On a recent hillwalk in the remote hills to the south of Scatwell/Strathconon, we came across a line of derelict telephone poles. The poles “marched” (with various atitudes!) over the hill towards Loch Orrin; an unusual feature at an altitude of between 330m and 430m – why were they there? what was their purpose? and when? We were keen to find out.
Lines of telephone poles are, or were at one time, a bit of a blight on the landscape but now we see fewer of them and they are rapidly becoming a “thing of the past” as more phone lines are buried underground. One could argue that they are not of archaeological importance, but they are certainly part of our history. We decided to record these poles and investigate.
The poles are located 4kms south of Scatwell House and stretch for c1.5kms from Loch an Fheoir (NE end GR – NH 3939 5326) to Loch Aradaidh (SW end – NH 3862 5255), following the line of the well-made estate track from Scatwell over to Glen Orrin. Ten disused poles in various states of preservation were seen, most were upright but some had fallen and others were at jaunty angles. The poles are of timber and generally 12cms in diameter and up to 5m in height; many had wire stays. Most had a single step-iron near the top and metal discs with identification numerals. Only one had a timber cross-piece with ceramic insulators near the top, all however had the notch for the cross-piece. Continue reading →
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
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.
The following notes were provided for a NOSAS field trip in December 2015. Photographs from the day have been included.
Slochd Pass accommodates several routes both old and new; 4 roads and a railway jostle for position through the narrow defile. We are all familiar with the current A9 and the old A9, a Telford or “Parliamentary road, constructed in 1834. This walk follows sections of the 2 earlier roads
The Military road of 1803(shown below on the plan of the proposed line of the 1834 road) was built by James Donaldson in order to avoid some of the steeper sections of the original Wade military road. The road descends into the glen from our starting point at Slochd Cottages (Stagehouse on this map) and crosses the Allt Slochd Muick at “Donaldsons Bridge” GR NH 843241. This bridge survived intact until the 1960s and has now been replaced by a wooden structure; a further bridge 200m to the north crosses a side burn and is in a better state. Of this road Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus in Memoirs of a Highland Lady Volume 1 (p346) writes (in 1814) “a new road has been engineered along the sides of this “pass of wild boars”, Slough Mouich, thought a wonder of skill when viewed beside the frightful narrow precipitous pathway tracked out by General Wade, up and down which one could scarcely be made to believe a carriage with people sitting in it! had ever attempted to pass. My mother had always walked those 2 or 3 miles, the new route not having been completed until some years after…….”
General Wade’s Military road constructed in 1728-29 is joined after 1km at one of its better preserved sections. To the north the feint remains of an earlier road can be seen taking a direct line over a hill, while to the south the line of the road has been interrupted by the later railway constructed in 1897. The Wade Bridge at Ortunan was reconstructed relatively recently and that at Insharn built of dressed stone may not be the original. From Insharn southwards the Wade road is part of the National Cycle route. The first 1.5kms has seen severe estate use and nothing remains of the original road; however after the junction with the track to Inverlaidnan it improves and a possible five-mile marker stone is seen at NH 8553 2181 Canmore ID139468“This stone, on the S side of the track, is possibly that mentioned (Salmond 1938) at the top of the ascent as being one of those marking a 5 mile stretch. However, that marker stone is more likely to be the one visible 118m further W”.Continue reading →