The Fort of the Caledonians
Dear Editor, I am writing to acquaint local residents of a project which is under-way, and on behalf of the Dunkeld and Birnam Historical Society of which I have been a member for a number of years. The Objects of the Society are, among other things "To promote interest in and encourage the study of local history in the Dunkeld and Birnam area."
Last year, while pondering things which we might do, it gradually filtered through that the main subject could well be 'Dunkeld ' itself and its beginnings, from ancient times.
I was vaguely aware that the 'Fort of the Caledonians' from which 'Dunkeld' derives, was in fact the remains of ancient fortifications sited on Kingseat, near Polney Loch, just outside Dunkeld, and so visited it. The top of the crag was found to be completely infested by rhododendron bushes, so much so that no examination was possible. The next step was to establish if any archaeology had been undertaken on the site, so contact was made with Perth Museum.
Advised by them that the place to ask was Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust (PKHT) in York Place. This was done and the response was immediate and enthusiastic.
Papers were sent showing that cursory examination of the site had been done by F.W. Feacham, archaeologist, in 1966, but that no digs had been done, but with a comment that it was a most promising site and likely to produce artefacts. Advice was received from David Strachan, manager of the Trust and himself an archaeologist with wide experience of similar projects (Black Spout, Pitlochry, and Carpow Log Boat, etc). The advice was to the effect that we should approach the land-owner (Dunkeld House Hotel) for permission to clear vegetation: if granted then approach Historic Environment Scotland (HES) as the site is a Scheduled Monument and thus fully protected; thereafter arrangements would be made for grant aid funding and an archaeological dig to see what is there. Both of these permissions were granted.
The site of the fort is on top of a crag with sheer cliffs protecting it on two side and is quite restricted. It was agreed that it was only suitable for a small squad to operate safely and accordingly I engaged my friends and former colleagues Sandy Keay and Alastair Carter, and Ian Dick, along with those identified by David Strachan who had helped at previous digs, Steve Ponsonby, and Deryk and Anthea Deane, and David Roberts, secretary of the Historical Society. Work commenced on Monday, 8.2.16 and continued on various days until 21.3.16 when it was agreed with Mr.Strachan that the site of the fort had been cleared to a satisfactory degree.
Although most of the clearance work was done at the top of the cliffs, it is quite obvious, even to an unpractised eye that some of the lower levels must have been used for habitation as well and had been protected by ramparts.
The situation at the moment is that applications for grant aid funding is under way by PKHT in partnership with Dunkeld and Birnam Historical Society and when and if they are successful, then a full blown archaeological dig will be under-taken starting about August / September, 2017.
David MacDougall, 40 Willowbank, Little Dunkeld
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