An Iron-Age hillfort on the outskirts of Inverness
Craig Phadraig is a large oval-shaped fort which covers the top of a steeply wooded hill above the Beauly Firth and the city of Inverness. Today, part of the view is obscured by trees but it was built in a strategic position with commanding views of all the surrounding countryside, the River Ness and the Beauly and Moray Firths.
Today the hill is part of Craig Phadrig Forest and from the Forestry Commission car park a number of footpaths meander around the wooded hillside. It would be quite easy to come here and not even realise that there’s such an impressive Iron Age fort right on top of the hill because you don’t see it until you come out of the trees and find yourself standing on the ramparts. As you emerge from one of the steep paths up to the summit you suddenly see the large oval-shaped hollow (75m long), surrounded by the mounds of two concentric ramparts.
The fort was built around 300BC but soon afterwards it was destroyed by fire and abandoned. The site was used again at later dates, notably as a stronglhold in Pictish times when it is reputed to have been the seat of the Pictish king Brude (Bridei mac Maelchu), who ruled around AD555-584. St Columba travelled here to meet with him and afterwards, King Brude and his followers converted to Christianity.
Excavations have revealed artifacts from around this time.
A Vitrified Fort
The ramparts were originally very high walls constructed from timber-laced stonework and at some point after construction they were subjected to such intense heat that the stones were melted and fused together. Both the inner and outer walls are heavily vitrified, although this isn’t visible today as they are covered by grass.
Vitrified forts are quite common in the highlands of Scotland. I think there are around 60 of them and another example is Dun Dearduil in Glen Nevis. There are also one or two in Ireland.
In the past, archaeologists had speculated that that the forts had been deliberately vitrified to increase the strength of the walls but this would actually have made the stone weaker and more prone to fracturing. It is now generally accepted that vitrification was the result of a deliberate burning of the fort when it came to the end of its use or when it was captured.