Tag Archives: RCAHMS

Buntait, Glenurquhart: A Bronze Age Landscape?

by James McComas (NOSAS)

The larger barrow at Buntait – feature ‘X’ on the map below.

Although I have lived in Glen Urquhart for some years, it was only comparatively recently that I first visited Buntait, a hamlet just to the north of the Clava type chambered cairn at Corrimony. This was despite me hearing from a number of local people about the amount of upstanding archaeology that was there. I think I must have presumed that because there are no scheduled monuments there it could not be that interesting – an assumption I will not be making in the future. Later research confirmed that Buntait is in fact full of prehistoric (and post medieval) features – including hut circles, field systems, burnt mounds and rock art. Not only are the field systems extensive and some of the hut circles very well preserved, but also there are a couple of ditched barrow features. Locally, only Garbeg is comparable in terms of prehistoric remains.

Consequently Buntait became the subject of three archaeological field trips in 2017; two led by NOSAS, and one as part of the Archaeology Scotland Summer School planned with the assistance of NOSAS. There were also numerous smaller sorties for quadcopter flying, polecam photogrammetry, rock art recording (for the SCRAP project) and general investigation.

OS map of Buntait annotated with huts, barrows and buildings in red, cairns in green and dykes in brown. Blue dots show the location of records on Canmore. BM = burnt mound.

NOSAS field visit to Buntait January 2017

“The Glenurqhuart Story” by Alistair Mackell published in 1982, provides a useful if perhaps now outdated introduction:

Not far from the Corrimony Burial Cairn, on Buntait lands, was a settlement of some considerable size where clearly marked hut circles and cairns suggest a community practising primitive agriculture and a boundary wall, which can still be traced, may have served to protect domestic animals from prowling wolves or other marauding wild animals. Some of these circles are 30 feet in diameter and in the centre of at least one, is a depression which may have been a fireplace. These circles are low banks of stones covered with grass or heather about 2 feet high and 4 feet wide at the base. It is difficult to imagine one large roof covering such an expanse, but if so, it would probably have been formed of wattles and thatched with heather or turf, giving, when complete, a dome – shaped appearance. In each case there is a break in the circle at the south east which indicates the entrance. In other parts of Scotland where these structures have been carefully examined, hearth paving stones have been discovered, but we are unable to reconstruct much of the everyday life of the people of these long bygone days, and we can merely conjecture that they combined hunting with their primitive agriculture, for the Highlands were rich in wildlife.

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Jim Bone: Aerial Photography of Archaeological Sites

Jim is a founder member of NOSAS which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2018. He is known in the Highlands for providing important aerial photos of numerous archaeological sites over many years. This is his story.

Aerial photograph of Mulchaich, Ross-shire. The settlement , distillery and chambered cairn at Mulchaich were the subject of NOSAS projects between 2009 and 2013. See the blog post.

It appears to me that people can be divided into two categories – those who love flying, and those who do not.  Brought up in close proximity to Prestwick Airport, I recall watching aircraft there, and determined that I would one day find out more about aviation.  Inspired by a selection of Biggles books, I joined the local ATC (Air Training Corps) squadron, enabling me to sample flight for the first time in 1950 in an elderly Anson.  Military aircraft have a distinctive odour of aluminium and oil, complemented in this case by an off-putting whiff of vomit, but I enjoyed this first ‘air experience’ flight along the Ayrshire coast.  For the next flight, I borrowed a folding camera, and tried a few shots through the rather scratched Perspex window.  Surprisingly, the results came out quite clearly, and another interest was born.

Going to University in Glasgow, I lost no time in finding the HQ of the University Air Squadron (GUAS), and was fortunate enough to be accepted as a Cadet Pilot in the RAFVR.  This offered a high standard of flying training, during 1953-7, provided by experienced RAF instructors at Scone Airfield outside Perth.  Our Chipmunk aircraft was state of the art at that time, but cameras were not encouraged on training sorties.  At the end of my four years, I asked if I could take a camera with me on a dual flight with my instructor, having noticed some archaeological sites which I wanted to photograph.  By opening the hood, I was able to take quite a good shot of a hill fort to the south of Perth, which presaged further attempts in later years.  The Squadron experience qualified me for a Preliminary Flying Badge – a sort of junior wings – and allowed me to apply for a Private Pilot’s Licence, costing a very reasonable ten shillings, when I left the unit. Continue reading

The Discovery and Recording of a Victorian Hydro scheme at Orrin Falls, Ross-shire

by Meryl Marshall (NOSAS)

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

  1. A dam
  2. The remains of an earlier dam
  3. A lade or channel
  4. A generator house.

And several other features;

  1. A rock-cut channel (on the north bank) probably intended as a salmon ladder
  2. The abutments of a footbridge

The early photograph of the dam circa 1900 – reproduced with the permission of Fairburn Estate

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The Military Roads from Slochd to Sluggan

by Meryl Marshall (NOSAS)

The following notes were provided for a NOSAS field trip in December 2015. Photographs from the day have been included.

NOSAS Slochd Dec15 001

OS Slochd walk 116

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…….”

Slochd Telford 1834117

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 ID 139468 “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

Craig Phadrig Vitrified Hillfort, Inverness

The following is based on a transcript of notes by Mary Peteranna (AOC) for her presentation at the Highland Archaeology Festival Conference 2015. It describes fieldwork at Craig Phadrig hillfort carried out by AOC Archaeology in early 2015 on behalf of Forestry Commission Scotland, see Data Structure Report.

Craig Phadrig (Canmore ID 13486, HER MHG 3809) is located on the west side of lnverness, a prominent position overlooking River Ness and entrance to the Beauly/Moray Firth. The Beauly Firth marked a southern boundary of an area defined in the north by the Dornoch Firth landscape, supposedly held by the Decantae tribe in the lron Age as shown in Ptolemy’s map. Knock Farrell and Ord Hill hillforts are in line of sight, and a third possible fort is at Torvean In Inverness (Canmore ID 13549, HER MHG 3749).

2892 Craig Phadrig AP 3 (low res)

Aerial view of Craig Phadrig, Inverness, the Kessock Bridge and Ord Hill (Forestry Commission Scotland).

Craig Phadrig LANDSCAPE (low res)

A visualisation of the same scene as it might have appeared in prehistory (Forestry Commission Scotland).

Craig Phadrig is a prominent landscape feature, referred to at the time of James Vl in 1592. It is an oblong fort, a type which clusters around the Moray Firth region. Similar forts in East Scotland such as Finavon, Dunnideer and Tap o’ Noth also feature lack of entrance and massive walls suggesting an exclusive use. Many show evidence for lron Age construction, abandonment and secondary re-use.

Previous survey and excavation. Numerous previous surveys have been conducted on Craig Phadrig, probably sparked by Penant’s 1769 Tour of Scotland where he mentions vitrified stone. Plan shows the 2013 RCAHMS survey with the estimated area of these excavations.


Craig Phadrig. Plan of fort incorporating results of RCAHMS survey (Sept 2013) and earlier surveys (Canmore).

Finally, in 1971/72 Alan Small and Barry Cottam dug for two seasons, from which only an interim report after the first season was produced. lmage of the inner rampart from 1971; Small found that the inner rampart had been built sometime in the 4th Century BC and that the wall core was significantly vitrified. He also noted significant disturbance by other earlier excavations.

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David’s Fort: a Medieval Motte?

by Marion Ruscoe (NOSAS)

In around 2000 Janet Hooper, Allan MacKenzie and I undertook a survey of David’s Fort, a rather enigmatic site in Balavil Wood, near Conon Bridge.  Our intention was to survey the site, clarify its purpose and investigate the related documentary and contextual information.  We did arrange a geophysical survey which was cancelled due to Foot and Mouth, and that was replaced with a later walkover of Balavil Wood.  David’s Fort itself is scheduled, but there are other features in the immediate area which may be related and which are worthy of notice.

David's Fort aerial photograph by Jim Bone

David’s Fort aerial photograph by Jim Bone

David’s Fort (NH5394 5328; HER MHG8986) is essentially a large earth mound surrounded by a ditch, surrounded by an embankment.  The mound and embankment were created by digging out the ditch.  It’s trapezoidal in shape, and the top of the mound measures approximately 80 x 85 feet.  The moat is around 15 feet deep and is partially filled with water.  There’s no sign of any structures on the top of the mound, but these would probably have been wooden and evidence would not have survived the trees and bracken which have invaded the site.

There is a dip on the west end and a corresponding dip in the embankment with a track running down to the mediaeval road which runs from Tarradale on the Beauly Firth to the ford over the River Conon.  It’s been assumed that this is where the entrance was, though, since the embankment is considerably lower than the top of the mound, any bridge would either be very sloped, or mounted on a framework which raises the question “why the dip in the embankment and the very obvious path leading from that dip?”  The embankment surrounding the mound has been extended for a short distance at three of the corners.  The purpose of this is not clear.  Water was fed into the moat via a channel leading from a lochan to the east of the site and controlled by a sluice but this channel has been damaged by the embankment which carries the power lines.

Dip in embankment, indicating possible original entry. 1998

Dip in embankment, indicating possible original entry. 1998

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The Picts at Garbeg and Whitebridge

by James McComas (NOSAS)

The Pictish people of the mid to late first millenium AD once inhabited what is now northern and eastern Scotland. They left very little written record and the evidence of buildings so far identified are sparse. Perhaps their most obvious remains in the landscape are the enigmatic symbol stones and the imprints of their burial sites.

Although modern Angus and Perthshire have traditionally been seen as the Pictish heartland, in recent years new research is reveavaluating the importance of the northern picts, north of the Mounth. Two highland burial sites which feature impressive upstanding remains are to be found on opposite sides of Loch Ness; at Garbeg near Drumnadrochit, and at Whitebridge in Stratherrick. Pictish funerary practices appear to have been diverse (see our earlier blog post), however barrow* cemeteries have been identified as one recognisable form. Round and square type ditched barrows appear alongside each other at both Garbeg and Whitebridge – a feature thought to be unique to the Pictish cemetery.

Side by side comparison of a plan of part of the Garbeg cemetery and a quadcopter aerial photo by Alan Thompson. (The brown patches on the photo are the result of recent gorse clearance, and dark green areas are piles of cut vegetation.) The barrows excavated by Wedderburn and Grime on this plan are nos 1,2,3 and 8.

Side by side comparison of a plan of part of the Garbeg cemetery and a quadcopter aerial photo by Alan Thompson. (The brown patches on the photo are the result of recent gorse clearance, and dark green areas are piles of cut vegetation.) The barrows excavated by Wedderburn and Grime on this plan are nos 1,2,3 and 8.

Garbeg and Whitebridge were visited by NOSAS field trips in 2014/ 2015 and Garbeg has also been the subject of gorse clearance, quadcopter photography (blog post section 4) and QGIS survey by the group. Subsequently in 2015 many NOSAS members were involved with survey and excavation by the University of Aberdeen’s Northern Picts Project on possibly contemporaneous building remains at Garbeg.

The cemetery at Garbeg (Canmore ID 12281, HER MHG3361) consists of 23 square and round barrows with surrounding ditches. The barrows are thought to cover single long cist burials. They are situated on a natural plateau at an altitude of some 300m on open moorland used for rough grazing.  The immediately surrounding landscape is one rich in archaeological remains, including prehistoric field systems, groups of hut circles and a series of burnt mounds which are largely thought to predate the Pictish period.

Members of NOSAS at a field visit to Garbeg, November 2014

Members of NOSAS at a field visit to Garbeg, November 2014

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