Reconstructing Badenoch's Heritage Sites

Digital reconstruction of Ruthven Barracks (Bob Marshall)
Digital reconstruction of Ruthven Barracks (Bob Marshall)

In summer 2020, I began work on a new project which was to create a series of visual reconstructions of some of Badenoch’s rich archaeological sites for Badenoch The Storylands. We published the first two of the reconstructions - Ruthven Barracks and Dun da Lamh hillfort - in the autumn of that year to promote the project and to announce that a new digital app was being developed by Whereverly in Edinburgh. The Badenoch The Storylands App is a self-guided touring aid, featuring walking, cycling, and driving tours around Badenoch, highlighting over 75 points of cultural heritage interest in the area.

My digital reconstructions were turned into Augmented Reality (AR) models for the app and optimised so that they could run efficiently on mobile/handheld devices. The 3D models that I developed were also used to generate a series of images and videos with much higher levels of visual detail. Here, I explain a little about each of the reconstructions and the digital models I developed for the project.

Ruthven Barracks and Castle

Digital reconstruction of Ruthven Barracks (Bob Marshall)
Digital reconstruction of Ruthven Barracks (Bob Marshall)

Built by George II’s government between 1719 and 1721 following the Jacobite rising of 1715, Ruthven Barracks housed infantry to enforce the Disarming Act of 1716. Although it is unlikely to have ever been fully garrisoned, the Barracks could hold two companies of soldiers – about 120 men – and their officers. On the orders of Major General Wade, a stable block was added to the west of the barracks in 1734, to be used by dragoons protecting troops marching along his military road. 

Digital reconstruction of Ruthven Castle by Bob Marshall
Digital reconstruction of Ruthven Castle, Badenoch c1398. © Bob Marshall

Before the development of the eighteenth-century Government Barracks, at least two earlier castles stood at the top of this same great mound overlooking the River Spey. This digital reconstruction shows Ruthven Castle as it may have looked around the late fourteenth century. This is the castle occupied by Alexander Stewart, the 'Wolf of Badenoch', who likely adapted this from an earlier stronghold belonging to the powerful clan Comyn. Accurately reconstructing this earlier castle is difficult because the Wolf of Badenoch's castle was then rebuilt by the Earls of Huntly - Chiefs of Clan Gordon - before being demolished and replaced by military barracks at the time of the Jacobite uprisings. My visual interpretation is partially influenced by the castles at Balvenie at Lochindorb - also former strongholds of the Comyns which were forfeited after the clan lost power when Robert I seized the throne in 1306.

Digital reconstruction of Ruthven Castle by Bob Marshall
Digital reconstruction of Ruthven Castle, Badenoch c1398. © Bob Marshall

My reconstruction shows a rectangular curtain walled castle with two weakly projecting corner towers and a stone-built domestic range which may have had a large feasting hall and private chambers on its upper floor and a kitchen and service range beneath this. The wider view reconstruction shows the castle's relationship to the nearby village of Ruthven. The low-lying land immediately below the castle floods regularly during spring snowmelt and I was quite keen to communicate this in my reconstructions.

Ruthven Castle Digital Model by Bob Marshall
Ruthven Castle - Digital Model. © Bob Marshall

Raitts Township

A digital reconstruction of Raitts Township, Badenoch in the early 1700s by Bob Marshall
Digital reconstruction of Raitts Township, Badenoch (early-mid 1700s). © Bob Marshall

Easter Raitts is a post-medieval township near Kingussie. My reconstruction shows how the settlement may have looked in the early-mid 1700s. The locations of the structures are carefully matched to survey drawings carried out by AOC Archaeology in 1995 (HER Monument MHG4411). The data from this survey was used to reconstruct the township at the nearby Highland Folk Park in Newtonmore, and which in turn has inspired my visual interpretation. 

Digital model...

Alvie Ring Cairn 

Digital reconstruction of Alvie Ring Cairn, Badenoch by Bob Marshall
Digital reconstruction of Alvie Ring Cairn, Badenoch. © Bob Marshall

This reconstruction of the chambered cairn monument at Easter Delfour near Alvie, is part of a well-defined group of stone-built monuments found around the Moray Firth and Central Highlands, the so-called 'Clava cairns'. It comprises a circular cairn with a platform on the outside, bounded by a ring of monoliths or standing stones. Here I combined survey data with influences from the Balnuaran of Clava near Culloden - one of the best-preserved Bronze Age cairns in Scotland.

Digital model...

Alvie Ring Cairn Monument
 Alvie Ring Cairn Monument

Torr Alvie 

Digital reconstruction of Torr Alvie Hillfort, Badenoch by Bob Marshall
Digital reconstruction of Torr Alvie Hillfort, Badenoch (late Iron Age). © Bob Marshall

A speculative digital reconstruction of Torr Alvie hillfort. Although the site has never been excavated, the line of its rampart walls can broadly be determined by a stony bank that encloses an area of roughly 85m x 30m. It is similar in size and shape to Craig Phadrig hillfort near Inverness. However, unlike Craig Phadrig, there is no evidence that Torr Alvie was vitrified. It is difficult to know how thick the ramparts were, whether there were timber palisades, or how many entrances there were, so imagination plays a large part in this visualisation.

Digital reconstruction of Torr Alvie Hillfort, Badenoch by Bob Marshall
Digital reconstruction of Torr Alvie Hillfort, Badenoch (late Iron Age). © Bob Marshall

Digital model...

Raitts Souterrain

Digital reconstruction of Raitts Cave or Souterrain and late Iron Age roundhouse by Bob Marshall
Digital reconstruction of Raitts Cave or Souterrain and roundhouse (late Iron Age). © Bob Marshall

Known locally as Raitts Cave, this horseshoe-shaped subterranean chamber (souterrain) was first discovered in 1835 (MHG4405 - Raitts Cave). My digital model was created by referencing Lidar scan data provided by Historic Environment Scotland. We do not have the evidence to reconstruct what might have existed above ground, so I have speculatively shown the hypothetical relationship between the souterrain and an early roundhouse dwelling. I cannot be certain whether the chamber was accessed from within the roundhouse, or externally, so this interpretation should not be considered conclusive. I have attempted to illustrate something of early domestic life and what the souterrain would have been used for - in this case, for the safe storage of food and other valuables. 

This cutaway view showing the interior of the roundhouse and the subterranean chamber was one of the more challenging of the Badenoch reconstructions to create. I wanted to communicate the chamber within the context of the land above it and this had also to work effectively as a lower-detail AR model for use in the mobile app.

Dun da Lamh

Digital reconstruction of Dun da Lamh hillfort, Badenoch by Bob Marshall
Digital reconstruction of Dun da Lamh hillfort, Badenoch (late Iron Age). © Bob Marshall

With no apparent signs of timber lacing, palisades, or evidence of vitrification like at Dun Deardail in Glen Nevis, Dun da Lamh somehow doesn't quite fit the image of the classic Iron Age hillfort. The ground at the summit is very rugged and uneven, with very limited platforms for building and therefore it feels unlikely that it was a permanent site for dwelling. Whether this fort had more than one entrance is also unclear. With extremely steep approaches on three sides, the possible entrances can be surmised by natural depressions in the topography where access is less steep. Was this fort simply a final place of refuge, or was it a place of ceremonial and ritual gathering, rather than primarily martial in purpose?

Digital model...

Technical information

All of these reconstructions have been created using a variety of different software packages. For the most part, I used the open-source software Blender 3D and E-Cycles for the modeling and rendering of scenery and assets. Adobe Substance Painter and Photoshop were used for texturing detail and post-render digital painting. Height data was purchased from Ordnance Survey to create some of the landscapes and I used QGIS to combine this with geo-referenced archaeological data where this was available. World Machine was used with imported height-maps to generate the backdrop of the Cairngorm Mountains for my reconstruction of Torr Alvie hillfort. 


I wish to end by offering a big note of thanks to the following people who generously gave assistance and feedback throughout this project: Eve Boyle, Adam Welfare, Iain Anderson, and Georgina Brown at Historic Environment Scotland. Prof. Richard Bradley of the University of Reading for his wisdom and advice on ring cairns and bronze age monuments. Matt Ritchie of Forestry Commission Scotland and Prof. Gordon Noble of the University of Aberdeen for their input and feedback on Dun da Lamh and Torr Alvie hillforts. Geoffrey Stell and Simon Forder for their assistance with Ruthven Barracks and Castle. I would also like to thank my clients, Badenoch Heritage, Cairngorms National Park Authority, and Voluntary Action in Badenoch & Strathspey, for inviting me to work on these reconstruction visuals and for allowing me the time to make these as detailed as possible. I hope that they will inspire people to visit Badenoch and take an interest in its rich heritage.

Finally, a posthumous thank you to the late Dr. Oliver O'Grady, who sadly and unexpectedly passed away just a month or so before this project commenced. Olly was project officer for Badenoch Great Place Project, he inspired and guided several of my previous visual reconstructions and introduced me to the world of hillforts. I hope my work here has done you proud, my friend.

Reconstructing St Mary's Collegiate Church, Youghal

St Mary's Church - How the nave looked in 1800.

I had the recent pleasure of working on a series of 3D animated reconstructions of St Mary’s Collegiate Church in Youghal, Co. Cork. The reconstructions visualise the building’s long and eventful chronology from 1250 to present day. In that time the church has undergone significant internal and external alteration to accommodate radical changes to worship – notably from the mid-sixteenth century onwards. These visualisations were commissioned for a large interactive touch-screen display - a feature of a new visitor exhibition at the church which opened in Summer 2021.

Working with a creative team led by interpretation consultant, Ann Scroope, and from research conducted by local historians, Dr. Alicia St Leger and David Kelly, I was able to bring St Mary’s past to life with three high-detail interior visualisations depicting the church in 1250, 1500 and 1800.

I created computer animations for the interactive to show the chronological development of the church and its free-standing tower over 700 years of its history.

The project presented me with several challenges: not being able to physically visit the church in the middle of a global pandemic with travel restrictions in place, and developing a way to simplify the visual information in the animations. Using measured survey drawings, photographs and archaeological data, my first task was to develop a computer model of the modern church which I could use as a starting point to visualise the church’s earlier architecture. For this, I combined the archaeological data and documented evidence collated by Alicia and David. Information referenced from other medieval churches helped us to fill some of the gaps in our information. The task of creating the computer models, animations, and interior renderings took approximately four months.

Councillor Mary Linehan Foley, Mayor of County Cork using the interactive.

Commissioned by Cork County Council / Scroope Design (Ireland) 2020/21. Two of the illustrations can be viewed in detail on my Artstation page.

Digital reconstruction of the chancel screen in 1500. St Mary's Collegiate Church, Youghal.