Ancient Monuments

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Killernie Castle

A Scheduled Monument in West Fife and Coastal Villages, Fife

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Latitude: 56.1146 / 56°6'52"N

Longitude: -3.5581 / 3°33'29"W

OS Eastings: 303214

OS Northings: 692410

OS Grid: NT032924

Mapcode National: GBR 1T.LQMM

Mapcode Global: WH5QJ.9KXT

Entry Name: Killernie Castle

Scheduled Date: 27 August 2020

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13731

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Secular: castle

Location: Saline

County: Fife

Electoral Ward: West Fife and Coastal Villages

Traditional County: Fife


The monument comprises the remains of a Z-plan tower house and enclosure. It survives as two ruinous stone towers; the turf covered footings of the main block; the remains of a substantial revetted enclosure and buried features below the present ground surface. The Z-plan tower dates to the late 16th century with documentary evidence suggesting that Killernie had been the site of a castle from before the second quarter of the 14th century. It sits on a bedrock outcrop beneath Saline Hill above Saline Glen.

The tower house includes a circular tower in the northwest and southeast corners of a rectangular hall. The northwest tower survives to approximately 2m in height with three circular splayed gun loops. The southeast tower retains only its northernmost wall. It survives to around 1.5m in height. Between these are the turf footings of the main block of the tower house. To the south of the tower there is a large enclosure which is likely to represent a courtyard. A revetted wall survives on the south and west sides of this courtyard. It is up to six courses high and measures approximately 70m in length.

The scheduled area is irregular. It includes the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The monument specifically excludes the above ground elements of all modern post and wire fencing.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17):

a.  The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past, or has the potential to do so. The monument is the remains of a Z-plan tower house and enclosure/ courtyard, which is likely to be on the site of an earlier castle. The study of its form, construction and layout has the potential to enhance our knowledge of tower house complexes and their development over time.

b.  The monument retains structural, architectural, decorative or other physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past. In particular, the monument has multiple phases of construction and may have developed as a castle site from the early 14th century until the late 16th century. This has the potential to increase our understanding of construction techniques and the phasing of castle sites.

e.  The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding or appreciation of the past. The monument has the potential to contribute to our understanding of medieval and social and domestic organisation, the development of medieval tower house complexes and the organisation of high-status settlements within Fife and throughout Scotland.

f.  The monument makes a significant contribution to today's landscape and our understanding of the historic landscape by providing insight into the layout of medieval tower houses and their ancillary structures and their place in the wider medieval landscape.

Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)

The monument comprises the remains of a small-scale Z-plan tower house and enclosure/ courtyard (Canmore ID 49708). The tower house comprises a rectangular main block with a circular tower in the northwest and southeast corners. The main block's west wall includes the remains of a barrel vault which would have provided support for rooms above. The remainder of the main block's walls are visible as turf covered footings. The 1st Statistical Account of Scotland (1794) states that the tower had two parts; a north and south. The south was built later, in 1592, and comprised one large room, described as 'all arched' suggesting it was vaulted. Though no longer upstanding this room is likely to survive as below the present ground surface.

The northwest tower survives to approximately 2m in height. Its small barrel-vaulted chamber has three circular splayed gun loops. The remains of a door jamb tell us it was entered via the hall. The southeast tower survives to around 1.5m in height and retains only its northernmost wall. Until August 2020 this tower stood around 4m in height. It had three circular gun loops equally spaced in its wall indicating that it had at least two floors above ground level. The fourth and highest gun loop was key-hole in shape.

To the south of the tower there is a large enclosure. On its western side a substantial revetted wall survives up to six courses high and measures approximately 70m in length. It ends at the edge of Saline Glen. This may be the remains of a defensive enclosure containing evidence of a courtyard, ancillary buildings, or gardens although it is unclear if the enclosure is contemporary with the tower house or is an early feature. LiDAR (light detection and ranging) imagery indicates ground disturbance within the enclosure. In these areas there is good potential for the survival of buried structures and archaeological deposits, artefacts and environmental information within, beneath and around the castle. The buried archaeological deposits have the potential to provide information about the date, character and function of the different components of the monument, while any artefacts and environmental information such as pollen or charcoal, would enhance understanding of the economy, diet and social status of the occupants, as well as provide information about contemporary land use and environment.

The earliest reference to Killernie appears in the Dunfermline Abbey Cartulary (c.1335) which refers to the lands of 'Kynerny' suggesting a well-established estate was in existence at that point. This text also describes 'Castilsted' (Castle stead; likely a farm or ancillary buildings associated with the castle) and Castilstank (castle stank: a moat, ditch or pond associated with the castle). Although a castle is not specifically mentioned, these features suggest that there had been a castle or estate centre in this area from before the second quarter of the 14th century. The site of the earlier castle or estate centre may be represented by the raised ground on which the 16th century building sits.

The earliest map to depict the monument is James Gordon's 'Fyfe Shire' dated to 1642 where it is shown as 'Killerny.' By 1775 John Ainsley's map of the 'County of Fife' depicts 'Killairny House in Ruins.' It is not until the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1854 (six-inch), that a plan of the monument is shown depicting one tower and a proposed outline of the tower house. The 2nd Edition Ordnance map, revised 1894 (25-inch), depicts what remains of both towers and a new interpretation of the northern wall's projection – shown as a bank running from the northwest tower to the field boundary from east to west.

Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)

Tower houses are found throughout Scotland and in great numbers throughout southern and central Scotland. Killernie Castle is of significance due to the survival of its large associated enclosure which may be the remains of a courtyard in which there may have been ancillary buildings and gardens. Many tower houses would have had some or all of these elements around them.

Located to the east of Saline, Killernie Castle is situated on a bedrock outcrop at the foot of Saline Hill. Its courtyard enclosure extends south to where the ground descends sharply to Saline Glen. To the east extends an area of flat pasture and to the west the ground slopes away gently so that from this direction the tower must be approached uphill. Killernie Castle was positioned to control movement east or west and to appear as dominant feature when viewed from the south from Saline.

Comparable examples from across Scotland include the 16th century Woodhouse Tower, tower house (SM12071) which also sits at the edge of a steep drop to a water course in Dumfries and Galloway; Inshoch House, tower house 70m NNW of (SM1234) a multiphase Z-plan tower house in Highland and Claypotts Castle (SM90075) in Dundee.

Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)

The 1st Statistical Account for Scotland 1794 states that "The estate on which it stands is said to have belonged formerly to one Scot of Balneiry." This name is thought to equate with Balwearie – one of the historic landowning families of Fife who gave their name to Balwearie Castle (Canmore ID 52922).



Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 49708 (accessed on 27/07/2020).

Registrum de Dunfermelyn. Liber cartarum Abbatie Benedictine S.S. Trinitatis et B. Margarete Regine de Dunfermelyn (1842) pp. 222-223 (available at: accessed on 17/08/2020).

Old Statistical Account Vol X (1794) pp. 312 (available at: accessed on 17/08/2020).

Gordon, J. (1642) Fyfe Shire (available at: accessed on 17/08/2020).

Ordnance Survey (surveyed 1854, published 1856) Fife, Sheet 34 (includes: Carnock; Culross; Saline; Torryburn) Six-inches to the mile. 1st Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey (available at: accessed on 17/08/2020).

Ordnance Survey (revised 1894, published 1896) Fifeshire XXXIII.10 (Saline) 25 inches to the mile. 2nd Edition. Southampton: Ordnance Survey (available at: accessed on 17/08/2020).


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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