Uncovering the Legend of Castle Qua
Maps of Cartland Craigs (part of the Clyde Valley Woodlands National Nature Reserve) have long carried the intriguing legend of Castle Qua. Whilst we have a good understanding of the ecology of the National Nature Reserve, the story behind this relict castle has been shrouded in mystery. Keen to discover more about the castle, the CAVLP with assistance from Scottish Natural Heritage, commissioned a study of the site in 2013.
We hoped to learn a little more about the origins and the history of the ‘castle’, in addition to assessing the suitability of the site for involving the local community in archaeological training and exploration. The study was carried out by Addyman Archaeology. Castle Qua is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, protected under the Scheduled Monument Act. This means that any work on the site, including metal detecting surveys, would require a Scheduled Monument Consent from Historic Scotland. The ‘castle’ is also part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), protected in law for its high quality woodland.
The study found that Castle Qua consists of a relatively flat, triangular plateau perched on the very edge of a precipitous cliff high above the Mouse Water, immediately north of the Royal Burgh of Lanark. Structurally, the castle comprises a broad double bank of considerable dimensions and an associated double-ditch system. The preservation of the inner rampart is exceptional, still standing over 4m above the current bottom of the ditch.
Historically known since at least the late 18th century as ‘Castle Qua’, the site was believed at first to be the ruins of a medieval castle, but by the middle of the 20th century interpretations as a fort of Iron Age origin were discussed, and indeed favoured. However, in 1975, after a site visit by John Dunbar in relation to the fieldwork for the Inventory of Lanarkshire by RCAHMS, the site was identified as a medieval stronghold.
The site at Castle Qua has been identified as of national significance and is therefore included in the schedule of Scheduled Ancient Monuments. Scheduling is a means to protect nationally or internationally important monuments from any future damage and any disturbance
The significance of Castle Qua lies in its good preservation, in particular of the inner rampart standing more than 4m above the present ground level of the inner ditch, and because of its potential for containing surviving internal features. The non-acidic soils at Cartland Craigs suggest the potential for stratigraphically-secure bone survival, a possible source for modern radiocarbon dating evidence.
Based on current knowledge and evidence as assessed during this survey, it seems likely that the Castle Qua earthworks are an (early) medieval stronghold, either pre-dating or relating to the feudal system associated with the motte at Lanark. It would be exciting at some stage in the future to undertake more detailed explorations at the site, perhaps including geophysical surveys and trial trenches.