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24 Nov 2021

Medieval Dollar Glen: farmland or hunting park?

Written by Dr Daniel T Rhodes, Trust archaeologist
Castle Campbell in Dollar Glen
Dollar Glen and Castle Campbell in Clackmannanshire was the Lowland stronghold of the Campbell earls of Argyll from the 15th to the 17th century. Archaeological investigation has uncovered evidence that shows how the landscape of the glen was as important as the castle to the life and image of the Campbells.

Dollar Glen is located in the Ochils, a range of hills north of the Forth Valley running c.20km east-west. It is c.21km north-east of Stirling, and the upper reaches of the glen command views to the Firth of Forth.

The forest of Dollar is one surviving area of wider historic woodlands in the Clackmannan and Stirling area. The earliest historic reference to woodland comes from a charter of David I dating to 1144: ‘all my foresters of Striuelin shire and of Clacmanant to note that the Abbot and Convent have free power in all my woods and forests to take as much material as they please and want to build their church and houses…and pannage of pigs in all my woods’ (Barrow 1999, 114).

The most prominent feature standing within the Dollar Glen woodland is Castle Campbell. The tower is thought to have been constructed in the 1400s. The rectangular plan tower was built by John Stewart, Lord of Lorn c.1430 and was acquired by Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll in 1465 on his marriage to Lord Lorn’s daughter.

In the forest at Dollar Glen, looking across to Castle Campbell

The Campbells

The first known residence of the Campbells was Innis Chonaill on Loch Awe, in Argyll. It was the first of an extensive building programme begun with the succession of Duncan Campbell to Chief of Clan Campbell in January 1413, and continued for the better part of the next 200 years.

By the mid-15th to early-16th centuries the Campbells were conscious of the need to bridge the Highland/Lowland divide. They developed two family biographies in order to straddle the worlds of the royal court and Highland Gael. One claimed continental antecedents, introduced the lowland ‘p’ to the name in 1460-70, and (according to Hector Boece’s Scotorum Historia in 1527) claimed descent from a Frenchman named De Campo Bello (Lynch 1998, 168; Boardman 2005, 140). At the same time they also traced the Campbell line back to figures from the Leabhar Gabhála Éireann, an 11th-century narrative collection of the invasions of Ireland (Boardman 2005, 143-44).

This bridge of the Highland/Lowland divide brought economic benefit through the acquisition of royal approval and feudal charters, as well as strengthened links across Scotland through marriage. Connecting Highland cattle farms to Lowland burgh markets such as Perth, Stirling and Edinburgh created a trade which brought further economic reward to the Campbells already successful control of herring fisheries and maritime trade in Argyll.

Excavations underway in Dollar Glen, with Castle Campbell in the background

Archaeological excavations at Dollar Glen

Our investigations at Dollar Glen uncovered two rectangular turf-walled structures on a narrow promontory overlooking Castle Campbell, a circular earthen mound and two turf banks to the west of the upper tree line, and a rectangular stone building adjacent to a trackway running around the southern and western contour of Bank Hill.

Excavation of the turf-walled buildings found evidence for wooden posts which would have supported the timber roof. Within the collapsed turf we also found pottery called white gritty ware, and fragments of green glazed jugs and medieval redware pot shards. These date from the 13th to 15th century, suggesting these buildings were in use during the early years of the Campbells at Dollar Glen.

Turf buildings like these were also found higher up the glen, one with a cobbled entrance and clear evidence of construction, collapse and at least two phases of repair. As well as evidence for structural elements of the building in the form of post and stake-holes, most significantly the building contained fragments of medieval pottery found on top of a trampled internal floor layer. This gives us a good indication that it was used at the same time as the other turf building in the glen.

Our final area of excavation differed from the other remains by being – aside from the castle – the only other stone building in the glen. The building was a farmhouse and byre, 9m long and 5.6m wide. The byre had a cobbled floor and the farmhouse had remains of a hearth and lumb (chimney). In the farmhouse we found large fragments of 17th-century green glazed wine jug and more white gritty ware pottery. Within the layers dating to after the farmhouse was abandoned, we also discovered fragments of a different kind of tableware, including a wine bottle and wine glass, a button, knives, and furniture studs, dated to between c.1750 to c.1780.

A shard of pottery excavated from the sites at Dollar Glen

Our excavation also recorded a system of banks and ditches across the glen. These would have been used for stock management when the Campbells were corralling livestock that had been transported from the Highlands to the Lowland markets. The stone-and-turf dykes at the upper reaches of the glen form the boundaries of distinct inner and outer zones, between Dollar Glen and the Ochils to the north-west. Excavation of the inner boundary showed two distinct phases, an earlier turf construction overlaid by up to four surviving courses of stone 0.45m high. Further down the glen, this stone boundary marks the extent of the wooded landscape, and may be the remnants of a medieval boundary protecting the glen’s woodland from uncontrolled grazing by deer or other livestock.

What might the archaeological evidence tell us?

The archaeological evidence at Dollar Glen ranges in date from the 13th to the 18th century. All but the most recent were turf built, and may represent changing or multifunctional landscape management approaches.

At times the movement and corral of cattle may have been a major focus of the Campbells as they moved livestock from their heartlands in the West Highlands to the larger Lowland markets of Stirling and Edinburgh.

A farmhouse once sat at the upper reaches of the glen, overlooking Castle Campbell

Likewise, the Campbells were adapting to courtly life and may have needed to entertain members of the royal court during the medieval period – another clue to such political thinking is be the remodelling of Castle Campbell in the 15th century in the style of Stirling Castle. In this way, Castle Campbell and Dollar Glen epitomise this adaptation to an English courtly influence in both architecture and land management. The enclosure and control of land has long been a feature of royal and noble privilege within Britain and Ireland since the 11th century. It has been estimated that by 1300 some 3,200 parks had been created in England; by contrast only 80 to 100 are known to have existed in Scotland (Malloy and Hall 2018, 157). Recent investigations at Durward’s Dyke, Buzzart Dykes (Hall et al 2011), Kincardine (Malloy and Hall 2018) and Falkland (Gilbert 2015) have expanded our understanding of the physical make-up of these large landscape features.

Such acts of ‘enclosing’ as we see at Dollar Glen would in themselves have demonstrated social standing and authority, both in the ability to utilise resources for their construction and in the creation of new and impressive landscape features. Similarity also exists in the place-name evidence that Falkland Palace and Dollar Glen share. Both have a designated ‘seat’, an area at which the kill could be made after the deer were driven from the surrounding parkland. At Falkland this is known as the ‘Queen’s Seat’ (Gilbert 2015, 12) and at Dollar Glen the ‘King’s Seat’ is the highest peak adjacent to Castle Campbell.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Barrow, G. W. S. 1999: The Charters of David I, nos. 126, 135 and 147. Boydell Press. Woodbridge.
Boardman, S. 2005: The Campbells, 1250-1513. John Donald. Edinburgh.
Gilbert, J. 2015: Falkland Park. Re-Connecting People with the Hills. Living Lomonds. Dysart.
Hall, D. – Malloy, K. – Oram, R. 2011: ‘A Hunting we will go’? Stirling University Medieval Dee Parks Project, Tayside and Fife Archaeology Journal 17, 58-67.
Lynch, M. 2000: James VI and the Highland Problem, in: J. Goodare – M. Lynch (ed.), The Reign of James VI. Tuckwell Press. East Linton.
Malloy, K. – Hall, D. 2018: Archaeological Excavations of the Medieval Royal Kincardine Landscape, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, Medieval Archaeology 62:1, 157-176.


Excavation at Dollar Glen were led by Elizabeth Jones, Candy Hatherley and National Trust for Scotland Archaeologist Daniel Rhodes. None of the excavations at Dollar Glen run by the National Trust for Scotland could have happened without the help of dozens of volunteers.

A full version of this research can be read in: Dixon, P. & Theune, C. 2021. Seasonal Settlement in the Medieval and Early Modern Countryside. Sidestone Press Academics. Read the full article now