Thursday, 24 October 2013

Portuairk Archaeology

We're enjoying typical October weather today.  There's a gentle breeze from the west bringing air that's as clear and intoxicating as the very finest whisky, but also the occasional very black cloud with a sharp shower beneath it.

We drove over early to Portuairk, passing Lochan na Crannaig in which the ridge of Beinn na h-Imeilte was perfectly mirrored.

This view looks from the top of the hill above the township towards the northwest, with Muck, Rum and Canna along the horizon.  At this time of year there are already parts of Portuairk which, because of the hill behind it, hardly see the low winter sun.

The archaelogical site lies on the easternmost of Portuairk's crofts, which belongs to Jim and Jackie Caldwell.  The north end of their croft is adjacent to this beautiful little bay, into which the small burn which runs down their land empties.

The structures we were surveying lie on the burn's steep valley side, and seem to consist of a byre or dwelling house surrounded by a stone-walled enclosure, with a possible second enclose uphill of it.  This is the first time we've attempted a proper mapping exercise, which was done using a 30m tape and magnetic compass, all measurements being taken from the yellow post in the centre of the structure.

Just behind the ruined building, within the enclosure, is this semi-circular stone structure which is just under 2m in diameter.  We have no idea what it may be: suggestions would be very welcome.

The OS 6" 1st Edition of the area clearly shows two buildings in exactly the right place.  These have disappeared in later maps.  Since Portuairk wasn't settled until 1843 - see Portuairk history here - this suggests that one explanation for these buildings is that they may have been houses built by the settlers when they were first allocated crofts in Portuairk, before they built houses on their new land.

As we worked, a shower blew in from the west creating an intense double rainbow.  As it developed, it became a quadruple rainbow, as each of the two bows....

....seemed to duplicate itself, with a very faint rainbow growing below the main one.


  1. I thought I once read somewhere that the first people moved to Portuairk lived in caves while they built their houses. I don't know if it's true or maybe I'm getting confused and the cave story was about somewhere else. Are there any caves near Portuairk?

    Portuairk's a beautiful place though it must be a relief when the sun reappears above the hills in the Spring. When you walk down the path from Sanna on a sunny summer's day it almost looks Mediterranean.

  2. Hi Michael. This is a very interesting comment as there are other structures on Jim's croft which I think are shieling huts. These were, as you probably know, usually built some way from a clachan and used by the women when they took their animals away from the arable areas in summer. The ones on Jim's croft are built into a steep bank and would, when covered with turfs, have looked very like caves. Perhaps, instead of being shieling huts, they were the first 'homes' the people built in Portuairk when they were forcibly moved there is 1843. They are certainly very well built, better constructions than most shieling huts. Jim has pictures of them - when we survey them I'll ask if they can go onto the blog. Jon

  3. Maybe the little round walled structure is a planticrub they were used to raise plants and were tiny walled gardens I guess maybe they were roofed in snow or frost and open the rest fo the time