The area around the village of Dunragit in Galloway contains one of the largest prehistoric ritual complexes in Britain. Aerial photography and excavation have enabled archaeologists to build up a picture of henges, processional roads and other features. These are mostly hidden below ground, but one major element of the complex is still visible today: an impressive artificial mound, standing between the main A75 highway and the railway, not far from the shore of the Solway Firth.
The mound is known as the Mote of Droughduil (or Droughdool). Until recently it was thought to be a motte – the base of a small castle – constructed in Norman times. An older theory suggested that it might be the presumed ‘Fort of Rheged’ which some people believe to be the origin of the name Dunragit. Rheged was a North British kingdom that flourished in the 6th and 7th centuries AD. Its precise location is unknown but the most popular hypothesis sees it as encompassing lands on either side of the Solway.
Excavations conducted by a team from Manchester University during 1999-2002 confirmed that the Mote of Droughduil was built long before the kings of Rheged or the Norman lords of Galloway. It was a key nodal point in the prehistoric complex and seems to have been used as a viewing platform where important religious rituals could be observed. At some point, a ceremonial cairn was placed on the summit, and the mound itself was re-shaped to give a tiered or ‘stepped’ profile. To me, this re-shaping makes it reminiscent of the Doomster Hill at Govan, another ceremonial mound of artificial construction. Both sites were probably used for important public gatherings in very ancient times. Unfortunately, the Doomster Hill was destroyed in the name of Progress, and it now looks as if the Mote of Droughduil might be heading for a similar fate.
Permission has recently been given for a road-building project which will by-pass Dunragit village. The A75 is a very busy highway, much-used by heavy vehicles travelling to and from Stranraer (a major port for ferries between Scotland and Northern Ireland). I can understand, therefore, why people living along this route tend to support the construction of a by-pass. The trouble is, the new road at Dunragit will cut through the sacred landscape of prehistoric times. When the big machines start ripping up the hallowed earth, it’s hard to see how the Mote of Droughduil can survive.
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