This field visit on 25th June 2017 was by way of a “reccy”; the intention was to prospect the route with a view to including it in the proposed publication “Old Routes in the Highlands”, part of the NOSAS 20 year celebrations. What we know as the “Fish road” was constructed between 1792 and 1797 to provide a land link for the newly established settlement of Ullapool to the “outside” world; it was funded by the British Fisheries Society . The road is known as the “Fish road” but whether or not fish were transported along it is debatable , however in 1794 the Old Statistical Account of Loch Boom Parish reports; “there is an excellent road betwixt Ullapool and the town of Dingwall and it is now nearly finished, where lately nothing could be carried but in creels on horseback, carts and carriages can now travel with the greatest of ease.”
A route between Contin and Ullapool has almost certainly been in existence since prehistoric times. In the 17th and 18th century the route was one of the drove routes from the west to the markets in the east and south. ARB Haldane, in “The Drove Roads of Scotland” has:
Pennant in 1772 noted that in the Loch Broom district the sale of black cattle to drovers from as far south as Craven in Yorkshire was the chief support of the people. For these the only practicable route to the south was by Strath Garve to Muir of Ord.
……to Poolewe or to points on the nearby coast came the cattle of Lewis……many of these landed at Aultbea and Gruinard went up the valley of the Gruinard River ….and so by hill tracks to join either the road from Ullapool to Dingwall or that from Achnasheen to Garve…. From Braemore the beasts were driven east to Garve and Dingwall but two deviations from the main road were used by the drovers……one of these turned due south from the main road near Altguish and crossed the forest of Corriemoillie to Garve so shortening the distance and keeping the beasts on the soft ground where grazing was available. The other short cut left the Ullapool Garve road near Inchbae Lodge and crossing the saddle between Ben Wyvis and Little Wyvis re-joined the road to Dingwall at Achterneed.
NOSAS members carried out a measured survey of a site at Kinbeachie on the Black Isle using planetables at the beginning of March, the project also included photographing the site using an aerial drone fly-over. The site is known as “Kinbeachie Castle”; it includes not only the amorphous linear banks thought to be the castle but also a farmstead of 4 buildings and a horse-gang. The remains of the farmstead were obvious, but our initial investigations of Canmore and the HC Historic Environment Record indicated that there was also a typical 18th century “lairds house” there; see photo below, taken in 1959. So was there a castle or a house at the site?
The small estate of Kinbeachie, amounting to “a half davoch”, is located in the northwest part of the Black Isle overlooking the Cromarty Firth. Today it is productive arable land but in the 16th century there are references to “the King (James IV) hunting in the woodland along the Kinbeakie Burn”. The area of Kinbeachie has almost certainly been associated with the Urquhart family of Cromarty from this time and the family of Urquhart of Kinbeachie itself from the mid-17th century. Research into this family was to be part of the project.
Brief Description of the site
The site covers an area, 70m x 50m, of rough grassland in the corner of a field. It comprises 2 parts;
The central part thought to be the site of the castle; the remains here are most substantial in the NW part where the footings of two walls up to 1m in height are at right angles to one another. To the SE there are two indistinct parallel banks which terminate in linear stone settings
The farmstead comprises the footings of 4 (possibly 5) rectangular buildings, a horse gang and a semi-circular yard. The buildings have turf covered stone walls up to 0.5-0.7m height and measure between 10-14m x 4m internally. The horse gang platform is 11.5m diameter. The semi-circular yard is 50m NW-SE x 25m NE-SW and bounded on its curving SW side by a discontinuous sloping retaining wall which has stone facing in places and is generally 0.7m in height.
The area between Inver and Portmahomack (OS 1:50,000)
NOSAS members John Wombell and Jonie Guest have been organising a series of Ad Hoc coastal walks. The purpose of these walks is to observe and survey sections of coastline particularly after winter storms in order to interpret, record and note the condition of newly exposed archaeology, also to revisit and record possible threats to known structures and update the Scotland Coastal at Risk Project (SCARP) data base. There had been a great deal of Second World War (WW2) activity along this section of the Coast. Military activity continues even now with proximate areas requisitioned as bombing ranges. In January 2017 we walked between Dornoch Golf Course Car Park and Dornoch Bridge mainly recording the WW2 Anti Glider Poles. On 1st February 2017 John Wombell and Meryl Marshall led a group between Inver and Portmohomack, Tarbat Ness. Tarbat derives from the Gaelic for Isthmus but the area it comprises is perhaps better described as a peninsula.
One township of particular interest to us was the proximate long abandoned Arboll (NH 8835 8283, HER ref. MHG8523 Canmore ID 15318) which can be seen on Google Earth reasonably well. Meryl Marshall and NOSAS volunteers had part recorded this in 2003. Meryl was keen to continue with her re-creation of the township. Arboll now refers to several scattered farms 10km East of Tain a short distance inland from the Dornoch Firth. Information with respect to the township of Arboll’s early history and eventual abandonment is sparse however David Findlay, NOSAS member and proximate resident, kindly sourced some maps and historical references. The 1984 Ross-Cromarty Book of the Northern Times Ltd suggests that the name Arboll derives from the Old Norse ‘bolstadr’ meaning a homestead with the first element of the name, also Norse, meaning Ark or Seal. Place names of Easter Ross also informs us that Arboll (Arkboll 1463 and 1535) is Norse ork-bol or ark-stead but perhaps orkin meaning seal.
Arboll township as seen via satellite on Google Maps
The township of Kildonan (NH07829097) lies on a SW facing slope overlooking Little Loch Broom, and was described by Jonathan Wordsworth as one of the most important post medieval settlements in Wester Ross. It has remained undisturbed by later developments so its field system remains largely intact. It is shown on Roy’s map of 1750 with lazy beds marked.
In late 2010 three members of the Western group of NOSAS decided to survey the township. Jim and Mary Buchanan and Anne MacInnes. Most of the survey was complete by the end of 2011,but for personal reasons the results have only just been written up. The survey can now be downloaded here.
I don’t want to repeat what is in the survey, so will pick out a few things that we came across.
The township itself can still be clearly seen.
We mapped out what we found and it was interesting to note the phasing of the township with two different head dykes.
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.
Aultgowrie, west of Muir of Ord, is a favourite area for short walks and I have been aware of a hydro scheme at Orrin Falls for many years but never given it much thought. However when I was browsing the Fairburn Estate website looking for something else I came across a photograph c1900 (below) and the following comment:
John Stirling used estate workmen to build a turbine house at the Orrin Falls and one further up river under the supervision of Mr Bagot from Glasgow and electric light was installed (in Fairburn House) in 1898.
The hydro-scheme was much older than I had thought and was worthy of more attention! For many years it had been overgrown with rhododendrons and overhung with trees however a few years ago the estate had carried out a programme of clearing these and it was more accessible. The site is marked on the current OS map as “weir” but there was obviously much more to it than that. It was unrecorded on the Local database http://her.highland.gov.uk/and on the National database https://canmore.org.uk/. So 18 months ago I set about gathering more information.
The Orrin Falls, GR NH 469517, are (or were) a series of attractive waterfalls (see painting above) within a gorge of the River Orrin. The natural rock is conglomerate and the total height drop from top to bottom of the gorge is roughly 15m. The hydro scheme is on the south bank of the gorge and comprises
The remains of an earlier dam
A lade or channel
A generator house.
And several other features;
A rock-cut channel (on the north bank) probably intended as a salmon ladder
The abutments of a footbridge
The early photograph of the dam circa 1900 – reproduced with the permission of Fairburn Estate
Archaeological sites connected with the production of illicit whisky in Strathconon
by Meryl Marshall (NOSAS)
The following notes were produced for a NOSAS field trip to Allt Dubh, Scatwell during the Highland Archaeological Festival, October 2016.
Landseer sketch, 1827
In 2006 NOSAS embarked on a project to explore Strathconon and record its archaeology. One of the many highlights was the discovery of over 50 illicit still bothies. Quite clearly the glen was a hot-bed for the illegal activity. Many of the stills are in remote mountainous terrain but within the small wooded glen of Allt Dubh in Strathconon there is a discrete landscape which appears to be devoted almost entirely to the production of illicit whisky. In an area of roughly half a square kilometre there are 4 still sites, 10 small farmsteads, 2 kilns and a further site which as yet remains a mystery! In a wider area of 2 square kilometres a further 8 still bothies have been identified. Most of the sites are not impressive in themselves, they were never substantial in the first place and after 200 years they are in a pretty wasted state and, in the summertime, they are covered by bracken or heather.
Historical Background – There was a tradition in the Highlands of household distillation of whisky on a small scale for family and local consumption, but in 1780 the government made small stills illegal in the Highlands and increased the tax on the malt used. The quality of whisky became inferior but yet it was more costly. The production of whisky went underground and illicit distillation flourished from 1780 to 1823. Highland whisky was in great demand and satisfying this demand provided an important source of revenue for a burgeoning population. In 1782 over 1000 illicit stills were seized in the Highland zone – a figure that represented only a fraction of the total number in operation. The area at Scatwell gives us an impression of the illegal activities of a certain section of a population in the glen which at that time was very numerous.