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Main Details

Primary ReferenceNO56NW0017
NRHE Card No.NO56NW17
NRHE Numlink 35007
HES SM No. 90069
Site Form Standing Structure
Site Condition Incomplete
Details Hillfort. An Iron Age fort consisting of a double stone wall, probably timber-laced, with earthen outer defences stands on the summit of the White Caterthun. The inner wall, which probably measured about 12 m (40 ft) in thickness, has an entrance on the southeast. It encloses an area 152 m (500 ft) by 67 m (220 ft), in which are a well (probably contemporary with the fort), and a relatively modern, rectangular structure of turf. Feachem makes no mention of the circular foundations, noted by King, within the fort. Immediately outside the outer stone wall is a low rampart with an internal quarry ditch, while at distances varying from 30.5 m (100 ft) to 70 m (230 ft) outside this are the remains of two ramparts with an annexe on the northeast. Traces of two additional, probably incomplete, ramparts, un-noted by Christison, lie to the northwest. While there is no evidence to show that the various defences represent more than one period, finds include a flint knife, a stone macehead (both in the NMAS), leaf-shaped and barbed-and-tanged arrowheads, a carved stone ball, two bronze flanged axes and 'gold medals', one of which bore, on one side, the letter 'B R E' round a head, and, on the other, 'L C S A T D' around the figure of a bird. A broken cup marked stone lies on the west side of the fort, between the outer stone wall and the inner earthen rampart. The inner walls of this fort remain as a tumble of boulders 0.3 m in maximum height. Of the outer defences the inmost rampart stands 1.5 m high in front of a ditch 0.6 m deep. The outer double rampart is very slight and, on the west, very faint. It is best preserved on the southeast where the banks lie 5.0 m apart with a medial ditch 1.2 m deep. The annexe on the northeast has no ditch, and may be a later addition. The additional ramparts on the northwest were not located. The interior of the fort is heather-covered, with the site of the well showing as a hollow 3.0 m deep. The cup marked boulder was identified at NO 5467 6602. The broken pieces have been re-joined with metal clamps and it now measures 2 x 1 x 0.4 m high and bears about 70 cups marks from 2.5 cm (1 inch) to 5 cm (2 inches) in diameter. When visited by by OS(JLD) 16 July 1958 the fort was as described but no 'circular foundations' were seen within the fort. Within the interior of the fort, partly overlain by a rectangular enclosure, there is an oval enclosure measuring approximately 39 m by 34 m with a groove about 1.5 m broad by 0.3 m deep. The White Caterthun is one of the most spectacular forts in Scotland, commanding a wide sweep of country from a low hill on the northwest side of Strathmore opposite Brechin. Detailed survey of the earthworks has shown that the defences of the fort reflect several periods of construction, the earliest of which is a heavily robbed rampart (A) enclosing an area measuring about 335 m from northeast to southwest by 210 m transversely. Around the north quarter, where it is overlain by a later defence comprising double ramparts with a medial ditch, this early rampart is visible as a substantial terrace flanked by shallow quarry scoops along its uphill side. Elsewhere, however, it has been so heavily robbed that its course can only be detected from the flanking quarry scoops. A notable feature of this fort is the provision of numerous entrances, around the north quarter six original gaps can be identified, and others must have existed elsewhere. Roughly concentric to this early fort, set some 28 m to 40 m down the slope, there are traces of another line of earthworks (B). They are most easily identified around the west half of the circuit, where they comprise short segments of ditch with the spoil cast down the slope, but traces of a low scarp is visible extending their line immediately below the later ramparts (F) on the southeast side. The date and purpose of these curious earthworks are unknown but it is possible that they are part of an unfinished line of defences supporting the early rampart (A). The extensive robbing of this rampart, which appears to have taken place at some earlier date than the construction of the overlying line of defence, can probably be accounted for by the construction of the massive stone fortifications at the core of the fort. These defences (C-E) are unrivalled for their sheer scale and must have entailed the collection of stones for some distance around. The mound of rubble from its inner wall (C) is about 20 m wide and from 1.5 m to 4 m high, and the spread of stones beyond it (D) is probably the remains of a substantial outer rampart. Fronting this rampart is an impressive ditch with a counterscarp bank (E). A curious feature of these defences is that there is no obvious sign of an entrance. Causeways across the ditch on the southeast and west are composed of tumbled stones, while the gap in the ditch on the southwest may be the result of a relatively modern track shown on the first edition of the OS 6-inch map. On the east, however, immediately south of the modern path up to the fort, there are possible traces of an original gap in the earthwork, but there is certainly no evidence of a gap in the inner wall. The double ramparts with medial ditch (F) which overlie the early rampart (A), follow a roughly concentric course around the central stone fort and were almost certainly added as an outwork to it. Like the early rampart this line of defences has numerous entrances, there are thirteen gaps, of which at least ten are original, around the north quarter matching those of the earlier rampart. The annexe on the northeast (G) was subsequently added to these outworks. Despite the scale of the effort that has been put into the construction of the defences, there is very little evidence of occupation within the earthworks. In part this may result from the episode of ridged cultivation that is detectable within the interior of the central stone fort. The most obvious features within the massive stone wall are a well at the southwest end and a turf-banked enclosure on the northwest. Beneath the turf-banked enclosure, however, there are traces of an enclosure some 37 m in diameter, defined by a shallow groove in the surface of the turf. Immediately to the northeast there is possibly a second enclosure, which measures about 23 m in diameter within two grooves set 3 m apart. The closest parallels to these enclosures are the surface remains of palisade trenches in the Border counties. Apart from these enclosures, the only other evidence of structures that stood within the earthworks are provided by eight shallow scoops that are strung out in a line between the stone fort and the earlier rampart on the southeast, and a small platform in a similar position on the west. One of the scoops on the southeast is probably a ring-ditch house, whose rear appears to be overlain by the counterscarp bank of the ditch that accompanies the stone fort. Three of the other scoops, however, appear to have been cut back into the counterscarp bank. It is likely that all these scoops mark the positions of timber houses but it is not known if any of them relate to the occupation of the fort. Several other ring-ditch houses are scattered across the east flank of the hill outside the defences. A survey of the effects of rabbit-derived erosion upon the earthworks was carried out in the summer of 1996. A report, containing a colour-coded map identifying areas of damage, was deposited in the NMRS. MS/726/93. D. Longley noticed small patches of vitrified stone among the burnt rampart material to the south of the modern fort entrance.
Last Update14/04/2022
Updated Bycpalmer
Date of Compilation24/09/1997

Google Map for NO56NW0017

National Grid Reference: NO 5478 6608

Event Details

Event DateEvent TypeOASIS ID
1958 Field Observation
1967 Field Observation
1982 Field Observation
1983 Field Survey
1989 Field Observation
1997 Excavation
1899 Field Survey
1996 Field Observation
1863 Field Survey

Excavations and Surveys

Date MDate YTypeDurationDirector / OrganisationAuspicesFundExtent
 1900  Christison   
 1963  Feachem   
71958  JLDOSOS 
41967  WDJOSOS 
41983  Strat HallidayRCMRCM100
91989  Strat HallidayRCMRCM 
81996  Richard StrachanCFAHS 
91997  Richard StrachanCFAHS 

Artefact and Ecofact

Date MDate YArtefact TypeFinderRecovery MethodConditionStorage LocationAccess No.
   FLINT KNIFE National Museum of Scotland  
   MACE-HEAD National Museum of Scotland  
   POTTERY Excavation  


Samples C14 samples; soil samples
Ecofact Notes

Monument Types

Monument Type 1Monument Type 2Monument Type 3OrderProbability