Dunnideer Castle – Oldest Tower in Scotland

Little is known of Dunnideer Castle, which is first mentioned as the stronghold of Sir John de Balliol in 1260. Today it comprises of remains of a medieval tower, vitrified fort and unfinished fort. The weather-beaten rectangular tower, partly built from the remains of the prehistoric vitrified fort in which it stands is thought to be the earliest one of its kind in Scotland.

It stands on the summit of Dunnideer Hill and bears little resemblance to any late medieval tower-houses. Its masonry is close-packed and striated and like other early castles; it is gathered to a rough course every six feet. Single great shattered lancet of the first-floor great hall pierces the west gable. The medieval tower is within an oblong vitrified fort with outer works, which in turn is surrounded by an incomplete trivallate system of defense.

The vitrified fort shows a few traces of outer works as a ruinous stony bank particularly on the north and east, but not on the steep south west flank. The outermost line of the trivallate defenses shows the remains of a marker trench seen as a slight terrace down the hill, enclosing the entire area. Gaps for entrances have been left in the east and west. The inner line, slightly uphill is similar, but construction of a rampart has been started on either side of each entrance. The top line is again similar, but cannot be followed across the steep south-west hill slope.

The Castle of Dunnideer was presumed to have been built by Gregory the Great in AD 890, but may have been built by David, Earl of Huntingdon and Garioch in 1178. It is probably the earliest authenticated example of a tower house in Scotland. One of the walls of the castle is known as Gregory’s Wall. The tower probably had a courtyard on its east side connected with St John’s Chapel that stood hereabouts. Lord of Dunnideer, granted to the abbey of Lindores permission to construct a lade from the River Urie to the mill of Insch. The only feature to survive at first-floor level is the apex of an arch of a pointed window that lit a first-floor hall.

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