Sunday, 8 February 2015

The Achateny 'Yair'

Yes, you're looking at what is probably a yair, and no, until we stumbled across this one just before Christmas, we didn't know what a yair was either.

The photo shows one of West Ardnamurchan's hidden gems, Achateny beach, which has sands which are only exposed on either side of high tide.  We had been there many times before we noticed the yair.  It's in the middle distance, a line of rocks running from right to left up the beach.

Once you see it, the structure is blindingly obvious.  It's made of fairly large rocks, and probably originally formed more of a wall.  Having been brought up in East Africa, where fish traps running down the beach like this are fairly common, a search on Google quickly produced a somewhat similar structure on Mull - see the Canmore site here.

The Achateny structure is a bit different from the one near Dervaig.  Most yairs are found in river mouths or estuaries, while this one runs from the top of the beach to an offshore 'island' which is submerged at high tide.  To left and right are two shallow, sandy bays.  This picture shows a gap in the yair which could be important in its use.

This shot shows the western of the two bays, with the yair at right.  It's possible that the yair came into use after high tide, when fish had swum into the bay to feed.  As the water dropped, a line of people could have blocked the entrance to the bay, driving the fish to the right towards the gap, just visible at the right of the photo, behind which were stationed more people with wicker traps.

The yair is quite clearly visible in this Bing satellite image.  Our research didn't suggest how old these structures are, though one is recorded from the 12th century.  My guess is that the idea is so simple and so useful that the yair is probably ancient - but that doesn't tell us anything about this particular one.

A paper describing Scottish yairs is here.


  1. Fascinating Jon, the satellite image in particular really marks this as man made.

    I've seen before that there is a record for a fish trap in Portuairk. Are you familiar with that? When I've tried to have a look, all I have seen is a short row of large rocks on the NE side of the inlet, but those rocks seem to be too high up the beach for a fish trap - unless that is their position relative to sea level has changed since they were put there?

    Dave K

  2. Hi Dave - Yes, I had heard that there was a fish trap at Portuairk but I haven't seen anything that convinces me. I need to ask some of the Portuairk residents. Jon