In 2017, Valley Renewables Group, supported by Murray Cook and Associates were awarded Heritage Lottery Funding to investigate two important historical sites within the Carron Valley and District area; Sir John de Graham’s Castle, and the Kirk O’Muir. Although historically important neither site had been subject to in-depth archaeological investigation before.

The project saw over 100 children from local primary schools and over 50 volunteers attended an excavation dig and archaeological training at the Kirk O’Muir graveyard and 28 people take part in metal detecting at Sir John de Graham’s Castle. Very significant findings were made at both sites

Sir John de Graham’s Castle

Metal detecting, drone survey and a cross section material investigation called palaeo-environmental coring were carried out in the area around the 13th Century Castle.

The coring identified a burnt nut which points to Neolithic human activity in the region in around 3,000BC – older than Stonehenge. Evidence of a dam and fishponds were also discovered – predating the other local historic fish farm at Howietoun by six centuries.

A series of possibly timber buildings in John de Graham’s Castle were identified, making it possible the best preserved timber castle in Scotland. Historical research accompanying the project also pointed to the existence of a possible second 15th century castle in the vicinity of the de Graham site.

Kirk O’Muir

An excavation at Kirk o’Muir 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 in the 15th Century, but of which no visible remains have been found. Investigations found that the graveyard had previously been built up by 1m, although the reason why is not yet clear.

A further significant finding was the identification of two gravestones from the 17th century, which significantly predates 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 had previously been no historical record supporting the association of them with the site. The projects findings strengthen the possibility that it was the location of conventicles (religious gatherings outside of the Church of England which were illegal in the 17th Century) which were known to have taken place in the valley.

Dr Murray Cook summarised these key findings of the project.
“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.

Next Steps

The project indicates that the sites merit further archaeological and historical investigation. A legacy may include interpretative signage at the graveyard, and a possible heritage trail with leaflet, and signs to the sites on the B818.

Our thanks go to the Heritage Lottery Fund, Murray Cook and Associates, Historic Environment Scotland, the Forestry Commission, the schools and all the volunteers both local and from further afield that made this project possible.

You can read more about the project in the Project Links & Documents section of this page.