Sunday, 6 March 2016

Beinn na h-Urchrach

We’re very conscious that, everywhere we go, we walk across an ancient landscape. Every knoll, every burn and glen, every patch of hard-won soil, has a name and a story, if only it could tell it.

In a few places on West Ardnamurchan, a very old story is remembered. Beinn na h-Urchrach, the ridge that runs from right to left in this picture, with Ben Hiant rising behind it, is the ridge of the cast or throw, a name which commemorates the killing of a 13th century Norwegian chief by one of his vassals who threw an axe at him. Evan Cleireach had good reason for the murder: the chief was visiting the area to exercise his ‘rights’ on Evan’s wife.

Evan came from the clachan of Choire Mhuillinn. The neighbouring clachan was Skinnid, and this picture shows the remains of one of Skinnid’s houses. Skinnid had some of the best soils in the area and, consequently, one of the biggest populations, but little remains of it today. Both clachans were cleared in 1828, their people moved to poorer land on the peninsula if they didn’t leave the area altogether.

We walked through here on Friday, in beautiful weather, heading round the southwest end of Beinn na h-Urchrach and into the wide glen formed by the headwaters of the Allt Ruadh, the red burn, which separates the ridge from Ben Hiant, rising at right in this picture. With a strong north wind blowing, this was an ideal choice as this valley must have been one of the most protected and warmest on the peninsula, so warm that we found a very active lizard amongst its grasses.

I like this little glen because, hidden in the shadow just to the right of centre in the picture is what we think is the remains of a small building which housed a whisky still. The distilling of illicit liquor was at its height in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The walk up the ridge gives superb views back towards the western end of the peninsula. The area is dotted with today's traditionally white-harled houses but the sites of six ancient clachans….

….are hidden in the area. Between them, they had a population of almost 200 in 1737, far more people than live permanently in the area today.

Beinn na h-Urchrach is like a sleeping dragon, its back a series of peaks. The nearest in this picture has the largest cairn but isn't the highest point. Perhaps it's simply that people like to build their cairns where they can be seen, and the highest peak is somewhat flat topped, so the small cairn on its summit is less visible.

In several places there are elongate piles of rocks, usually near the small sub-summits, which look like graves. There's no way of telling but, had I been the ancient chief of Skinnid or Choire Mhuilinn, it's where I would like to have been buried, with the idea that....

....I would look out upon these views through eternity.

On our way down we were reminded that, however many ancient remains there are lying around the place, and however fascinating they may be, this is a living and thriving community. Far below us, the well boat Ronja Commander was coming in to the cages at the Maclean's Nose fish farm to pick up more prime Kilchoan salmon. Beyond, one of our local creel boats was out fishing for prawns.

Also out fishing was a sea eagle. It was easy to see him as he had upset the local gull population, and they were giving him a very hard time.

No comments:

Post a Comment