Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Range Castle – An Iron Age Hill Fort

Range Castle from Moss Castle

Range Castle sits on a rise of rugged hills, overlooking the Annandale Valley. 
As you can see in the pics, this is a ring fort, and it is figured to have three walls. The outer dyke has been cut into the hillside, through the rock, and was most likely banked up and palisaded when it was in use. Unfortunately no archaeological digs have been done there to date. Canmore lists Range Castle as an Iron Age fort and speculates that over three periods the fort was altered. However, the Iron Age is a pretty wide period of time to deal with. 

The fact that many hill forts have triple defences appears intentional: three was a sacred number to the Iron Age peoples of Britain and Ireland. Not far to the north, Barrshill is another Iron Age fort with three walls. It's possible that triple defences were believed to add a level of magical protection. 

Another possibility is that the fort served a variety of functions and defence wasn't its primary use. Perhaps its location was also the product of ritual and the place served as a temple. It could also be that the owners had more material concerns: safeguarding their cattle from other tribes' raids. It could also be possible the fort served all these functions. Although an enclosure might be marked as a fort on a map, this doesn't mean that's what it was. The map is not the territory. 

Perhaps Range Castle's location, not far from Moss Castle (a possible settlement site, on a neighbouring hill, also guessed to be Iron Age), and the fact that these both front the hills, affording a view over the valley below, are important factors. The oppidum of Burnswark is visible across the valley to the east. Burnswark was besieged and captured by the Romans in 140 AD. I wonder if the peoples of Range Castle witnessed the siege,  and if so did they sent help, or watch helplessly as the Roman military machine took the fortress, certain they were next? 

Hawthorns growing inside the main trench, south of the entrance.

Range Castle's western entrance is aligned with a large cairn that squats atop a neighbouring hilltop. This tumulus is known as Cairnhill, or Hound Hill, according to the Statistical Accounts of Scotland. Although the cairn is much older than the fort, perhaps its presence played a role in the minds of the people who lived upon the hills. We know that ancient Neolithic and Bronze Age sites were seen as magical places: the homes of ancestors and gods. In Ireland the ancient tumuli of the Boyne region became the legendary sidhe: the homes of the Tuatha De Danaan. 

This is the aerial view captured on Maps.
You can clearly see the main trench,
which would have had a wall either side.
The central enclosure appears to
be split into three areas.

Range Castle maintains a defensible position, surrounded by the remnants of an ancient oak forest (very much depleted now due to sheep grazing). However, these marginal lands, rising from the Annandale valley, were once very much inhabited. The valley, through which the River Annan snakes, is still subject to frequent inundations. In the Iron Age the low lying areas would have been boggy marsh and a nightmare to traverse. It’s easy to imagine trackways linking up the numerous settlements that dot the higher ground. To this day the hills surrounding the fort are marked with cairns, embankments and field systems from the past, hinting at a lost landscape belonging to a time when the hills were more inhabited.

OS Map View of the Site