Tag Archives: archaeology Wester Ross

Surveying Isle Ewe, Wester Ross

by Anne MacInnes (NOSAS)

Aerial of Isle Ewe from Canmore

Isle Ewe is centred on NG 85046 88444 and lies within Loch Ewe just off the coast at Aultbea.

It was surveyed as part of an ongoing project to survey islands in the Gairloch parish area that have been inhabited. It is the largest of these islands comprising 764 acres and stretching roughly two miles from NW to SE. It is an island of two halves due to the geology. The NW consisting of Torridonian sandstone is higher, rockier with rough uncultivated grazing, whereas the SE consisting of deposited New Red sandstone has gentler contours with  improved arable pasture. The SE is also sheltered from the prevailing NW winds.

The earliest reference that I could find about the island was from 1583 when Nicolay refers to Loch Ew and the island. There are various references after this with differing spellings and Roy’s map of 1747 shows two settlements on the island. The island has been settled since the bronze/iron age as I found 5 roundhouses on the island and there could be more as the N end of the island is covered with rank heather overlying deep moss. At times it felt like I was swimming across the landscape, about to disappear never to be found.

Roy Map Isle Ewe

The island is still inhabited by the Grant family without whose help the survey would not have happened.

The full report on the survey can be found on the NOSAS website under ‘past surveys and reports’ so rather than repeat everything I will highlight some of my favourite moments.

The logistics of getting to the island involved constant communication with the Grants about the weather and once on the island a watchful eye was kept on the conditions. They picked me up from Aultbea and ferried me across to various landing points depending on where I was surveying which eventually took about ten trips. I find myself still going back as various queries crop up about more sites as they notice the island through different eyes.

Footings of building at N. settlement marked on Roy’s map

Continue reading


Tanera Mor and Isle Martin: Community Projects and Private Ownership

by Cathy Dagg

Over the years NOSAS members have done a huge amount of important work finding and researching the archaeological evidence for the herring fishing industry in Loch Hourn in the 18th-19th century. This included looking at the remains of herring curing stations on the west coast, and some NOSAS members will remember going over to Tanera Mor, off Coigach in Wester Ross, to carry out a measured survey of the substantial standing ruins of the curing station, built in 1784 (read the report).Isle Martin in the 1750s and Tanera Mor in 1785  from maps held in Castle Leod. Thanks to Steve Husband and Meryl Marshall for the copies.

Tanera Mor is one of the earliest herring curing stations in Wester Ross. The first was Isle Martin, in 1775 with Culag at Lochinver in Sutherland established a short while later, then Tanera in 1785 and eventually the fishing village of Ullapool in 1788. The greater part of the Isle Martin buildings were converted to a flour mill in 1937 then completely demolished. Culag fishing station lies under the Culag Hotel. The great red herring curing house in Ullapool was truncated by about 1/3 to broaden the entrance to the ferry car park and converted to Calmac offices in the 1970s, without any building survey or photographic record. Tanera Mor, although roofless and much reduced after Frank Fraser Darling’s demolitions in 1939, remains as the last curing station in the Lochbroom area which might give archaeological evidence for the curing industry. This flourished only briefly but was enormously significant on a local level and also for the role it played in international affairs.

Ullapool: red herring curing house in 1970s

This Spring, the Isle Martin Trust received a Heritage Lottery Fund grant for a community heritage project. Volunteers have been researching the history of the island, creating a space in one of the old buildings for a micro museum, devising fictional narratives based on real events and characters, designing a heritage trail around the island and much more. You may have caught a short piece about the project on BBC Alba. Check out the website: islemartinprojects.org. Continue reading

A Survey of Kildonan, Wester Ross

by Anne MacInnes (NOSAS)


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.


Continue reading

Glenarigolach Abandoned Township, Wester Ross

by Anne McInnes (NOSAS)

Glenarigolach meaning ‘ glen of the forked shieling ‘ is accessed by a stalkers path leading up the hill on the E side of the Gruinard river. The area is centred on NG 98237 89963 and lies at a height of 100m. The glen was once well populated and Glenarigolach lies between the smaller settlements of Ridorcha and Craigour (See HER Record).

looking down the glen

Looking down the glen at Glenarigolach

During the Highland Archaeology Festival 2014 NOSAS led a walk to the site on their second visit to the area. We were not quite so lucky with the weather as in April, but still enjoyed exploring the ruins and features, although some were submerged in bracken (see also our earlier post on the nearby settlement of Keppoch, which was recorded in April 2014).

There is little documented detailed history on the area, but Meryl Marshall (NOSAS) is on the case so all will eventually be revealed!  She has found that Glenarigolach is marked on the Pont 4 map 1583–96 as Ary Gaulach. We do know that the glen was cleared for a sheep run around 1840.

Jim Buchanan has mapped the visible walls in the area using aerial photographs, and a walkover survey with Anne and Terry Doe has so far listed 33 buildings and features. An extensive muir burn in 2013 has revealed more walls and field boundaries and a roundhouse, so further surveying will hopefully take place in early 2015 before everything is once again submerged in grass and bracken.


Aerial View of Glenarigolach

Continue reading

Old routes through Ross-shire: Luib, near Achnasheen, to Scardroy in Strathconon

by Meryl Marshall (NOSAS)

A six mile stretch of rough moorland, west of Achnasheen, is traversed by what was once a well made road generally 3 metres in width. Although it has fallen into disuse and is travelled only by the occasional walker, possibly doing a coast to coast trip, the road today is very distinct and forms a pleasant days’ ramble, especially when combined with an outward journey to Achnasheen on the Kyle of Lochalsh train (with homeward transport parked at Scardroy). But what are the origins of the road? and why did it fall out of use?

A route through Strathconon to Loch Carron had been in existence for centuries; it linked the east and west coast lands of the Clan Mackenzie. The Roy map of 1750 has the road passing NW from Scardroy to Luib on Loch Gowan, 3kms west of Achnasheen, and the first mention of an Inn at Luib, or Luibgargan as it is sometimes known, is on the Dorret map of 1750. A 1798 list of householders has John Macdonald, described as “vintner”, residing there and in 1814 Donald Sage passed this way: “Leaving Attadale in the morning I breakfasted at Luibgargan, proceeded on foot down Strathconan and rested during the night at Garve” (Memorabilia Domestica, Donald Sage, 1899 p191). Both the road and the Inn appear on other early maps too, the Ainslie map of 1789, Arrowsmith of 1807 and Thomson of 1830. It also appears on a Strathconon estate map of 1825 where it is annotated “the road from Loch Carron”. So quite clearly this was a route of some importance; how did it come to be abandoned?

Dorret Map

Dorret Map 1750 (detail; click on map for wider view)

Ainslie Map 1789

Ainslie Map 1789 (detail; click on map for wider view)

Continue reading

Keppoch: Recording an Abandoned Township in Wester Ross

By James McComas (NOSAS)

Keppoch Township Apr14ocd

Keppoch is a cleared village near Dundonnell in Wester Ross (NH 09519 88665). I have a visited a few such settlements before but it did not take long to realise that Keppoch was something special. This was partly the situation; overlooking as it does the wide valley floor of Strath Beag near the entrance to Little Loch Broom, with the snowy shoulders of An Teallach looming on the horizon. However the number and extent of the buildings easily identifiable was the real draw. Also poignancy was provided by the historical information we had, largely complied by Cathy Dagg, which showed that the settlement had been apparently cleared of its tenants between the 1820’s and 40’s. Only four households were listed as remaining in the 1841 census; a weaver, a carpenter, a fisher and a cotter.

Anne MacInnes (who originally suggested the site), Meryl Marshall and Beth Blackburn between them had organised a four day programme running across the last weekend of April. Friday and Saturday would be taken up with clearing the site, whilst Sunday would be the meat of recording and drawing the features. Monday was reserved for a trip out to another nearby cleared village at Glenarigolach.

I did not manage to make it down until Saturday lunchtime and by this point clearing operations were well under way with a few newly discovered buildings being added to Meryl’s original drawing. The afternoon was spent disposing of the remaining brambles and gorse, and was finished with a tour of the village during which each building had numbers attached for easy identification the following day. After this everybody was more than happy to get washed and changed before reconvening for a very pleasant meal at the Aultbea Hotel.

Meryl Marshall had prepared a fearsomely comprehensive information booklet for the weekend. This had been emailed to all the attendees with stern warnings to thoroughly digest the contents prior to Sunday. Meryl had actually done a fantastic job of producing a simple but effective guide to recording and surveying a township, including handy “top tips” (the whole manual can be accessed at here and is well worth checking out). It informed us that standard of information to be collected could range from a “one star” up to a “five star” treatment. We were to give Keppoch a four star treatment, which would involve a full written description, photos and a dimensioned sketch of each building.

Meryl in lecture mode at Keppoch

Meryl in lecture mode at Keppoch

Continue reading