Caption: Aerial view of Castle Knowe in the Pentland Hills, centred on the remains of the trenches with the palisaded settlement and rig adjacent (Copyright: RCAHMS)

High in the Pentland Hills south of Edinburgh stand the mighty earthwork ramparts of Castlelaw hill fort, a 2000 year old symbol of Scotland’s past.

And yet, a few hundred metres to the north stands another group of earthworks, much smaller and far more recent, yet just as prominent a piece of history: the Castle Knowe practice trenches.

During the First World War, tens of thousands of soldiers would leave Scotland to go and fight on the battlefields of the Western Front, the Middle East and the Italian Alps.

Every one of these men needed trained for the combat they were about to face, including how to construct, maintain and fight from the trenches which were such a prominent part of the war.

The best way for the soldiers to learn these types of skills was to practice them intensively before they were deployed, and as a result networks of training trenches appear across Scotland, and many can still be traced today.

The site at Castle Knowe is a typical example of these practice areas. They consist of a series of interconnecting zig-zag trenches, forming a front line and a second line, with the two connected by smaller communication trenches running between them.

They are identical to what the soldiers would encounter on the Western Front, and conform to the design proposed in the War Office manual British Trench Warfare 1917-1918.

Over the years the trenches have mostly filled in, but the shape and size are still visible, with the front line overlooking the hillfort and the second line uphill to the north.

You can still walk along the line of the narrow frontline trench and imagine how the solders learned how to dig them and then how to use, maintain, fight and live in them, before they marched away to do it for real.

If you would like to know more, please visit the Canmore record on the Castle Knowe training trenches.

Browse all features