Medieval Mottes in Strathgryffe
Mottes were mounds, usually artificially constructed, with a defensive wooden or stone castle tower built on the flat top. They were introduced into Scotland by Norman settlers in the twelfth century. The best examples in the Gryffe area are Denniston Motte and Castle Hill Motte (alternatively designated as Ranfurly Motte) which is situated on Old Ranfurly Golf Course. Both would have been topped by towers.
Denniston Motte is a strange looking grass covered mound, 4 metres high, and appears incongruous in the surrounding terrain. It is situated to the south of the B788 and can be seen from the cycle path from Bridge of Weir to Kilmacolm.
The site was partially excavated in the nineteenth century and revealed four rows of rough boulders a metre below the surface at the summit. This was regarded as possible evidence of stone foundations of a structure. Later, evidence of the motte’s occupation and use in the early medieval period was corroborated when a sherd of twelfth or thirteenth century white gritty pottery was found on the south side of the mound.
It is considered possible that the motte belonged to Hugh de Danielstoun, a knight whose name appeared on the Ragman Roll in 1296. (The 1296 Ragman Roll was signed at Berwick by most of the prominent Scottish landowners to swear allegiance to Edward I after his victory at the Battle of Dunbar.) Later use of the site as some kind of meeting place was indicated by the discovery of a 15th – 16th century bronze or copper jetton or counting piece, found in a sheep scrape on the north side of the motte.
Castle Hill Motte on Old Ranfurly Golf Course is more widely known and is regarded as the best example of a motte in Renfrewshire. The mound itself is not man-made. It sits on the edge of a five metre high north-facing natural scarp and is surrounded on the other sides by a rock-cut man-made ditch three to four metres wide and up to one metre in depth. Finds from Castle Hill Motte, including Samian pottery (Roman), a bronze key, green glazed pottery, bones, charcoal and whitening material were displayed at the Palace of History Exhibition in Glasgow in 1911.
Further information can be found in Renfrewshire, A Scottish County’s Hidden Past by Derek Alexander and Gordon McCrae and in RLHF Journal, Vol. 4.
©2013 Helen J. Calcluth