Category Archives: Post Medieval

A Coastal Walk on the Moray Firth: Castle Stuart and Alturlie

by Anne Coombs

I don’t like the A96.  It’s a very busy road and the archaeology is not particularly exciting; crop marks and just the occasional cairn.  But here I was driving along from Inverness to Castle Stuart to meet the people from ScAPE, beginning their new recording project along the northeast coast.  The plan was to walk from Castle Stuart round towards Ardersier, with expectations of good company and a nice day out with a little bit of archaeology.

Aerial photo of the tide mill near Castle Stuart.

We walked past the old church and motte of Castle Stuart to the outfall of the Rough Burn where it flows into the Moray Firth.  It is a cliché to say it felt like we were stepping back in time, but looking out across to the Black Isle we could have been in a medieval landscape.  Salt marsh, an occasional seabird and nothing else.  Apart from, of course, a large bank across the edge of the salt marsh.  Not just any bank but one belonging to a tide mill (HER MHG36425).

So, let’s go back to the scene…… salt marshes, a substantial burn, an old church, motte and later castle.  Obviously, there must be a mill somewhere as part of this old settlement.  Tide mills don’t immediately come to mind in the Highlands, however if you have read Marion’s blog on Petty parish you would be expecting it.  They work on the same basic principle as any mill. A head of water drives a wheel, which turns the mill stones and grinds the corn.  A tide mill uses the sea water as its water source, as the tide comes in it fills the area behind the bank and once the tide turns, the water is kept behind the bank by the bank and a sluice gate until it is needed.  The site was duly recorded and on we went to a small wooden jetty, in disrepair but possibly not very old.  Next, we found a boat…..or rather the remains of a boat barely visible in the silt but definitely there.  Then out to the edge of the bay where the stones of a fish trap were being revealed by the outgoing tide. 

Fish Traps near Alturlie Point
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The Glencarron Lodge Stalkers’ Paths

By David Jarman

a Powerpoint/pdf slideset accompanies this blogpost, providing a preliminary photo-documentation of the paths, with background history.

The networks of stalkers’ paths created by the Highland sporting estates from their advent in the earlier 19th century and into the 20th century have received remarkably little attention from historians or archaeologists. Yet they transformed access into glens and hills where formerly no made roads or ways had existed, and left persistent marks on the landscape. A recent NOSAS Report (2021) summarises this ‘stalkerpath phenomenon’ and presents the findings of a map, satellite imagery, and field study of a large swathe of the Western Highlands between Glen Cannich and Glen Carron.  This study is being presented as a NOSAS Talk in March 2022.

In August 2021, a NOSAS field trip visited Glencarron Lodge to explore a pair of “stalkerpaths”. This novel and simplified term, which I have coined, distinguishes paths made for sporting estate purposes from traditional worn hill paths, and from tracks made for more general use (the NOSAS Report explains the thinking behind its adoption). This pair was chosen primarily for convenience of access, as the better-preserved cases now tend to be rather remote or difficult to embark upon. They are excellent if delicate examples of the classic ‘zig-zag’ design, and have a fascinating history, but unfortunately they display almost none of the typical artefacts.

Glencarron Lodge stalkerpaths locus

The paths ascend the steep, smooth north side of Glen Carron above the Lodge, and are visible as faint zig-zag traces from the A890, especially in low-angle light or thin snow.  They have long been abandoned and, unusually for paths close to base, bear no trace of mechanised improvement or vehicular use.  They ascend from 150m asl to terminate as the slope eases at ~500m asl, but well short of the broad 550m ridge labelled Coille Bhàn. They share a brief common start, with each branch only half a kilometre long (crow-flight up the hill).

Both paths are marked on OS 1:25000 maps, if not quite to their full extents, but only the western path is shown on the 1:50000. The original start from the Lodge is blocked by a treebelt. The displaced start shown by OS is now also barred, by rhododendron jungle. The path therefore has to be located by crossing footslopes from the lay-by on the main road west of the Lodge. It is reasonably visible near the treebelt, but the bifurcation is lost in thick bracken; even in winter, it is a jink-back that is hard to identify.

The present disuse (both for sporting purposes and by walkers) is a result of vicissitudes of estate history, which must first be addressed.

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Sarclet Harbour, Caithness

by Anne Coombs

Figure 1: Looking out to sea

Caithness at the end of the 18th century was an exciting place to be.  While maybe not the centre of the world, it was home to some of the big names of the time.  Sir John Sinclair, ‘Agricultural’ Sir John, of Ulbster is a name we should all know.  He instigated the Old Statistical Accounts of Scotland, an amazing resource which is often the first place we look for details of life in the 1780s and 90s.  His name appears in many of the forward-thinking documents of the time, not just the OSA, he was author of the General View of the Agriculture of the Northern Counties.  He was a member of the British Fisheries Society and a Trustee of the Board for the Improvement of Fisheries and Manufactures along with his near neighbours in Sutherland, George Dempster of Dunnichen, founder of Spinningdale mill, and Lord Gower, later the Marquise of Stafford and then the Duke of Sutherland. 

This group instigated several moneymaking (Improvement) schemes, one of the most successful was the development of the herring fishing industry off the coast of Caithness during the 19th century.  The British Fisheries Society was responsible for building Pultneytown immediately south of the Wick River.  It was laid out by Thomas Telford in 1786 and was so successful it became known as ‘Herringopolis’ with the harbour so full of fishing boats which meant you could walk across it without touching water.  But Pultneytown was just one of many harbours developed along the coast of Caithness during this period.

Figure 2: Storehouse, well and track to top of cliff

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The Demolition of a Cruck-Framed Building near Beauly

by Roland Spencer-Jones

Fig 1: Removing the corrugated iron reveals a modern timber roof and a cruck-frame

In early June 2020, I became aware that a neighbour on the braes below me was doing up an old cottage, with a 1970’s extension, that he had inherited from his father. He was one of four children brought up in the old cottage in the 1960’s. Once he had removed the corrugated iron roof from the cottage, a peat and heather roof was revealed. When that was removed a wooden cruck-frame appeared. I showed a photo (fig 1) to colleagues who immediately suggested that I should survey and record it. Cruck-framed buildings are not so common these days. There was additional interest in that the cruck-frame had been overlaid by a more modern roof and that the building is likely to be demolished.

Extract of 1:250000 OS map showing location of Ruisaurie crofting settlement. ©Ordnance Survey

How old is it? The online Lovat Estate maps show that the braes above, ie W of, Beauly were increasingly brought into crofting, gradually extending into moorland, between the mid-18th century and the early part of the 19th century. According to those maps, one of the crofts, Ruisaurie, had two croft numbers in 1757, eight numbers in 1798-1800, seventeen in 1823 and twenty-four in 1839. The crofts increased by both being sub-divided, and by new croft settlements being established on the higher ground. Confusingly, the numbering of the crofts changed over time, although by 1876 the croft numbering had become established to reflect the croft numbering now.

Fig 3: Extract of 1876 map showing extent of the Ruisaurie 11A croft © Lovat Highland Estates Ltd.

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A Year of Highland Archaeology

by James McComas (NOSAS)

A Year of Highland Archaeology book cover, showing Tarradale Through Time excavation trench with the settings of a possible stone hut. The same trench yielded several rare antler tools.

NOSAS has just published A Year of Highland Archaeology: A Collection of the Projects and Activities of the North of Scotland Archaeological Society . This new book includes 10 articles which explore some of the diverse recent projects that we has been involved with. These range from large scale funded excavations through to group surveys and small scale research projects. They highlight Highland locations from the west to the east coast, from Speyside to Sutherland.

Projects featured include the lottery funded Tarradale Through Time Project, which in 2017 saw 6000 year old antler tools uncovered near Muir of Ord on the Black Isle.  These very rare finds included the remains of a harpoon point and two “T axes” left behind by hunter gatherers on the shores of the Beauly Firth. The T axes are two of only five examples so far known in the whole of Scotland. The trench where these were found also tantalisingly revealed the possible stone setting of a Mesolithic hut. Tarradale Through Time continues in Autumn 2019 with the excavation of potentially one of the largest barrow cemeteries in Scotland (further information at www.tarradalethroughtime.co.uk).

One of rare antler “T axes” found during Tarradale Through Time’s 2017 excavations.

Another chapter focuses on Torvean Hillfort, a neglected structure on the edge of Inverness. Torvean was perhaps constructed more than 2000 years ago, but it is today sadly under threat from persistent trail bike damage. A different chapter tells the much more positive story of how a collection of 400 historic maps relating to the Lovat Highland Estates, covering extensive areas west of Inverness, have now been scanned and made available online.

Map of Torvean Hillfort, Inverness showing destructive trail bike tracks

A different chapter still focuses on the NOSAS’s work with Scotland’s Rock Art Project. ScRAP aims to log as many as possible of the mysterious carved “cup marks” which appear on Scotland’s boulders and rock faces over a 5 year project. The precise date of these carvings, of which there are many good examples in the Highlands, is unknown but they are thought to have been mainly created in the Neolithic period around 6,000 to 4,000 years ago. Other archaeological locations explored in the book include Ormond Castle in Avoch, a prehistoric roundhouse landscape in Glen Urquhart, and Gruinard Island in Wester Ross.

3D Photogrammetry model of cup marked stone at Kinmylies, Inverness

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Initiating CAERoS: Coastal Archaeology and Erosion in Wester Ross

by Stephanie Piper, Newcastle University (stephanie.piper@newcastle.ac.uk)

In April 2019 myself, two Master’s students from Newcastle University – Callum Hardman and Holly Holmes, and Paco Martínez-Sevilla, a colleague from Durham University, based ourselves in Poolewe to begin a week-long walk-over survey of the coastline around Loch Ewe. The aims of the survey were to:

  1. Establish the potential of eroding coastlines to yield early prehistoric sites in the north-west Highlands.
  2. Contribute to active monitoring of archaeological sites at risk of erosion.

Why were we drawn to this remote part of the Scottish Highlands? Precisely because it is remote! The evidence for early prehistoric occupation is sparse across much of the Highland region. For example, there is no evidence for Mesolithic occupation along the coast between Redpoint, in Gairloch parish, and Smoo Cave, Durness parish (although this has not been fully confirmed). By contrast, the coasts around the Inner Sound of Skye and Applecross were intensively surveyed by the Scotland’s First Settlers project from 1998. The project identified over 130 new archaeological sites, including the Mesolithic rockshelter site at Sand, Applecross. We felt sure that the absence of sites to the north was due to a lack of research, primarily because of the remoteness of the region and lack of ‘visible’ archaeology, rather than an absence of people in the past. CAERoS was therefore initiated to investigate the next stretch of coastline, north of where Scotland’s First Settlers had finished and with the hope of finding further evidence for Mesolithic coastal occupation.

As this was just the start, our methodology was simple: walk, and look. I spent several years during my postgraduate degrees working on a project in the Western Isles with Durham University. During the field seasons, we identified a number of Mesolithic sites exposed by coastal erosion (two on Harris, and three around the Bhaltos peninsula in Lewis). Because early prehistoric sites are often deeply buried under peat or machair, they are invisible to traditional means of initial identification such as a field-walking, and are so ephemeral they rarely respond to geophysics. The destruction caused by erosive processes therefore provides opportunities to investigate hidden archaeology, including early buried landscapes. This then, was to be our ‘window’ to the past, and we struck out across the headlands to observe and record any archaeology within c.50m of the coastline using the ShoreUpdate App, developed by the Scotland’s Coastal Heritage at Risk project (SCHARP).

Fig.1 Exploring the circular stone structures and raised beach deposits at An Sean Inbhir

On the first day, we walked west, covering the stretch from Cove Battery to Camas Mor. We noted several sites along the way, including circular stone structures and modern fisherman’s bothies at An Sean Inbhir (Fig.1), a turf-covered wall at NG763921, which is probably associated with the abandoned township and head dyke at Camustrolvaig, and a sheepfold built against a rocky outcrop at NG805925. The building recorded at Camas A’Chall wasn’t identified, nor does it appear on the current OS map. By far the most interesting aspect of this stretch was the World War II memorial and three abandoned lifeboats (centred on the memorial at NG796926, Fig. 2). The memorial is in commemoration of those who lost their lives after the American Liberty Ship USS William H. Welch ran aground at Foura Island, on 26th February 1944. The plaque is also dedicated to local community members who were involved in the rescue efforts. The plaque does not appear in the HER and the abandoned lifeboats are at serious risk, situated in the intertidal zone. These have been logged with SCHARP who are very interested in incorporating them into a future project. If anyone happens to be in the area and visit them, it would be worthwhile continuing to take photographs of their condition.

Fig.2 The memorial at Cove, and barely-surviving lifeboats (midground, left)

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Tain, Tarbat Ness and the Duke

by Meryl Marshall (NOSAS)

NOSAS regularly make field visits to the Tarbat Ness area. When browsing through my archives recently I came across a review for a book “Tain, Tarbat Ness and the Duke 1833” by Hamish Mackenzie, which I had written for the Clan Mackenzie Magazine in October 2012. The review includes some lovely descriptions of the people and the settlements of Tarbat Ness two centuries ago; I make no excuse for quoting them in the review.  Apparently the book is still available from the Clan Mackenzie Society and the Amazon website but promoting it is not my primary intention here!

 

“Tain, Tarbet Ness and the Duke 1833” by Hamish Mackenzie

Book review, October 2012

The author of this book is to be congratulated on a fine piece of work, which, for anyone interested in the history of Ross-shire during the upheavals of the 19th Century, is essential reading. The book is very readable and has involved some original documentary research; it reveals an intriguing story. The tale emanates from a desire of the Duke of Sutherland to acquire lands in Ross-shire. Much of the original material was discovered in the Cromartie Muniments at Castle Leod and it is these papers which Hamish Mackenzie has so painstakingly studied – a labour of love indeed

By 1833 the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland were the richest couple in Britain, owning estates in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Yorkshire, as well as the most part of Sutherland in Scotland. They were able to draw on the revenues of the coal and canal investments of their estates in the south and pour significant amounts of money into “improving” their Sutherland estates. Hamish Mackenzies book tells us: “the coastal strip along the east coast was occupied by a neat orderly landscape of 36 single tenant farms each with its courtyard of buildings set amongst squared fields”. The Duke was also responsible for building roads, bridges and harbours in the county. Not satisfied with this, in 1833 at the age of 75, he looked to acquiring more territory and his eye fell on Tain and the Tarbetness peninsular across the water from Dunrobin Castle. In the event the Dukes plans for the purchase of these lands did not come to fruition because he died later that year; but the legacy of the plan, that of the documents at Castle Leod, give a remarkable description of the landscape on the Tarbatness peninsular at that time.

George Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Duke of Sutherland by Thomas Phillips

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A Metal Detecting Survey of Beauly Fields

By Eric Soane

Eric is a local metal detectorist whose exploits include discovering the Belladrum hoard of Roman coins, among other finds. He has put his email address at the end in case you want to contact him directly. This article is the report of a recent survey in the fields at the back of Beauly, in the angle between Station Road and Croyard Road. It appears to have identified a military firing range, in use throughout the 19th Century, which was previously unknown.

A and B on the map below identify the fields where the finds were made and the red arrow shows an approximate direction of fire on the range throughout its use as explained in the following report:

Musket balls

The image above right shows the musket balls found, the main group top left are all for the Brown Bess calibre of musket, about l l bore or 0. 75 inch. This was in use up to the middle of the 1800s and gives us  the early date for the military use of the land. There is no evidence of the earliest date, but it is reasonable to suppose that it began as training for the defence of the realm in the time of the Napoleonic wars, which could place the start just back into the 1700s.  The group of balls bottom right are smaller and may be pistol shot, or more likely from officers’ privately owned muskets. The two folded pieces of lead are almost certainly home made flint holders to clamp the flint into the musket securely. The majority  of these items were found on field “A”  and as they are relatively short range, being quite inaccurate due to the smooth bore and loose fit of shot in that bore, it points to this being the firing point of all the weapons.

Minie bullets.

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A Little Piece of Coppice at Coulmore, Formerly on the Redcastle Estate

By Jonathan Wordsworth

Cycling regularly along the north shore of the Beauly Firth from North Kessock to Tarradale, I have noted just past Coulmore Point a small patch of woodland with a collection of twisted multi-stemmed trees.  Consisting predominantly of oak but with a mixture of species including ash and beech, the trees are widely spaced and used as shelter by stock grazing the field above.  As a result the wood has an open and sparse aspect.

The curving and multiple stems of the trees in the woodland show that this is a rare survival for this area of a former coppiced woodland, where the stems were cut down to  supply timber on a regular cycle of  15-20 years.

Coulmore and the woodland copse shown on current Bing aerial photography.  Note the caravan park at bottom right of photograph to help locate the woodland site.

Earlier maps show it was one of two similar sized copses set beside the road and on the edge of the raised beach.  They are both shown as wooded on the land utilisation survey of the 1930s shown below, though the western copse has now disappeared.

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

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