of the church suggests that the floor plan, and perhaps much of the fabric of the church, dates to the medieval period. It has been reported that a possible former, circular enclosing bank of the churchyard is visible on aerial photographs. However, the identification of this feature has not been confirmed.

The church is a T-plan with a gabled belfry on the E gable. The remains stand to the wall-head with intact crow-stepped gables. The walls are of rubble masonry being 0.8m thick and averaging 2.5m in height. Externally, the nave measures about 14m by 6m and the aisle about 8m by 6m. The doorway through the E gable has a moulded surround and a gallery door above. The entrance to the N aisle has moulded jambs and worn date (16..) on lintel. The aisle is lit by a 4-light window with a central mullion dividing 2 small pointed headed windows, the space between the two pointed headed lights has been left solid.

In the SE corner of the interior of the church, there is a fine mural tomb in a semi-circular mural recess with crest above dated 1619. The recess and tomb are heavily patched with cement and are protected by a shelter constructed in granite. The tomb is to Duncan MacMorroch and has the epitaph "Duncan MacMorroch here lies low, Was ill to his friend, waur to his foe, True to his master in weird and wo. 1623". Tradition states that MacMorroch wished to be buried within-church but was interred within-wall because his services to his master in quietly getting rid of troublesome hindrances made him a doubtful candidate for burial inside church.

The area to be scheduled includes the church and the old burial ground. It is defined by the boundary wall of the burial ground to the N, E and S. The boundary wall is itself excluded. The area is roughly rectangular with maximum dimensions of 41m ENE-WSW and 60m transversely as marked in red on the attached map. All modern burial lairs still in use, within and without the church, are excluded from the scheduling.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland


No Bibliography entries for this designation

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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