Thursday, 28 January 2016

A Straight Stone Wall

This is one of hundreds of stone walls which criss-cross the peninsula. There's nothing particularly unusual about it except that we were sitting beside it, having a rest during a recent walk on Estate land, and speculating as to how many man-hours of heavy labour had gone into its building. There were two big advantages here in building field boundaries out of stone. First, the material is long-lasting. Second, by gathering the stones from the surrounding fields, it helped clear them for arable farming.

This wall may not be unusual except that it's badly collapsed and.... straight. Straight walls tend to be post-Clearance, 1830 onwards, and most of these are still in fairly good condition. So this one is a little different.

Looking at a Bing satellite image of the area is fascinating. '1' is the point where the photograph was taken, looking roughly northwest.  The wall continues across the landscape for a mile or so, reaching almost as far as the Allt Choiremhuilinn with only a couple of slight bends. Compare it with the wall marked '2-2-2', which waggles all over the place. '1' is also clearly younger than '2', as it cuts across it where they meet.

'2-2-2' is what is called a 'head dyke', the main wall that ran round the outer perimeter of a clachan's arable land. The clachan in this case is Choiremhuilinn. '3' is obviously an even older wall than both '1' and '2' as it has decayed to the point where, on the ground, it's not easily visible.

That this is good arable land is evident from the many fields of lazy beds, particularly in the western part of this image.

We are very fortunate in having a map, drawn by William Bald in 1806, of the Ardnamurchan Estate - image courtesy Ardnamurchan Estate. Considering Bald's map pre-dates the first Ordnance Survey maps by 50 years, it's a remarkable achievement. It's so accurate that the walls in the Bing image are clearly distinguishable. Bald's map confirms that wall '1' is pre-Clearance, but also shows that wall '3' had already fallen out of use. That fields had been abandoned in 1806 suggests either that the population of Choiremhuilinn had, at an earlier stage, been larger than in was in 1806, or that the same sized population needed less arable land, perhaps following the introduction of the potato.

The straight wall '1', which cuts right across the clachan's fields and walls, isn't shown extending beyond '2' - but it probably did, but was neglected when Bald drew his made.

This leaves us with some questions. What was the purpose of this unusual, old, straight wall, and what is its age? I'll take a guess at its age. I wonder if Sir Alexander Murray of Stanhope, who had the Ardnamurchan Estate in the early18th century and was responsible for the very straight drainage ditches that he had dug to drain the hills, had any thing to do with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment