Saturday saw a group from the Ardnamurchan History & Heritage Association travel to Swordle to explore the area below the road immediately to the left after crossing the cattle grid onto what was Swordle Corrach land. The structure of particular interest was to be found.....
....at the back of the cobbled beach, well above the high-tide mark, below the cliffs at the western end of the beach - a pit formed in the cobbles which is about five metres long and....
....about two metres deep. The cliff-side of the pit is formed of in situ rock but the rest has been carefully built by someone who knew how to construct drystone walls.
We've sent details of this structure to officers at Highland Council's Historic Environment Record and they have identified it as an unusually well-preserved kelp burning pit. Kelp burning was an industry encouraged during the late 18th and early 19th century as a source of potash for the glass and soap industries but collapsed after the levy was raised on cheap foreign imports.
There's plenty of evidence of burning: this lump of limestone is one of many blackened by heat. However, the shape of the pit is quite unlike anything that's recorded on line - try Googling 'kelp burning pit'. Most of those shown are shallow, circular and saucer shaped in cross section. Although one end of our pit may have been open, giving access to the lower part of the pit, this appears to have been blocked by a large rock. Further, most of the kelp would have come in by boat, and this is a very unfriendly section of coastline.
We're convinced this is a barbecue pit, the ideal shape for cooking a whole ox, and the people who might most have enjoyed this would have been the Vikings.
We then walked along the beach eastwards to St Columba's Cave where we sat and enjoyed the superb views across to Rum, Eigg, Muck and Skye.
One of the stories about this cave is that St Columba used to baptise converts in a pool just inside the entrance, and that this natural font never dried up. We were there after a spell of dry weather and, sure enough, the pool was full.