Excavation of a ruined “forest stead” at Shootinglee in the Scottish Borders

The story so far……

In 2012 all that was known about Shootinglee was a name on the map, the ruins of an 18thcentury cottage and some lumps and bumps in a field.  This was enough to raise the interest of members of the Peeblesshire Archaeological Society who, on completion of the Campshiel Project, were casting round for another fieldwork project.  Since then we have been enjoyably busy researching, surveying and excavating Shootinglee.  

Situated 2 miles south of Traquair in the Scottish Borders, Shootinglee has a documentary history dating back to 1423 when Sir Wm. Middlemas obtains from the Earl of Wigton ‘tua foresar stedis (farms) wythin the Schutynle warde’ of Ettrick Forest . Ettrick Forest was probably created a royal hunting forest in the 12thcentury.  For administrative purposes the Forest was divided up into wards which in turn were subdivided into steads or farms.  Shootinglee was one such stead.

From the archives, Shootinglee appears to have had its’ heyday in the 16-17thcenturies. Stuart monarchs were on the throne of Scotland and relatives of the Stewarts of Traquair living here were socially and politically active.  In 1580, for instance, Alexander Stewart of ‘Schuittingleis’ was murdered on his way home from the Earl of Mars wedding and in 1591 his brother, William of Schuittingleis, was involved in the attempted abduction of the king from the Palace of Holyrood.

Trench 3-5 viewed from the south.
Image © Joyce Durham

It is not surprising therefore that during our excavation activities we have been finding buildings dating from around this time.  In Trench 3-5 we uncovered what turned out to be the remains of a peel house or fortified farm house.  Excavation of it was severely hampered by the 1970s forest planting which had caused considerable damage to the archaeology.  

Evidence of the earlier occupation has been found in the form of medieval pottery though none as yet has come from a secure context. Intriguingly, towards the end of the peel house excavation we uncovered the footings of an earlier wall under one of the peel house walls. Further investigation of this will have to wait until the overlying trees have been felled.

Excavating trench 7
Image © Joyce Durham

A subsequent excavation in the open field (trench 7) revealed the footings of a byre, provisionally dated to the 16th-17th centuries, which appears to overlie an earlier demolished building. However, further investigation of this structure will unfortunatlely have to wait until restrictions relating to the current Covid – 19 pandemic have been relaxed.

An important element of our work at Shootinglee has been the surveying and recording of the archaeology. At the start of the project we used such tried and tested methods as planetabling, and section and plan drawing using measuring tapes and the planning frame.  Over time, we progressed to using modern technology provided by drone photography and computer drawing programmes to record what we found. 

Joyce Durham

In the next series of blog posts, we will look at some of the survey methods that have been used at Shootinglee and how our approach has evolved over time to record this complex but intriquing site.


Welcome to our blog. The Peeblesshire Archaeological Society is dedicated to the promotion of all things archaeological within Peeblesshire and beyond. We have regular monthly meetings and our members are actively involved in many aspects of archaeological fieldwork and recording. This blog will be updated regularly with Society news, so please pop back from time to time or contact us if you would like more information. You can send us an email by clicking on the link above or contact us through our website at: http://www.peeblesarchsoc.org.uk.