MHG39564 - Cemetery, Ballachly


Small cemetery associated with the chapel. Local tradition states that the chapel and cemetery were destroyed by a flood in the C18.

Type and Period (1)

  • CEMETERY (Undated)

Protected Status

Full Description

Incised stone from this site is now in Dunbeath Heritage Centre
JW 18-3-2004

Site visit 2/7/2003 to view excavate/overlay. Photographs. Distinct knoll beside the water, would be a good natural defensive site. There are remains of buiildings/structures on top , but too overgrown to distinguish. Large wall on lower ground off the S side of the knoll, but another also off the N side. Resistivity has identified a large circular feature to S of the knoll and E of the wall (ND13SE0170). This lies part in part out of the scheduled area - HAW 7/2003

A sketch of the "Ballachy Stone 2" by Colin Macaulay 17/3/99, 1st impression Found while rebuilding the garden wall. Probably part of the cove. 13cm by 12cm by 6cm. See the associated documents.
J Aitken : 18/12/00.

It is possible that this could be site of 'hospital' at which English envoys were accommodated on night of 3rd October 1290, on their way N to attend reception of Maid of Norway (see ND13SE 54).
B E Crawford 1982. <5>

The massive walls of the supposed monastery are as described by previous OS field surveyor and as depicted on OS map.
Wall 'A' contains a blocked gap widening towards wall-head. 'B', though reduced to a max height of 0.8m, is same width and displays same boulder base footings as 'A', and amount of tumble around it suggests that it could have been same height. It is possible that these two walls, together with natural knoll 'E', were originally joined to enclose the haugh; a wall along W side could have been destroyed by flash-flooding of Dunbeath Water and Houstry Burn, and that along N side by development of a hollow-way. There is no no trace of such walls and no evidence of structures within postulated enclosure, now under permanent pasture. On level summit of knoll 'E', the building footings suggested by OS field surveyor (NKB), to be remains of a "priest's house" are indistinguishable from ruins of a typical croft, and the associated walls are narrow and of different character to walls A and B. However, position is unusual for a croft, there being no easy access up very steep slopes of knoll. To E & SE of alleged monastery is further walling ('C' and 'D') which may be contemporary. 'C' is 0.8m in max height and width is 1.8m at the massive base-footings. Wall 'D' is less strong and, connecting two low cliffs, effectively encloses, with the river, an area of secluded haughland S of the supposed monastery.
The evidence for a monastery at this site is very slender, based apparently on two factors: (i) tradition of pre-Reformation chapel and graveyard, and (ii) survival of what has been considered to be a precinct wall. The latter, exemplified by wall 'A', resembles a precinct wall of a formal early medieval monastery in terms of height only; a wall of dry stone construction, battered and 3m high is unknown at other monastic establishments in northern Scotland, and it would be remarkable that a wall of such height could survive from Early Christian era. The site has poor defensive capability, and secluded nature of assumed enclosed area is more akin to a monastic settlement than a fortification. It is possible that the walls were built merely at whim of a local eccentric for no important purpose, and this may explain their uniqueness.
Visited by OS (N K B) 15 December 1982.

Monastery (NR) (remains of) OS 1:10000 map, (1979)

This seems to be an Early Christian monastery whose church continued in use until later medieval times. It may have been associated with St Triduana since there was, apparently, a 'Croit Trolla' nearby (Beaton 1909).
D Beaton 1909 <4>; A D S MacDonald and L R Laing 1969. <6>

All that remains of this site are the massive walls on S, E and W sides of a secluded haugh at ND15673037. They are of drystone construction incorporating large facing blocks, roughly coursed, with a rubble core. S wall, which survives to a height of 3m, is 1.9m thick at base, tapering to 0.6m at top; other walls remain to a maximum height of 0.8m. The manner in which they surround the haugh suggests an early date, and their most likely origin appears to be as precinct wall of an early monastery. The "priest's house" may be building at ND 1570 3033 of which only footings remain.
Visited by OS (N K B) 25 March 1968.

(ND 1570 3033) Chapel and Graveyard (NR) (Site of)
OS 6" map, Caithness, 2nd ed., (1907)

At Ballachly is site of a chapel. From the haugh land near the river there rises a ridge some 80-100 yds in length, and at right angles to it there runs towards river a wall 5ft thick and still some 8-10ft high. Along level to base of ridge at E are ruins of a similar massive wall. Bishop Forbes (Craven 1886) records that he was told on his visit to Caithness in 1762 that here 'had been a small monastery called of old the Chapel or Church of Peace'.
RCAHMS 1911 <1>; J B Craven 1886. <2>

Chapel, according to local tradition, survived until Reformation, and graveyard, in part, until 18th century when most of it was carried away by a flooding of Burn of Houstry, during which coffins were seen to be swept down to sea. The little that survived the flood was eradicated by cultivation. The priest's house is said to have stood on rising ground above junction of the Burn of Houstry with the Dunbeath Water.
Name Book 1871. <3>

Site of (NAT) Chapel & Grave Yard (NR)
OS 6" map, Caithness, 1st ed., (1871)

Sources/Archives (13)



Grid reference Centred ND 1567 3034 (20m by 20m) (2 map features)
Map sheet ND13SE
Civil Parish LATHERON
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

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