Angela Gannon, RCAHMS at the viewfinder on top of Cockleroy Hill
‘If you’re not fast, you’re last’ is one of the choice phrases I, Angela Gannon, routinely hear from my two sons as I invariably end up sitting in the back of the car having been beaten to the front passenger seat … again! So it is too that in the list of Scottish council areas for the Day of Archaeology, my first to third choices had already been selected by colleagues. But should West Lothian really be number four in my list anyway? Well, of course not. As one of RCAHMS’ archaeological field investigators, and living just outside West Lothian, I have spent many a Sunday afternoon visiting sites and monuments here, from the cairn and henge on Cairnpapple Hill to the lesser known fort that crowns the summit of Cockleroy Hill.
West Lothian ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’
It is the latter that I want to champion today because, despite the regular procession of visitors traipsing to the top, I suspect it is only a small percentage who recognise the fort – even though the well-worn path they follow to the summit passes through the original entrance. Situated on the boundary of Beecraigs Country Park, the path leads walkers to the viewpoint on the top, and on a clear day you can see Ben More, near Crianlarich, 74km (46 miles) to the north west, Goat Fell on Arran 106km (66 miles) to the west-southwest and Black Hill in the Scottish Borders 53km (33 miles) to the southeast – or at least that’s what the directional arrows on the viewfinder lead us to believe. Over to Fife are the hills of Dumglow and East Lomond, both with forts on their summits, and to the east the profiles of the Bass Rock and North Berwick Law are readily recognisable. We ourselves have visited Cockelroy on many occasions and under very different conditions – in shorts and T-shirts in March to wellies and waterproofs in July. And, yes, I haven’t got the months mixed up!
The outer face of the lower rampart. Copyright Angela Gannon
The fort has much to commend it. As a prominent and conspicuous hill, it occupies a commanding position in the landscape, overlooking Linlithgow and Grangemouth with fine views north over the Firth of Forth. Its perimeter is defined by a stone rampart that follows the leading edge of the summit with stretches of stone inner and outer faces still visible. From this we can tell that the rampart was originally about 2m thick and had an earth and rubble core. On the west and southwest, the ground drops precipitously but on the northwest it falls more gently and here the fort is defended by an additional line of defence. This too takes the form of a stone faced rampart. Alongside the viewfinder and the Ordnance Survey triangulation station within the interior of the fort, four ring ditch houses were recorded in 1985, but I have yet to visit the site and be convinced. Perhaps under better lighting conditions and with a more positive ‘eye of faith’ I might see them.
Looking west along the north section of the upper rampart. Copyright Angela Gannon
So next time you venture up Cockleroy remember to look down – the archaeology is there at your feet. But in the meantime, do have a look at our site record for the fort including the oblique aerial photographs taken under snow.
There are also some great kite aerial photographs taken by Jim Knowles of the West Lothian Archaeology Group which are well worth a look too: http://www.armadale.org.uk/cockleroy.htm
This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.