Stirling University

Looking at castles for a living

Name: William Wyeth

What do you do?
I’m a PhD student based jointly at RCAHMS and Stirling University, researching Scotland’s early stone castles.

Castle Tioram Highland

Castle Tioram Highland

Part of my work as a PhD student includes visits to sites like Castle Tioram, where I help with the surveying of sites and learn how to read the masonry of castles to interpret different phases of construct.

How did you get here?
I am from London and have always been interested in pre-modern warfare. At university I studied Roman history, after which I tried my hand in various jobs before deciding on heritage and archaeology. I took a fixed-term position as an Education & Outreach trainee at RCAHMS; during this time I developed an interest in Scottish history, especially the Wars of Independence period, which led to me applying for this PhD position.

What are you working on today?
I am working on developing the questions I want to answer by looking at the evidence available to me. All research requires a lot of reading and thinking, so quite a lot of time is spent reading something which will likely never appear in the final work, but which triggers ideas and theories which may play a role further down the line.

Here I am in my office at RCAHMS, where I spend the large majority of my time. I spend my time reading books, working through a large database of sites and writing. A PhD is a long and uncertain journey, so it’s nice to have two office mates, Iain and Miriam, to keep me company!

Here I am in my office at RCAHMS, where I spend the large majority of my time. I spend my time reading books, working through a large database of sites and writing. A PhD is a long and uncertain journey, so it's nice to have two office mates, Iain and Miriam, to keep me company!

My Desk

Favourite part of your job?
Site visits! It is quite difficult to grasp a site in its entirety without either having a solid plan and bank of photographs, or a comprehensive site visit. These also give you a much better grasp of the area in which the castle sits, an element as important as the castle itself.

Recently I went on a sightseeing tour of castle sites in the Highlands. Given that many castles are located in important communication routes or well-defended locations, it’s unsurprising that some castles have been replaced by later buildings, as at Ruthven.

Lag tower was a spontaneous discovery while on fieldwork. A delay one morning meant I was able to walk in the countryside nearby; I saw an abandoned farmstead, an iron age fort and Lag Tower (marked as Tower House on the Ordinance Survey map of the area). It’s a well-preserved 16th-c tower atop a small steep mound.

Top tips for aspiring archaeologists?
I am not an archaeologist by training, but my experience of site visits with surveyors at RCAHMS has taught me two things; firstly, consider the setting of the site: where is it located in relation to everything around it? How might things have been different? The second tip is to be aware of the impact of earlier people in trying to restore or conserve structures or sites; sometimes their understanding of the site might not always be accurate.