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Old Pilgrimage at Whithorn
Archaeology in Whithorn, Scotland

Whithorn and St. Ninian records the results of eleven years of research by the Whithorn Trust, which has revealed a detailed picture of the thriving community which lived around the church built by St. Ninian, and its evolution over the next 1100 years. This has established Whithorn as a site of international significance and unique archaeological potential.

As a landmass easily accessible from the sea, Galloway inevitably has a long history of settlement from prehistoric times. It has significant remains from prehistory.

Barsalloch Fort:
Mesolithic and Iron Age
Some of the earliest evidence of human occupation in Galloway was found on the raised beaches north of Monreith. A celebrated local archaeologist, Bill Cormack, did a great deal to discover and pursue these findings, which date back to 6000BC. There is parking and access to the fort.

Drumtroddan Stones and Cup and Ring Markings:
Bronze Age

Car parking available beside the farm Drumtroddan consists of two possibly connected features dating from the Bronze Age : a group standing stones are at about 400m from the cup and ring carved stones, and the summit of the Fell of Barhullion (surmounted by the remains of an Iron Age camp) may be the focus of this grouping. Cup and ring markings are common in Galloway, as also in Ireland, Brittany and north West Spain. They are marked on the Ordnance Survey maps, but please bear in mind that some are on farmland, where there may be no formal access agreements. You may also see cairns on various summits in the Machars, sometimes built by walkers or shepherds, but occasionally these are the remains of burial cairns, often robbed for field dykes and building materials.

Drumtroddan Stones and Cup and Ring markings - Bronze Age

Isle of Whithorn Fort and Promontory Forts:
Iron Age

Even the casual walker on the grassy peninsula at the southernmost point of the Isle cannot fail to notice the features of the landscape which seem to be man-made. The lower field past the children's play area shows signs of possibly mediaeval rig-and-furrow cultivation, but as one climbs across the regularly shelving steps up to the white-painted Cairn, one is going back in time to the Iron Age, when the extremity of the peninsula was a promontory fort, along with other sites particularly along the Western coast of the Machars from Burrow Head northwards. Archaeologists working at Whithorn have hypothesised that if the Isle was already a stronghold, the church at Whithorn might have grown up within the lands and protection of a local chieftain, though no excavation as yet has taken place at the Isle fortified site. After Whithorn's development as a Christian centre, the fort might have been reused during the Dark Ages to protect the monastery's thriving trade by sea.

An Iron Age Farm Steading

For many years, local antiquarians supposed that the impressive earthworks at Rispain were of Roman origin, with their virtually square design. Modern understanding of the Romans' limited intervention in Scotland, and recent excavations have revealed that Rispain was in fact a fortified farm of the native British people, containing several roundhouses, and with room for a settlement of families and animals. It may be visited by parking at the farmyard and passing through the kissing-gates to the causeway leading into the site.

Barhobble church: NX 310494:

A lost chapel, with both Dark Age and mediaeval remains has been found at Barhobble in Mochrum parish. The remains which have been left open for visitors to see date from the 12th century and comprise a church used prior to the construction of a church building at Mochrum. The Dark Age cemetery, which surrounded the earlier church here included evidence of pagan symbols and practices, which may have continued alongside Christian practices.

Chapel Finian, Mochrum, NX 278 489
On the coast road north of Port William are the remains of an 11th century chapel, possibly used by pilgrims on their way to Whithorn. St. Finian was a major influence on Columba and there is evidence that he may have come from Galloway. A version of his name also recurs in other towns, such as Kilwinning.

Chapel Finian

The Motte of Druchtag and Cruggleton:
Norman / Early Mediaeval

Just outside the picturesque village of Mochrum stands the motte of Druchtag, a deceptively steep earthwork, which would once have been surmounted by a wooden defensive structure, of a type brought to Galloway through the influence of Norman settlement. Druchtag was in fact the first monument to be taken into state care, thanks to the influence of Sir Herbert Maxwell of Monreith, who was the first landowner to volunteer antiquities for custodianship by what eventually became Historic Scotland. Thanks to him too, Wigtownshire was the first shire to be documented in the monumental series of Inventories of Ancient Monuments, first undertaken in 1912?

The stone castle at Cruggleton too would, as we know from excavations undertaken there in the 1970's, castle, with its associated earthworks, would have replaced predecessors in wood and other materials. Presumably, the road leading from Whithorn and named "Castlehill" may refer to Cruggleton Castle, for many years at the centre of power struggles between the lords of Galloway and powerful interests, including the Bruces.

Tower Houses:
Mediaeval and late Mediaeval.

Those interested in the distinctively Scottish form of architecture known as the 'Tower House' may see interesting examples at Sorbie Tower (pictured above) and near the White Loch of Myrton (private access). Other properties at Castlewigg and Ravenstone, now private and sometimes ruinous, also included parts of older buildings from this period, subsequently developed into eighteenth century mansions, with later Victorian additions. A late example, when the necessity for fortified houses had largely passed away, is at the Isle, which is one of the last tower houses to be built in Scotland, with a date of 1674.

Sorbie Tower

The Research Committee

Mr M McCarthy - University of Bradford
Dr Richard Oram - University of Stirling
Chris Lowe - Headland Archaeology
J Brann - Dumfries and Galloway Council
Prof D Dumville - University of Cambridge
Dr A Woolf - University of St Andrews
Mr P Yeoman - Historic Scotland,
Pat Dennison - University of Edinburgh
Dr R Housley - University of Glasgow
Dr John Higgitt - Edinburgh
Dr. Helen L. Loney - University of Glasgow
Dr Thomas Clancy - University of Glasgow
Mr Fraser Hunter - The National Museum of Scotland
Mr Jonathon Wooding - University of Wales
Dr Ewan Campbell - University of Glasgow
A Nicholson - Dumfries and Galloway Council
John Pickin - Stranraer Museum

Excavations at Whithorn
History of excavations on the siteHistory of excavations on the site

(Edinburgh: 28 February 1998)

Report on the proceedings of the Whithorn Trust Research seminar, compiled by Dr Christopher Lowe on behalf of The Whithorn Trust.

The Way Forward - The Whithorn Trust Research Seminar
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"The Way Forward" in PDF format.

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Jenni Morrison

Research & Training Excavation in the Manse Field, Whithorn, Dumfries & Galloway: Data Structure Report
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"Research & Training Excavation in the Manse Field" in PDF format.

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History of excavations on the site

In the late 1880’s the Marquis of Bute commissioned W. Galloway to carry out restoration at Whithorn and to record any findings. It was during this programme of works that the Latinus Stone was discovered.

C. A. R. Radford had excavations at the Isle of Whithorn and St Ninian’s Cave in 1949-53 finally moving to Whithorn where his re-examination of the earlier excavations and the nave area revealed a revised interpretation of the site.

P.R Ritchie’s excavations in 1957-67 revealed graves of bishops and priors of Whithorn with the magnificent Whithorn crozier.

In 1972 and 1975 C J Tabraham carried out excavations in the Glebe field and the small field to the west of the Priory Church. These excavations revealed extensive stratified deposits although dateable evidence was sparse.

The Whithorn Trust established a programme of research in 1986. Peter Hill led excavations from 1984-1991. The book Whithorn and St Ninian: The Excavation of a Monastic Town 1984-91 (available from the Whithorn Trust) is a work that not only details the results of this excavation but also gives a background of the previous excavations plus the historical sources.

Local St. Ninian and Historical Sites
The Whithorn Trust

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