Over two weeks in June 2022, a team of hardy volunteers worked with AOC Archaeology Group on a programme of consolidation at Doon Castle broch as part of the Rhins Revealed Community Archaeology Project.
Doon Castle is one of the most significant prehistoric settlements on the Rhins peninsula. Brochs are not common in the Iron Age settlement record south of the Clyde. There are at least two others in western Galloway, but Doon Castle is exceptional within its local context. It sits on a steep-sided rocky promontory extending out into the ocean just south of Ardwell Bay, on the west coast of the Rhins. It is accessed via a bedrock causeway.
A broch is a tall drystone tower, built around 2000 years ago in the Iron Age. They have no windows, and most have only one entrance. A staircase is usually present within the thickness of the wall, along with small spaces known as intramural cells and galleries. Many show evidence for one or more upper stories. The tallest surviving broch is on the island of Mousa, Shetland, and stands around 13m high. Most are now much lower, like Doon Castle, due to collapse and/or reuse of the stone, and not all would have stood as high as Mousa to begin with.
Although Doon Castle is referred to as a broch, it is in fact rather hard to categorise. Unusually, the building has two entrances while a standard broch has only one. There is no visible scarcement ledge (for supporting an upper storey), nor is there evidence of a staircase within the thick walls. Doon Castle may once have had both of these characteristic broch features, but the evidence is not visible among the surviving remains. The structure is perhaps best interpreted as a local translation of the broch concept, adapted to local materials and local building styles. You can see a 3D reconstruction of what the broch might once have looked like here.
The building is both surrounded and filled by huge quantities of rubble resulting from its collapse. Prior to work beginning, the layout of the broch was hard to make out among the fallen stone. It was known to have the unusual twin entrances, and a single entrance into an intramural feature was noted at the eastern side of the broch interior. In some areas, the stonework was deteriorating. A survey carried out in 2019 identified key areas that were at risk of further decline, and provides a lasting record of the broch as it was before this intervention.
The broch is a scheduled ancient monument, so Scheduled Monument Consent was sought from Historic Environment Scotland prior to work taking place.
Work at the broch in 2022 involved the removal of rubble from key areas to improve access and interpretation, and consolidation in areas of collapse. The focus of the work was to consolidate and conserve the broch; the team did not expose or excavate any archaeological deposits.
The work has revealed the interior circumference of the broch all the way around, making the circularity of the structure much more obvious and contributing to its sense of place. The rubble in the interior included some very large stones, and the ground was very rough underfoot.
This work also led to the discovery of new information about the broch’s layout.
As is visible in the before and after drone shots below, the broch is now free of the huge stones that cluttered up the interior, and the entranceways are clear so visitors can move easily into and through the circular space.
The clearing of rubble in the northern entranceway has made the route into the broch much more enticing, bringing visitors straight through the doorway and into the interior of the broch when previously they might have skirted around the sides, walking on the broch walls in the process.
In the northern entranceway, bar holes were revealed. These would have held a sturdy timber bar that secured the door shut from the inside. The bar hole on the western side is shallower while that on the eastern side is very deep, indicating that the bar slid all the way into the thickness of the wall on the western side of the entrance for tidy storage, and allowing the door to swing fully open, these bar holes pictured below, photographed soon after discovery.
The southern entranceway had suffered significant deterioration on one side, with stone slumping down into the entrance passage. With the assistance of local dry stone dyker William McClymont, the southern entranceway has been consolidated. This work draws visitors through the entranceway and onto the promontory beyond, but it also prevents further deterioration and damage.
A previously unrecorded doorway was discovered on the western side of the interior. It would once have led into a cell or gallery within the thickness of the wall.
At the south-western side of the broch, very minimal rubble clearance on the wallhead allowed a length of the inner wallface to be exposed, running along from the newly discovered doorway to create what looks to have been a ground floor gallery.
Pictured below: The previously unrecorded doorway into the thickness of the wall at the western side of the interior (left), and the line of the inner wallface marking one side of an intramural gallery at ground floor level (right)
Rather more puzzlingly, a low lintel was discovered in the interior wall at the north-west. It’s hard to be certain of the original height of the lintel given that the original floor level is not known, being hidden below the rubble, but it seems likely to sit around waist height. A faced wall was visible to the right-hand side, but rubble collapse made it impossible to discern the shape of the space to the left. It might represent a small feature within the wall such as an aumbry, or it could be an entrance into a larger cell or gallery. One possibility is that this intra-mural (between the walls) cell was located beneath a stairway leading clockwise to a first-floor level further up the building. No evidence of any steps was uncovered, but these are typical of broch architecture, and it is likely there are some hidden somewhere within the thickness of the wall. This is just the archaeologists’ theory based on what is visible after the work, but it is intriguing either way!
The results of everyone’s efforts at the broch have been recorded manually as well as digitally, and AOC is now working on the report as well as processing the digital data to produce highly accurate 3D models. We will share the results with you all here in due course.
AOC would like to extend their sincere thanks to everyone who took part in work at the broch, giving their time, energy and muscle power to consolidate this fine example of Iron Age architecture. Thanks are also due to the landowner for giving permission, and to Historic Environment Scotland for granting Scheduled Monument Consent for the work to take place.
Doon Castle Broch is on the Rhins Coast Path just south of Ardwell Bay, and a short walk from Ardwell Bay car park.
From Sandhead, follow the A716 south then turn right at the sign for Kirkmadrine Stones. Follow this road to its end where it becomes a rough track to Ardwell Bay car park.