Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
Castle Craig is the last of the three Urquhart castles on Black Isle that remains standing in its original 16th century form. Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has designated it as both a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM) and a protected Category A listed structure [defined as “buildings of national or international importance, either architectural or historic; or fine, little-altered examples of some particular period, style or building type” (about 7% of total listed buildings)], making it doubly protected under Scottish law.
Architecturally, Castle Craig retains the unusual features of three masonry-vaulted floors and roof, and its linear plan is one of the most unusual layouts of 16th century Scottish tower houses. The castle has considerable archaeological potential since there is little evidence of the site being subjected to any disturbance or attempts at clearance, other than occasional stone robbing. It is therefore likely that the collapsed tumble deposits covering the site will contain masonry and architectural fragments useful for consolidation and stabilization during conservation.
Only the tower of the northwest block in what was clearly a much larger range of buildings is visible. The remains of the southwest block and curtain wall are currently buried under a combination of vegetation and wall tumble. The layout of the castle within the enclosure of the curtain wall remains largely unknown and it is likely that remains of additional buildings survive under the rubble deposits and vegetation. But before excavation within the area of the SAM can proceed, the tower needs to be stabilized.
Castle Craig’s strategic location on the Cromarty Firth, with a clear view of the entire firth out to the North Sea, makes it likely that archaeological evidence may survive relating to still earlier periods of occupation. In fact, the first excavation carried out in June and July of 2018 has already revealed another enclosed area to the east of the SAM with a possible tower of earlier date beyond that. It seems likely that archaeological occupation deposits will survive across the site and potentially within the interiors of ground floor rooms and beneath the tumble. Continued excavation will greatly enhance the understanding of the entire domestic plan.