In 2017, Valley Renewables Group, supported by Murray Cook and associates (Murray is Stirling Council’s Archaeologist), were awarded Heritage Lottery Funding to investigate two important historical sites within the Carron Valley; Sir John de Graham’s Castle, and the Kirk O’Muir.
These two sites are historically important but have not before been subjected to in-depth archaeological investigation. Metal detecting took place at the Sir John de Graham’s Castle and excavation and archaeological training at the graveyard. 28 people took part in the metal detecting, over 100 children from local primary schools attended the dig as well as over 50 volunteers.
Palaeo-environmental coring was also carried out on the environs of the Castle. Stones in the graveyard were cleaned and recorded and the grass cut. It has been established that the graveyard is under the aegis of Stirling Council and not the Forestry Commission as previously thought.
Reports from the coring and excavation consultants have been received and are being evaluated. There is also a drone survey of the two sites. The reports with a commentary from Murray Cook, and the drone survey, together with photos of gravestones are available at the links below.
There have been some very significant findings at both sites. The coring has identified a burnt nut which points to Neolithic (around 3000BC) human activity in the region. It has also provided evidence of a dam and fish ponds which predate our other local fish farm at Howietoun by some 6 centuries. The coring identified a ditch and possible second pond and a dating sample was sent for analysis. This proved unable to be dated so further coring is to take place.
The excavation at Kirk o’Muir has found the remains of a very small school which operated in the 19th century and rubble which could have come from a late medieval chapel to St Mary which historical sources have recorded as having been within the graveyard.
A significant finding has been the identification of two gravestones from the 17th century, which significantly predate previous recorded stones. This places the operation of the graveyard during the period of the Covenanters. For over 100 years an annual service has been held at Kirk o’ Muir to commemorate the Covenanters although there appears to be no historical record supporting the association of them with the site. The findings however strengthen the possibility that it was the location of conventicles which were known to have taken place in the valley. There is an irony in that a descendant of John de Graham, Bonnie Dundee, was a scourge of the Covenanters.
Historical research accompanying the project also points to the existence of a possible second 15th century castle in the vicinity of the de Graham site.
The project indicates that the sites merit further archaeological and historical investigation and have the potential to bring more visitors to the valley. VRG intend that its legacy should include interpretative signage at the graveyard, and a possible heritage trail with leaflet. VRG are also exploring the erection of signs to the two sites on the B818.
Our thanks go to the Heritage Lottery Fund, Murray Cook and associates, the consultants, Historic Environment Scotland, the Forestry Commission, the schools and all the volunteers both local and from further afield and spectators.
Below is a summary of main findings by Dr Murray Cook, Stirling Council archaeologist, who managed project on behalf of VRG. This is followed by a report on Paleo-environmental coring at the Castle. A second is on the metal detecting at the Castle and the training and excavation that took place at Kirk o’ Muir. At the end of the latter are a series of photographs of the sites, the trenches dug, the gravestones, and some of the participants who detected and dug for us.
“The project set out to better record the John de Graham Castle and to attempt to locate the earlier St Mary’s chapel. We were also able to expose more gravestones and get them recorded. We have to date identified two new fish ponds and a series of possible timber buildings in John de Graham’s Castle, making it possibly the best preserved timber castle in Scotland. We have also more fully mapped a later possible 14/15th century stone phase to the north of the timber castle. Coring has revealed a possible older prehistoric boundary ditch associated with 6000 year old material.
We will be going back to do more coring to try to date the fish pond. At the Kirk, we could not find the earlier chapel, but did confirm the nature of the school and also that the graveyard was built up by around 1m, though quite why is unclear.”
You can read more about the project in the documents below:
Sediment Stratigraphies of Archaeological Features at John de Graham’s Castle, Upper Carron Valley (Report by Richard Tipping, Honorary Research Fellow, Stirling University)
All of the Photographs on this page have been reproduced courtesy of www.chcheritage.co.uk.