archaeological field investigator

A Grand Day Out


Yahoo! Today I, Angela Gannon, have a day in the field to look at some strange earthworks in southwest Scotland with my two former bosses, Roger Mercer and Strat Halliday. Both have now retired so today I’m in charge! For me, it’s great to get back to the day job as an archaeological field investigator and a welcome escape from meetings, merger discussions and writing my contribution for our book on St Kilda. I normally leave for work at this time so it’s not an early start. And today I can wear my favourite colour (bright pink) and do a bit of PR for Dig It 2015!

Dig It 2015!

Dig It 2015!

The first few spots of rain begin to hit the windscreen as I head to the Newbridge roundabout.


First stop, Straiton P&R just off the Edinburgh City by-pass to pick up Roger. He’s waiting for me so his bus connections have worked perfectly. Off down the A701 now to collect Strat and complete today’s ensemble. Think we will be early…


Arrived at Strat’s and as predicted we’re about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. After a concentrated effort to ‘complete his ablutions’ and transfer his wellies and waterproofs from his own car to ours, we’re on the road again. Still on the A701 heading to Moffat then onto Dumfries for our first stop at an earthwork called The Orchard, Snade (NX88NE 3). The rain is persistent now.

So what are we up to today? Well we have four sites on our hit list, all of which are novelties in the archaeological record and which we hope will provide some context for Over Rig, Eskdalemuir, a site Roger excavated in 1984 and 1985, and is writing up for publication (NY29SW 8). I was a site supervisor during the 1985 season – indeed this was my first paid employment as an archaeologist – and my memories are not so much of the multiple banks and ditches of a strange D-shaped enclosure and its unusual setting in a natural amphitheatre, but of 36 inches of rain in 9 weeks. While it may not have dampened spirits at the time, it certainly made me realise that excavation in Scotland (even in the summer!) had limited appeal, and that a career in field survey was a better option. I may still get wet but at least I’d have clean fingernails!


By some masterful map reading – not a skill many people acquire in these days of satellite navigation systems – we arrive at the cottage nearest to The Orchard. Permission granted and we leave the car. Better get those waterproofs on.


On site now with discussions ranging from location, topography, nearest known monuments, scale of the ditches and banks, visibility to and from the central platform… Certainly, its location in a watery hollow is similar to Over Rig and it has multiple banks and ditches but…Time to get out the trusted 30m tape and take a few measurements.

Having been part of the project team that introduced a Thesaurus of Monument Type to index and aid retrieval of all sites and monuments, all be it a few years ago now, I still maintain an interest in classification and I’m passionate about standards and consistency of approach – sad really. So I’m keen to improve those for the sites we’re looking at today. And if we can reach a consensus about their dates or periods even better as this will contribute to the work we’re undertaking on a Period/Timeline thesaurus.

A grand day out 4 July 2014 003

On site discussions


A comfort break in a garden centre on the outskirts of Dumfries with enough time for a quick coffee (and a scone with butter and jam – well we deserve it, don’t we?).


Arrived at Auchenhay Bridge (NX77NE 1), another curious site with triple banks and intervening ditches, classified currently as a settlement. Marshy location but the scale is very different from The Orchard. Hmmm – would be surprised if the two were of the same date and function and would be equally surprised if this was a settlement. But the orchids love the damp location and surprisingly we are still smiling in the rain.



Lunch in the farmyard at Trowdale before we set off to look at Trowdale Mote (NX76NE 1).

A grand day out 4 July 2014 020

Lunch in the farmyard


There are similarities between Trowdale and Auchenhay Bridge in terms of scale, watery location and abundance of orchids, though here the remains comprise two ditches with a medial bank and central platform. Little wonder the site is classified as earthwork. How do we improve on this, if at all?

View of site

View of site


Pict’s Knowe, the last site of the day (NX97SE 13), and one that was excavated by Professor Julian Thomas between 1994 and 1997. This conforms to a classic henge in so far as it has a bank with internal ditch and central platform. Its location is different from the other sites on our list today, being on the valley floor with open views. Well worth another look, but is it similar to the others? I suspect not.

The cattle trampled causeway across the ditch at Pict’s Knowe

The cattle trampled causeway across the ditch at Pict’s Knowe


Back to the car and heading home. No orchids here but I do love the thistles.


Annandale Arms Hotel, Moffat. The driver (me!) requests a comfort break and a revitalising cup of coffee. Home is now in sight.


Coffee for three!

Coffee for three!


Home at last. Dropped off Strat and Roger and deposited the car back at the office. Job done! A long day, yes, a rewarding day, of course, but are we any the wiser? I do hope so. My priority now, however, is a hot bath and a stiff G&T. Perhaps I’ll be indulgent that have the two together. But I bet I’ll have dried out before my socks!

My wet socks!

My wet socks!