Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past: Development Phase

Report CoverThe development phase of Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past came to an end in February 2013. Whilst this website, and the information and reports it hosts will remain accessible, it will not be actively updated.
Whilst we look to secure funding to extend the project, we are still interested in your feedback, thoughts and questions.
Please note the email for this correspondence is
Please send an email to this address if you would like to be kept up to date with the project as it develops.
The Development Phase has:
  • Run a series of 8 survey projects, involving local volunteers from Langholm to Stranraer, working on geophysical survey on locally important sites. Over 200 people have joined us, receiving full training in ‘seeing below the soil’, working alongside professional archaeologists from the University.
  • Run a number of Open Days, workshops and talks, presenting the results of these surveys to a wider audience.
  • Involved 7 schools with pupils visiting local sites, having a go at survey and participating in classroom sessions which have looked at how archaeologists understand landscapes.
  • Meaningfully engaged over 500 people in exploring, understanding and interpreting their local heritage.
A report on the Development Phase is now available here.
Development phase jointly funded by the Scottish Government and The European Community, Dumfries and Galloway LEADER 2007-2013; The Crichton Foundation and The University of Glasgow.

We are kindly sponsored by


Discovering D&G’s Past – Conference, 9th February 2013

We are pleased to announce that, to celebrate the end of the Development Phase of Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past, we are holding a day of talks and activities celebrating community archaeology in the region.

When? Saturday 9th February, 10.30-3.30
Where? The CatStrand, New Galloway

DDGP Conference - 9th February 2013

The day is not only to say a big thank you to all project volunteers but will be a chance for those who have not previously been involved to find out more about the project.

There will also be guest speakers telling you about other archaeology projects in the region that you can get involved with.

All are welcome, but please RSVP by the 4th February so that we can sort catering arrangements.

To find out more please contact Giles on or 01387 702056.

Interim results from Castledykes Park, Dumfries; Innermessan, near Stranraer and Corehead, near Moffat

We are pleased to announce that interim results from our first three surveys are now available to download – all the links are below.

These are technical reports – but they present the results in a wider context, and there’s plenty of background information telling you about what we were hoping to find. Brief summaries of the results are below, but please feel free to contact us if you would like any further details.

All go in Castledykes Park, Dumfries

Have you ever wondered how archaeologists interpret this data? We have written a new page to try and explain it all. See Mapping the Past.

Castledykes Park, Dumfries
Resistance survey showed a number of interesting features across an area where the Royal Castle of Dumfries once stood  – mostly rubble associated with landscaping across the park . One area on top of Castle Hill was of particular interest, as survey suggested a defined building foundation, a circle of stonework measuring 5m across.

Download pdf [Castledykes Park, Dumfries: Interim Report on Resistance Survey]

Innermessan, near Stranraer
Volunteers undertook a week long programme of resistance and magnetic survey over two areas at Innermessan, to the north of Stranraer. Around the base of the upstanding motte, a number of features of interest were recorded, including an apparently double-ditched feature which may be cut by the 12th-century motte ditch.

Download pdf [Innermessan, near Stranraer: Interim Report on Resistance and Magnetic Survey]

Corehead, near Moffat
Volunteers undertook a single day of resistance survey to the immediate North of Corehead Farm, near to the head of Annan Water. A range of historic documents as well as a map of 1590 provide evidence for a tower at ‘Ye Corhead’, although the site for this tower remains unlocated, and it is not depicted on further mapping. The main aim of the survey was to test the suitability of resistance survey as a prospection technique across this area.

Download pdf [Corehead, near Moffat: Interim Report on Resistance Survey]

We hope you enjoying reading these reports – if you would like to find out more please don’t hesitate to contact us.

We are also very interested in receiving any feedback we can on the project- please see our survey here:

The results from Langholm Castle…and a request for feedback

Last Wednesday, 21st November, resistance survey was carried out in the area immediately around the standing remains of Langholm Castle.

Built c.1526, Langholm Castle was the towerhouse of the Armstrongs, the infamous Border Reivers. For 200 years, apart from 3 years where it was surrendered to the English, it served as a stronghold for the family, together with nearby Gilnockie Tower, the Hollows.

By the late 18th century, it was described as a ‘small fragment’, which is much how it stands today – as a single portion of end wall, with two window holes.

All pulling together – Langholm Primary pupils get stuck into geophysical survey

The purpose of survey was to begin to explore the complex of earthworks surrounding the standing building on Castleholm. We were joined by pupils from Canobie and Langholm Primaries, as well as Highers students from Langholm Academy, and a team of local volunteers. They were all intrigued to see whether any of the above ground signs of buildings could be related to buried archaeology.

And here’s a sneak preview of the results, which were presented in an evening talk at the Buccleuch Centre a week ago.


To the south of the standing building, an area of low resistance indicates a water-filled ditch, which is defined by high resistance stonework on either side – it looks likely that the current line of the racecourse actually marks the edge of a platform upon which the castle stood, as shown in a painting of 1814. In the grid to the immediate south of the building, a much smaller ditched platform is quite clear. It closely correlates to an earthwork above ground.

To the East of the standing building, a range of high resistance features are visible, which indicate stonework across this area. Whilst some of this may be rubble, there appears to be a circular setting of stonework, possibly up to 15m across. Further processing of the data will hopefully help us to further interpret this feature.

We would like to thank all our volunteers, as well as the Buccleuch Estates, for access to the site, and Langholm Cricket Club for access to the pavilion.

And to the future…

As the main phase of survey comes to an end for this part of the project, we are really keen to hear from as many readers as possible to shape how we take the project forward.

Please take 2 minutes to fill in our survey – it will really give us an idea of how we might best develop a community archaeology project that best serves the region.

Please visit: or get in contact for a paper version.



Upcoming event on 21st November: Survey at Langholm Castle

On Wednesday the 21st November, volunteers and local schoolchildren will join forces to explore the area surrounding the upstanding remains of the Castle at Langholm, with a day of geophysical survey, with the results presented in an evening talk.

The standing end-wall on Castleholm is all that now remains of Langholm Castle, built in the early 16th century by the famous Border Reivers, the Armstrongs, which served as a stronghold for 200 years.

Volunteers from across the local community as well as pupils from local schools will come together to find out more about what remains of the castle across this triangle of land between Ewes Water and the Esk. The day will be a chance to explore what might lie below the ground, without picking up a spade, using geophysical survey equipment.

Geophysical survey, or ‘geofizz’ made famous through TV’s Time Team is an ideal way to map buried remains without having to excavate them. By measuring small electrical changes in the soil, it is possible to, very rapidly build up a picture of where buried stonework might be – and this could be related to stone foundations associated with the castle.

Between 10am and 4pm, there is a chance to ‘have- a-go’ at this type of survey – it’s a great way of ‘seeing beneath the soil’ – doing archaeology without getting your hands dirty! No previous experience is necessary – just enthusiasm. Please contact Giles Carey, using the details below, so that we have an idea of numbers taking part. During the day, there will also be the chance for all visitors to chat to archaeologists on site about the survey and see a small display on what is known about the Castle.

On a single day of survey it is hoped that the standing remains of the Castle can be placed in a wider context. The results, the fruits of volunteers’ labour, will be included in a talk in the evening, at 7.30pm in the Buccleuch Centre, to which all are invited. Entrance to the talk will be £3, with under 18s being admitted for £1.

The event is being run by archaeologists from the University of Glasgow, in partnership with Eskdale and Liddesdale Archaeological Society.

For more information please contact Giles Carey at the University of Glasgow Crichton Campus on 01387 702056 or email

Exploring a later prehistoric landscape on the Threave Estate, Castle Douglas

The latest event run by Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past was survey on the Threave Estate, Castle Douglas, run in partnership with the National Trust for Scotland (NTS).

The surveys brought together a strong team volunteers from both the local community, as well as further afield, keen to learn more about both resistance and magnetic survey, as well as trying their hand at topographic survey. We were joined by volunteers from the NTS Thistle Camp, who got things started with the resistance survey on the Monday. More volunteers, including some on work experience, joined us for the rest of the week, carrying out both geophysical survey and topographic survey, learning how to use the total station, a very accurate piece of surveying equipment used to build a 3D model of Meikle Wood Hill.

3D model of Meiklewood Hill, from survey data collected by volunteers

We were also joined on the Tuesday morning by a class of P3 students from Castle Douglas Primary. They were encouraged to think about the wider landscape whilst climbing up to the spot where people were settling nearly 3,000 years ago. The pupils got to have a go at a number of surveys – including both resistance survey as well as plane table survey – which they all seemed very keen to take part in. The also enjoyed seeing the magnetic survey equipment – and seeing just how much metal they all had on them! They also got to charge up at their teachers, who were tasked with defending the enclosure sitting on top of the hill!

The results
In the dry summer of 1984, aerial photographs were taken of Meikle Wood Hill, part of the Threave Estate at Kelton Mains. The photographs show an enclosure c.50m across, formed of two circuits of ditches, with a roundhouse at the centre. Excavations elswhere suggested that this might date from the later prehistoric period, maybe the 1st millennium BC. This formed the target for the series of surveys, looking for further detail which may not have been showing up from the air.

Cameron in full flow, collecting magnetic survey data. © Sally Bijl

The results of both magnetic and resistance surveys have provided complementary data, adding significant detail to this site which is not apparent from the air. The magnetic survey recorded a number of possible pit features, against a generally quiet background of activity. These appear to be both within and outside the double ditched enclosure, which was strikingly apparent in the resistance survey carried out across this area.

The results of both surveys overlaid on top of the aerial photograph. The edge of the enclosure is very visible whilst a number of pits are visible both outside and within the enclosed area.

The results of the surveys were showcased on an Open Day, held at Kelton Mains on Saturday 13th October, to which there were 42 visitors keen to learn more about how what we had found out contributed to understanding the later prehistoric landscape around Castle Douglas.

A busy Autumn – some initial results

It’s been very busy during September and into October. We’ve had some mixed weather – some glorious Autumn days – some not so! But all volunteers have contributed enormous amount of time to surveys right across the region. With a couple more projects to go next week, we wanted to update all our readers with some initial results.

These are very much preliminary but hopefully give an insight into the varied and interesting sites that local communities have been exploring across the region. We will be processing the data to recognise more of the archaeology present over the coming months.

All the results presented uses greyscale images to ‘map’ buried archaeology.

For resistance surveys this shows areas of high resistance as black – this may relate to buried stonework – such as walls, paths and roads. Areas of low resistance are shown as white – this may indicate cut features filled with wetter soil – such as ditches.

For magnetic surveys areas of positive magnetic response are depicted as black – this may relate to areas of disturbed soils. This may be cause by factors such as burning – so it’s a very good way to spot kilns, hearths and ovens. Cut features, such as pits and ditches which are backfilled with magnetically enhanced soil will also show up as black on the greyscale. Areas of negative magnetic response are shown as white.

As ever, we would like to thank all our volunteers, all landowners for permission to carry out survey and our funders.

Innermessan – where’s the bailey?

Both magnetic and resistance survey were carried out at Innermessan, to the north of Stranraer by a small team of volunteers between the 11th and 13th September. A flat ‘tongue’ of land around the base of the fine upstanding 12th century motte was targeted – it looked like the most likely area to be the castle bailey.

Innermessan was once a flourishing medieval town – it is depicted as larger than Stranraer on 17th century maps.

Magnetic survey failed to record any distinct features related to the castle’s bailey. However, interestingly a totally unexpected circular feature measuring 8m in diameter was recorded. It appears to be cut by the ditch of the motte – so we can suggest it is an earlier feature. There’s a lot of Iron Age acitvity in the area – particularly on the slopes of Craigcaffie – does this feature date from the same period?

Resistance survey concentrated on an area to the north. It’s a field which has been suggested as the site of a Roman camp spotted from the air. No sign of the camp is evident, but there’s a number of other intriguing features across the area.

The results are still undergoing processing and interpreting but here’s a sneak preview prepared for the  Open Day on Saturday 13th September at Stranraer Library – which provoked some very useful discussion with local residents.

Corehead – searching for the ‘lost’ tower

A resistance survey was carried out on two sunny days, September 18th and 22nd, at Corehead Farm, near Moffat, with a fabulous view of the Devil’s Beef Tub.

The survey located a number of intriguing anomalies. Some of these relate to features seen on 19th century Ordnance Survey maps, but some are not! The results were presented on the 25th September in Moffat, together with details on the background to the site presented by some of the volunteers.

‘Ye Coreheade’ a towerhouse depicted on a 16th century map, and for which there are numerous literary references, however, doesn’t seem to have been located yet – so the search goes on!

Lochbrow – the hidden history of a prehistoric landscape

A team of dedicated volunteers braved some difficult weather in the third week of September to help carry out survey at Lochbrow, near Johnstonebridge. This flat field has been the subject of investigation by a team from RCAHMS, the Universities of York and Edinburgh since 2010. Working very closely with the Lochbrow Landscape Project Team, volunteers carried out a very detailed resistance survey across this flat field.

What were they looking for? Well, a large number of prehistoric features have been spotted from the air in a number of fields around Lochbrow Farm – including a Neolithic cursus monument (a long processional way), a number of Bronze Age barrows and other intriguing features. Detailed geophysics has significantly added to an understanding of the use of this landscape over several millennia, as we found out at a talk on Wednesday 26th September

The results are still being processed and analysed but early indications were good – a number of pits were showing up in the results! There’s a lot more background on the Lochbrow Landscape Project website.

We also welcomed pupils from both Johnstonebridge Primary School and Dumfries High to the site, and they helped out with survey and seemed to have a good time. See pupils from Dumfries High in action below (courtesy of Ron Addison).

SL274376 from Giles Carey on Vimeo.

Gatehouse-of-Fleet – a cropmark mystery

On 3rd October, an intrepid team of 12 surveyors joined us to carry out a pilot survey adjacent to Girthon Cemetery, Gatehouse-of-Fleet. This intriguing site was first spotted from the air in 1948. Both quarry pits for the Roman Road running up to a small fort, as well as a number of enclosures, interpreted by some as Early medieval barrows, are evident as cropmarks on aerial photographs.

The aim of the survey was therefore to see if we could record further detail about these cropmarks and spot any details that weren’t evident on the aerial photographs.

Volunteers carried out both magnetic and resistance survey across the site. The results were rapidly downloaded and swift interpretation was carried out in a local hostelry (honestly, no beer was consumed), before being revealed in a talk presented in the evening at Gatehouse community centre, which was attended by many eager to hear the results.

Although further analysis is needed, the Roman road quarry pits are very evident and whilst there are suggestions of barrows, more work is needed to work out exactly what is going on.

You can still get involved

We hope this has wet your appetite for more surveys, although it has been a rapid run through of preliminary results.

The final project surveys are happening next week. You must get in contact ASAP as there are very limited spaces available.

On the 6th and 7th October (this weekend) we will be carrying out resistance survey in front of Threave House, Castle Douglas, between 10am and 4pm. It’s free, so just drop-in and join in!

Between the 11th and 13th October we will be carrying out survey at Kelton Mains, Threave of an intriguing later prehistoric settlement site. There will also be an Open Day on Saturday 13th October, bteween 10am and 4pm at Kelton Mains, Threave, Castle Douglas.

A ‘sneak preview’ of the results from Castledykes Park, Dumfries

On Friday 7th September, up to 50 volunteers joined a team from the University of Glasgow to carry out a small resistivity survey in and around the site of the Royal Castle of Dumfries. This was a drop-in and join-in session – and loads of people turned up to have a go at ‘geofizz’.

They even got to meet a Medieval knight, and chatted to Dumfries and Galloway Council archaeologist, Andrew Nicholson for the full story of the archaeology of Castledykes Park – many thanks to him.

A huge thanks to all our volunteers – as you can see below, there are some details emerging from when the castle buildings on top of Castle Hill were rebuilt in stone. We will post more when the results have been processed more, but at first look it’s all very exciting!

And remember, you can get involved in future surveys – just contact us for more details.

The initial results from Castledykes: you can see a circular feature on top of Castle Hill – is it a stone building?

You can find out more about the Royal Castle of Dumfries here.

An exciting Autumn ahead – many opportunities to get involved!

We have been busy planning a packed programme of surveys, Open Days and Talks running between September to November – and there is plenty of opportunity to get some hands-on archaeological experience.

Remember – all events are free, but to participate on surveys, please contact Giles to book – or 01387 702056.

You can find out more about geophysical survey here and read background to the project here.

Scottish Archaeology MonthAnd remember, September is Scottish Archaeology Month – organised by Archaeology Scotland –  so there’s plenty happening around the region and further afield to get involved with.

Friday 7th September – Arch in the Park

Join University archaeologists as they aim to find out more about Dumfries’ Royal Castle, which once stood in Castledykes Park. We will be joined for the day by Andrew Nicholson, an archaeologist from Dumfries and Galloway Council, who will be talking about all the lumps and bumps in the park.

A medieval knight…might you spot him in Castledykes Park?

You can join in with survey all day between 10am and 4pm. There will be activities for kids and who knows – you might even bump into a Medieval knight?

∙ A free event – just drop in and join in!

You can find out more about the background to the project here.

Download PDF poster

Tuesday 10th – Thursday 13th September –Innermessan: finding the old town

Why not help explore the ‘lost town’ at Innermessan, near Stranraer, and find out what’s buried around the base of a fine upstanding motte?

Volunteers are needed to help with the survey, run over the week. There will also be a chance to see what they have found, on an Open Day on Saturday 15th September. Join us, to see a small display and a sneak peak at the results at Stranraer Library between 10am and 1pm; visit us on site to see ‘archaeology in action’ between 2pm and 4pm.

∙ A free event; volunteers wishing to help with the survey must book. Please contact us for more details of the Open Day.

∙ To book, or for more information, please contact Giles Carey –  or 01387 702056

Download PDF poster

Tuesday 18th September – Discovery Day at Corehead, near Moffat

Join in the search for the ‘missing tower’ at Corehead Farm, near Moffat. A day of geophysical survey, set against the backdrop of the Devil’s beef Tub right in the east of the region. No experience necessary – full training provided.

Talk to be given on Tuesday 25th September, 7.30pm at Annandale Arms Hotel, Moffat. All welcome.

∙ A free event, but booking essential.

∙ For more information, please contact Giles Carey – or 01387 702056

Download PDF poster

Monday 24th – Thursday 27th September – Lochbrow: searching for prehistory

Nothing survives above ground at Lochbrow, near Johnstonebridge, Lockerbie to suggest the complex prehistoric landscape you are standing in.

Through geophysical survey, mapping buried archaeological deposits, why not help us to understand more about this area 5,0000 years ago?

Join archaeologists from the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh and York and RCAHMS for hands-on training in survey techniques.

Find out more from the experts – a talk by the project team entitled “Lochbrow: the hidden archaeology of a prehistoric landscape”, will be given in Lockerbie Town Hall, Wednesday 26th September at 7.30pm.

∙ Volunteers will be needed throughout the week; booking essential.

∙ To book, or for more information, please contact Giles Carey – or 01387 702056

Wednesday 3rd October – Discovery Day at Gatehouse of Fleet

Find out more about the Picts in Gatehouse of Fleet.  Come and join in a geophysical survey looking for a Pictish burial site, near to Trusty’s Hill, recently explored as an Early Medieval royal stronghold.

On a single day we are hoping to find out more about a number of barrows spotted from the air, and present the results in an evening talk in Gatehouse – venue TBC.

∙ A free event, but booking essential.

∙ To book, or for more information, please contact Giles Carey –  or 01387 702056

Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th October – Threave House, Castle Douglas

Find out more about what geophysics, or Time Team’s ‘geofizz’, can tell us about the archaeology of the gardens around Threave House. Come along and find out more about Threave’s past.

There will also be a number of other activities running at Threave as part of Day of the Region.

∙ A free event; volunteers wishing to help with the survey must book. Please contact us for more details of the Open Day.

∙ To book, or for more information, please contact Giles Carey – or 01387 702056

Download PDF poster

Tuesday 9th – Saturday 13th October – Kelton Mains, Threave, Castle Douglas

Come and join University of Glasgow and National Trust archaeologists carrying out geophysical survey of an impressive cropmark site, within the scenic Threave estate. It looks like an Iron Age settlement on top of Meiklewood Hill – but what other details can we add?

Volunteers will get full hands-on training in carrying out magnetic survey. Why not come to Kelton Mains on Saturday 13th October, from 10-4 for a guided tour of the site and to see the survey in action, together with some initial results?

∙ A free event; volunteers wishing to help with the survey must book. Please contact us for more details of the Open Day.

∙ To book, or for more information, please contact Giles Carey – or 01387 702056

Download PDF poster

Wednesday 21st November – Discovery Day at Langholm

Come and help the search for Langholm Castle, with a day of resistivity survey held near the town centre. A hands-on day of exploration; full training will be provided.
No experience necessary – just enthusiasm!

The results will be presented in an evening talk; 7.30pm at the Buccleuch Centre, Langholm. All welcome.
∙ Free event. To book, and find out more, please contact Giles Carey – or 01387 702056.

Find out more: See the website at
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Download a PDF of this event list here.

The project launches: Join Us for Survey of Dumfries’ Royal Castle on Friday 7th September

To celebrate the ‘official’ launch of Discovering Dumfries and Galloway’s Past, we are pleased to announce that we will be running a day of geophysical survey in Castledykes Park, Dumfries on Friday 7th September, running 10am to 4pm.

This is a free event. No booking is required – just drop in and join in! You will receive full training in how to use the equipment to ‘see beneath the ground’.

Dumfries and Galloway Council archaeologist Andrew Nicholson will be joining us, offering visitors a guided tour through the park to explore its earthworks. Who knows – you might even spot a Medieval knight?

A bit of background
Survey will be focused on the top of ‘Castle Hill’ very close to the Glencaple Road entrance to the park. This substantial earthwork is the site of Dumfries’ Royal Castle. The castle was built in 1185, and was strengthened in the 1260s, and again by Edward I in 1300, when the great ditch was dug and the earthwork was enclosed with a wooden palisade. The castle was seized by Robert Bruce in 1306 after he murdered John Comyn at Greyfriars in Dumfries, but held for only three weeks. It was surrendered to Bruce again in 1313 by Sir Dugal M’Doual, and was one of the castles in southern Scotland whose slighting was ordered on the release of David II in 1357. It was described as still ruinous two centuries later and appears to have never been rebuilt.

Over the other side of Castledykes Park stands ‘Paradise Motte’, the site of an earlier castle, probably erected about 1173 by William I of Scotland (‘The Lion’).

How geophysical survey can help

By carrying out a small survey on the top of the mound, we are hoping to add detail to what may once have stood on this spot. A few small trenches have previously been excavated on top of Castle Hill, and they recorded a few bits of wall as well as some Medieval pottery.

Resistivity survey will be used. This technique is very good at mapping buried walls – so we hope to get a better idea of the plan of buildings on top of the mound. These could be related to the stone-built castle, or to the ‘Chapel of Our Lady of Castledykes’ which later sat on this site.

For more information, please contact Giles on 01387 702056 or