MHG8405 - Motte - Tarradale


Supposed site of motte and castle, excavated by Tarradale Through Time project in 2017.

Type and Period (2)

  • MOTTE? (Medieval - 1058 AD? to 1559 AD?)
  • CASTLE? (Medieval - 1058 AD? to 1559 AD?)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

NH54NE 19 c. 553 487

Site of motte.
P A Yeoman 1988.

The fact that there was a castle at Tarradale in the 13th and early 14th centuries is known from documentary sources. According the Wardlaw Manuscript, in continued efforts of pacification, Edward’s forces destroyed the forts of Inverness, Beufort and Dingwall in 1303; while Tarradale was also captured and given to Edward’s ally Alexander Comyn. The Tarradale site was later recaptured, supposedly destroyed, by Robert the Bruce in 1308.

The precise location of the castle has however proved more difficult to pin down. Field walking and metal detecting have discovered a concentration of medieval pottery that suggests that the motte of the castle may lie on a raised beach immediately southeast of Tarradale House, with a steep slope to the south serving as a defensive feature. Other finds have included large nails, a number of 13th century silver pennies and a horse harness pendant of the de Verdon family.

Tarradale Through Time believes that a bailey associated with the motte lies on the lower raised beach just below the steep abandoned shoreline. A 2015 magnetometer survey of the site by Oskar Sveinbjarnarson (University of Aberdeen) identified potential evidence for buried archaeology on this site, including a potential ditch or bank enclosing a central feature where the motte is believed to be.

Similarly on the lower level, the putative bailey site, the apparent enclosing ditch shown on the magnetometer survey turned out to be very shallow although some medieval pottery was preserved in the bottom of the ditch. The lack of any positive evidence of castle -like structures from excavation (in contrast to the wealth of field walking finds in the same locations) is difficult to explain. The density of medieval pottery revealed through field walking at the putative castle site is many times greater than the density of medieval pottery anywhere else in the study area. One suggestion for the lack of excavation evidence is that the whole site may have been comprehensively destroyed after it was captured by Robert Bruce in 1308, and we know that the castle was never rebuilt. Further degradation of the site could be due to agricultural activity and also to the possible removal of soil to level the lawn of the adjacent Tarradale House. However, we are not writing off the site yet as we are convinced that the site of Tarradale Castle is still close to the inferred area and further magnetometer survey, test pitting and larger scale excavations may yet reveal buried structures. <1> <4>

The excavations at the possible castle site were inconclusive. Trench 1A and Trench 1B did not reveal any archaeological features and confirmed the geophysical anomalies noted in these areas were either natural deposits or slight differentiations in ploughsoil. Trench 1C allowed a better understanding of the more recent processes at the site, including the substantial deposit of material from the upper terrace overlying a modern sheep burial. What is clear from this work is that there are no buried archaeological features in these areas to explain the concentration of medieval redware pottery or iron nails compared to elsewhere.

One theory for this lack of structural evidence is that theremains of a castle site on the bank or mound at the top of the hill have been destroyed by agricultural work. However, this scenario does not account for the lack of material culture found nor for the lack of material at the base of the hill (i.e. ditches). Another theory is that the castle site exists elsewhere in the vicinity, perhaps in the grounds of Tarradale House or under the house itself and the concentration of pottery and nails comes from nightsoil being spread on the fields. Modern groundwork and renewal of services around the house have not indicated any particular concentration of medieval finds on the house site. It is worth noting that the documentary sources leave only fragmentary references to a site at Tarradale, perhaps indicating that the castle site could be elsewhere in or around the former region of Tarradale. In more recent times this area is known as Muir of Ord since the railway station was built and named such in 1862. <2>

One suggestion for the lack of archaeological evidence is the whole site was comprehensively destroyed after it was captured by Robert the Bruce in 1308. Further degradation of the site could bedue to argriculteral acitivity and the removal of soil to level the lawn at Tarradale House. Given all the other evidence, we feel sure that Tarradale Castle was located in the field immediately east of Tarradale House, and test pitting and larger scale excavations may yet reveal buried structures. <3>

Sources/Archives (6)



Grid reference Centred NH 5529 4870 (60m by 60m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NH54NE
Geographical Area ROSS AND CROMARTY
Civil Parish URRAY

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Related Investigations/Events (2)

External Links (2)

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