Saturday, 12 April 2014

Mapping a Shieling

Members of Ardnamurchan Community Archaeology have been out again this weekend trying to get as much work done as possible before the bracken comes up and smothers the archaeology.  This morning we were at a site opposite the turn off for the new wind turbine at Beinn Buidhe looking at what we think may be a shieling, a small temporary village to which the women and children brought the animals during the summer when the arable crops were growing in the village fields.  According to Bald's 1806 map, this one was within the common grazings of Tornamona before the village was cleared.

Three of the structures are clearly marked on the OS 6" first edition map, surveyed in 1872, as buildings without roofs.  They're marked as rectangular, though none of them is.  The valley seen to the right in the top photo is marked as having a track running through it, the course of the present B8007, and the pass through which is goes is called Lag an Fhiodha, the hollow of trees - there are trees marked along the track though none remain today.

The mapping is made possible through Jim Caldwell's beautifully constructed oak alidade and a tripod he purchased through eBay.  It takes a little time to set up - longer when work has to stop to allow a passing shower to move on - at each end of a 20m base line, from which each of the structures is triangulated.

Andrew Perkins is shown on one of the structures holding Jim's home-made ranging pole, constructed out of a plastic drain pipe and some red electrical tape.  The structure Andrew is standing in is one of the most difficult to interpret as, unlike the bases of the other huts, which tend to be circular to oval, this is elongated and badly collapsed.

We mapped ten structures, which took about two hours.  In between the showers we enjoyed glorious sunshine, so it was a pleasure being out in the fresh air.  Having done all the hard work out on site, Jim also volunteered to draw up the map.

We had remarked that this shieling was unusual in that it didn't have a burn flowing through it.  We now know why - this is the well they used for water, now covered with a thin mat of vegetation but almost a metre deep.  Tucked into the eastern flank on the hill, looking across Lag an Fhiodha, in fine weather this must have been an almost idyllic place to pass a few weeks in summer.

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