Dun Osdale, Dunvegan, Skye

Broch:  OS Grid Reference – NG 24162 46424

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 10832

Getting Here

Dun Osdale, by the roadside

From the A863 Dunvegan road, a mile south of the village turn onto the B884 road at Lonmore, making sure you veer right after a few hundred yards and head towards Glendale.  About a mile along, on the left-hand side of the road, note the small rocky crag that begins to grow just above the roadside.  At the end of this crag you’ll see a huge pile of rocks, seemingly tumbling down, just by a small T-junction to Uiginish.  You can’t really miss it.

Archaeology & History

Listed as one of the duns, or fortified prehistoric structures in Skye by the old writer J.A. MacCulloch (1905), the rediscovery of this broch was, said A.A. MacGregor (1930), one that “became historical only within living memory.”  I find that hard to believe!  The Gaelic speakers hereby merely kept their tongues still when asked, as was common in days of olde—and it was a faerie abode….

Looking at the SW walling

Looking at the SE walls

Once you go through the gate below the broch, the large boggy area you have to circumnavigate is the overflow from an ancient well, known as Tobar na Maor, where Anne Ross said, “tradition that the stewards of three adjacent properties met there.”  This well was covered by an ancient Pictish stone (now in Dunvegan Castle), which may originally have been associated with the broch just above it.  When I visited the site with Aisha and Her clan, we passed the overgrown well and walked straight up to the broch.

Despite being ruinous it is still most impressive.  The massive walling on its southwestern side is still intact in places; but you don’t get a real impression of the work that went into building these structures until you’re on top.  The walls themselves are so thick and well-built that you puzzle over the energy required to build so massive a monument.  And Scotland has masses of them!

Aisha in the broch

Small internal chamber

The site was surveyed briefly when the Ordnance Survey lads came here in 1877, subsequently highlighting it on the first OS-map of the area.  But it didn’t receive any archaeocentric assessment until the Royal Commission (1928) lads explored the area some fifty years later.  In their outstanding Inventory of the region they described Dun Osdale in considerable detail, although kept their description purely architectural in nature, betraying any real sense of meaning and history which local folk must have told them.  They wrote:

“The outer face of the wall of the broch for a great part is reduced to the lower courses, but on the west-southwest a section still maintains a height of about 7 feet; on the south-side, although hidden by fallen stones, it is about 4 to 5 feet high, and on the northeast there is a very short section 3 feet in height.  The stones are of considerable size and laid in regular courses.  In the interior a mass of tumbled stone obscures the most of the inner face of the wall, but on the south and northwest it stands about 8 feet above the debris.  The broch is circular with an internal diameter of 35 feet to 35 feet 6 inches, and the wall thickens from 10 feet on the north to 13 feet 7 inches on the south. The entrance, which is one the east, is badly broken down, but near the inside has a width of 3 feet 2 inches, and appears to have been 2 feet 10 inches on the outside; it has run straight through the wall without checks.  In the thickness of the wall to the south of the entrance is an oval chamber measuring 10 feet long by 4 feet 9 inches broad above the debris with which it is half-filled.  The roof has fallen in, but the internal corbelling of the walls is well displayed.  The fallen stones no doubt still cover the entrance, which has probably been from the interior.  Within the western arc of the wall, nearly opposite the main doorway, is another oval cell 12 feet in length and 4 feet 6 inches in breadth over debris, with a doorway 2 feet 9 inches wide; its outer and inner walls are 5 feet 9 inches, and 2 feet 6 inches respectively.  The roof od this chamber has also collapsed, but from the masonry which remains in position it must have been over 6 feet in height.  Immediately to the west of the cell near the entrance are exposed the left jamb of a door and a short length of a gallery 3 feet 6 inches wide in the thickness of the southern wall, which probably contained the stairs, as traces of a gallery at a higher level than the oval chambers are seen here, the inner wall being about 3 feet and the outer 8 feet thick. Parts of a scarcement 9 inches wide can be detected on the northwestern and southeastern arcs.”

Dun Osdale plan (RCAHMS 1928)

Dun Osdale on 1881 map

Measurements and architectural tedium aside, the broch is worthwhile for anyone interested in our ancient mythic past, not least because of its position in the landscape and its visual relationship with other sites of the same period nearby.  As well as that, there are unrecorded ancient sites still hiding in these olde moors…

Folklore

Tradition tells that Dun Osdale was used as a watch-tower by the tribal folk—which seems quite credible.  But the original inhabitants of Duirinish, the sith or fairy folk, were also said to live here.  It’s one of several places in Duirinish where the legendary Fairy Cup of Dunvegan was said to have come from.  Otta Swire (1961) told its tale:

“One midsummer night a MacLeod, searching for strayed cattle, stayed late on the moor.  In the moonlight he saw the door of Dun Osdale open and the little people come out, a long train of them, and began to dance on the green grass knoll nearby.  Fascinated, he watched, forgetting everything but the wonderful dance. Suddenly he sneezed.  The spell was broke.  The dance stopped.  MacLeod sprang up to fly, but the fairies were upon him and he was dragged, willy-nilly, into the dun.  Inside, as soon as his eyes grew accustomed to that strange green light associated with fairyland, he beheld a pleasing sight.  A great banquet was spread on a large table carved from a single tree: on it were vessels of gold and silver, many of them set with jewels or chased in strange designs.  His fairy ‘hosts’ led him to the table, poured wine into one of the beautiful cups and, giving it to him, invited him to toast their chief.  Now this man’s mother was a witch, so he knew well that if he ate or drank in the dun he was in the Daoine Sithe’s power for ever.  He lifted the cup and appeared to drink the required toast, but in fact skilfully let the wine run down inside his coat.  As soon as his neighbours saw the cup was half empty, they ceased to bother about him but went off on their own affairs or to attend the banquet.  Thereafter MacLeod watched for a chance of escape and, when one offered, slipped quietly through the door of the dun and away, carrying the cup with him.

“The fairies soon realised what had happened and started in pursuit, but he was already across the Osdale river and in safety.  He hurried home, told his mother the story, and showed her the cup.  Being a wise woman she realised the peril in which he undoubtedly stood and at once put her most powerful spell upon him to protect him from the arts of the Daoine Sithe, warning him seriously never to leave the house for a moment without getting the spell renewed.  But she forgot to put a protecting spell upon the cup also.  The fairies soon discovered the exact state of affairs and immediately laid their own spell upon the cup, a spell so powerful that all who saw the cup or even heard of it, were seized with an overmastering desire to possess it, even if such possession involved the murder of the holder.

“For a year, all went well and thanks to his mother’s care the young man went unharmed.  Then he grew careless and one day ventured out without the protecting spell.  A one-time friend, bewitched by the cup, had been awaiting just such a chance and immediately murdered him and went off with the prize.  The fairies, their revenge achieved, took no further interest in the matter, but MacLeod of MacLeod did.  The boy’s mother hurried to him with her story, and he at once gave orders that the murderer be found and brought to justice.  He was duly hanged and the trouble-making cup, now free of enchantment, passed into the possession of the chief and can still be seen in (Dunvegan) castle.”

References:

  1. Donaldson-Blyth, Ian, In Search of Prehistoric Skye, Thistle: Insch 1995.
  2. MacCulloch, J.A.,  The Misty Isle of Skye, Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier: Edinburgh 1905.
  3. MacGregor, Alasdair Alpin, Over the Sea to Skye, Chambers: Edinburgh 1930.
  4. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles, HMSO: Edinburgh 1928.
  5. Swire, Otta F., Skye: The Island its Legends, Blackie & Sons: Glasgow 1961.

Acknowledgements:  Eternally grateful to the awesome Aisha Domleo and Her little clan for getting us to this ancient haven on Skye’s endless domain of natural beauty.  Without Her, this would not have been written.  Also, accreditation of early OS-map usage, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.424152, -6.596830 Dun Osdale

Castle Craig, Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire

‘Fort’ (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 9116 9769

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 48294

Archaeology & History

This ancient fort could once be seen in the ancient woodlands on the western side of the Mill Glen, above the village, going into the Ochils—but it was completely destroyed, as usual, by the Industrialists when they quarried the entire structure out of existence.  It was a big thing too, by all accounts.  When Stewart Cruden (1964) saw it, shortly before its final demise, it was still impressive to look at.  He told that the fort consisted of a deep rock-cut ditch with a stone wall on the inside and the remains of a stony rampart on the outside.  Although damaged it still measured 300 feet across.  Its interior contained an almost precise circular enclosure, more than eighty feet across inside the remains of a large stone wall some twelve feet thick.

Nearly a hundred years earlier, Miss Christian MacLagan (1875) told it to be much bigger!  Not only did she report how locals remembered a stone roof on top, but it possessed three concentric circular walls, thirty-five apart, with the central area eighty feet in diameter—much as Cruden later reported.  However, even in MacLagan’s day, she told how many of the stones from the fort were being used to construct sheepfolds.  This destruction was being lamented by the local historian William Gibson (1883), who wrote:

“On the west side of the burn, and overtopping the village, stands the beautiful Castle Craig, wooded to the top, and on which stood, in ancient times, a round Pictish fortress, the traces of which can still be distinctly seen. This craig is, I think, one of the most picturesque objects on the Alva estate, and it is a very great pity that it should be so disfigured by the extensive quarrying operations that are being at present carried on at it.”

On the top of the quarry edges can still be found old walled remains crumbling at the edge of the huge cliffs, but these are unlikely to have been attached to the ancient fortress, and may just be the fragmentary memories of the sheepfolds built from the old fort.

Folklore

Tradition told that this was one of the old forts of the Picts who lived in the Ochils.  If it was a fort, then the Pictish tradition is probably true.  Old lore also told that some of the stones from the fort were used in the construction of Stirling Castle, 7.8 miles (12.6km) to the west.

References:

  1. Corbett, L., et al., The Ochil Hills, Forth Naturalist & Historian 1994.
  2. Cruden, Stewart H., “Castle Craig, Tillicoultry,” in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1964.
  3. Feacham, Richard, Guide to Prehistoric Scotland, Batsford: London 1977.
  4. Gibson, William, Reminiscences of Dollar, Tillicoultry and other Districts Adjoining the Ochils, Andrew Elliot 1883.
  5. Maclagan, Christian, The Hill Forts, Stone Circles and other Structural Remains of Ancient Scotland, Edinburgh 1875.
  6. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan, HMSO: Edinburgh 1933.
  7. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, The Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Clackmannan District and Falkirk District, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1978.
  8. Watson, Angus, The Ochils: Placenames, History, Tradition, PKDC: Perth 1995.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.159423, -3.754137 Castle Craig

Castlehill Wood, St Ninians, Stirling, Stirlingshire

Dun:  OS Grid Reference – NS 75074 90902

Also Known as: 

  1. Canmore ID 46233
  2. Castlehill Wood

Getting Here

In ghostly mist and bracken

Take the Gateside Road from St Ninians or Polmaise Road out of Torbrex across the M9, heading out west onto the southern moors of Touch Hills, passing the Wallstale dun in the trees and then the Castlehill dun just off the road.  Keep going uphill for just over half-a-mile, keeping your eyes peeled on the right for where the MOD lads play some of their war-games.  Walk along the track here, following the line of the woods, until it gets to the spot where it doubles back on itself.  Just here, about 30 yards in front of you, a rounded walled knoll gives the game away!

Archaeology & History

Artists impression of the reconstructed site (PSAS 1959)

An impressive-looking site, not too far off the moorland road, it is one of more than half a dozen hillforts and duns found to the west of Stirling, all of them relatively close to each other—showing that a lot of human activity was going on here in the Iron Age and, probably, much earlier.  Looking like a cross between a broch and a traditional hillfort, the site is best visited in the Winter and Spring months before the bracken starts to encroach and cover it.

Officially rediscovered in 1952 and excavated three years later, it was thought to have been built in the 1st century AD and used for a few hundred years thereafter.  As you walk up to the eastern edge of the monument, a large entrance, 4½ wide, allows you into the large open space within.  From here, and walking around both the inner and outer walls, you get an idea of the huge amount of work it must have taken to build this structure.  The walls alone which constitute the main of Castlewood Dun are, on average, 16 feet thick!  The Royal Commission report for the area (summarizing the archaeological work of F.W. Feacham in the ’50s) gives the basic architectural features of the place:

“The dun is oval in plan…and measures 75ft from NE to SW, transversely within a drystone wall 16ft thick.  The faces of the wall are composed of large, angular blocks, and the core of boulders, small rubble and earth.  The entrance in the E arc, is provided with door-checks.  Within these, the passage measures 4ft 6in in width, and outside them 3ft 9in.  A few paving-stones were laid to level the rough rock surface of the passage-floor.  Traces of what might have been the bottom step of a stair, rising up the inner face of the wall, were found at a point 8ft N of the entrance.  The dun had no mural stair or galleries, but two sets of mural chambers were located, one in the W and the other in the S acr of the wall.  The former consisted of an entrance-passage, 6ft in length, which varied in width from 2ft at the outer to 3ft at the inner end, where it opened into a circular chamber 4ft in diameter.  From either side of the passage a narrow duct or flue, about 19ft in length and 1ft 6in in width, led off obliquely through the core of the wall to debouch into the interior of the dun.  The construction in the S arc consisted of a similar passage, one flue and a smaller chamber.  Ash and a clinker of very light weight were found in the form of deposits in both passages and all the flues. …The excavator suggested they might have been corn-drying installations.”

Groundplan of site (PSAS 1959)
Entrance details (PSAS 1959)

Apart from a small piece of Roman glass, quern fragments, anvils stones and a pot lid, the excavators found very little inside the dun—not even any hearths.  The walling on the southwest and western edges was built onto a small cliff, making access slightly difficult from that side.

From the site itself, views are excellent, particularly in an arc through the north, east and southeast, with the western skylines being only a short distance away.  This enabled relatively easy tribal communication with people at the other brochs, duns and forts in the area, across an otherwise large but difficult landscape in prehistoric times.  A few hundred yards to the northeast, on the other side of the recently planted tree-farm (forestry plantation), a large D-shaped structure—possibly Iron Age, possibly medieval— is accompanied by lines of ancient walling running down the slopes.

References:

  1. Feachem, R W., “Castlehill Wood Dun, Stirlingshire“, in Proceedings Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 90, 1959.
  2. Feachem, R W., “Castlehill Wood, Polmaise”, in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1955.
  3. MacKie, E W. “English Migrants and Scottish Brochs’, in Glasgow Archaeological Journal, volume 2, 1971.
  4. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  5. Royal Commission Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Edinburgh 1979.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.094510, -4.009638 Castlehill Wood

Firbrush Point, Killin, Perthshire

Dun (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NN 603 337

Archaeology & History

Not to be confused with the ‘fort’ shown on modern OS-maps on the wooded slopes a few hundred yards to the south, the denuded remains of this site were shown on an 18th century map of the area (the Breadalbane estate plans). Probably Iron Age in nature, the local historian William Gillies (1938) described the place in his fine work,

“According to the atlas of 1769 there were ruins of an ‘Ancient Castramentation’ at Firbrush Point on the farm of Auchmore. An examination of this little peninsula revealed the foundation of a very thick wall that at one time ran across its neck, and formed a defence on the landward side. It is probable that the stones were removed for the erection of the small pier and harbour close by.”

An assessment of the site by some of the Scottish Royal Commission lads in the late 1970s found no remains of the thick walling and it seems all remains of this fort have sadly been destroyed.

References:

  1. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

Firbrush Point

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Firbrush Point 56.474844, -4.270902 Firbrush Point

Duncroisk, Glen Lochay, Perthshire

Dun (lost): OS Grid Reference – NN 539 386 (approximation)

Looking towards Laraig Bhreislich, from the south

Also Known as:

  1. Dun croisgh
  2. Lairig Breisleich
  3. Laraig Bhreislich

Archaeology & History

Although this site doesn’t appear in the modern records, the remote situation of the place suggests that some remains of the site could remain and be uncovered by diligent explorers and students. It is one of several lost “circular forts” that were described in William Gillies’ (1938) detailed historical text, that were first highlighted on a map of 1769. His brief description of this old fort told,

“The name ‘Duncroisg’ in Glenlochay, bears witness to the fort that once stood at the southern entrance to Laraig Bhreislich, the pass leading over the mountain to Glenlyon.”

There is is the possibility that some of the remote shielings clustered on the level at Airigh Allt an Eilein and Riabhaich used stones from this ancient site for their construction. On the level to the south of here are the overgrown remains of a prehistoric cairn, not included in archaeological surveys.

Note – Huge sections of prehistoric man-made walling have been located in the area, comprised of gigantic boulders, more reminiscent of enclosure walling.  The remains are extensive and huge, but severely overgrown in this remote landscape.  Watch This Space!

Folklore

Although not named specifically, this site would have been another of the Forts of the Fiann, or tribes of the hero-figure, Finn. The valley immediately adjacent to the location of the fort is still known as Fionn Ghleann, with the waters of Allt Fionn Ghleann strongly flowing through.

References:

  1. Gillies, William A., In Famed Breadalbane, Munro Press: Perth 1938.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.516580, -4.376025 Duncroisk fort

Dun Chathach, Connel, Argyll

Hillfort: OS Grid Reference – NM 9674 3401

Also known as:

  1. Canmore ID 23261
  2. Dun Cathich

Getting Here

Dun Chathach (drawn by Miss J. Knox Smith 1885)

Go up from Oban on the A85, past Connel and towards Taynuilt, keeping your eye out for where the train-line crosses the road. Just before this is a small road on your left leading down to the sea, with the train line running parallel all the way down. Go right to the end and then look up to the rocky rise a coupla hundred yards on where the train line runs out of view round the coastal edge. That’s it!

Archaeology & History

When Scottish writer and historian R. Angus Smith (1885) first saw this, the close arrangement and size of the stones that make up the edges of this dun made him think this was actually a stone circle up here.  Sadly it wasn’t to be.  Following an examination of the site in 1969 by members of the Scottish Royal Commission (Argyll – Volume 2, 1975), they described Dun Chathach as,

“circular in plan…measuring 18.3 metres in diameter externally. The wall, which has been about 3.4 metres in average thickness, is now reduced to a low grass-grown stony bank, but considerable stretches of the outer face are still visible in situ. Many of the facing stones, which lie as much as 1.6 metres below the level of the summit, are of massive proportions, the largest measuring 1.4 metres by 1.3 metres and 1 metre high. It is uncertain which of the three gaps now visible in the wall indicates the site of the original entrance.”

Folklore

Legend has it that this was a hill of battles.  It was also said by R. Angus Smith (1885) to “have been used as one of a chain of beacons,” with the next fire on being lit upon a small hill nearer Connel called Tom na h-aire, ‘the mound of watching.’

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Argyll- volume 2, HMSO: 1974.
  2. Smith, R. Angus, Loch Etive and the Sons of Uisnach, Alexander Gardner: London & Paisley 1885.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.454189, -5.300001 Dun Chathach hillfort

Dun Dubh, Ford, Argyll

Dun:  OS Grid Reference – NM 8640 0479

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 22821

Getting Here

From Ford village, take the track that goes uphill (west) running near the edge of the forest-line. Keep going until you hit the top of the forest and the large rocky hill above you (on your right) is where you need to be heading.  The rise to your left is Dun Chonallaich.  Walk around the bottom of the hill until you get to the other side (you should be 100 yards or more above the tree-line) where you’ll notice a ‘pass’ running west, with a rocky knoll above you on your right.  That’s it!

Archaeology & History

Thought to date from the Iron Age, the remains here cover an area 15 yards by about 25 yards.  Remains of walling around the edge of the summit nearly a yard wide in places define quite clearly where the ‘fort’ was centred.  The entrance to the site was found on the northwestern side.  In more recent times however, animal pens have intruded on the remains here and the archaeological remnants are much denuded.

Folklore

Samhain fires were lit on the larger ridge above this ruined fort until recent years, as some old local folk will tell you. These Halloween fires (done to celebrate the old New Year) were stopped a short time after the new ‘owner’ of the Auchinellan Estate (on whose land Dun Dubh is found) took exception to them and, for all intent and purpose, deemed them a fire hazard! The lady in question who inherited the Estate was in fact a devout christian who took exception to the local “pagan” goings-on, contrary to the beliefs of the previous Estate owner, who not only allowed such old events, but played a part in them.  Local folk hereabouts, not surprisingly, aint too keen on their part-time dictatorial christian neighbour.

The fires up here were also related to the linear cemetery at Kilmartin. Here the giant tombs all line up & point to Dun Chonallaich, behind which hides the more flattened top of Dun Dubh. When the Halloween fires were lit on top of this, the glow from behind the great pyramid of Chonallaich all the way down to Valley of the Kings, was spectacular! One wonders just how long the local people had been doing this…

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Argyll – volume 6, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.187804, -5.443792 Dun Dubh

Dun Gallain, Colonsay, Argyll

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – NR 3486 9314

Getting Here

Dun Gallain on 1878 map

Bittova trek this one.  Once on Colonsay, head out onto the B8086 road west of Scalasaig until you, past Machrins, and onto the gold course. Take the footpath across it (south), until you hit the little airstrip where you need to veer right (west) right onto the spur of the coast about 800 yards away.  Your damn close!

Archaeology & History

Highlighted on the 1878 OS-map of the region, this site occupies a prominent position.  Its summit is surrounded by a line of oval walling enclosing an area of about 90 square yards.  There are also remains of of outer walling to the eastern and southern sides.  The ‘cairn’ on the highest spot in the middle of the hillfort is a modern construction.

Folklore

The great Scottish folklorist A.A. MacGregor (1947) narrated the tale behind this denuded fort on the western edge of the island. According to the islanders who told him the tale, they alleged it Norwegian in origin, though the fortress is much older than that. MacGregor told that, “in this fort there once lived an elderly and voluptuous tyrant named Grey Somerled, who is said to have been related to the first of the Lords of the Isles.

“Grey Somerled came to Colonsay, they say, in the capacity of factor. But he neglected his duties, imposed penalties and hardships on the innocent and defenceless tenants, and generally made himself so disagreeable that at last it was decided to take revenge upon him, previous warnings having been no deterrent.

“Like Rory Mor of Dunvegan, who slept best when he was within hearing of his ‘nurse’, the waterfall, Grey Somerled was wont to be lulled to sleep by the grinding noise of a quern placed near his head. When he retired for the night, one of the servants had to turn the quern-stone by his pillow, and keep on turning it, lest he woke.

“It was recognised that any attempt to surprise Grey Somerled during daylight was foredoomed to failure. So, a plot was laid to circumvent him during the night-time. His enemies entered into a conspiracy with one of the servants that she should allow them to invade Dun Gallain after he had fallen asleep. When they arrived, one of their number relieved the woman at the quern, and proceeded to turn the stone without intermission. But he was not too skillful at the turning; and his harsh and irregular grinding soon woke the sleeper. Ere Gey Somerled had had time to consider the matter of resistance, his foes were upon him. They carried him away from Dun Gallain; and tradition in the islands of Argyll has it that, in great privation, he spent the remainder of his days in a bee-hive house of stone, situated on the farmlands of Machrins.

“One night – so the story concludes – a huge boulder from the roof of the bee-hive fell in, killing its unhappy inmate. So as to identify the spot where this tragedy happened, the islanders raised on it the cairn now indicated on the Ordnance Survey Map as Carn Shomhairle Liath – that is to say, Grey Somerled’s Cairn.”

Interestingly, there is a long-cist burial at Machrins (plus small settlement) a few hundred yards east of the fort, and excavations here found them to date from the Viking period; though the Scottish Royal Commission thought that although the “small finds associated with the burial suggest that it is Viking, the plan-form of the houses is perhaps more likely to indicate a native tradition.”

References:

  1. MacGregor, Alasdair Alpin, The Peat-Fire Flame, Ettrick Press: Edinburgh 1947.
  2. Royal Commission of Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Argyll – volume 5, HMSO: Edinburgh 1984.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.057487, -6.260265 Dun Gallain hillfort

Dun Chonallaich, Ford, Argyll

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – NM 8544 0366

Getting Here

Dun Chonallaich on 1875 map
Dun Chonallaich on 1875 map

There’s two real ways to get up here: one from the Oban-Kilmartin roadside; the other from Ford village. I’d go for the latter as it avoids the traffic. Walk up the track to Salachary from the village centre, heading west. It’s a gradual uphill climb and after about half-a-mile (past six or seven cup-marked rocks) the great hill rises to your left.  Dun Dubh is to your right.  Climb over the fence and head for the hilltop.

Archaeology & History

It’s my opinion that this fort, above all others in the region apart from Dunadd, was of paramount importance to our prehistoric ancestors.  The reason being that it’s the great pyramidal hill to which the line of tombs in the Kilmartin Valley align, three miles to the south.  This prehistoric alignment was quite intentional (if you’ve got your doubts, gerrup there & have a look for y’self — you’ll soon change yer mind).

Curious carved stone found here
Curious carved stone found here

The main part of the structure is an irregularly-shaped construction with walling on all sides, measuring about 40 yards by 20 yards.  Much of it is pretty well defined – though has been vandalized by various doods in the past: one bunch being a film-crew who used the site in the early 1980s!  Inside the main walled fortress are several ruins.  The Royal Commission (1988) report told:

“Much of the interior is occupied by a rock spine which is surmounted by a modern cairn, but the NW half is relatively level and it contains, in addition to the modern round-house…and and an S-shaped structure associated with film-making, a number of ruined stone foundations.  On the north side there is a rectilinear building, and between the modern round-house and this rectilinear building, there is a further structure…an arc of walling, but its precise shape cannot now be determined without excavation.”

Dun Chonallaich means “the fort of King Connal’s people,” and although much denuded, is well worth the clamber for a short archaeological day out. A curious “gaming-board” was found here (see photo). A portable cup-marked stone in the fort’s southern wall is a modern artifact.

It’s a lovely view from up here too.  This is one of many places I’ve sat during a raging thunderstorm.  One helluva buzz, believe me!

References:

  1. Gillies, H. Cameron,The Place-Names of Argyll, David Nutt: London 1906.
  2. Royal Commission for Ancient & Historic Monuments, Scotland, Argyll – volume 6, HMSO 1988.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.177051, -5.458342 Dun Chonallaich