Built no later than the mid thirteenth century, Dunnideer Castle is one of the earliest surviving tower houses in mainland Scotland. It was constructed within the earthworks of a former Iron Age hillfort, a fortification that boasted no less than five separate defensive lines built over multiple phases of development.
The hill of Dunnideer overlooks the northern banks of the Shevock, a river that runs through Insch and then on to the River Urie. This waterway would have served as a key trading artery for the settlements along its length and for this reason numerous hillforts were established in the vicinity. It is not known precisely when Dunnideer itself was first fortified but a hillfort certainly existed there by the third century BC. This took the form of an broadly rectangular area protected by double ramparts which probably reflects two phases of construction. The inner rampart was a vitrified stone wall, a rampart which had been subjected to intense heat to fuse together the stones. The outer rampart was a conventional stone wall which was probably braced in position by timber beams. A cistern was built in the western corner of the inner enclosure. This hillfort was itself set within further earthworks in a trivallate (triple ramparts) configuration which definitely represents a different phase of a development. It is likely these pre-dated the smaller, inner hillfort. Of note these earlier defences do not seem to have ever been fully completed.
Dunnideer Castle was built within the earthworks of the abandoned hillfort. The structure was dominated by a rectangular stone tower measuring 15 metres by 12.5 metres which has led to claims it was Scotland's first mainland tower house. The ground floor was presumably used for storage although, unlike most later structures, it was not vaulted. The first floor seems to have been a Great Hall and was lit by at least one arched window. The purpose of the floor above is not known for certain but would probably have served as high status accommodation. The tower would not have stood alone and numerous other ancillary buildings - a bakehouse, brewhouse, storehouses, workshops and stables - would have stood nearby possibly within a courtyard on the eastern side. Contemporary with the castle, St John's Chapel was also allegedly built on the hill although all traces have now been lost.
Precisely who founded Dunnideer Castle is a matter of speculation. Local tradition suggests it was constructed by Gregory the Great (Giric), King of the Picts, around AD 880. Other authors suggest it was King David I's grandson - David, Earl of Huntingdon. However, the first surviving reference to the site dates from 1260 when a record stated that Sir John de Balliol, Lord of Dunnideer made a grant to the Abbey of Lindores. Little is known about the later history of the castle.
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Dunnideer Castle consists of the remains of a thirteenth century Tower House set within earthworks of a much earlier hillfort. On a clear day the view from the summit is spectacular.
Dunnideer Hill. The hillfort and castle occupied the summit of Dunnideer Hill, a prominent conical mound standing over 260 metres above sea level.
First Scottish Tower House? Dunnideer Castle has been mooted as a contender for the earliest Tower House on the mainland. The construction technique, namely closely packed stone constructed in layers, is indicative of other early towers such as Red Castle in Angus. The lack of any vaulting is also another pointer to the early date of the tower.
Spectacular Views. The castle/hillfort site offers superb views of the surrounding area. The prominent rise in the centre is the Hill of Noth, the highest summit of which was also topped by the Tap o' Noth hillfort.