Druminnor Castle Excavations

The Druminnor Castle series of excavations was the first undertaken by the Bennachie Landscapes Fieldwork Group in 2011 and is still continuing. Druminnor Castle was the original stronghold of the Forbeses in the 13th century and, from there, they went on to become one of the most powerful families in the north-east. The discovery of two, formerly unnoticed, 18th-century estate plans, each containing thumbnail plans of the castle and sketches of it from the south, indicated the castle to have been more extensive than ever imagined. Subsequent excavations have confirmed those plans.

Beyond confirming the veracity of those plans, the excavations have revealed former mid 12th-century site usage in the form of a prestigious grain-drying kiln. This produced important environmental evidence for that period. An impressive stone-lined well was found to have sat within the former ‘Old Tower’, suggested to have late 13th-century origins. At the beginning of the 15th-century a defensive ditch was dug to encircle a newly-planned courtyard containing, along its south side, the surviving element of the castle. Around the turn of the 16th century, a lower courtyard was added and this, in turn, was remodeled during the 17th century. It was probably at this time that a new formal garden with terrace was laid out on the north side of the upper courtyard, overlooked by the Old Tower. This fell into disuse during the early 18th-century and became overlain with trees, as depicted on the 18th-century estate plans and sketches.

The Old Tower and most of the castle were removed in 1800, when the former courtyards were redesigned as an enclosed garden with stable block. This area was again remodeled in 1841-2 when a large mansion house (the Simpson ‘villa’) was built abutting the north-west corner of the surviving medieval hall-house. This mansion was removed in 1960.

All work on the site has been carried out voluntarily by members of the Bennachie Landscapes fieldwork group. Financial support for the environmental analysis of the kiln was provided by the Hunter Archaeological Trust. Radiocarbon dates have been funded by Aberdeenshire Council Archaeological Services (ACAS). Bruce Mann from ACAS has, moreover, provided ongoing support and advice. The Castle Studies Trust generously paid for a geophysics exploration of the site, undertaken with great enthusiasm by Emil Tanasie. AOC Archaeology Group carried out species identification for the radiocarbon dates at no cost and both they and Murray Cook kindly gave advice concerning the excavation of the kiln and collection of environmental samples. Grateful thanks are due to Alex Forbes for permission to excavate and for his seemingly bottomless pit of local historical knowledge.

Various interim reports have been published and most of those can be downloaded below. However, care should be taken when reading the earlier reports presented here as subsequent work has frequently shown some initial suggestions to have been mistaken. As the work is ongoing, no final, definitive report has been produced as yet.

Shepherd, C., Irving, D., Groat, A. & Ralston, I. (2015) “Ecology and landscape use within the pre-modern Lordship of Forbes: Interim report on excavations at Druminnor Castle in 2012 and 2013”, BLOP4, in Shepherd, C. (ed) Bennachie and the Garioch: Society and Landscape in the History of North-east Scotland, 3 (Chapel of Garioch, Bailies of Bennachie) 55-81.

Shepherd, C. & Tanasie, E. (2019) “Druminnor Castle: report on the geophysical survey, 2019”, BLOP20, in Shepherd, C. (ed) Bennachie and the Garioch: Society and Landscape in the History of North-east Scotland, 4 (Chapel of Garioch, Bailies of Bennachie) 29-45.

Forbes, A. (2021) “Some Forbes Castles”, BLOP24, in Scottish Castles Association Journal, 27, 38-44.

Shepherd, C. & Wainwright, A. (2022) Druminnor Castle Excavations, 2012-2022; Interim Summary of Findings, BLOP 26.

Other papers published elsewhere:

Shepherd, C. (2018) “A 12th-century bowl-fired grain-drying kiln at Druminnor Castle, Aberdeenshire. Implications for social change, agricultural productivity and landscape development in north-east Scotland”, in Studia Celtica 52, 1-32.

Shepherd, C. (2020) “Penetrating the forgotten plan of Druminnor: GPR survey at Druminnor Castle, Aberdeenshire in 2019”, in Medieval Archaeology 64, 2, 384-391.