Archaeological excavation

Pictish forts in the Highlands likely include the smaller fortified citadels of Craig Phadrig, Tor Dhuin, Dun da Lamh and Dun Deardail, although few have been adequately excavated or securely dated.

Craig Phadrig is the exception - and it was likely one of the chief strongholds of the Picts. Archaeological excavation has recovered imported pottery from France and a fragment of a bronze hanging bowl escutcheon (a type of decorative plate) all dating from around 600 AD.

In AD 565 it may have been the location of a visit by St Columba (who intended to convert the Pictish king Bridei to Christianity). Writing in the final years of the AD 690’s, St Adomnan records in the Vita Sancti Columbae (Life of St Columba) that "the first time St Columba climbed the steep path to King Bredei’s fortress, the king - swollen with royal dignity - acted haughtily, and at first refused to open the gates of his fortress when the blessed man appeared."

The reference to the ‘steep path’ of the un-named fort in the Great Glen would certainly suggest Craig Phadrig. A massive silver chain, weighing 2.6kg and thought to be a symbol of Pictish kings was found nearby in Torvean in 1808.

"Some labourers, while digging in the eastern corner of Torvean, on the line of the Caledonian Canal, lately discovered a massy silver chain, in the side of a large, flat cairn, about 2 feet below the surface. The chain consists of 33 circular links, formed of a perfectly cylindrical body, half-an-inch thick, neatly joined without solder. They are linked in pairs, each of which is about 2 inches in diameter, except those at the extremities, which are 21 inches. A link at one of the ends has, since the discovery of the chain, been taken away; but as the remaining one is of the same dimensions with those at the other end, we may conclude that the chain was then entire. Its whole length is 18 inches, weighing about 104 ounces. There were two detached fragments which formed part of a flat and very massy ring, which had been broken after it was found; but from its form, and the appearance of wearing on the outside, it had evidently moved on some bolt. It was neatly channelled round, leaving a prominent astragal on every side. 'Both the chain and ring are of excellent workmanship; and whether we attend to the uniform thickness and polish of the links, the ingenuity with which they are joined, or the perfect symmetry of the whole, we cannot but pronounce it to have been the work of an artist of no inconsiderable skill."
(Inverness Journal, 1 January 1808)

The editor of the Inverness Journal adds that it was hinted that other articles had been found; according to reports, a ball and bar also of silver. But the labourers kept the matter a profound secret, as steps had been taken to compel the owner of the chain to deliver it up to the Crown.