Scheduled Monument

Dundonald CastleSM90112

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
Supplementary Information Updated
Prehistoric domestic and defensive: fort (includes hill fort and promontory fort); settlement (if not assigned to any more specific type), Secular: castle; fort (non-prehistoric)
Local Authority
South Ayrshire
Planning Authority
South Ayrshire
NS 36300 34500
236300, 634500


The monument is the remains of Dundonald Castle. It is a hilltop site, the most visible element of which is a large oblong tower built for King Robert II around 1370 with a later wing to the south. Projecting east of the tower is an enclosing wall defining a courtyard. The hilltop also contains buried evidence of settlement from the Bronze Age onwards, including an Iron Age fort, an early historic nucleated fort, a 12th century earth and timber castle and a 13th masonry century castle, elements of which were incorporated into the 14th century tower. The site is located in a prominent position on the summit of a hill overlooking the village of Dundonald, with views west to the coast.

The main block of the later 14th century castle is roughly rectangular on plan and comprises three principal storeys with halls on the first and second floors. In its original form, it appears to have been a gate-tower with a vaulted entrance passage at ground floor level. The second floor hall is carried on a barrel vault and is divided into two principal bays by transverse and diagonal moulded ribs with depressed wall-ribs between. These ribs are decorative and do not support the vault. The external west wall of the tower bears the royal arms and those of the Stewarts. An accommodation wing on the south and a courtyard on the east were both added in the 15th century. A substantial wall, encloses the upper perimeter of the hill, in places surviving to a height of 3m. The enclosed space was divided by the contours into a higher outer court, and a lower inner court.

The 14th century tower incorporates the remains of a twin-towered gateway which belong to an earlier masonry castle built in the 13th century. This castle was planned as an equilateral parallelogram with twin-towered gateways at the east and west angles. The remains of the west gateway survives as buried foundations. Terracing on and around the summit of the hill could be associated either with an earlier earth and timber castle, or later garden features or earlier Iron Age or early historic defenses. Archaeological excavations have shown that well preserved features dating from the Bronze and Iron Ages and Early Historic period survive below ground.

The scheduled area is irregular on plan to include the remains described above and an area around in which evidence for the monuments construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes: the above-ground elements of all modern boundary walls and modern fences; the above-ground elements of all signage and services; the top 300mm of all modern paths and paved areas to allow for their maintenance and all modern railings, staircases and stonework within the castle.

Statement of National Importance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument is a good example of a multi-period high status power centre located on a prominent and impressive hill top. In the Late Medieval period the site became a royal castle. Archaeological investigations have demonstrated a remarkable sequence of occupation and fortification from the prehistoric and the Early Historic period through to the Medieval (Ewart 2004, 23).  The significance of the site is enhanced by this continuity of occupation. 

The monument includes a 14th century stone built castle with later alterations and additions including a phase of remodelling in the 15th century which survives as upstanding masonry remains. The upstanding castle retains much of its 14th and 15th century fabric. This includes architectural features such as the scheme of heraldry on the external west wall and the applied ribs on the vaulting of the second floor hall. Both features are unusual at this date in a secular architectural context but reflect the significance of the buildings royal patron. The planning of the tower is also unusual; it was originally a gate tower with two superimposed halls on the upper floors without additional chambers. Analysis of the upstanding remains can enhance our knowledge of the chronology and development sequence of the castle, as well as the cultural and social influences that may have informed its form and design.

The site has a complex development sequence during the Medieval period. The first castle was a motte at the east end of the Castle Hill constructed around the middle decades of the 12th century. This may have exploited a surviving Iron Age/ Early Historic period rampart to create a motte and bailey arrangement (Ewart 2004, 128). This castle was superseded and levelled by a masonry castle in the 13th century and the 14th century tower incorporates some remains of this 13th century castle in the form of the lower courses of a twin-towered gatehouse. The remains of another similar gatehouse has been excavated, indicating that the 13th century castle was planned as an equilateral parallelogram with twin-towered gateways at the east and west angles, probably with additional towers on the north and south angles (Ewart 2004, 131). This castle may never have been completed as excavation has demonstrated that was slighted during the Wars of Independence and then reoccupied with the defences reconstructed in timber and daub before another episode of destruction (Ewart 2004, 141).

Kilns or ovens discovered through excavation represent the earliest phase of occupation on Castle Hill. This has been dated to the Bronze Age. This phase of occupation of the hill is characterised as buried archaeology, likely domestic in nature. Excavations here have revealed also that the hill was fortified in the Iron Age and early historic period. The Iron Age occupation took the form of a large hillfort with a timber palisade enclosing timber round houses. In the early historic period, the site was transformed with a drystone, timber laced rampart enclosing the highest point of the hill, within which were sub-rectangular timber buildings (Ewart 2004,125).

Previous excavation has indicated a high potential for the survival of important archaeological remains from the Bronze Age through to the medieval period below the present ground surface. We can expect structural remains such as traces of earlier fortifications and buildings, ancillary ranges, pits and middens to survive, along with artefacts and ecofacts. Not only can such remains enhance our knowledge of the layout and phasing of the castle but also of the prehistoric and early historic fortifications which preceded the medieval castle. The archaeological remains can enable us also to better understand daily domestic life of the inhabitants and their society, economy and trading contacts.

Contextual Characteristics

Contextually, Dundonald Castle shares similarities of physical characteristics, development sequence and historical associations with sites such as Edinburgh Castle (SM90130), Dumbarton Rock (SM90107) and Stirling Castle (SM90291). On both topographical and archaeological evidence, Dundonald appears to be a regional power centre in the early historic period and can be considered alongside other early historic fortresses such as Dunadd (SM90108), Dunollie Castle (SM293), Traprain Law (SM755), Trusty's Hill (SM1100) and the Mote of Mark (SM1123).

The surviving building represents the third castle medieval castle to be located on Castle Hill. The earliest was likely to be an earthwork and timber, "motte and bailey" type castle. This may have been erected by Walter, one of the first stewards of the king of Scots, in around 1150-60. This castle was replaced in the late 13th century by a substantial stone castle probably built for Alexander Stewart, 4th High Steward. This castle can be considered alongside other 13th century enclosure castles of Bothwell (SM90038), Caerlaverock (SM90046) and Kildrummy (SM90181). The intended plan of the 13th century castle is particularly sophisticated and also has parallels with Rhuddlan and Aberystwyth both built as part of Edward I conquest of Wales (Ewart 2004, 128-140). The remains therefore help demonstrate that Scotland's leading noble families, such as the Stewarts, had the resources, knowledge and confidence to commission state-of-the-art castles.

The present castle was built by Robert Stewart and was potentially begun before his accession to the throne as King Robert II in 1371. It is an early example of the tower-house form that would come to dominate Scottish castle building in the late-medieval period. The tower at Dundonald and David's tower at Edinburgh Castle are likely to have been influential in establishing the tower-house as an appropriate lordly residence during the final decades of the 14th century. The tower built by Robert has similarities with Threave (SM90301) erected by Archibald Douglas and probably influenced works at Carrick (SM2495) built by the Campbells, the Stewart's allies in the west. Dundonald may also influence Doune Castle (SM12765) built by Robert II third son, Robert, duke of Albany. As at Dundonald, the main accommodation at Doune takes the form of a gate tower, although the overall plan of Doune is more complex and well-developed. 
Castle Hill is part of a ridge of low hills fringing the coastal plain. Many of the summits of these hills have been utilised for settlement in the past. Castle Hill at Dundonald forms the northern limit of this ridge, where it meets the Shewalton Moss. Dundonald commands panoramic views north and east. To the west, the coastline, including the medieval castles of Ardrossan (SM3383), Irvine (SM320) and Portencross (SM327) are all visible.

Associative Characteristics

Dundonald is situated within and is strongly associated with the geographic area of Kyle. Kyle appears to have been established as a territorial unit from the early historic period, while Dundonald, meaning the fort of Donald, is first documented in the 12th century Life of St Modwenna. In this work Modwenna visits a number of places in Scotland including Dumbarton, Stirling, Edinburgh, Trapain Law and Dundonald (Dundeuenel). Although written in the 12th century, The Life may draw on earlier traditions (Ewart 2004, 4-11).

Dundonald is closely associated with the Stewart family probably from around the 1160s. It was a favourite residence of Robert Stewart who ascended to the throne in 1371 as Robert II, and who was responsible for the construction of the tower. After that date, Dundonald became a royal castle and it was where Robert died in 1390.

Statement of national importance

The monument is of national importance because as a multi-period high status fortified site it makes a significant addition to our understanding of the past. It includes a well-preserved example of a late medieval castle built for Robert II, but also has evidence of two predecessor castles, an early historic nucleated fort, an Iron Age fort and settlement dating to the Bronze Age. This time depth enhances the site's importance. Although the site has been subject to some archaeological investigation, there remains high potential for occupation deposits and associated burial structures to survive. The castle and Castle Hill, on which the castle is located, are prominent features in the landscape and add to our understanding of the siting of such monuments in the landscape. The site has parallels with a number of other nationally important multi-period high status sites, including Dumbarton Castle and Edinburgh Castle. These parallels can assist in our understanding of such sites. The monument makes a significant contribution to the understanding of domestic fortified dwellings, their chronology and development sequences as well as the cultural and social influences that may have informed their development and architecture. The site is closely associated with the Stewart/Stuart family, High Stewards of Scotland and then kings of Scotland. The loss of the monument would greatly diminish our ability to understand the character, chronology and development of high status fortified sites in Scotland.



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 41970 (accessed on 07/04/2017).

West of Scotland Archaeology Service HER Reference 6541 (accessed on 07/04/2017).

Ewart, G, et al. "Dundonald Castle Excavations 1986—93." Scottish Archaeological Journal, vol. 26, no. 1/2, 2004, pp. 1-166.

MacGibbon and Ross, D and T. (1887-92). The castellated and domestic architecture of Scotland from the twelfth to eighteenth centuries, 5v. Edinburgh, pp 167-75.

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Dundonald Castle

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    Listed Building (A)

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Dundonald Castle, Great Hall, looking south.
Dundonald Castle, looking west, during daytime, on a clear day.

Printed: 24/06/2024 00:24