Castle Hill in Cullen, Moray used to be a place where local people and visitors to the area spent time with their families enjoying the historic site and the spectacular panoramic view of Cullen Bay. The purpose of the project was to restore Castle Hill to its former glory.

The volunteer group behind the project, Cullen Past and Present Volunteer group, negotiated 6-year lease with Seafield Estates and worked with Historic Environment and their archaeologists to clear gorse and restore the path network based on an aerial photograph from 1949.

On most sites clearing gorse would have been relatively easy, but the Castle Hill in the Royal Burgh of Cullen is a scheduled monument, it is believed to be the place where Robert the Bruces’s wife, Elizabeth de Burgh died. It was a Castle in times past often visited by Scotland’s early kings.  It was also around this hill the Duke of Cumberland’s forces were amassed before Culloden.

Path work and gorse clearing

The paths were constructed in such a way that any future archaeology work on the hill should easily differentiate between old and new. Five benches were also placed on the hill and on concrete plinths once again for archaeology reasons.

Whilst volunteers and retired oil rig workers filled in all the HES forms required for scheduled monument consent to re-instate the paths, the volunteer fundraisers went to work and held coffee mornings, began crowdfunding, did Rotary club presentations and an application to TESCO Bags of Help.

Paths are not normally that expensive to build but these paths had to be built to a method agreed with HES. This plan required the construction of the paths to be like a timber rail track around the 8 acre site which then had to be filled with hardcore.

Not only was the construction unique, but there had to be test digs carried out by archaeologists to ensure we would not disturb anything of historical importance. As the results of these test digs were negative, we were given the green light to proceed, but even then the archaeologists had still to be present when we removed the 6 inches of earth that covered the old paths.

Results so far

The 500 metres of paths which are now complete have also been linked into the coastal path, creating a fantastic viewpoint for all walking the Moray coast. Already disabled peopled and young mothers with pushchairs have enjoyed the walk which was inaccessible to them before.

It has become a very popular walk for locals and it is now visited by scores of people almost every day. It is one of the very few places in this country which has such a long and interesting history with such magnificent views.

The volunteers are proud to have realised their vision for the site, and the project has made a community realise things can get done when it comes together.

The Castle Hill is now an open space for children of today to enjoy, and hopefully in 60 years’ time they will not have a conversation on Facebook that starts “Remember when we were kids, we played up the castle hill”

Learning and wider community engagement

Working on a scheduled monument is never easy with the restrictions placed on you. However, the team members came up with an innovative way to place a path on the monument with out having to drive in wooden pegs into the ground. The path was built to look like a rail track and when it was all screwed together the area between the tracks were filled with the path material. The colour of the path material was also chosen so it would not be the same as the existing material on the hill, so in future, archaeologists can tell very easily what was material added and what was existing, making their job of interpreting history easier.

The local Brownies and Rainbows have also been busy on the hill. They have planted thousands of wild flowers which will be on full show next year.

In addition, local people have been very generous in donating daffodil and other bulbs and even some new trees to fill the gaps in the tree lined avenue leading to the hill.

A May Fair was held complete with a Medieval village and actors in period costume who showed the children the weapons of the past and how they were used. The town had a great day on the hill.

What next?

There are plans to extend the path route through the grounds around Cullen and to develop an interpretation App that will encourage people to get out and about and explore the area and learn about its historical significance.

The group now has the confidence to take on other projects and are just about to start the next one! This will see a new surface added to the existing path from the harbour to the sheltered  Portlong bay, the site of the former salmon bothy. This path will then continue up hill and wind its way back into town. The walk will allow the public to see close up the wildlife of the North |east, everything from deer, dolphins and wonderful seabirds can appear at times on this route.