Thursday, 21 April 2016

Ormsaigbeg Shielings

Structures like this are scattered across Ardnamurchan, usually in small groups and often very remote from any other human habitation, past or present. They're all that remains of shieling huts, the foundations of temporary dwellings occupied by the women and children of the clachans for six or more weeks during the early summer months when they took the livestock away from the arable lands.

This is one of four to be found.... the area marked in the photo on the east flanks of Maol Buidhe at the west end of Ormsaigbeg. This was an area for which there is considerable evidence that, before its use for summer livestock grazing, it was settled on a more permanent basis.

This Bing satellite picture shows the location of the four huts but it also shows extensive field walls and workings, and various types of lazy beds, which may be several hundred years old or more. As well as the remains of the round shieling huts there are other buildings which look like more permanent dwellings.

The hut in the top picture is small, about two metres in diameter, though many are larger. This one, the northern of the Ormsaigbeg four, was built against a rocky bank and is over 3m in diameter, while....

....this is one of several at Reidh-dhail, some 4km to the west of Ormsaigbeg, which was also used as a shieling settlement by Ormsaigbeg people. It's a much more robust structure and, unlike most on the peninsula which are round, it's square in plan.

So far, the local archaeological group have identified 24 shieling settlements across western Ardnamurchan, some of which are marked on this map.

A good idea of what these shieling huts might have looked like is on the SCRAN website, here, which shows one on Lewis which is made entirely of rocks with a turf covering. It seems more likely that the ones here had a roof of branches covered with grass, heather, reeds and/or turfs to make it waterproof, a roof which would have had to be replaced each year.


  1. Thanks for the comprehensive description.

  2. What a fascinating map. I have never seen the named areas displayed like this before. So Ormsaigmore and Ormsaigbeg meat at the old path which serviced Reidh dhail. What is the correct term for such an area, is it a community common grazing? a township? And there are three areas for Swordle; what are Ch, Mo and Hu?

  3. This is taken from William Bald's 1806 map, a treasure-trove of information.
    Most of the areas that were clachan common grazings became the common grazings for today's crofting townships, but not all. Achosnich was split with Sanna, Portuairk and Plocaig. There were three clachan at Swordle, Corrach, Huel and More, later brought together as Swordle, which, like others, was sold off as a sheep farm. Jon