MHG45327 - Human remains - Lochindorb Castle


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  • HUMAN REMAINS (Undated)

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Access Audit 130 - HAW 11/2003

NH93NE 1 9745 3632.
Lochindorb Castle (NR) (In Ruins) Human Remains found AD 1866 (NAT)
OS 6" map, Inverness-shire, 2nd ed., (1900)

Substantial remains of a 13th century island castle of enceinte comprising a large quadrilateral curtained enclosure with angles strengthened by round towers of comparatively slight projection. No special arrangments appear to have been made for the defence of the entrance gateway, which is centrally placed in the east wall and gives access to a landing stage on the loch shore.
A peculiarity of the site is a forewall on the south possibly a 14th century basse-court addition, with its own port-cullis gateway but with no access to the inner court.
Traces of a range of buildings along with south wall of the main enclosure are still discernable, and the most westerly is known as 'The Chapel'.
Lochindorb was a stronghold of the Comyns Lords of Badenoch and was captured by Edward I in 1303 and again by his son, who strengthened it, a few years later. From 1372 it was occupied by 'The Wolf of Badenoch', Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, who died in 1394. It was ordered, by royal mandate, to be destroyed in 1458, having been fortified against the king, but the walls still stand to almost full height.
OSA (1793) quotes local opinion as saying that the castle is built on an artifical island - apparently confirmed by the appearance of great rafts, or planks of oak, by the beating of the water against the old walls.
ONB (1871) gives no further information on the human remains found in 1866.
OSA 1793; Name Book 1871; D MacGibbon and T Ross 1887-92; J G Dunbar 1966.

(Lochindorb Castle, 10.4km NW of Grantown-on-Spey). Island stronghold in the loch of the same name. The surrounding hills, now bare, were well wooded in the Middle Ages, when the position between two relatively easy routes from Strathspey to the Moray Firth was of some strategic significance.
The castle is first recorded during the Wars of Independence when Sir John ('the Black') Comyn died there in 1300. Three years later it was occupied for ten days by Edward I. In 1336 the castle, then housing the widow of David, Earl of Atholl, to whom it had passed by descent from the Comyns, was besieged by Sir Andrew de Moray, Warden of Scotland, and relived by Edward III. After the victory of the pro-Bruce party, Lochindorb was forfeited to the Crown and then, in 1371, granted by Robert II to his son Alexander, the 'Wolf of Badenoch'. By 1455 the castle was in the hands of Archibald Douglas, Earl of Moray, whose purportedly treasonable acts included its garrisoning and fortification against the King. The next year, after Douglas's defeat and death at Arkinholm, Lochindorb was again forfeited to the Crown and this time ordered to be slighted, the work of dismantling its defences being entrusted to the Thane of Cawdor. Since then, it has been left as a ruin.
The site, an island about 320m from the E shore of the loch, seems substantially natural, but 18th-century reports that 'Great rafts, or planks of oak' were occasionally exposed suggest that it has been strengthened by piles. The main part of the castle seems to be late 13th century, probably built for Sir John Comyn. It consists of a curtain wall (about 5.5m high to the rampart) enclosing an irregular quadrangle of about 46.3 by 38.4m, the N side being considerably longer than the S and the E side sharply angled in consequence. The battlements, which were presumably removed in the dismantling of the 1450's, seem to have risen flush with the wall below. At each corner there has been a two-storey-and-attic tower (the NW and SW being partly and the SE almost wholly demolished), shallow D-plans at the S, almost round projections at the N, each with a diagonal wall cutting across one of the enclosure's internal corners. The towers have been entered from the courtyard; no evidence of stairs inside them so the upper floors must have been reached by ladders. In the curtain walls' thickness beside the two N and SW towers are garderobes, the SW having been two-storeyed with a wooden projection to the outside. All this is built of random granite and whinstone rubble brought to a level course about every 1.8m by flat pinnings; bulging battered base all round. The towers have oblong windows; in the NE and SW are also long fish-tailed slits. In the W wall, a (blocked) low postern gate. The principal entrance has been in the middle of the N wall, where it faces a small cove. Outside the 13th-century castle, both on this N side and also on the E, was a sizeable amount of land, perhaps originally enclosed by a stockade; if enclosed from the start, the gateway in the E wall may be original.
Soon after the completion of this quadrangular castle of enclosure, it was enlarged by the building of an outer curtain wall enclosing land on the N side to the E of the main entrance and also on the E side (ie: the area perhaps originally fenced by a stockade). This wall's masonry is almost identical to that of the original castle but is not bonded with it and lacks a battered base. In this outer court's NW part has been a hall (mostly demolished), its S side provided by the N wall of the 13th century castle into which have been cut crude sockets for the joists of the main floor at about 1.5m above the ground. There are sizeable (blocked) windows in the W gable. Near the N end of the E wall of the outer curtain, there are the remains of a gateway (which is said to have had a depressed arch) with grooves for a portcullis.
Inside the 13th-century quadrangle, there are the remains of a range of buildings set against the E wall; these may be early 15th century. Probably contemporary with their erection has been the rebuilding with smaller stones of the top parts of the NE tower and E curtain.
J Gifford 1992.

In August 1993 the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology (STUA) carried out preliminary underwater investigation in the area around the castle following the discovery of artifacts and the recognition of structures during diving by Mr K McComiskie and others. The loch reaches a maximum depth of about 17m, has an average depth of 4m, and is shallower than this over about half its area.
Underwater survey around the main island suggested that the mound may have been artificially constructed before the construction of the castle, no bedrock being apparent either on the island or in the surrounding waters. On the W side of the island, the underwater profile is a gentle slope which gradually merges with the loch bed. Many of the stones that make up the mound appear to have been artificially deposited, but their wide range in size and type may point to a natural origin. On the S and E sides, the mound has far more of an artificial appearance, the angle of slope being steeper and the stones more homogenous, as has been noted around artificial islands in Loch Tay.
The submerged area to the N of the island displays features (specifically, fallen walls) which are clearly man-made, but is otherwise more like the W side than the S and E. The loch bed slopes away gently on this side, layers of natural clay being apparent.
The walls off the N side of the island were planned and drawn. Their date, function and origin remain uncertain but they may incorporate the remains of one of the curtain walls that were demolished in 1458 or, alternatively, represent another feature, specifically a landing-stage or small harbour or the robbed remains of a pre-castle structure. A large oak beam was found projecting from the loch bed near the submerged walls and may be one of those noted in the Old Statistical Account. The suggested existence of an earlier crannog cannot be substantiated.
Clearly-defined ridges of sand and gravel were observed between the island and the E shore of the loch and initially thought to be the remains of a causeway or similar structure; their situation at a minimum depth of 3m underwater makes this improbable and they display little evidence of artificial construction. They are thus assumed to be of natural, presumably glacial, origin.
Two stone balls were found during examination of these features and another three later. They measure between 0.24 and 0.28m in diameter, are apparently of granite and were all found between 25 and 30m from the shore. They were most probably fired as stone shot from a trebuchet during Sir Andrew Murray's siege of 1335.
A trench 1m square was laid out and a small area within this excavated off the NE corner of the island in an area from which Mr McComiskie lifted a large storage jar in 1992. Within the loose silt that had fallen into the hole since the removal of the pot, there were found small pieces of wood (some with cut-marks), a few fragments of burnt peat, and other comminuted burnt material. The stratigraphic sequence was found to comprise fine, mobile silt (context 001) overlying a slightly thicker and more sticky sediment (context 002) which contained weeds and appeared to have been naturally deposited. A fragment of a pot-handle was also found but left in situ. Beneath context 002 there was a layer (context 003) which is characterised by black specks, pieces of charcoal, burnt peat and fragments of cut wood and appears to represent a period of habitation. By contrast, context 001 is evidently transitory, mobile and, therefore, modern while context 002 (which measures about 50mm in thickness) is related to related to a period of occupation of the island. Context 003, therefore, must represent either an earlier phase of castle occupation or the occupation of the island before the construction of the castle.
The jar that was recovered in 1992 is believed to be contemporary with the 15th century occupation of the castle, and is displayed in Inverness Museum. The four fragments of handle found nearby are different from it, and need not be chronologically related.
A few planks and a knee from a small boat were found in shallow water to the E of the island; they were not deeply embedded in the loch bottom and may be associated with the second layer of sticky silt noted in the trench, or may be associated with the pottery fragments. The significance of fragments of bone and a perforated stone found in no clear association (the latter off the SE side of the island) remains unclear.
The demonstration (or otherwise) of pre-castle occupation remains the major topic of interest, the following proposals for further study being made accordingly:
1. examination and radiocarbon dating of timber fragments from contexts 002 and 003
2. bathymetric and remote sensing (sonar/sub-bottom profiling) survey of the loch
3. detailed study of the submerged forest and peat bank at the S end of the loch
4. excavation of the area around the fallen walls and oak beam to establish their relationship with the castle
5. excavation of [random] areas of the loch-bed, of the area around the finds and across one or more of the ridges.
NMRS, MS/974/4.

The 1974 edition of the OS 1:10,000 map notes the winter water level of Lochindorb as being at an altitude of 295m above Newlyn datum in 1965.
Information from RCAHMS (RJCM), 7 October 1998.

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Grid reference Centred NH 9744 3631 (6m by 6m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NH93NE

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