Baile Mhargaite Enclosure 1, Bettyhill, Sutherland

 

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  58.519653, -4.236361 Baile Mhargaite Enclosure 1

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – NC 69843 61228

Also Known as:

  1. Bail Margait
  2. Margaret’s Town

Getting Here

Baile Mhargaite 1 enclosure, looking NW

Baile Mhargaite 1 enclosure, looking NW

Take the A836 road west out of Bettyhill, down the road and cross the river on the tiny bridge.  From here, go over the gate on the right-hand side of the road and follow the edge of the river towards the sea. Crossing the large extensive sands, you’ll reach a large sand and gravel rise ahead of you. Once on top of this natural feature, walk NNE for 550 yards (0.5km) until you reach one of many extensive sandy expanses in the grasses (and pass tons of archaeological remains as you walk!).  You’ll get there!

Archaeology & History

Arc of south, west & north walling

Arc of south, west & north walling

On this naturally raised sand-and-gravel platform at the edge of this beautiful sandy coastline in the far north of Scotland, walking in search of this particular enclosure, you’ll meander past a whole host of prehistoric sites and remains – some of which are plain to see, others hiding almost just above ground level, barely visible.  But if you’re an antiquarian or historian, this plateau is a minefield of forgotten history!

The site is shown on the 1878 Ordnance Survey map of the region as a “hut circle”, which it may well have been—but this is a large hut circle and was more probably a place where a large family would easily have lived.  When I visited the place the other week, there were no internal features visible.  It is a large ring of stones made up of thousands of small rocks whose walls are low and scattered, barely a foot above present ground-level in places, and barely two-feet at the very highest.  It has been greatly ruined or robbed of other architectural elements and an excavation is in order.  My initial evaluation is that this structure is at least Iron Age in origin.  In Angus Mackay’s (1906) venture here in the early 1900s, he suggested that this and the other “circular rings” were “cattle folds.”

Aerial view, looking straight down

Aerial view, looking straight down

Looking down from the broch above

Looking down from the broch above

The enclosure measures, from outer-edge to outer-edge of the walling, 16.5 yards (15.1m) east-west by 18 yards (16.5m) north-south, and has a circumference of roughly 52.5 yards (4mm); although an accurate measure of its circumference is hampered by the scatter of spoilage from the collapsed walls stretching outwards.  Only the western walled section remains in reasonably good condition.

Looking south, thru the enclosure

Looking south, thru the enclosure

Close by are many cairns, some of which are prehistoric.  A chambered cairn  on the same ridge less than 200 yards away, with another enclosure of the same type yards away, clearly shows that people have lived and used this raised section of land for thousands of years.  We know that people were still living here at the end of the 18th century which—for me at least—begs the question: what ancient traditions, customs and lore did these people know about, which may have dated back into truly ancient history?  …And then the english Clearances destroyed them…

References:

  1. Mackay, Angus, “Notes on a Slab with Incised Crescentic Design, Stone Mould for Casting Bronze Spear-Heads, a Cup-Marked Stone, Holy Water Stoup, and other Antiquities in Strathnaver, Sutherlandshire,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 40, 1906.
  2. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Baile Mhargaite, Bettyhill, Sutherland

Broch: OS Grid Reference – NC 69742 60973

Highlighted on 1878 OS-map

Highlighted on 1878 OS-map

Also Known as:

  1. Ca an Duin
  2. Canmore ID 5786
  3. Invernaver
  4. Lochan Druim An Duin
  5. Sandy Dun

Getting Here

Baile Mhargaite broch from below

Baile Mhargaite broch from below

Take the A836 road west through Bettyhill and downhill, turning right and going over the small bridge at the bottom. From here, go over the gate on the right-hand side of the road and follow the edge of the river towards the sea. Crossing the large extensive sands, you’ll reach a large rise ahead of you and, to the left (west) a burn tumbles down from the hills above. Walk up it and head to the rocky rise on the level 50 yards past the burn. You’re here!

Archaeology & History

Once you’ve clambered the rocky hill to reach the broch, you’ll be damn impressed. This is a real beauty – although from the outside it looks nothing of the sort. The outer wall is a veritable jumbled mass of rocks piled on top of each other in a manner that looks as if human hands once fumbled them in some sort of order, long since fallen away. Around the western side of the structure, faint remains of steps lead up towards more ordered-looking walling ahead of you. Before you walk up the remains of steps, notice the more structured walling, about three feet high to your right, curving around the large structure you are already inside the edges of.

Whether you walk up the stepped remains or simply up the outer walling, once you see the internal stone walling of this high cliff broch, you’ll be impressed. It’s a big bugger – and in damn good condition when you consider that it’s probably 2000 years old, or more! A large round walled structure, about three feet high all round, well sheltered from the wind and rains, measures some 30 feet across.Arc of outer western wall

The internal living quarters

The internal living quarters

Eastern section of the broch

Eastern section of the broch

The site is still known by some local people as a “Pictish Tower” and was described as such on the 1878 Ordnance Survey map (see above) and its Gaelic name is Ca an Duin(Mackay 1906).  The probability of the brochs as being Pictish in origin is more than likely.  Tradition up here speaks of them as such – and we know that such traditions go back many centuries in these isolated areas.  An early mention of this Pictish Tower was given in James Horsburgh’s (1870) essay, but it wasn’t described in any real detail until the Royal Commission (1911) fellas looked at the site.  They wrote:

“On the summit of the hill which rises to the W of the gravelly plateau opposite Bettyhill, and on the N side of the track which leads from Strathnaver to Torrisdail, is situated a broch.  It is called the “Sandy Dun”.  The wall is probably erect for a considerable height, but the interior is largely filled up with blown sand.  The entrance is from the SW.  The interior diameter is 29 feet and the thickness of the wall 12 feet.  Near the top of the wall in the interior is a projecting ledge, about 10 feet wide, running all around.  The slabs which form it are an integral part of the structure and the wall is thicker below than above.  The outer face of the wall is much ruined…”

Gazing NE from inside the broch

Gazing NE from inside the broch

Although some of the internal walling has been taken away since the 1911 survey, the interior of the site has been cleaned up by local people and it is presently in a very good condition indeed.  The broch may have been built onto an earlier fortified structure, rising above the stunning prehistoric settlements and necropolis on the sandy plateau immediately below. It would make sense – as many earlier Neolithic and Bronze Age remains look up at the prominent rock pinnacle it’s built upon from the sandy plain below, almost as if it was a natural temple in the animistic traditions of the earlier peoples.

If you visit this gorgeous region, the Baile Mhargaite broch should definitely be on your list of sites to see.

Folklore

Old lore told that this broch was attacked by outside invaders many centuries ago.   Mr Horsburgh (1870) told that,

“an old woman hid a croc of gold previous to the dun being attacked, and measured the distance from it with a clew of thread.”

References:

  1. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870
  2. Mackay, Angus, “Notes on a Slab with Incised Crescentic Design, Stone Mould for Casting Bronze Spear-Heads, a Cup-Marked Stone, Holy Water Stoup, and other Antiquities in Strathnaver, Sutherlandshire,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 40, 1906.
  3. MacKie, E W., The Roundhouses, Brochs and Wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c.700 BC-AD 500 – volume 2, British Archaeological Report: Oxford 2007.
  4. o’ Reilly, Kevin & Crockfird, Ashley, What to See Around Bettyhill, privately printed 2009.
  5. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

Acknowledgements:  Immense thanks go to Aisha Domleo and Unabel Gordon for their help getting me up here.  This site profile would not exist without their encouragement.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.517348, -4.237922 Baile Mhargaite Broch

Auchensalt, Thornhill, Stirlingshire

Broch:  OS Grid Reference – NN 6533 0099

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 24398
  2. Easter Borland
  3. Keir

Getting Here

Auchinsalt broch, looking south

Take the A873 from Thornhill to Aberfoyle, and literally 1 mile west of Thornhill turn right up the track up and past Easter Borland farm (as if you’re heading up to Auchensalt).  250 yards past the farm, a large field opens up.  Walk 100 yards east along the side of the wall towards the trees and follow the tree-line upstream 250 yards (don’t go into the lovely little glen) until, on your right, you’ll see a reasonably large area of grassland that rises up, with a steep-ish slope down to the burn below.  This is the remains of the broch.

Archaeology & History

Shown as a ‘Keir’ on the 1866 OS-map, this is an old Scottish dialect word, barely used at all nowadays (folk need to start using it again!) which meant “an ancient fortification” or “rude forts”.  The word is mentioned in early Statistical Accounts in 1795 and in the Second Account of 1845 the “Kiers at Auchinsalt” are mentioned specifically, albeit in passing….

Auchinsalt ‘Keir’ on 1866 map

When we visited the site yesterday, very little could be seen due mainly to the summer vegetation covering the area.  A very small section of open walling was noted on its western side, and beneath the undergrowth a roughly oval structure was in evidence on the rise between the edge of the field and the drop into the small glen below.  Something obviously man-made lies beneath the grasses, but in the last 100 years or so there has been debate as to whether it was a fort, a dun or a broch.  The consensus at the mo, tells Euan Mackie (2007), is that it’s a broch!

Auchinsalt broch, looking east

Measuring some 25 yards across, the walling that makes up the broch was between 4-6 feet wide all round, and about 2 feet high.  There seemed to be aggregates of large scattered stones inside and outside the main oval feature.  If there was an entrance, it seemed to be at the western side, but I wasn’t sure about this. In truth, unless you’re a hardcore broch fanatic, you’d be truly disappointed with the dilapidated state of this monument.  Much better ones can be seen just a few miles away…

References:

  1. Chrystal, William, The Kingdom of Kippen, Munro & Jamieson: Stirling 1903.
  2. Grant, William (ed.), The Scottish National Dictionary – volume 5, SNDA: Edinburgh 1960.
  3. MacKie, Euan W., The Roundhouses, Brochs and Wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c.700 BC-AD 500, BAR: Oxford 2007.
  4. McCulloch, Stuart J., Thornhill and its Environs, Munro Trust: Perth 1995.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Paul Hornby for getting us here. Cheers matey!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.182442, -4.171079 Auchinsalt

Castercliff, Nelson, Lancashire

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – SD 8850 3840

Also Known as:

  1. Caster Cliff

Getting Here

Castercliff hillfort plan (after D.G. Coombs)

From Colne train station, cross the road and go along Bridge Street and where it meets Knotts Street follow it all the way up into the countryside and, bending to the right, uphill again until it levels out.  The farmhouse a few hundred yards ahead of you (just off Southfield Lane) at the bend in the road is where you’re heading.  There’s a track on your right, just before the farm.  Go on this and look into the field immediately right.  The undulations and earthworks are the remains of this old hillfort!

Archaeology & History

This old site was constructed some 850 feet above sea level, overlooking the valley of Colne immediately west and giving commanding views of the outstretched landscape towards the sacred Pendle Hill and beyond for many miles.  The place was described as early as Castell Clif in 1515, and then again as Castyclyff in 1533, meaning simply the “castle on a cliff” or high verge as it is here.  Yet despite its early appearances in literary studies, the first real work to explore this monument doesn’t appear to have been done until one J.A. Plummer carried out work on the site between 1958-60.  However, Plummer died before being able to publish his findings in full.   Ascribed variously as a settlement, an enclosure, and generally in the archaeological fraternity as a hillfort, the first detailed published description of the site was done by Forde-Johnston (1965), where he told:

Forde-Johnston’s early plan

“The hillfort is a very regular oval in shape and encloses an area about 350ft long and 250ft wide.  The overall dimensions are 550ft by 450ft.  The site has been affected by quarrying on the south and east and there are a number of gaps in the defences on the northern and western sides.  The character of the remains differs in various parts of the site, but the general pattern appears to be as follows.  The innermost line of defence is represented by a very slight bank or, in many places, only a very shallow scarp which can be traced round the whole circuit of the site… The second or middle bank is the most prominent or substantial of the three.  It has considerable gaps in its length, but the various portions are all of much the same character — it rises between 3 and 5ft above the interior and falls about 9ft to the ditch bottom.  On the south side the middle rampart takes the form of a scarp about 10ft high, immediately below the scarp of the inner rampart.  The third, outermost bank is, in fact, a counterscarp bank to the second ditch.  It does not exist as a continuous bank around the whole of the site, but there are sections of it on the northern and eastern sides.  On the eastern and northeastern sides, from which approach was easiest, there appear to have been additional outer defences, situated about 70ft forward of the counterscarp bank.  These outer defences now take the form of a scarp about 4ft high curving round the eastern and northeastern sides for about 250ft.  At the southern end there is an inner scarp, forming a bank, and a little to the south, is a detached portion of bank.  There are other short detached sections of bank on the northern side which are presumably to be connected with these outer defences.”

When Mr Plummer did his excavation here a few years before, one section of the site was examined and, thanks to the survival of an interim report he did — described by D.G. Coombs (1971) — we know the following of what he did:

“His work was concentrated in the northwest corner of the site where he cut a trench through the defences.  Outside the counterscarp bank, which was not continuous, there was a bedding trench, packed with stones and containing charcoal.  The ditch, which was rock-cut and flat-bottomed, had a homogenous fill.  The rampart itself showed timber supports at the front and back with traces of stone revetting at the front and some distance from the timber uprights.  The rear of the rampart was marked by a line of stones.  Behind this rampart the site had been extensively disturbed and here he claimed to have found traces of primitive iron-smelting furnaces constructed from stones packed and sealed with loose black earth.  A single post-hole beneath the rampart was suggested to belong to an earlier phase.”

Though we have to note here that Mr Plummer believed that the iron furnace remains were actually medieval in date, but that the embanked settlement itself was Iron Age and “that the collapse of the fort could be dated between 60-90 AD.”  When Mr Coombs and his team came back here in 1970 to re-examine the works of both Plummer and Forde-Johnston, they confirmed some of their earlier finds, but uncovered additional finds at what they called this “once great fortress.”

Folklore

In Robert Lord’s (1976) superb imaginary piece on what he calls the Pendle Zodiac (a zodiac allegedly forged into the landscape in ancient times, in the manner of the famous and equally imaginary Glastonbury zodiac), a section of the deity Diana is made up of this prehistoric earthwork:

“The lower edge of the cap (on her head) coincides with a minor road between Colne, skirting the Iron Age Castercliffe hill-fort, above Nelson, as far as Catlow.”

…to be continued…

References:

  1. Coombs, D.G., Interim Report: Excavation at Castercliff, Nelson, Lancs., Unpublished Report 1971.
  2. Ekwall, Eilert, The Place-Names of Lancashire, Manchester University Press 1922.
  3. Forde-Johnston, The Hill-Forts of Lancashire and Cheshire, Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarian Society 1962.
  4. Pennick, Nigel & Lord, Robert, Terrestrial Zodiacs in Britain, Institute for Geomantic Research: Bar Hill 1986.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Castercliffe hillfort

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Castercliffe hillfort 53.841588, -2.176352 Castercliffe hillfort

Ring Hill, Littlebury, Essex

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – TL 515 382

Also Known as:

Getting Here

You can’t really miss this.  Roughly halfway along the B1383 London Road between Littlebury and Wendens Ambo, just above Chestnut Avenue, a dirttrack on the west-side of the road takes you up and onto the wooded hillside. Where the track splits in two, head straightforward up and into the trees until it opens into the clearing. You’re there!

Archaeology & History

This great monument had already been described several times before the Domesday Book had even been thought about!  Indeed, it seems that the town itself gets its name from the hillfort! (Reaney 1935)  Nowadays the place is just about overgrown and covered in woodland.  You cna make out various undulations where parts of the ditches are apparent, but it could do with a clean-out.  Thought to be Iron Age, Nick Thomas (1977) described the site as,

“Oval in plan, this fort follows the contour of the hill it encloses, protecting about 16½ acres… the defences consist of a bank, ditch and counterscarp bank, of which only the ditch is well-preserved.”

References:

  1. Reaney, Paul, The Place-Names of Essex, Cambridge University Press 1935.
  2. Thomas, Nicholas, Guide to Prehistoric England, Batsford: London 1977.

Links:

  1. Ring Hill, Littlebury

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Ring Hill

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Ring Hill 52.021275, 0.206966 Ring Hill

Grianan of Aileach, Carrowreagh, Donegal

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – C 36686 19721

Also Known as:

  1. Grianan Ailighe
  2. Grianan of Ailech
  3. National Monument 140

Archaeology & History

Attributed by Michael Dames (1996) and others before him as the abode of the Dagda and the house of the sun, this huge monument was recorded in the Irish Annals as being destroyed in 1101 AD following a great battle.  A site of mythic importance to the very early Irish Kings and Queens, and used by the shamans of the tribes, The Grianan is a place of of legendary importance to folklorists, historians and archaeologists alike and has been widely described over the last 150 years.  Although the site you see today was hugely reconstructed between the years 1874 and 1878, it’s still impressive and, wrote George Petrie (1840), commands,

“one of the most extensive and beautifully varied panoramic prospects to be found in Ireland”!

Used over very long periods of time, the archaeologist Brian Lacy (1983) described the Grianan, on the whole, as,

“a restored ‘cashel’*, centrally placed within a series of three enclosing earthen banks; the site of an approaching ‘ancient road’; and a holy well.”

Grianan of Ailech
Early ground-plan of the Grianon

Lacy’s description in the Donegal Inventory is considerable and culls from the various surveys and reports done in the past.  First surveyed by George Petrie in 1835, the internal body of the stone-built site is roughly circular and measures around 25 yards across, with a singular entrance on its eastern (sunrise) side. A stone ‘seat’ is at the end of the internal passage.  At the centre of the huge ‘room’, Petrie recorded traces of a rectangular stone structure that he thought might have been the remnants of some old chapel built sometime in the 18th century.

More than 25 yards outside of the primary stone building is another surrounding embankment, oval in shape, low to the ground and with another singular entrance to the east — though this entrance is not in line with that of the main structure.  At a further distance out from this embankment are the remains of another two oval ‘enclosures’, though the the remains of the outermost one is considerably more fragmented.

Although the replenished ‘fort’ dates from the Iron Age, early remains here are thought to have been of Bronze Age origin.  A ‘tumulus’, now gone, being one such find here.

Folklore

There is much legend here.  The creation myth narrated by Scott (1938) tells that it was,

“built originally by the Daghda, the celebrated king of the Tuatha de Danann, who planned and fought the battle of the second or northern Magh Tuireadh against the Formorians. The fort was erected around the grave of his son Aeah (or Hugh) who had been killed through jealousy by Corgenn, a Connacht chieftain.”

From similar legendary sources, it is told that,

“the time to which the first building of Aileach may be referred, according to the chronology of the Four Masters, would be about seventeen hundred years before the christian era.  There are strong grounds for believing that the Grianan as a ‘royal’ seat was known to Ptolemy, the Greek geographer, who wrote in AD 120.  In his map of Ireland he marks a place, Regia…which corresponds fairly well with its situation.”

By the outer banking on the south-side of the fortress is the remains of a much-denuded spring of water, the old water supply for this place.  It gained the reputation of being a holy well, dedicated to St. Patrick.

…the be continued…

References:

  1. Dames, Michael, Mythic Ireland, Thames & Hudson: London 1996.
  2. Harbison, Peter, Guide to the National Monuments in the Republic of Ireland, Gill & MacMillan: Dublin 1982.
  3. Lacy, Brian, Archaeological Survey of County Donegal, DCC: Lifford 1983.
  4. Petrie, George, ‘The Castle of Donegal,’ in Irish Penny Journal, 1,  1840.
  5. Scott, Samuel, ‘Grianan of Aileach,’ in H.P. Swan’s Book of Inishowen, Buncrana 1938.
  6. Swan, Harry Percival, The Book of Inishowen, William Doherty: Buncrana 1938.

Links:

  1. Guarding the Grianan – the WordPress Word
  2. Grianan of Aileagh – Stone House of the Sun

* Cashels are “monuments similar in type to earthen ringforts, but enclosed by walls of drystone construction.”

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Grianan of Aileach

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Grianan of Aileach 55.024026, -7.428281 Grianan of Aileach


Caesar’s Camp, Bracknell, Berkshire

Hillfort:  OS Grid Reference – SU 863 657

Archaeology & History

Described by Steve Ford (1987) as “the only known example of a hillfort in East Berkshire,” this much overgrown site encloses an area covering 7.8 hectares.  It was first started around 700 BC and thought to be a northern outpost for the Atrebates tribe.  However, just over the northern edge of the ramparts, less than half a mile away, a group of seven round barrows were once in evidence, indicating that the the flat plateau on which the hillfort stands would have been of use prior to its construction (Hawkes 1973).  The site is described as follows:

“The earthworks consist of a single bank and ditch on the northwest, while elsewhere there is an additional outer bank.  At the southern side, the ramparts include a second ditch and a third bank… At present there are four entrances: north, south, east and west, but it would seem that only the eastern and western entrances are contemporary with the construction of the hillfort.”

Archaeologists discovered that the site was made use of by the Romans when their mob arrived, as a coin of Cunobelin as well as Roman pottery was uncovered — although it has to be said that, as a Roman road passes by a short distance to the south, so such finds would be expected.

References:

  1. Ford, Steve, East Berkshire Archaeological Survey, Berkshire County Council 1987.
  2. Hawkes, Jacquetta, Prehistoric and Roman Monuments in England and Wales, BCA: London 1973.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  51.383757, -0.759919 Caesar\'s Camp

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