Archaeology experiences for all

Dirty Weekend at Glengarnock Castle

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Spend a ‘Dirty Weekend’ with archaeologists on a dig to investigate a medieval castle in North Ayrshire…

Dates: Saturday 10 – Sunday 11 July 2021 (with an optional welcome talk at 7pm on Friday 09 July)
Location: Glengarnock Castle, North Ayrshire, Scotland
Meals, Travel and Accommodation: Not included (see FAQ  for more info)
Experience level: All levels welcome


Want to join archaeologists on a weekend fieldwork mission to investigate a medieval castle in Scotland? We’re heading off on our very first mission to investigate the ruins of Glengarnock Castle, and we’ve got room for a handful of archaeology fans to join us. You’ll learn about the powerful families who shaped much of North Ayrshire’s early history, dig alongside our team of archaeologists, and have the opportunity to use techniques like geophysics and survey to help us answer a series of important questions about the castle ruins. How old are they really? How far do they truly extend? And what sense can we make of the undocumented ruins that line the ravine’s edge? You can be part of our first fieldwork mission to Glengarnock Castle. And if our mission is successful, we’ll be returning to for a bigger excavation next year…

Our dig site

Our dig site

In partnership with Garnock Connections, we’re setting out to investigate and share the rich and varied heritage of North Ayrshire.

Dramatically perched on the edge of a ravine near Glasgow, the ruins of Glengarnock Castle are an important ancient landmark tied to the story of a 120-year-feud which involved the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries – two of North Ayrshire’s most important medieval families. For over a century, this feud with Glengarnock Castle at its heart, brought turmoil to the region, only coming to an end when the 4th Earl of Eglinton was murdered in 1586. And yet its origins are shrouded in mystery…

We know that parts of the castle date to mid 15th century when the feud was brewing, that it was visited by Mary Queen of Scots in 1536, and that a large chunk of it was destroyed by a storm in 1863. But there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that the castle’s origins could be much older, and far more extensive, than they seem on the surface.

A sword pommel dating to earlier centuries was found nearby, and there are dozens of ruins surrounding the castle castle which could tell us more.

So how old is this castle really? How far do the ruins truly extend? And can we make sense of the undocumented ruins that line the ravine’s edge? That’s what you can help us find out.

What we'll do

Our excavation will focus on some of the areas outside of the walls of the castle that show evidence of additional buildings that we think may be related to the castle. Meanwhile, a larger landscape survey running alongside the dig will look at the castle building itself, and what lies beneath the ground to help us better understand the site as a whole.

Will we be able to figure out what the buildings are and when they date to? Or will an altogether different and more complex picture emerge? That’s what you’ll be using your new archaeological field skills to help us find out…

Over the course of the weekend, you’ll learn all the basic skills that a field archaeologist uses on a dig. We’ll start with an archaeological briefing on the background to our dig site. Then we’ll grab our trowels and jump straight into the trenches to begin your hands-on archaeological training!

You’ll learn how to excavate, recognise new archaeological layers, identify finds, and record your discoveries like a pro. You’ll have opportunities to accrue other archaeological skills too, like survey, geophysics, photogrammetry, and finds processing.

We’ll work together to unearth our site, and our friendly team of professional archaeologists will be there to guide your search for evidence every step of the way.

By the end, you’ll be heading home with a whole new range of archaeological skills and experiences. And (fingers crossed) you might even have helped us to solve a real-life archaeological mystery…

Other ways to get involved

There are different ways to get involved.

If you’re a local resident, you can:

If you want to support the project from anywhere else in the world, you can:

  • Book a paid place on this Dirty Weekend (bottom of this page)
  • Book a place on the online sword fighting class (hosted live from Glengarnock Castle)
  • Register interest in next year’s dig


Dirty Weekend - Friday evening (optional)

We’ll kick off on Friday evening with a talk by local archaeologist, historian and author Louise Turner. Louise has been co-delivering many of the Garnock Connections online workshops that are running alongside this dig and her wealth of knowledge about the history and archaeology of the site is truly astounding.

The talk will be recorded, so if you can’t make it on Friday evening, there will be plenty of time for you to catch up.

Dirty Weekend - Saturday

09:00 Rendez-vous for archaeological briefing
10:00 How To Do Archaeology lesson
11:00 Tea break
11:15 Excavation
13:00 Lunch time (bring your own packed lunch)
14:00 Excavation
16:00 Tea break and end of day discussion of discoveries
16:30 Tools down!

Dirty Weekend - Sunday

09:00 Rendez-vous for archaeological briefing
10:00 Excavation
11:00 Tea break
11:15 Excavation and recording
13:00 Lunch time (bring your own packed lunch)
14:00 Excavation and recording
16:00 Tea break and end of day discussion of discoveries
16:30 Tools down and goodbyes!

Additional information

Safe dig policies

You can read more about our Safe Dig policies here, including what we’re doing, what we ask you to do, what to bring, and your booking options if your experience is postponed or you can no longer attend due to the ongoing pandemic.

Arrival and departure

Glengarnock castle is relatively easy to find, but please be aware that Google Maps and Sat Navs may not take you to the correct location! We will send the address and location co-ordinates closer to the dig date.


We will be kicking off with a talk by Louise Turner at 7pm on Friday 9th July which you are welcome to join us for.

We will begin digging at 9.30am, Saturday 10th July, so please arrive on site for this time.


We’ll down tools and finish our day at around 4.30pm on Sunday 11 July. You’ll be welcome to leave from then, but you’ll probably need to factor in some time for goodbyes and a group photo!


Meals are not provided on this excavation so please bring your own packed lunch to site. We will provide tea and biscuits throughout the day, however we strongly advise you bring a good supply of snacks and water with you.

The nearest town is approximately 3 miles to the south of the castle, and hosts a number of supermarkets and cafes.

Travel and accommodation

Travel is not included, and everyone will be expected to make their own arrangements for arrival and departure.

The site is accessible by car (please don’t go to ‘Glengarnock Castle’ using Google Maps, we will send our rendez-vous address closer to the time of the dig!)

There are no public transport links directly to the site, however there is a train station at Lochwinnoch which is approximately 4 miles from the castle. Regular trains run from Glasgow Central station.

Accommodation is not included in the Dirty Weekend, but there are plenty of places to stay in the area. A Google search should throw up plenty of options, nearby towns to look at include Kilbirnie and Lochwinnoch. Slightly further afield but still easily accessible from the site are Glasgow and Paisley, where you will find numerous options for accommodation.


Pricing for this experience covers your participation in a real, ongoing archaeological dig.

This includes your tools, tuition, supervision, and light refreshments. It also includes your contribution towards the logistics of the wider excavation, as well as the proper professional care, analysis, conservation, and publication of all of our discoveries. For example, a single radiocarbon date can cost upwards of £120.

Our work is largely supported by our Subscribers, Venturers, and participants, and is guided by our team of professional archaeologists who are all highly experienced excavators, as well as instructors. Together, we’re able to investigate areas of the past that wouldn’t otherwise be excavated!

What is Friends with Benefits?

A Dirty Weekend gets you a single place on the dig for the weekend. But things are twice as much fun when there’s two of you!

If you book two places on the dig for the weekend, you get a 20% discount… that’s ‘Friends with Benefits’. Hurrah!

What happens to our discoveries?

Anything you discover will become part of the official archaeological record, and your name will be included as part of our team.

We publish all of our discoveries online and open access in real time, so that professionals, amateurs, and the incurably curious can see finds.

Once we have completed the fieldwork, all of the data and discoveries from the dig will be analysed by our team, and conserved or examined further by specialists as required.

The results will then be written up and published in an official report according to professional standards, and published in our reports library.

We’ll also email everyone who was part of the dig when the report is ready for you to read so that you can see the results of your Dirty Weekend contribution.

Who will we be digging with?

There are just a handful of places available on this unique archaeological adventure. As well as your fellow Dirty Weekenders, you’ll be digging alongside the DigVentures team. Our staff will be joined at various points throughout the weekend by colleagues from Rathmell Archaeology, the RSPB Lochwinnoch and Historic Environment Scotland, so you will have lots of opportunities to learn from the best in the business!

You can read more about our team members on our Meet The Team page.

What do I need to bring?

We’ll bring the tools, the expertise and the commitment to teach you everything you need to know. You just bring yourself and bags of enthusiasm! Having said that, here’s a few things you’ll also find handy:

  • Sturdy boots (walking boots are ideal)
  • For cold weather: Warm layers, a wooly hat and waterproofs
  • For hot weather: Sunhat and sunscreen
  • For insects: Midges are usually not a problem in upland areas, however it may be advisable to invest in a good midge repellent spray just in case! A general insect repellent is also useful.
  • Day bag such as a backpack to bring everything you need to site
  • Plastic bag to carry any muddy gear home in
  • Anything else you might need for a two-day outdoor adventure! You might like to think about bringing items such as camping chairs or picnic blankets for your breaks, and a camera for all your snaps!

Who is DigVentures?

DigVentures is a team of professional archaeologists who run excavations that are open to anyone with an interest in uncovering the past.

We launched the world’s first crowdfunded dig in 2012, and since then our international community has continued to help the team make seriously impressive discoveries: we’ve located the original Anglo-Saxon monastery on Lindisfarne, solved the mystery behind an Iron Age hillfort in Gloucestershire, and even unearthed a rare Bronze Age barrow in Lancashire.

DigVentures’ biggest passion is enabling people to get involved in archaeology, and we’ve even built a digital platform to enable people around the world to follow our discoveries online, in real time.

Why Glengarnock Castle?

This dig forms part of a number of activities DigVentures is running as part of the Garnock Connections Landscape Partnership in North Ayrshire.

The partnership aims to enhance and protect the incredible natural, cultural and built heritage of the Garnock Connections project area, and by joining this Dirty Weekend you will be directly contributing to furthering our understanding of an ancient site right in the heart of the region.

You can read more about the Garnock Connections project if you’d like to learn more.

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