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.
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.
Over summer 2015 a large group has been meeting to explore World War I Invergordon in a project led by ARCH and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund First World War Then and Now programme. A huge amount of information has been gathered, from contemporary military maps, old photographs, including an album compiled by someone who worked at the dockyard, aerial photos (one from WWI), and investigation of remains on the ground. The various strands of evidence have been brought together into a GIS database by Malcolm Standring, which currently has over 600 recorded structures. From this work a detailed picture of wartime Invergordon is emerging.
Many of the buildings used in World War I survive. Others are known from plans and old photos. Detailed naval plans survive showing which buildings were built or taken over – many labelled with their new use. Aerial photos also provide valuable information, including the 1930s photos (available on the Britain from Above website and the National Collection of Aerial Photographs website), showing those which were not pulled down after the war. A surprisingly valuable source of information has also been the Valuation Rolls, which detail buildings taken over or built by the military.
WWI aerial photo, courtesy Invergordon Museum
The group has found the GIS work invaluable, helping us in particular to locate and document structures such as the army camp which were only there during the war and have left no footprints on the ground. Continue reading →
Jonie and Richard Guest search for underwater remains from the last war – by Richard Guest (NOSAS).
We had it on good authority – a record of an eye witness – that at the end of the last war the 6” artillery which had been positioned at Rubha nan Sasan on the west side of the entrance to Loch Ewe was dumped over the cliffs. We had also variously heard that it had been seen previously by divers but also that it may have been salvaged. We decided to look for ourselves.
We launched our Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) from the community slip at Inverasdale and headed out to the mouth of the Loch in good weather and calm sea. The gun emplacements are easy to see on shore and were visible from the boat so there was no problem in deciding where to dive.
The first dive was made from a point just North of the northern gun emplacement, with the intention of working south past it. Immediately on descending it was obvious that there was a serious obstacle to the search – dense kelp! The seabed was not visible from above the kelp and could only be seen by putting your head into the seaweed, which allowed you to see about one square metre at a time. Even vertical surfaces were kelp-covered so even if the guns stood proud of the seabed they would themselves be covered in kelp. You could only see whether the kelp was attached to archaeology or bedrock from within touching distance.
The orange floating blob marks where Richard is underwater.