Monthly Archives: April 2015

Mulchaich 18th Century Distillery, Ross-shire: a NOSAS Project

by Meryl Marshall (NOSAS)

Mulchaich Kiln excav 16th Aug13 008

NOSAS members working at Mulchaich 16th August 2013

Over the years tradition has had it that there are the remains of a distillery dating back to the 18th Century at Mulchaich Farm, located in the district of Ferintosh on the Black Isle. The distillery site is about 200m NW of the farm and was previously unrecorded; it was in a sorry state being quite overgrown with whins and with the few open areas grossly trampled by cattle. In 2009 members of the North of Scotland Archaeological Society began a project which had as one of its aims the surveying and recording of the distillery site and that of the neighbouring chambered cairn (HER MHG 9083). The project also included a limited amount of historical documentary research following which a report was produced – see also Appendix II below for further details.

It was felt that together with the chambered cairn the distillery site would make an interesting and attractive place for people to visit. The landowners, the Dalgetty family, were happy to oblige with permission and for this we are very grateful. In addition the Adopt-a-Monument Scheme hosted by Archaeology Scotland were keen to help us with advice and limited funding, so in October 2012 NOSAS began a second phase of work at Mulchiach, preparing the site for public presentation. It is this later project that forms the chief focus of the following article.

Mulchaich Farm, west settlement and chambered cairn – Aerial photo taken from the north

Mulchaich Farm, distillery site (west settlement) and chambered cairn – Aerial photo taken from the north

The Mulchaich Kiln

The main thrust of the work during the summer of 2013 was targeted at the kiln where the barley or bere, which had been allowed to germinate, would have been made into malt by gently heating it until it was dry . The kiln had all the characteristics of a corn drying kiln and the purpose of our exercise was to clear the rubbish that was inside it so that its features could be displayed and we could interpret them for visitors. The work was carried out as if it was an excavation; nothing structural was removed, everything was recorded as we went along, photographs were taken at all stages and a report was subsequently published.

The kiln bowl had been constructed on a small mound of glacial till which had been levelled off to form a platform. The platform was built up on the east side and reinforced with boulders and the kiln bowl itself was sunk into the natural morainic till by 200mm; likewise the flue and the area in front of the entrance which was sunk by 500mm.

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The Rosemarkie Caves Project

by Simon Gunn (NOSAS)

The subterranean section of NOSAS, the Rosemarkie Caves Project (RCP), is planning more work in the caves this year (2015). The RCP was set up to research the archaeology of the caves on the Moray Firth coast near Rosemarkie.

The group started its work in 2006 with a weekend excavation of Learnie 2B when evidence was found of occupation and leatherwork in the 19th century, probably by summer travellers. This was followed by a more ambitious 14 day dig at Cairds’ Cave in 2010, when we confirmed that the cave had been excavated 100 years before by local doctor William MacLean. Through analysis of bone and charcoal, the cave was found to have been in use as far back as 300BC, the time of Alexander the Great.

2006 dig at Learnie 2B

2006 dig at Learnie 2B

Outside Cairds' Cave in 2010

Outside Cairds’ Cave in 2010

There are 19 caves on this 2.5 mile stretch of coastline, they have been high and dry for over 4000 years and apart from interest by RCP and Dr MacLean, their archaeological potential has never been explored. Since 2010, the RCP members have surveyed all 19 caves and then in 2013 started a program of test-pitting. The purpose of this was to get a feel for the archaeology that might be there, but mainly to find deep samples of bone and charcoal for dating which would ascertain in which periods the caves were used and to find out, if possible, the earliest occupation.
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The Church of the Immaculate Conception, Whitebridge

by Marion Ruscoe (NOSAS)

During a recent NOSAS field trip to archaeological sites on the east of Loch Ness, our attention was drawn to the Roman Catholic Chapel near Whitebridge (NH 49496 17045 – HER ID MHG47419) which is situated close to the Pictish Cemetery there (see separate Blog Post). The architectural style is deceptively simple, suggesting an earlier building date than was actually the case, and perhaps also reflecting a continuity with the croft buildings which must have preceded it. The following is the result of my research into the history of the site and its architecture.

The Church of the Immaculate Conception,

By the middle of the 19th Century there was perceived a need for a chapel to serve the small number of Roman Catholics who lived in Stratherrick.  Lord Lovat offered a site for this purpose at the croft at Bridge of Loin and a collection, which raised £49, was undertaken to pay for the new building.  Alexander McDonell, a native of Fort Augustus, who had recently returned to Scotland from Australia, contributed a further £391 and in March 1859 there was a call for estimates from masons, carpenters, slaters, plasterers and plumbers for work on the new Roman Catholic Chapel and Clergyman’s House to be built at Dalcraig (Dalcrag) in Stratherrick. The chapel, seating 130, was consecrated in December 1859 and dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.

At a time when other denominations in Stratherrick were building substantial churches in a traditional style and in prominent positions, the Roman Catholic church at Whitebridge is simple, rather modest and set back from the road, so that it is not immediately obvious to passing traffic.  It is a single storey building which resembles a croft house.  The door is in the west gable and only the lancet windows betray its religious purpose.   At the east end there appears to be domestic quarters and this may have been the original clergyman’s house which was superseded by a more substantial dwelling house at a later date.  In A Country called Stratherrick Alan Lawson suggests that this larger house was built around 1900.  However, although the two buildings are very different in style, the 1st edition 6” OS map shows the footprint of a building which is very like the present one in its entirety so it’s more likely that they were designed and built together.

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