Two Midlothian Souterrains 2. Castlelaw Fort


This Iron Age fort is in an elevated postion on the slopes of the Pentland Hills and has spectacular views for miles around. It’s only 3 miles south of the Edinburgh bypass, on the A702 to Biggar, but as soon as we left the main road and drove the short distance up to where you park, we were immediately in some very attractive hill country. Enticing footpaths led upwards into the Pentlands.
The hillfort is within an MOD training area but the red flags weren’t flying that day, so the footpaths and the fort and souterrain were accessible. We arrived late in the afternoon, just as an orienteering event was finishing but more walkers were arriving and setting off up the hill – obviously a popular walking area.

Castlelaw Fort (13)
The souterrain lies underneath this mound, with it’s air vents and roof lights

The fort is only a short, but fairly steep walk uphill, on a good track and there was no problem at all finding this souterrain. It is built into one the ramparts of the fort and there’s a gate to it and a noticeboard right beside the track.
Castle law Fort - Souterrain entrance(9)

The souterrain was built into one of the ramparts during a fairly late stage of the fort’s occupation. The fort originally had a wooden pallisade, which was later replaced by a single rampart, then two more ramparts were added.
Castlelaw Fort

The strangest thing about this souterrain is the very odd mix of Iron Age and post war military architecture. It was excavated in the 1930’s and 40’s and the structure stabilised and made safe, probably around this time. Looking at the strange roof lights set into concrete and the air vents sticking out of the ground, it certainly looks as if there’s some kind of military bunker underneath.
Castlelaw Souterrain

Steps lead down into the souterrain.

Castlelaw Souterrain (1)

This part looks more mid twentieth century MOD than Iron Age!

Castlelaw Souterrain (8)

Entrance to the round side chamber

Castlelaw Souterrain (5)

The passage is about 20m long and this part is the original Iron Age structure.

Castlelaw Souterrain (6)


Castlelaw Fort was the second souterrain we visited that day, the first one being further east in the village of Crichton. See Two Midlothian Souterrains 1.Crichton. The drive across country from Crichton took us past the famous Rosslyn Chapel and this really was worth a visit, even if you’re not a Da Vinci Code fan.

Rosslyn Chapel (4)

Surely the most ornate and decorated chapel in Britain! Almost every inch of the interior has intricate stone carvings and you could spend ages looking at all the details and trying to take in all the symbolism. Photography isn’t allowed inside but maybe that’s just as well as it was better just to soak up the atmosphere and appreciate the architecture.

We met William the chapel cat, who was taking a nap on one of the pews and then we headed to the cafe for tea. The chapel and the village of Roslin sit high up above Roslin Glen, which we looked down to from the cafe terrace. Roslin Glen and Country Park is a steeply wooded gorge with a river running through it and has attractive footpaths and picnic places.



Dun Vatersay (2)
The West Beach from Dun Vatersay

Vatersay is a beautiful little island at the southern tip of the Outer Hebrides.
It is only 3 miles long, with just over 90 people living there and since 1991 it has been connected to the Isle of Barra by a causeway.

There are a number of archaeological sites, including a broch, a dun, some Bronze Age cairns and a standing stone.. At most sites there are very little remains, if any, of the original structures but they are all worth visiting for their views and to be able to appreciate their setting in the landscape.

Dun Vatersay

Dun Vatersay
Looking up to the dun

Perched on top of a steep outcrop above the West Beach is the site of Dun Vatersay, an Iron Age fort.  Virtually nothing remains of the stone fort but the site is impressive for its views and obvious strategic position.

Dun Vatersay (3)
Looking north from the dun, across the thin stretch of machair that separates the north and south of the island. The Isle of Barra is visible in the distance
Bronze Age Kerbed  Cairn
Kerbed Cairn by Dun Vatersay (2)

There are two Bronze Age cairns on the hill below the dun and the most obvious one is a round kerbed cairn situated on some level ground below the the dun. It was excavated by Sheffield University in the 1990’s and the remains of a cremated body were found. The other one is about 200m away but is not so easy to make out.

Tacksmans House

The ruined Tacksmans House, between the dun and the small village of Vatersay.  Built in the time when the whole of Vatersay was one farm, leased by the tacksman (tenant farmer).
Tacksman's House, Vatersay (1280x960)

Standing Stone

In a gap between the small hills at the south end of the island is a standing stone. No one knows if it is prehistoric or if it had just been a very large gatepost at some time in history! It’s still a very fine stone and as you approach it from the north, the view you suddenly get of the sea and the islands beyond is breathtaking.

Standing Stone, Vatersay (2) (1280x960)
Looking south to the islands of Pabbay and Mingulay
Standing Stone, Vatersay (1) (1280x960)
Standing Stone or gatepost?

Beyond Vatersay

Heading south, past the standing stone, the magnificent view looking down to the tail end of the Outer Hebrides –  the remote, uninhabited islands of Pabbay,  Mingulay and Berneray
Pabbay & Mingulay


A Broch-like Dun on the Galloway Coast

and  Prehistoric Rock Art, a “Coo Palace” and a very unusual church!

These are all found a short distance from each other, between Knockbrex and Kirkandrews, on the eastern side of Wigtown Bay (nearest towns – Kirkcudbright and Gatehouse of Fleet).

Castle Haven Dun

Entering Castle Haven Dun is like discovering a long lost secret garden, the walls all clad in ivy and the interior a mass of unruly brambles and vegetation. From the shore, the walls emerge up from the rock that it’s built upon, so that it’s hard to see where the rock finishes and the stonework starts. It merges into the landscape in a way that makes it difficult to spot from the road or the coast and there are no signs or even a path to it (style-like steps in the wall beside the road indicate where to go).

Castle Haven Dun from shore
The dun from the shore

Yet, this is an exceptional dun, both because of its state of preservation and its unusual design for this part of Scotland. Built on a small promontory, the dun is D-shaped, with the main entrance from the field on the north side. In the south wall of the dun, a narrow passageway leads to a flight of steps down onto the rocky shore below.

A Galleried Dun

This dun has a feature similar to the Iron Age brochs of northern Scotland, ie. the main structure consists of two concentric walls with a gallery between them. From the central courtyard there are doors leading into the gallery between the walls. The gallery was roofed with stone lintels, some of which are still in situ.

However, unlike the brochs, which had stairs winding up within the walls, Castle Haven has the unusual feature of stone, style-like steps jutting out from the inner wall of the courtyard, to take you up to the next level.

Castle Haven Dun (14)
A plaque in the wall indicates the height of the walls before restoration in 1905

I’d be intrigued to know how high the dun was originally and if there were galleries on more than one level. Due to its shape and fairly large size, it’s unlikely that the walls towered up high like traditional brochs.

Galleried duns are also found in the north of Scotland. For example, Dun Ardtreck on the Isle of Skye, which is also D-shaped and on a promontory, and it is possible that the design of brochs developed from these galleried duns.


The Coo Palace (a posh cow shed!)

Castle Haven Dun owes its state of preservation to considerable restoration work that was carried out in 1905 by James Brown, the laird of Knockbrex. He had a keen interest in architecture and as well as his work on the dun, he also built Corseyard Dairy with its very posh cow shed, known locally as “The Coo Palace”!

Castle Haven Dun (15)
Looking back towards the road from the dun, you can see the Coo Palace with its own water tower, built in the style of a fortified tower.

Kirkandrews Kirk

Another of James Browns architectural creations was a tiny church in the nearby hamlet of Kirkandrews and I think this is one of the most unusual churches I’ve ever seen. Its design is inspired by a fusion of Arts and Crafts and Celtic design and a fondness for miniature castles! The small panelled room with a fireplace at one end reminded me more of a miniature banqueting hall than a church. It looks very cosy and there are some beautiful photos of when they have had candlelit services there.

The church was locked and I was only able to see through a window but there are more photos on the church website.

Parking at the church is very limited!  The best way to appreciate this stretch of coastline around Castle Haven Bay is by walking or cycling along the narrow country road. It’s only 2 miles from the Coo Palace to the church and along the way you pass the dun and the rock art and get some lovely views of the bay.

Tongue Croft Rock Art

Tongue Croft Rock Art (3)

Rocks bearing cup and ring marks are plentiful in the Galloway countryside but are often difficult to find (or find access to). This rock art is just a few metres from the road, on the road between the Coo Palace and Kirkandrews. It can be found just over a wall on the right hand side of the road if travelling eastwards.