Scheduled Monument

Durness Old Church, BalnakeilSM1894

Status: Designated


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The legal document available for download below constitutes the formal designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The additional details provided on this page are provided for information purposes only and do not form part of the designation. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within this additional information.


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Ecclesiastical: burial ground, cemetery, graveyard; church
Local Authority
NC 39109 68649
239109, 968649


The monument consists of the remains of a post-Reformation parish church and burial ground, which served the parish of Durness. This parish included Eddrachillis and Tongue parishes until 1724. The monument was originally scheduled in 1938. On this occasion an inadequate area to protect all the associated remains was scheduled: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The parish church is believed to have been built in 1619 and had an aisle added to the N in 1692. It remained in use until about 1814. The earliest reference to a church at Durness occurs between 1223 and 1245 when it was assigned to find light and incense for the cathedral church at Dornoch. However, the church is traditionally believed to have been founded by St Maelrubba. The medieval references to a church at Durness together with the E-W alignment of the main body of the church suggests that the floor plan, and perhaps much of the fabric of the church, dates to the medieval period. It has been reported that a possible former, circular enclosing bank of the churchyard is visible on aerial photographs. However, the identification of this feature has not been confirmed.

The church is a T-plan with a gabled belfry on the E gable. The remains stand to the wall-head with intact crow-stepped gables. The walls are of rubble masonry being 0.8m thick and averaging 2.5m in height. Externally, the nave measures about 14m by 6m and the aisle about 8m by 6m. The doorway through the E gable has a moulded surround and a gallery door above. The entrance to the N aisle has moulded jambs and worn date (16..) on lintel. The aisle is lit by a 4-light window with a central mullion dividing 2 small pointed headed windows, the space between the two pointed headed lights has been left solid.

In the SE corner of the interior of the church, there is a fine mural tomb in a semi-circular mural recess with crest above dated 1619. The recess and tomb are heavily patched with cement and are protected by a shelter constructed in granite. The tomb is to Duncan MacMorroch and has the epitaph "Duncan MacMorroch here lies low, Was ill to his friend, waur to his foe, True to his master in weird and wo. 1623". Tradition states that MacMorroch wished to be buried within-church but was interred within-wall because his services to his master in quietly getting rid of troublesome hindrances made him a doubtful candidate for burial inside church.

The area to be scheduled includes the church and the old burial ground. It is defined by the boundary wall of the burial ground to the N, E and S. The boundary wall is itself excluded. The area is roughly rectangular with maximum dimensions of 41m ENE-WSW and 60m transversely as marked in red on the attached map. All modern burial lairs still in use, within and without the church, are excluded from the scheduling.



No Bibliography entries for this designation

About Scheduled Monuments

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Scheduling is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for monuments and archaeological sites of national importance as set out in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

We schedule sites and monuments that are found to be of national importance using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Scheduled monument records provide an indication of the national importance of the scheduled monument which has been identified by the description and map. The description and map (see ‘legal documents’ above) showing the scheduled area is the designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The statement of national importance and additional information provided are supplementary and provided for general information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within the statement of national importance or additional information. These records are not definitive historical or archaeological accounts or a complete description of the monument(s).

The format of scheduled monument records has changed over time. Earlier records will usually be brief. Some information will not have been recorded and the map will not be to current standards. Even if what is described and what is mapped has changed, the monument is still scheduled.

Scheduled monument consent is required to carry out certain work, including repairs, to scheduled monuments. Applications for scheduled monument consent are made to us. We are happy to discuss your proposals with you before you apply and we do not charge for advice or consent. More information about consent and how to apply for it can be found on our website at

Find out more about scheduling and our other designations at You can contact us on 0131 668 8914 or at


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Printed: 18/06/2024 11:15