Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Camas nan Geall Clachan

The road that runs around the steep hillside above beautiful Camas nan Geall offers wonderful views down into the bay.  An old wall runs just above and parallel with it which, in its time, must have been very substantial indeed.  It's the 'head dyke', the boundary wall that enclosed the worked land of the original 'clachan' of Camas nan Geall, a traditional communally-run village which was cleared of its inhabitants some time in the 1820s to make way for a sheep farm. [If you want to read more about clachans, click here].

Until a few weeks ago, we had never found any sign of the houses of the clachan.

The buildings which are visible in the flat land around the beach - like the ruin just this side of the wall in this picture - aren't the clachan's, they're the ones built after its destruction to house the owner and shepherds on the sheep farm.  These, and the newer walls built to enclose the fertile land, were constructed using the stones from the clachan's houses, which is why the clachan's remains are so difficult to find.

However, a little persistence led us to the clachan's houses.  Just above the gate which visitors use to pass through the Estate fence to view the graveyard and the Neolithic cairn, there's this tangle of brambles.  Fight your way into it, and you'll find the outline of a single-roomed house some 10m by 5m.  Look further, with your eye now in, and you'll find more.

Just to the right of the boulder there's another.  This one's a little further to the west, up the valley from the bay, and, like all clachan houses, it's built on poor land - the fertile land was far too valuable to waste on houses.

A few tens of metres further to the west there's another, much more visible house.  All the houses are much the same size.  They didn't have a gable end, they were low, and they were thatched with a mixture of rushes, grasses and heather which were held down against the gales by netting.

Further still up the valley there's the outline of what may have been an irregularly-shaped enclosure for animals measuring about 20m by 13m.

We spent an hour or so recently wandering across the clachan site and found half a dozen houses and other, smaller buildings that might have been small houses, byres or store rooms.  The area deserves a thorough survey and, perhaps, the excavation of one of the houses.

Further still to the west, on the top of a low knoll within the valley, there's this stone structure - it must be important because of the interest the sheep are showing in it.  It's roughly circular, but the outer circle seems to contain a smaller ring of stones.  It's not a clachan house, it could be a shieling hut, but it may be something much older.

Bald's map of 1806, drawn before the clearance, shows the houses of the clachan, though not in quite the place that we found them.  This may simply be that Bald's map, while accurate for its time, was designed more to show that there were houses here than their exact location.

By the time the OS map of 1874 was surveyed, all the clachan houses had gone - they're in the top part of this extract.  Even the little shepherd's house by the semicircular wall is roofless, though it seems to be roofed in the First Series map of 1856.  The houses of the neighbouring clachan of Tornamona, all roofless following its clearance, lie at top left.

Camas nan Geall is well worth a visit, but even more so as its history, going back some 6,000 years, is there for all to discover.

The clachan is on Ardnamurchan Estate land.
An interactive version of this map is here.


  1. I am just loving your blog from Cozumel, Mexico

  2. Thank you for saying so, Dawn. It's a pleasure writing it when it's appreciated. Jon