Sunday, 29 June 2014


The settlement of Rheid-dhail last appeared in the Diary some four years ago, here, after we'd made a brief visit at the wrong time of year, when much of the archaeology was obscured by bracken.  The name means something like 'level meadow by the river', and it's a beautiful, lonely spot.  The origin of the words reidh and dhail are Gaelic, so it's a little puzzling that the notes on Reidh-dhail at the CANMORE website - here - say that it was investigated as a possible Norse settlement on the basis that the name had Norse origins.

The investigation didn't seem to find anything, and CANMORE records it as no more than a 'post-mediaeval' shieling site, but surely it's much more.  For a start, there is a substantial wall around it, something that most shielings didn't have.  That said, there is no doubt that it may have been used for summer pastures, and....

....there are the remains of typical shieling huts there to prove the point, but there are only two of them, to the east of the enclosed areas, and the other buildings are bigger and rectangular rather than round.

One of the things that has changed since our 2010 visit is the quality of the satellite imagery available on line. This is taken from the Bing site, and shows that Reidh-dhail was worked on a fairly substantial scale, the signs of rig-and-furrow quite clear in the western of the two fields.  To the southeast there are at least three more areas of enclosed land that were, perhaps briefly, brought under cultivation, while outside the southern border there are signs of peat workings.

The other day, when we walked along the ridge to the west of it, Druim Reidh-dhalach, we saw Reidh-dhail again - but, once again, at entirely the wrong time of year.  We'll have to organise an expedition here in winter when the bracken is dead.

Sitting, looking down on the fields, the peat banks, the glen which runs from the settlement to the little port at An Acarseid, and the overall setting, made us even more certain: this isn't a shieling, it's a permanent site.

1 comment:

  1. From Dave King:

    I was interested in the derivation of the name as being Gaelic. Unfortunately, I am no linguist, but I have seen mention of dhail as being a loan word from Norse – is it likely that this was the origin of the Norse reference in the study referenced by Canmore? (Incidentally, I’ve seen a number of mentions of this study (or studies) and been trying to track down a paper from it, but no luck yet).

    A bit like you though, even if the name has Gaelic origins, I’m not convinced that limits it’s age, and the fact of a sheltered site with a ‘harbour’ and land capable of cultivation would seem to me to make this a prime site for a small settlement going way back, with the emphasis however on small. I also suspect that it would only be viable as part of a mixed economy with significant input from the sea.

    It is interesting to ponder how far back in time the settlement might go? While the sites on the North coast, along with Kilchoan & Camas nan Geall on the south, show settlement well back into prehistory, it has struck me that so far I have seen no indication that anyone has found anything similar at the very western end of the peninsular – apart perhaps from the dunes at Sanna. I recognise of course that they are harder to find, and it may just be that a suitable experienced eye is necessary, although on the other hand, perhaps this area was not fertile enough?

    I certainly agree with your summary that there is an element of permanence in this site, but it also reminded me of something you wrote to me a while ago, in that it’s not necessarily always cut and dried, and that a settlement could have been both at various times. It strikes me that this is perhaps one of the most likely examples of that scenario. I could see something like.. 1 or 2 family permanent settlement with a sea based economy during Norse times, possibly drifting into temporary in the early middle ages, maybe then becoming semi-permanent as pressure on land grows, but then drifting back once again into a temporary settlement as an adjunct to a larger settlement as it struggles to maintain viability – all pure and absolute conjecture of course!!

    I think the peat banks are a clear sign of some degree of permanence, as I cannot see that anyone would come this far for peat from somewhere else, especially as the access route shown as a track on the OS map runs right past extensive peat diggings to the south of Beinn na Seilg

    I’m interested to know whether it is referenced as a separate settlement in any of the documentary sources? I note that it’s not shown on either Roy’s or Bruce’s maps, but given their lack of reference to the small details, it is perhaps no surprise. On the other hand, it is shown on the early 6” map (as also incidentally is the enclosure we discussed a few weeks ago to the North), and I seem to recall it also being on Bald’s map, as part of Ormsaigbeg. Do I assume that the lines within coloured enclosures on Bald indicate cultivation?

    Note: The settlement is clearly marked on Bald's 1806 map, with field sizes, so it was in permanent use then. Jon