Case Study: Ormond Castle, Avoch

Meryl Marshall

Ormond Castle (MHG8226) is a poorly preserved castle on a prominent hilltop site near Avoch on the Black Isle. Defensive ditches suggest it may be on the site of an earlier Iron Age fortification at the site (Atlas of Hillforts SC4218). The castle has not received the attention it deserves, given its impressive history. It is traditionally thought to have been associated with King William the Lion (1143–1214). In the 13th century it was held by the de Moravia family. One of their sons, Andrew de Moray, became principal commander of the Scottish forces in the north during the Wars of Independence (1296–1328) but was mortally wounded fighting alongside William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. From the 14th century the history of the castle is unclear. In the 15th century it seems to have belonged to the Black Douglas’s who became Earls of Ross, and it may have been at this time that the name “Ormond” was adopted, as it was in the hands of Hugh Douglas, Earl of Ormonde. In 1455 it passed to royal control when the Earldom of Ross (and presumably Ormond) was forfeited. The castle was destroyed by Cromwell’s forces in 1650 and the stones were transported over the firth to build the Citadel in Inverness (Gibson 1845, 390–291, Beaton 1885, Stell 1986, 102; Alston 1999, 145, Forder 2013).

Only the foundations of the castle walls remain today. They indicate that it was a substantial castle with a double system of curtain walls around the summit creating two outer and one inner courtyards with towers and buildings. A deep well cut into the rock survives. The HES scheduling document for the site states that “the monument is of national importance because it is a fine field monument of a type rare in Scotland; it is said to have been one of the royal castles built c.1179 and…the clearly defined remains have the potential to increase understanding of 12th century fortification techniques and military history.” In 1883 the castle was investigated by Angus Beaton, but the excavations carried out remain unpublished and the plan produced was inadequate (Beaton 1885).

Portion of stone wall covered by turf with three people standing on top of it.
The northern part of Ormand Castle (Feature 17). ©NOSAS

The North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NOSAS) and Avoch Community Archaeology (ACA) group joined forces in March 2016 to survey and photograph Ormond Castle This latest survey provides much needed information on this neglected site. The site was cleared of vegetation and a measured survey using nine linked planetable stations was carried out. The height variations were overcome by making adjustments at the drawing-up stage of the plan using the processed aerial photographs taken from a quadcopter flyover (the PT positions having been marked by spray paint). The flyover produced some impressive 3D images of the castle and its features which gave a greatly enhanced the overall picture of the fortification. This work highlights the valuable contributions which community groups can make in researching and recording remains.

Aerial image of Ormand Castle. ©Alan Thomson
Digital plan of castle with buildings, ramparts and features detailed.
Plan of Ormand Castle with profile. ©NOSAS

Further information

Nosas 2016. Report of a Survey of Ormond Castle, Avoch, Rossshire carried out by members of the North of Scotland Archaeological Society and Avoch Community Archaeology group.