Archaeologists search for '˜lost' castle at former royal retreat

Archaeologists are to search for a 'lost' castle in South Ayrshire after possible evidence of a mysterious structure was discovered on the site of a former royal residence.

Dundonald Castle , Ayrshire

Work will get underway this summer at Dundonald Castle, around which was the preferred retreat of Robert II, the first of the Stuart kings, during the 14th century.

Archaeologists will move onto the site in August after a geophysical survey showed a “high chance” of previously unknown structural remains at the site of the castle, which sits high on a hill overlooking Dundonald village.

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It is believed these remains could be linked to a grand 13th century stronghold which was deliberately destroyed during the Wars of Independence in an attempt to stop English forces gaining a foothold in the area.

Experts hope the excavation will fill in some of the missing links of the castle’s long history.

Lauren Welsh, archaeology co-ordinator at Dundonald Castle, said: “There are a lot of questions that remain unanswered about Dundonald. There are big gaps in the history of the castle so the archaeology will help us investigate those.

“We know that the castle was build for Robert II as a hunting lodge and that he lived and died here but a lot of the history of Dundonald is supposition.

“We think the excavation work gives us a good chance to understand more about what happened at Dundonald and give us some of the answers we are looking for.”

Built by Alexander Stewart, 4th High Steward of Scotland, the 13th century castle was considered one of the grandest residences of the day.

Built in the European style, it was set around a courtyard and had two gatehouses facing east and west. Archaeologists believe they could be close to tracing the remains of its curtain wall and possibly a tower on the site.

Five trenches will be dug at the scheduled monument to investigate further with the surrounding community invited to take part in the excavation.

Robert II, who reigned from 1371 to 1390, was the first king of the House of Stewart, which was to rule Scotland for another 230 years. His mother was Marjory, daughter of Robert the Bruce, with Robert II taking the throne at the age of 54 following the death of Robert the Bruce’s son, David II.

Dundonald’s importance began to decline following the death of Robert II and it was gifted to the state by Thomas Cochrane, the 13th Earl of Dundonald, in 1954.

The site is known to have been occupied from the Bronze Age through to the post-medieval era with hopes of multiple finds during the excavation.

Adrian Cox, cultural resources manager at HES, said: “There are many layers of history to be found at Dundonald and we are trying to establish how the site developed over time. We hope the 13th century castle survives as buried archaeology for us to discover.”