MHG3809 - Fort, Craig Phadrig


An Iron Age vitrified fort with evidence for re-use as a manufacturing site during the Pictish period. The fort is reputed to have been the site of the Pictish king Bridei's conversion to Christianity by St Columba in AD 565, although this is doubtful. There is evidence for early medieval bronze working, including the only firm evidence for the manufacture of hanging bowls. High status imported French pottery testifies to the importance of the site in the early medieval period.

Type and Period (4)

  • FORT (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION (Early Medieval - 565 AD to 565 AD)
  • OCCUPATION SITE? (Pictish - 300 AD to 900 AD)
  • METAL WORKING SITE? (Early Medieval - 600 AD to 700 AD)

Protected Status

Full Description

NH64NW 6 6400 4527.

NH 6400 4527) Vitrified Fort (NR)
OS 6"map, (1959)

(NH 6400 4529) Cistern (NR)
OS 25"map, (1964)

An oval vitrified fort, forming a flat crown to the afforested hill of Craig Phadrig.
It consists of an inner, heavily vitrified wall spread to a thickness of about 30', which encloses an area measuring 245' by 75'. An outer wall, also heavily vitrififed, lies at distances varying between 45' and 75' outside this. Any other details are obscured by vegetation. (R W Feachem 1963) There is no evidence to show that the two walls are contemporary. (R W Feachem 1966)
Cotton (M B Cotton 1954) observed an entrance in the W of the outer wall, and traces of a third wall on the S side, also states that the inner wall may have had four bastion-like structures near the rounded corners.
According to Wallace (T Wallace 1921), there is a small earthen tumulus with a stone in its centre, within the fort, and a portion of the NE corner was marked off from the rest by two rows of earthfast stones in the form of a rectangle. He could not trace a well, said in 1783 (F Tytler 1783) to be 6' in diameter. This is the reputed scene of the visit of St Columba to Brude, son of Maelchon, king of the Picts, and the latter's conversion to Christianity. (information from C W Phillips' D A Index)
R W Feachem 1963, 1966; M B Cotton 1954; T Wallace 1921; F Tytler 1783; Reeves (ed) 1857. <1>-<6>

A vitrified fort, as described by Feacham (R W Feachem 1966). The inner turf-covered wall is well defined, surviving to c. 1.2m above the interior, with an entrance in the NE indicated by a slight depression. Immediately outside this entrance is a stony causeway which spans the gap between the two walls.
The outer wall is reduced to a terrace except in the SW and NE where it survives as a turf-covered stony bank c. 0.8m high. The entrance is not evident but it was probably in the E arc where there are two slight depressions in the bank. Cotton's alleged entrance (M A Cotton 1954) in the W is due to mutilation.
The third wall observed by Cotton (M A Cotton 1966) is a hornwork outside the E arc of the outer wall. It is defined by a reduced turf-covered stony bank which springs from the E corner of the wall and runs N to rejoin it oppsite the entrance through the inner wall. There is an entrance gap near its S end up to which runs an ill-defined hollow way.
There is no trace of any structure within the fort except the alleged cistern which is a hollow c. 3.0m across at the lowest point within the central area, but there are several similar hollows around it.
Survey at 1/2500 (Visited by OS (W D J) 29 March 1962).
Visited by OS (A A) 25 August 1969.

Excavation by Small and Cotton during 1971 (A Small and M B Cotton 1972) has established the vitrified character of the inner rampart. Radio-carbon dates suggest the mid-4th cent. BC as the period of construction. Similar dates were obtained from the outer rampart which appears to be only in part timber-laced, several parts being entirely constructed of earth sometimes retained by revetting walls. A further season's excavation is essential before definite conclusions can be reached, however.
The fort appears to have been destroyed soon after construction. Post-destruction domestic occupation has been recorded before 150 BC and up to c.400 A. D. The most important find is the clay mould for the escutcheon of a hanging bowl.
A Small and M B Cotton 1972; A Small 1971. <7>-<9>

It is said that St Adomnan/Adamnan may have been referring to Craig Phadrig when he describes the visit of St Columba to Brude/Bridei, King of the Picts. This identification is reported in earlier translations as being "nearly certain". In his translation of 1857 (see <5>) Reeves describes the topographic similarities between Craig Phadrig and Brude/Bridei's stronghold.

The references from Adomnan are reproduced below, from the translation by Richard Sharpe for Penguin Classics:

Opening the doors to the fort:
"Once, the first time St Columba climbed the steep path to King Bridei’s fortress, the king, puffed up with royal pride, acted aloofly and would not have the gates of his fortress opened at the first arrival of the blessed man. The man of God, realizing this, approached the very doors with his companions. First he signed them with the sign of the Lord’s cross and only then did he put his hand to the door to knock. At once the bars were thrust back and the doors opened of themselves with all speed. Whereupon St Columba and his companions entered. The king and his council were much alarmed by this, and came out of the house to meet the blessed man with due respect and to welcome him gently with words of peace. From that day forward for as long as he lived, the ruler treated the holy and venerable man with great honour as was fitting." Book II, chapter 35

Story about the magician Broichan and the Irish slave girl:
"At the same time St Columba asked a wizard called Broichan to release an Irish slave-girl, having pity on her as a fellow human being. But Broichan’s heart was hard and unbending, so the saint addressed him thus, saying: ‘Know this, Broichan. Know that if you will not free this captive exile before I leave Pictland, you will have very little time to live”. He said this in King Bridei’s house in the presence of the king.' Book II, chapter 33. The rest of the story tells how Broichan fell ill and was saved after setting the girl free by drinking water into which a pebble from the River Ness, blessed by Columba, had been dipped. The pebble was kept in the king’s treasury thereafter, but if your time to die had come it could never be found. <10><11>

The find of a mould for a hanging-bowl escutcheon (mount) is briefly discussed by Laing in a 1975 article as evidence that hanging bowls of this type were being produced in Pictland. The mould is currently in the National Museum of Scotland (X.H.885). The NMS online catalogue entry states that the mould provides evidence of metalworking at the site between 600 and 700 AD. The find is the front half of a bivavle mould. The mount from the mould would most probably have been cast in bronze and would have measured 25mm in diameter. A mount of this design has been found on a fragmentary hanging-bowl from Castle Tioram. <12><13>

In 1986 part of the trench excavated in 1972 at the north east end of the fort by Small and Cottam (Discovery and Excavation in Scotland 1973) was reopened to allow archaeomagnetic dating to take place. The project was part of a research programme by the Physics Department of Newcastle University. <14>

The 1972 trench referred to above was reported on in Discovery and Excavation 1972. The 1972 season's excavation was entirely devoted to the outer defences. The excavation showed that a vitrified outer rampart was established at the SW end but shown not to be continuous around the fort. On the NW no outer rampart existed but the main rampart had been partly reconstructed after its collapse on vitrification. On the NE side it was shown there was a double rampart, the impression of a third being created by the ditch from which the material for the outer rampart had been upcast. <15>

Finds from the 1971-2 excavations, including a clay mould for a hanging-bowl escutcheon, and three sherds of E-ware were deposited in the National Museums of Scotland in 1973-4. <16>

Two research physicists from Paisley College of Technology took a sample from the core of the rampart at Craig Phadrig and several other hill forts with the aim of confirming the date of vitrification. The study was carried out in association with the then National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh. <17>

A massive silver chain, thought to be a symbol of Pictish kings, was found nearby in Torvean in 1808. See MHG3800. <18>

Further references, scientific dates and extracts from articles relating to Craig Phadrig hillfort can be found in the scans of the old paper files which are linked to this record. <19>

Headland Archaeology Ltd conducted a topographic survey of this fort in February 2011. The survey plan and site description can be found in the report linked to this record. It was noted that the fort appears to be in good condition, and although several narrow paths run across and around the earthworks, they do not appear to be causing substantial damage. However it was noted that the dense forestry limited the views from the site which may be reducing visitor appeal. <20>

The details given above for <4> are incorrect. The date of volume 2 is 1790. The volume is available as an e-book (see link at the bottom of this record). Tytler's article contains a detailed description of the fort, and illustrations including an annotated plan. <4><21>

A summary of the site and the Forestry Commission Scotland/Highland Council education pack is featured in the November/December 2011 issue of British Archaeology. <22>

Susan Youngs made contact following the publication of <22> and provided some additional references for the important finds from Craig Phadrig. She emphasises the importance of the finds, particularly the escutcheon mould which is the only provenanced evidence for the manufacture of hanging bowls (over 200 of which are known in whole and part) which were only made in Britain (and from the 8th century onwards also in Irish territories). The only other evidence for manufacture comprises a waster of a different style found in Wiltshire after river-dredging, plus a lead piece from Birsay the interpretation of which is disputed.
The hanging bowls are found mainly as imported luxury items in Anglo-Saxon graves far to the south. The type we know from Craig Phadrig is represented by two Scottish finds and some from much further south. It is very similar to the metal mount on a hanging bowl from Castle Tioram - such finds are extremely rare in Scotland.
Ms Youngs also comments that the imported French pottery is very exotic indeed on the East coast of Scotland at the time. <23> <24>

A watching brief was carried out by Highland Archaeology Services Ltd in September 2006 during construction of a footpath. <25>

Six photographs of the site were submitted by Maya Hoole, taken at midday on the 16th of February 2014. <26>

A topographic survey of the surviving vitrified stone walls and earthworks was carried out by Rubicon Heritage Services in 2014 on behalf of Forestry Commission Scotland. The purpose of the survey was to provide an enhanced baseline record of the upstanding remains at the site to inform future conservation and management of the monument. The results of the survey enabled the production of 3D digital terrain models. <27>

This site was included in the Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland online database. See link below for site entry. <28>

The NMS catalogue lists a clay mould for casting mounts for hanging bowls (Acc. No. HH 885) and part of a bronze pin (HH 890) from Craig Phadrig. <29>

Sources/Archives (49)



Grid reference Centred NH 6400 4528 (168m by 164m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NH64NW
Geographical Area INVERNESS

Finds (3)

  • MOULD (Early Medieval - 600 AD to 700 AD)
  • VESSEL (Early Medieval - 561 AD to 1057 AD)
  • PIN (Early Iron Age to Early Medieval - 550 BC? to 1057 AD?)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (5)

External Links (9)

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