Burghead was indeed a site of significant power in the heyday of the kingdom of northern Picts. The earliest ramparts at Burghead (probably built around 400AD) were rough wooden palisades erected by Pictish settlers.

 

artists impression of fort entrance
Click for a larger view of this drawing.

 

Viking raids took place in the late 8th and 9th centuries and in 884 A.D Sigurd the Powerful captured Torridun by which name Burghead was known at that time. Sigurd, Earl of Orkney was the leader of the first expeditions of the Vikings. We can imagine the dragon ships of the Norsemen sailing under the lea of the headland to land their plundering hordes. The natural advantages of Burghead - its easy access by sea, its facility of defence and its sheltered anchorage must have made it a tempting prize to adventurers who were bold enough to invade the Province of Moray from the sea.

 artist's impression of the fort wall.one of the six remaining   Burghead bull stones

Nineteenth century excavations recorded a wall 8m thick and 6m high with a foundation of large boulders. The wall contained rows of oak logs set 0.9m apart running across its width with oak planks set at right angles and nailed to the logs using 20cm iron spikes, the whole framework being filled with rubble. The construction of these massive walls would have required a serious labour force to collect the timber, stone and iron from the surrounding countryside. Evidence suggests that the walls were put up around 400AD and destroyed by fire in the 9th or 10th century AD.

Burghead fort is the only Pictish fort where bullstones have been found. Thirty were found in the early 19th century but only six remain; two in the Headland Trust visitor centre, two in Elgin museum, one in the National museum in Edinburgh and one in London.

Archaeologists from Edinburgh University led by Professor Ian Ralston have just completed a three week dig in some of the gardens outwith the main fort site, and have unearthed part of one of the original cross ramparts. It is difficult to date but is thought to be pre-Roman iron age and helps to confirm the importance of the fort at Burghead.

cross rampart unearthed

Pictures & Drawings © Burghead Headland Trust