Take the road that cuts across the island, west, until you reach the stupid golf-course. Walk across it, heading for the coast (not the building at Culbuirg), then follow the little footpath up until you reach the large rocky rise about 500 hundred yards north. That’s it!
Shown on the 1881 OS map of the region, the small remains of this Iron Age hillfort was said to be the place where St. Columba saw a rain-cloud which he predicted would bring a plague of ulcers to the people of Ireland. To prevent such a plague, Columba thence dispatched a monk called Silnan to Ireland, armed with some bread which he’d blessed. This bread was then dipped in consecrated water and given to those afflicted with the plague, who were thereafter cured.
Another tradition told that this old fort was once an important meeting place for the druids, though Geoff Holder (2007) writes that this is little more than a “spurious nineteenth century tradition” which he dismisses as without foundation. Though a short distance from here, he also told how one “Fiona MacLeod” (real name, William Sharp) one night watched the ghost of the Culdee, Oran, a couple of hundred yards away, “and so he never went that way again at night.” In truth, traditions of druidism tend to be animistic traits: legends remembered from pre-christian days, and blanket dismissals of such folklore are themselves untrustworthy—especially on this Isle of the Druids.
Holder, Geoff,The Guide to Mysterious Iona and Staffa, Tempus: Stroud 2007.
This is a fine-looking monument amidst a fine piece of landscape! The site was constructed over various centuries, beginning in the Iron Age, with the earliest parts being the traces of walling on the outer edges. This first section of the fort “measures about 245m in length by a maximum of 50m in width internally,” and much of it can still be traced all along the full length and breath of the geological ridge upon which it sits. However, the timber-laced walls that stood all round the edges have, obviously, all but disintegrated. This earlier part of the fort, wrote Richard Feacham (1977),
“was superceded by a small subrectangular, now vitrified fort, about 170 feet long by 60 feet wide, and by a circular and probably vitrified dun measuring about 60 feet in diameter.”
There was ample water supply for the people who may have lived on this ridged fortress, as there is still a fresh water spring on the southeast edge of the hill. And it seems pretty obvious that this fort was occupied for some considerable time into the Common Era, as material remains found amidst excavation work here at the end of the 19th century, “including metalwork of Roman date…suggests an occupation in the early first millenium AD.” (Harding 1997)
The folklore and legends of this site (aswell as the surrounding district) are considerable, and for now I must refrain from writing all there is (it’d take me ages!). Needless to say, R. Angus Smith’s (1885) fine old history and folklore work is the source of much material. Smith told us that,
“There are many stories about it. It has been called the beginning of the kingdom of Scotland, the palace of a long race of kings; also the Halls of Selma, in which Fingal lived; the stately capital of of a Queen Hynde, having towers and halls and much civilization, with a christianity before Ireland; whilst it has also been considered to be that which the native name implies, simply the fort of the sons of Uisnach, who came from Ireland, and whose names are found all over the district, and who in the legend are reported to have come to a wild part of Alban.”
Feacham, Richard, Guide to Prehistoric Scotland, Batsford: London 1977.
Harding, D.W., “Forts, Duns, Brochs and Crannogs,” in The Archaeology of Argyll (edited by Graham Ritchie[Edinburgh University Press 1997]).
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Argyll- volume 2, HMSO: 1974.
Smith, R. Angus, Loch Etive and the Sons of Uisnach, Alexander Gardner: London & Paisley 1885.
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.
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.”
MacGregor, Alasdair Alpin, The Peat-Fire Flame, Ettrick Press: Edinburgh 1947.
Royal Commission of Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Argyll – volume 5, HMSO: Edinburgh 1984.
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).
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!
Gillies, H. Cameron,The Place-Names of Argyll, David Nutt: London 1906.
Royal Commission for Ancient & Historic Monuments, Scotland, Argyll – volume 6, HMSO 1988.
Dead easy! From Kilmartin go north towards Oban and turn right a mile onwards, to Ford and Loch Awe. Keep on the tiny road for about 2 miles and if you hit the small Loch Ederline, you’ve gone too far. To your left is a small hill-cum-small-mountain, scattered with trees and a great rocky face. That’s it! Whichever way you wanna approach its height is entirely up to you!
Archaeology & History
I clambered up and down this steep ‘crag of the horse’ many-a-times when I lived below here at the old farmhouse at Auchinellan. Tis a grand old hill with good views all round. The hillfort however has little left worth seeing, much of the stone being nicked by locals for drystone walls and barns. The best preserved section seems to be at the northeast side of the old hill. Archaeologists think that the mass of rubble nearby was also part of the fort walls in bygone days. Not being much of a hillfort fanatic, I can’t really comment!
On a decidedly mycological note, the magickal fungus of legendary repute, ergot (Claviceps purpurea), grows like the plague at the bottom of the hill (opposite the Creagantairbh standing stone). I wonder if our ancestors used it for owt in particular…?
Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historic Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – volume 6, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.
Two main ways to get here. Hmmmm….on second thoughts, one main way. My preferred route would be from Addingham (east-side) where the foot-bridge crosses the Wharfe. Walk up the path and, eventually, onto the tidgy road and bear left till you hit the trees. On the right-hand side of the road you’ll see the trees covering the crop near the edge of the river. …Otherwise, come from Ilkley, cross the river, take the first left, on a few hundred yards and left again on Nesfield Road. From here, keep walking about a mile and when you hit the village, you need to look into the field behind the first farmhouse on your left.
Archaeology & History
You’ll see the more visible embankments on the western edge of these old earthworks. But unless you’re a real archaeomaniac into depleted field remains, this might not tickle your neurons too much. However, it’s a gorgeous little hamlet is Nesfield – and I think that alone makes it worthy of a visit!
Described variously over the years as an enclosure, a hillfort, a camp, a settlement – aswell as being ascribed to periods from the medieval, Roman, Iron Age and Bronze, the consensus opinion at the moment edges to it being late Bronze- to early Iron Age in origin.
The fortifications themselves seem to have been first mentioned by T.D. Whitaker in 1812, who said the following:
“Castleberg is in a commanding position, on the brink of a steep slope washed by the Wharfe, about two miles above Ilkley. This post is naturally strong, as the ground declines rapidly in every other direction. But it has been fortified on the more accessible sides by a deep trench, enclosing several acres of ground, of an irregular quadrangular form. At a small distance within the enclosure, an urn with ashes was lately found, but what seems to evince beyond a doubt, the Castleberg was a Roman work, is the discovery of a massy key of copper, nearly two feet in length, which,” he thought, “had probably been the key of the gates.”
This ‘key’ that Whitaker mentioned (if memory serves me right) has been lost and therefore its nature/function lost aswell. E.T. Cowling (1946) thought the key “may refer to a bronze article of a size which must belong to the Late Bronze Age, when the metal became more plentiful”; thinking it perhaps to be part of a sword. Twouldst be good to find this artifact and know for certain. Cowling also posited that the urn found here was of Bronze Age origin – an opinion echoed by later archaeologists.
The great Harry Speight (1900) meanwhile, told that the hamlet itself was locally called Castleberg and told us a bit more of the details of the finds, saying:
“I am disposed to think it was a winter-station of the old Britons of Howber, and afterwards of the Teutonic settlers. An urn containing ashes has been found on the site, and Mr James Pickard, who has long occupied the adjoining farm, tells me he has excavated several parts of it and found human bones, but no relics. This premises Anglo-Saxon interments and the urn late British…”
Cowling, E.T. Rombald’s Way, William Walker: Otley 1946.
Howson, William, An Illustrated Guide to the Curiosities of Craven, Whittaker: Settle 1850.
Keighley, J.J., ‘The Prehistoric Period,’ in Faull & Moorhouse’s, West Yorkshire, An Archaeological Guide, vol.1, Wakefield 1981.
Speight, Harry, Upper Wharfedale, Elliott Stock: London 1900.
Whitaker, T.D., History and Antiquities of the Deanery of Craven, J. Nichols: London 1812.
Stone Circle (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – SE 426 099
Archaeology & History
On the southern outskirts of Brierley and the northeastern edge of Grimethorpe is the curiously-named site of Ringstone Hill. I say “curiously,” as there are no physical remnants of anything which would presently tell us of there ever being such a ring of stones here — well, nothing authentic anyway! Some doods stuck a modern ring of stones here, but it’s pretty obviously a recent construction (apparently 1990-ish); but sometime in the not-too-distant past another circle, very probably prehistoric, could be found here…
First mentioned in 1591, the original stone circle which gave this place its name has seemingly gone; but the hill which preserves its name is a prominent place in the landscape, and this was very probably of some relevance to the builders. On the eastern side of the hill were two large oak trees known locally as Adam & Eve, or the Well-Bred Oaks: the first name implying a creation-myth story which may have related to the ring of stones. It also stands at the edge of the old boundary line along which, somewhere, was another tree called the Gospel Thorn, “where the gospel was read when beating the bounds.” (A.H. Smith 1961: 1:269)
This was a theme explored and developed in Mr Gomme’s (1880) old work on ancient meeting, or moot spots. He told:
“Ringston Hill, an eminence partly natural and partly artificial, is near a point at which meet the three wapentakes (district boundaries, PB) of Strafford, Stancross and Osgodcross. This mound appears to be connected in some manner with the early political state of this district. It was a place of rendezvous in the time of the Civil War; for in the accounts of the township of Sheffield in 1645 occurs this entry: ‘In money, coats and the charging of a guard which went to Ringston Hill with five men that were pressed, £4, 13s, 3d.’ (Hunter’s South Yorkshire ii, 407)”