by Jonathan Wordsworth
Lying less than 2 kilometres from the centre of Inverness, Torvean Hillfort is a much neglected Scheduled Monument (SM3806 –see also Highland Council MHG3749) of national importance, situated on the edge of the former Torvean Quarry and currently obscured by mature woodland, scrub and rough vegetation. It is also suffering from persistent trail bike damage that is continuing to cause erosion to the fabric of the monument.
Located at NH 6437 4315, the fort is situated on one of a series of periglacial ridges that are considered nationally important, forming part of the extensive Torvean Landforms SSSI 1557. In the JNCC statement for the site it is described as follows:
Torvean is notable for glacial geomorphology, containing an outstanding range of landforms and deposits formed by the meltwaters of the last (Late Devensian) ice-sheet, between approximately 14,000 and 13,000 years ago……… it contains what is believed to be the highest esker in Britain, with a height of over 68 m.
The area immediately to the east of the fort has been extensively quarried for sand and gravel and though this quarry closed in 1989, the morphology of the area has been severely altered. The quarry lies outside the immediate environs of the fort, but the excavations and dumps from these works have affected the situation of this monument.
Unlike Craig Phadrig to the north which has been long recorded, Torvean Fort was not shown on the earliest maps of the area, such as Bastide’s 1725 or Roy’s Military Survey of c1750, where it is shown as an undifferentiated treeless ridge to the west of Tomnahurich.
This continued ignorance of Torvean is continued in a fine series of later maps held in the National Archives Scotland concerning a long standing dispute relating to the rights to catch salmon in the River Ness. Dating from 1765 onwards these continue to show Torvean as a single ridge and the best of these, John Home’s plan of 1774, showed the ridge as now obscured by a plantation of trees. The ridge and fort have been largely wooded ever since. The Home map is also important for showing the Cairn at Kilvain (Torvean) later destroyed during the construction of the Caledonian Canal and where an important and substantial Pictish silver chain was recovered in 1808. It was recorded in the Old Statistical Account for Inverness and Bona Parish in 1791 that
There is a very large cairn near the river at the foot of a hill called Torvean. It some years ago was partly removed, a coffin was found composed of six thick flags.