The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Arbory Hill



As incredible - or just plain stupid - as it seems to me in retrospect, I actually considered passing over a visit to Arbory Hill in favour of completing my (fruitfully) interrupted journey to Loch Tay. Luckily, however, reason prevailed - for once - and I got to see what must surely be one of Scotland's finest hillforts?

The site is one of enormous natural defensive potential, the ground more or less precipitous to north, south and west, with the col between Arbory Hill and Tewsgill Hill (to the east) the only remotely practical approach. Suffice to say that, in my opinion, the successive planners and builders of the Arbory enclosure took the opportunity presented to them by the short n' curlies... and flung it screaming down the stairs. The resulting structure must have been as near to impregnable as any hillfort - anywhere - ever was ... water supply notwithstanding? As implied, attaining the ramparts of Arbory is no easy skate, even via the aforementioned saddle to the east. But, hell, to say it is well worth it for lovers of pre-R*man fortified enclosures is, I think, a major understatement.

The hillfort is protected by three lines of powerful, concentric rampart, the outer two - now mostly grassed over - in all honesty all that was really required. In support of this observation Canmore reckons the inner, massive drystone rampart was actually a later addition. Assuming this to be so, such over the top fortification, allied to the provision of no less than five entrances through the outer ramparts (the inner citadel has 'just' the two), strongly suggests a warlord with a serious need to impress/overawe his supporters and would-be opponents.... 'don't even bother opposing me when I can pimp my hillfort like this'.

I stand upon this windswept, rain-lashed hilltop, gazing across the Clyde to the Abington Services on the A74(M) and - more scenically, perhaps - to the surrounding hills and the deep valley separating Raggengill Hill to the south, and try to imagine what Arbory must have been like in its prime. It is silent now.... a vacant, empty shell, where once people actually lived and died, perhaps occassionally violently in respect of the latter. Yeah, it's difficult to envisage the noise, the smells that once held sway at this ethereal place. Needless to say the manner in which the location oversees and dominates modern communication routes says all that needs to be said about the strategic value of the hillfort in its heyday. This would have been the abode of 'The Boss'. Yeah. And not that American with the, er, idiosyncratic voice.

The linear grouping of cairns is puzzling. Initially, so is a series of what I take to be walkers' shelters within the rubble of the inner drystone rampart. Why here? I mean, where are the bloody walkers? Perhaps these were actually later dwellings inserted within the partially collapsed wall, thus implying continued occupation beyond Arbory's use as a fortress? The previous post's reference to nearby Cold Chapel Farm is intruiging. Hermit cells, perhaps? Pure supposition, of course, but why not?

[Note - back at home a fortnight later... I notice numerous other forts/settlements to the north and south of Arbory, particularly on the southern slopes of Castle Hill. I need to do more research, clearly, but Arbory's position as a focal point of the area seems ever more likely, does it not?]
11th June 2011ce
Edited 26th June 2014ce

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