Friday, 26 April 2013

People of The Basin

The Basin, as its name suggests, is the bowl of land which lies on the right side of the B8007 a mile or so after the traveller has passed Camas nan Geall heading towards Kilchoan.  It's an area of land which has interested us because, even looking from the road, it was evidently extensively worked, with a networks of ditches and miles of substantial, if now largely fallen and overgrown dykes (stone walls).  But the question which rattled round in our heads was, "Where did the people who worked these fields live?  Did they live in places like Bourblaige or Camas nan Geall and walk a mile or so to work each day?"  This seemed unlikely as farmers prefer to live reasonably near their fields.

A clue to the answer came from this, the first OS map of Scotland, the 1856 First Series - The Basin is ringed.  It clearly shows a track running up the eastern side of The Basin.  The present road follows the track marked on the western side.  These tracks converge at the northern end of The Basin, where there must have been a major crossroads, with two roads running north, one to pass each side of Loch Mudle, while the branch which headed northwestwards was the 'main road' along the north flank of Beinn na h-Urchrach to Kilchoan.

So we set out on a cold and grey winter's day to walk The Basin's eastern track.  For most of the way it was fairly easy to follow, though there are places where the dykes have fallen across it.  And we quickly found the answer to our question: the people did live next to their fields, many of their houses are still there to be found, and the track existed for them to use.

In looking for early settlements we have to bear in mind that the house walls of most ordinary people's homes were not built of stone but of peat, wood rafters, and a roof of turfs with a heather or rush thatch - and, as a consequence, will long ago have disappeared.  In this, out first exploration of the area, we found at least four stone structures, none of which were marked on the 1856 or earlier maps.  The above picture shows the remains of a typical 'black house'....

....and here's another.  This one was in a particularly fine position, as the burn which tumble down the steep face on the eastern side of the Basin have all been channelled by these farmers so they didn't flood the fields, and one pretty burn passed by this family's front door.

It was too cold to spend much time on an extensive search, so we hurried along the track towards Camas nan Geall, but there must be other stone-built houses and, hidden in the soil, many more long-decayed peat houses.  In due course we'll return to find more of the stone ones.

There's no sign of these houses on the earliest map we have of the area which shows individual buildings, William Roy's map of 1747-55, so the settlement must have died before that. But this is further evidence of what we have long suspected - that this end of the Ardnamurchan peninsula once had a very large population living off the land.  Then the great diaspora of Highland clanspeople began.

The OS First Series maps are here.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jon, I'm really enjoying your reports of lost settlements in Ardnamurchan. At least one person I met on my short visit thought the clearances there to have been "insignificant". An easy mistake to make, if one is that way inclined already, given how hidden many of the traces now are. Is there a book in all this?
    Richard Clubley