Breachacha Castle survey: 1965–8

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1. BREACHA CASTLE, COLL From Mr D. J. Turner
NM 159538. Excavations took place during September on behalf of the owner and with the permission of the Ministry of Works. The castle consists of a tower house, or keep, with a small courtyard with internal structures. The excavation and examination revealed the probability of two pre-castle phases of building and provided evidence for the dating of some of the various phases of the castle’s development.
Dating is at present provisional but it appears that in the early 14th century a massive tower house was built alongside two free standing buildings of the 12th and 13th centuries. Later in the I4th century one of the early buildings, possible a chapel, was linked to the tower by the construction of a courtyard wall. The second early building was also linked to the complex, possibly in the next century, after which it underwent several changes of shape and function. This building later became known as the “Frenchman’s Hut ” and was the last part of the castle to be inhabited, late in the 18th century. The 16th century saw drastic alteration to the tower,
including the construction of a new staircase within one of the quoins and the partial rebuilding of the top. At the same time, or soon after, the courtyard wall was heightened and early in the 17th century a hall house was built within the courtyard superseding the domestic functions of the tower. The work was carried out by a group of volunteers, including members of the Lorn Archaeological Society, under the direction of D. J. Turner.

From Hugo B. Millar and John Kirkhope
The 14th century tower-house had been inserted between two earlier buildings to the N. and S.; the S. building was oriented E-W. and could have been a chapel. Both these structures were joined to the tower by curtain walls, and the SE. round tower built at the same time. Later, the SE. and SW. curtains were heightened, incorporating musketry loops and blocking earlier crenelles. An upper storey was added to the chapel, to form a hall which was itself altered later. The earlier building to the N. bears the remains of a fireplace, and was later adopted to form a house, partially re-using the former fireplace. (Discovery and Excavation in Scotland 1965, p. 9.)

NM 159538. During the second season’s excavation, work was concentrated on three points in the complex: Inside the Keep, where some of the overburden had been cleared by the owner; outside the SE entrance; and around the building linked to the castle on the NE. Inside the Keep work over a wider area confirmed the results from the previous year’s pilot trench. More pottery was recovered from layers which sealed the blocking of the first period mural stair and some pottery was also found in earlier levels. Outside the SE entrance a fine cobble pavement was found crossed by an open conduit. It was possible to date the pavement to the 16th or early 17th centuries, but an attempt to establish earlier arrangements at this point were inconclusive.
Excavation on the pre-castle building, known later as the ” Frenchman’s House,” to the N proved rewarding. Originally this was a narrow rectangular building with a rectangular bay, probably a fire-place, at one end. It was constructed of random blocks well coursed by the careful use of small pinnings. After its construction a semi-circular dry-stone bay enclosing a spring was built adjacent to its E corner. This spring became finally silted up in the 16th century and a new water place constructed within it after only partially removing the silt. Pottery found here included one sherd of imported ware from W France. In time the building became
derelict and a cruder structure built partially on the same footings.
This reconstruction appears to be contemporary with the outwork which links the castle to it. This outwork takes the form of a platform with a low parapet, polygonal in plan, which is apparently a bastion designed for light artillery. The ” Frenchman’s House” experienced further alterations and finally the main chamber was given the high quality cobble flooring explored during the first season. It is of interest in view of the name given to the building in the 18th century, that an early 18th century French coin was found within it during the excavations. (Discovery and Excavation in Scotland 1966, p. 3–4.)

NM 159538. A short third season of excavation was carried out in May at this site with the assistance of a grant from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Work was concentrated on completing the total excavation of a representative area within the tower.
The lower layers, sealed by mortary soil derived from the 16th century reconstruction work, produced an interesting group of finds. Sherds of several hand-made pottery vessels were recovered. Two of these were of slightly finer ware than the rest and were decorated by small, irregularly disposed circles produced by stabbing with the end of a straw or truncated quill. Associated with this pottery were two decorated bronze hinges or mounts, a bronze needle, a bone needle, and other pieces of worked bone. The pre-16th century deposits also contained numerous animal and fish bones but no fragments of wheel turned or glazed pottery were found. Few tangible remains of a pre-16th century floor have been unearthed except for a mortar fillet at the S corner of the tower and a small rudimentary scarcement along part of the SE wall.
The walls of the tower rest directly on the irregular surface of the natural rock except where a deep crevice had been filled with sand and loose stones before the wall was built. The tower was positioned to enable its SE or entrance wall to be built along a sharp ridge rock that slopes away steeply outside the tower. This slope has been completely hidden by the later infill of the barmkin. (Discovery and Excavation in Scotland 1967, p. 10–11.)
Restoration of the tower has now begun.

NM 159538. The fourth season of work continued to produce evidence for the building’s detailed relative chronology but was disappointingly barren regarding its absolute chronology. The structure of the bastion was examined and evidence accumulated that it had never been completed. The relationship between the bastion and the adjacent structure, apparently of ‘West Highland’ masonry but comprised of unusually thin walls, was examined. A third, late, spring-bay was discovered adjacent to the two that had been found previously, and an early, fouled, water hole was found partially covered by the bastion. (Discovery and Excavation in Scotland 1968, p. 7–8.)

5. Turner, D.J. and J.G. Dunbar (1969–70) Breachacha Castle, Coll: excavation and field survey, 1965-8, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 102, pp. 155–87.

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