Tag Archives: SCAPE

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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A few disconnected thoughts after the NOSAS trip to Tiree June 2017

by John Wombell (NOSAS)

Intertidal track ways on the Caolas peninsular

One of the intertidal track ways at Poll a Chrosan, Caolas

This is the first time that I have been aware of such features anywhere in the highlands or on other Scottish islands.  The Caolas track ways are all about 2m wide where stones have been shifted left and right through the intertidal boulder spreads and outcrops to avoid lengthy routes around the hags over the soft and fragile swards of the saltings on the high water mark.

On the east side of Fadamull islet which is connected to the main island by a tombolo (a gravel bar covered at high tide) we found 7 cleared boat landing places most of which were connected to a naturally clear beach where boats could be pulled right up out of the water by a cleared track way that ran parallel to the shore.    Otherwise the cleared landing places stopped short of the high tide mark – all rather strange as we don’t know what they were for.   There are more than a dozen short lengths of seaweed drying walls on the islet but only one possible burning pit.  Our thinking meantime is that the cleared landings were used to beach heavily laden small boats stacked to the gunwales with seaweed after which they were unloaded into carts or panniers using the intertidal track way off the sterns of the boats.  Smart thinking as taking heavy wet seaweed off the sides of a small boat and staggering up a rocky beach with it would not have been very efficient.  Whether this arrangement was purely associated with burning seaweed to produce kelp (soda ash) or for landing seaweed to be used as manure we don’t know.  A bit of both maybe?  Possibly also associated with the time when the iodine factory was functioning and calling for large supplies of seaweed.

Cleared boat landing places Fadamull islet Caolas

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SHED: Report on the Implementing Scotland’s Historic Environment Data Strategy meeting, November 2015

By Susan Kruse (NOSAS and ARCH)

All archaeological projects should ensure that the results are distributed in a number of ways, so that the information will be available after the project finishes. In particular, we submit information to the local Historic Environment Record (the Highland HER) and Scotland-wide Canmore databases, and sometimes to Discovery and Excavation Scotland (DES) for new projects. Individuals should do so as well. Unless we share information, it will be lost. And information on the HER informs planning applications.

Over the past years the HER and Canmore have increasingly diverged, so that one needs to input separately to both, and needs to consult both when researching. During the consultation for Scotland’s Archaeology Strategy, this was raised at several Highland meetings as an issue people would like changed.

The SHED Project (Scotland’s Historic Environmental Data Strategy) is looking at these issues and others, on ways to share and link digital records. They are made up from a number of representatives from various organisations, though few with community archaeology perspective. They published a Strategy in April 2014 and are now working on ways to implement it.

At the beginning of the whole process a report suggested centralisation of data, but this was rejected as ‘not workable’. Instead, the main activity resulting from the Strategy so far is Pastmap (pastmap.org.uk) where you can used map-based searching techniques to see both Canmore and the HER data (and others  as well). However, you still need to look at both records, and cannot search by keywords.

pastmap strathpeffer

A screenshot of the Pastmap website

The SHED group is now consulting on how to implement its strategy, and held a meeting in November. Susan Kruse of ARCH and NoSAS attended, and these notes are a personal reflection on where matters stand after attending the meeting. Continue reading