Category Archives: Loch Ness, Aird and Inverness

A Walkover Survey of Aigas Community Forest

by Roland Spencer-Jones (NOSAS)

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In April 2015, NOSAS was approached by the development officer of Aigas Community Forest to see if we could undertake an survey of this newly acquired 285-hectare forest. The local community had completed the purchase of the forest from the Forestry Commission that month. Part of the sale conditions were that an archaeological survey would be required. After some discussion, mainly centred on the size of the task ahead, NOSAS said yes, and the two co-leaders of the survey – Roland Spencer-Jones (RSJ) and Anne Coombs (AC) – got into planning mode.

RSJ undertook a desk-based assessment of the history and known archaeology of the forest. This included searching the maps on the digital map resource of National Library of Scotland, the Canmore archive of Historic Environment Scotland, the local Highland Council’s Historic Environment Record and maps from the previous Lovat Estate archive. In addition he had conversations with local landowners and local community members who had either had personal experience of the forest and its history or had undertaken some research of their own. Two of these local landowners were able to provide old photographs that complemented the historical record.

This desk-based assessment concluded that:

  • There was little forest cover in the area now covered by the forest in the mid-18th century when historical records first began. Much of land was covered in moor and moss, and was “good hill pasture” for grazing animals.
  • Planting of the forest began in the mid-19th century at a time when part of the Aigas Estate was enclosed to both contain stock and to prevent grazing damage. This work was first developed by rich landowners from further south in the UK, as was happening with many other parts of Scotland at that time. A network of paths through the forest was started at this time.

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These three photographs demonstrate clearly the successive cropping of the Aigas Forest. The building is Aigas Mains farmhouse, on the southern border of the forest. The photographs are taken in 1933 (above left), 1960 (above right) and 1992 (right)

 

  • From 1877 until the early 20th century the estate was further developed as a sporting estate, with further afforestation and further enclosure of the land. At this time many of the settlements bordering the forest were cleared, and consolidated in houses built in the Crask of Aigas village at the heart of the forest. The path network was expanded, and a road was constructed through the forest to reach the moor above it.
  • The forest was progressively consolidated during the 20th century with successive cycles of planting and cropping. A significant harvest of the trees in the forest occurred in the early 1950’s, which means that it survived the felling that occurred in other Scottish forests during the two World Wars.
  • The current forest cover represents a major planting of mixed conifer trees in the early 1960’s.

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Craig Phadrig Vitrified Hillfort, Inverness

The following is based on a transcript of notes by Mary Peteranna (AOC) for her presentation at the Highland Archaeology Festival Conference 2015. It describes fieldwork at Craig Phadrig hillfort carried out by AOC Archaeology in early 2015 on behalf of Forestry Commission Scotland, see Data Structure Report.

Craig Phadrig (Canmore ID 13486, HER MHG 3809) is located on the west side of lnverness, a prominent position overlooking River Ness and entrance to the Beauly/Moray Firth. The Beauly Firth marked a southern boundary of an area defined in the north by the Dornoch Firth landscape, supposedly held by the Decantae tribe in the lron Age as shown in Ptolemy’s map. Knock Farrell and Ord Hill hillforts are in line of sight, and a third possible fort is at Torvean In Inverness (Canmore ID 13549, HER MHG 3749).

2892 Craig Phadrig AP 3 (low res)

Aerial view of Craig Phadrig, Inverness, the Kessock Bridge and Ord Hill (Forestry Commission Scotland).

Craig Phadrig LANDSCAPE (low res)

A visualisation of the same scene as it might have appeared in prehistory (Forestry Commission Scotland).

Craig Phadrig is a prominent landscape feature, referred to at the time of James Vl in 1592. It is an oblong fort, a type which clusters around the Moray Firth region. Similar forts in East Scotland such as Finavon, Dunnideer and Tap o’ Noth also feature lack of entrance and massive walls suggesting an exclusive use. Many show evidence for lron Age construction, abandonment and secondary re-use.

Previous survey and excavation. Numerous previous surveys have been conducted on Craig Phadrig, probably sparked by Penant’s 1769 Tour of Scotland where he mentions vitrified stone. Plan shows the 2013 RCAHMS survey with the estimated area of these excavations.

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Craig Phadrig. Plan of fort incorporating results of RCAHMS survey (Sept 2013) and earlier surveys (Canmore).

Finally, in 1971/72 Alan Small and Barry Cottam dug for two seasons, from which only an interim report after the first season was produced. lmage of the inner rampart from 1971; Small found that the inner rampart had been built sometime in the 4th Century BC and that the wall core was significantly vitrified. He also noted significant disturbance by other earlier excavations.

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The Picts at Garbeg and Whitebridge

by James McComas (NOSAS)

The Pictish people of the mid to late first millenium AD once inhabited what is now northern and eastern Scotland. They left very little written record and the evidence of buildings so far identified are sparse. Perhaps their most obvious remains in the landscape are the enigmatic symbol stones and the imprints of their burial sites.

Although modern Angus and Perthshire have traditionally been seen as the Pictish heartland, in recent years new research is reveavaluating the importance of the northern picts, north of the Mounth. Two highland burial sites which feature impressive upstanding remains are to be found on opposite sides of Loch Ness; at Garbeg near Drumnadrochit, and at Whitebridge in Stratherrick. Pictish funerary practices appear to have been diverse (see our earlier blog post), however barrow* cemeteries have been identified as one recognisable form. Round and square type ditched barrows appear alongside each other at both Garbeg and Whitebridge – a feature thought to be unique to the Pictish cemetery.

Side by side comparison of a plan of part of the Garbeg cemetery and a quadcopter aerial photo by Alan Thompson. (The brown patches on the photo are the result of recent gorse clearance, and dark green areas are piles of cut vegetation.) The barrows excavated by Wedderburn and Grime on this plan are nos 1,2,3 and 8.

Side by side comparison of a plan of part of the Garbeg cemetery and a quadcopter aerial photo by Alan Thompson. (The brown patches on the photo are the result of recent gorse clearance, and dark green areas are piles of cut vegetation.) The barrows excavated by Wedderburn and Grime on this plan are nos 1,2,3 and 8.

Garbeg and Whitebridge were visited by NOSAS field trips in 2014/ 2015 and Garbeg has also been the subject of gorse clearance, quadcopter photography (blog post section 4) and QGIS survey by the group. Subsequently in 2015 many NOSAS members were involved with survey and excavation by the University of Aberdeen’s Northern Picts Project on possibly contemporaneous building remains at Garbeg (a NOSAS Blog post on the dig is forthcoming).

The cemetery at Garbeg (Canmore ID 12281, HER MHG3361) consists of 23 square and round barrows with surrounding ditches. The barrows are thought to cover single long cist burials. They are situated on a natural plateau at an altitude of some 300m on open moorland used for rough grazing.  The immediately surrounding landscape is one rich in archaeological remains, including prehistoric field systems, groups of hut circles and a series of burnt mounds which are largely thought to predate the Pictish period.

Members of NOSAS at a field visit to Garbeg, November 2014

Members of NOSAS at a field visit to Garbeg, November 2014

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The Inverness Caledonian Canal: A Guide

by Bob Jones (NOSAS)

Guide to Canal Features

Introduction

These notes were compiled in preparation for a NOSAS winter walk which combined a visit to features of the Caledonian Canal at Muirtown and Clachnaharry and to the hillfort at Craig Phadrig.

Information has been derived in the main from easily accessible online sources, especially Canmore. The book “The Caledonian Canal” by A D Cameron published by Birlinn Ltd has also proved very useful. It was originally published in 1972, but the 2005 edition includes much updated information.

Rather than attempting to produce an extensive document, the notes have been kept very brief, but links to source material have been included. These, especially the Canmore links, include many photos.

Especially recommended are two BBC audio items (Scot II and the WWI mine barrage) and a history of the Scot II (Leith Shipyards).

Not to be missed is the US Navy book detailing the story of the WWI mine barrage.

Muirtown locks, looking towards the swing bridge

Muirtown locks, looking towards the swing bridge

Notes on canal features

‘Telford it was by whose presiding mind the whole great work was planned and perfected.’

…… or was it really Jessop?

The Canal was authorised by Parliament in 1803, and was begun under Thomas Telford as principal engineer with William Jessop as consultant. (See Cameron, The Caledonian Canal pp 167-172 for more information)

Construction of the stretch including Muirtown locks and basin and the terminal works at Clachnaharry was delayed by difficulties in building the sea lock and the canal did not open until 1822.

https://canmore.org.uk/site/105851/inverness-caledonian-canal-clachnaharry

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caledonian_Canal

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Lament for a once Magical Place – or “the Agony of a severely traumatised pair of Archaeological Sites”

by Meryl Marshall (NOSAS)

This is the story of two archaeological sites which have suffered severe damage through a catalogue of assaults by man in the name of “development”. The “patients”, for so they can be regarded, lie in Balblair Wood (read Ward!), near Beauly. They have received repeated injuries over the last 20 years and today are in a sad, sorry state – they have been in the wrong place at the wrong time!

BBalblair OS 1st Edition Map

Patient A is (or was) an extensive linear prehistoric site, centred on NGR NH 501444; it once comprised 13 hut circles, 2 chambered cairns, burnt mounds and a field system of clearance cairns and trailing banks occupying an area of 750m x 200m (maybe more) along the SW edge of the wood. Only 12 years ago this beautiful site with clearly identifiable features was well preserved and within open pine woods which had a mossy forest floor. The site was unusual in that it occupied a low lying river terrace quite close to the River Beauly and the Beauly Firth. It was the subject of one of the first NOSAS survey projects; see report on the NOSAS website.

Balblair survey for 2015 piece

Patient B is the fort known as Corffhouse or Lovat Bridge in the NE part of the wood, NGR NH 5135 4480, Canmore ID 12745, HER No MHG3401; it also has been the subject of a NOSAS survey.

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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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Bronze Age Beaker and Cist Burial in Drumnadrochit

by James McComas (NOSAS)

Latest Updates at foot of the post

Drumnadrochit, by Loch Ness. On the flat former croft land between the Rivers Coilte and Enrick a new NHS Medical Centre is under construction. In January 2015 workers on the site removed a large stone slab. Beneath the slab, undisturbed for perhaps 4000 years, were the crouched remains of an individual resting in a stone lined cist, approximately 0.7 metres deep.

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Burial Cist in Drumnadrochit (Courtesy of Mary Peteranna/ AOC)

Initially Highland Council archaeologists assessed the site, concluding it was probably bronze age.  A skull and possible femur were clearly visible, but there were no obvious sign of grave goods. However it was still clearly an significant discovery. Nothing similar had been found in Drumnadrochit before, and whilst there is a profusion of archaeological sites in the area, nothing of this antiquity is known to have been found in the flat lands around Urquhart Bay. The next step was for NHS Highland to appoint an archaeologist to excavate the burial.

I called in briefly to the site several days later to find that the archaeologists appointed were well known to NOSAS – Mary Peteranna, now of AOC, and Steve Birch. Steve was kind enough to give me a brief rundown on what they had found.  It was apparently a fairly typical stone lined cist burial of the early bronze age. The large cap stone, which had been removed by digger when clearing the area, had possibly already been broken in antiquity. There was a thickness of several cm of gravel above the cap stone before digging work began.

The cist during excavation (Courtesy of Mary Peteranna/ AOC)

The cist during excavation (Courtesy of Mary Peteranna/ AOC)

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