Aerial Photography and Visualisation for Built Heritage - PhD Portfolio by Kieran Baxter
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Sunday, 17 March 2013

Hillforts from On High

As part of a pilot case study for my PhD I have been putting together a series or aerial photographs focused on some local Hillforts. I was recently assisted with a Historic Scotland Sponsorship Award which has enabled me in incorporate some photography from somewhat higher altitudes than I am used to - with the hire of a Cessna 172 light aircraft. For this brief flight I picked a morning shortly after some heavy snowfall and, ably assisted by photographer Kieran Duncan, set off on a route which tied in various sites.

Brown Caterthun Hillfort, high aerial photograph.
The main objective was the hilltop enclosures as White and Brown Caterthun which top a stretch of moorland in Angus. The snow shows up the layers of human impact with these sites crossed with paths, fences and patches of heather burning. As with many of these types of enclosures Brown Caterthun, pictured above, is currently considered likely to have served as a social hub rather than primarily as a defensive structure. This is supported by its multiple entrances which radiate from the center.

A Dundee "circle", high aerial photograph.
Another somewhat unrelated circular pattern caught my eye as we passed over Dundee. This geometric piece of town planning brings to mind the straight talking Dundonian dialogue for a roundabout - a "circle".

Finavon Hillfort, high aerial photograph.
Back to hillforts, and this example proved a little difficult to spot (the revealing low sunlight did come out a little later on). The elongated embankment sits atop a rocky outcrop with a possible "well" depression near one end (to the right above). With an untrained eye I would also postulate that the parallel lines just right of the fort may be the evidence or rig-and-furrow farming, particularly as they appear to underlie the wall and fence (I will need to check that).

Broughty Castle, high aerial photograph.
Broughty Castle presents a more modern and upstanding fortification. Having done kite photography here many times it looks a little underwhelming in this view where the tower doesn't jump out in the way that it does from low altitude. While better lighting could improve this a lot, the dusting of snow adds a little impact.

We returned from the flight with a wealth of photographs to go through, some of which offer a challenge in decoding old and new structures and markings. The snow accentuated conflicting characteristics which are often inherent in the aerial view, revealing features while at the same time presenting a somewhat alienated landscape. Looking down from a platform totally removed from the subject is a very different experience to that of kite aerial photography - which often starts with a walk across the site - ideas to ponder for a future post!

Thanks go to Historic Scotland for facilitating this project. Also many thanks to Kieran Duncan who bore the brunt of the icy cold air blowing in the window of the cessna.