Monday, 24 November 2014

An Archaeological Wander

On one of last week's fine days I walked in the land to the west of the abandoned township of Glendrian - its roofless houses can be seen in the picture at the top of the crofts' grassy inbye land.  The settlement is a scheduled monument because, to quote Historic Scotland, it has "potential to contribute to our understanding of post-medieval settlement and economy".  The object of the walk, beyond just a pleasant wander, was to see if there were any archaeological remains away from the settlement, between it and the neighbouring township of Achnaha.

Much of the walking was hard work, through boggy land, thick heather and tufted grass, but at the northern end of the area the land rose into a low hill and the vegetation changed to well-cropped grasses.  On this rise lay what are almost certainly the remains of a small building - visible in front of the blue rucksack - some 5m x 4m, which could have been a byre, sheep pen or small dwelling.  It is badly degraded, the rocks of its walls scattered.

On the other side of the low hill some 50m distant, is this rectangular depression.  Measuring about 2m long by 1m wide (the stick is marked in 10cm divisions) and cut into the side of the hill, the rock on the left is in situ while the other three sides have been built up using local stone.  To the top right of this picture the land falls away to the flat land of Glendrian Moss.

This picture was taken looking straight down into it.  The middle of the hole seems to have been part-filled with rocks, now largely covered by turf, and the stone-walled sides have to some extent fallen in.

I have no idea what it is, but it has the perfect dimensions for a grave.

After leaving the hillock and heading towards Glendrian, I took this picture looking back towards it.  While they were visible while walking on the hill, the characteristic stripes of lazy beds are clearly visible in the low sunshine, covering almost all the raised, better-drained land.  These fields could have been part of the Glendrian clachan, worked by people living in the township, but they could also have been the land worked by the occupants of the building.

This clip from Bing Maps shows the site superbly.  The ellipse encloses the area of higher land, 'a' is the approximate position of the building, 'b' is the depression.  To the west lie the lands of Glendrian Moss, drained early in the 18th century, while the worked lands to the east, to the north of the burn, are those of Glendrian.

A history of Glendrian is here.


  1. Do you regard lazybeds and rigs as the same thing - synonyms? Clearly, there will be some overlap in some places but I'm not sure they're always the same and when I asked a Hebridean what the difference was he said that rigs were a method of cultivating arable land whereas lazybeds were a method of cultivating land which was not arable; indeed lazybeds were a method of creating arable out of nothing. He also felt that lazybeds were more a feature of post-clearance townships after the people had been cleared off the arable to make way for sheep. My guess (and it's no more than that) is that what you can see in your yellow elipse is rigs rather than lazybeds. But what about the area outside the elipse at 2-3 o' clock? These look too straight to be rigs (or lazybeds) and I wonder if they aren't late 19th or even 20th century drains?

  2. I have struggled to be clear in my mind what the terms rig, run and lazy bed mean. This is my best understanding:
    Runrig is the system of cultivation which uses rigs, the banked up areas of soil, separated by the lower runs. So one seems to be able to refer to a 'runrig field' which contains several rigs and runs. The word lazy bed seems to almost synonymous with a run, so to me lazy beds are lines of ridges in a field. As far as I know, all runrig was arable land within the toun or clachan's inbye.
    There are several different types of runrig, the width and length of the rig varying, along with how straight it is - though this might depend on the availability of good soil, so rigs often curved as they crossed the landscape. The rigs and runs of hand-ploughed land was different from that of horse-ploughed.
    I've written this as if I knew - but I don't. Somewhere there is a good treatise on runrig and on its different forms. I wish I could read it. Jon

  3. I’d say your understanding corresponds with mine Jon except in a few minor respects.

    I’ve never heard the ditches between rigs called “runs” before. A little book I have called “The Shaping of Scotland – 18th Century Patterns of Land Use and Settlement” by R J Brien calls the ditches “baulks”.

    The question I had was, are rig and lazybed direct synonyms? My hypothesis is that they’re not. Rather, I think lazybeds are a subset of rigs, namely, those found in the interstices between rocky outcrops and in which the soil is to a very large extent an imported manure, typically seaweed; a lazybed would always have been worked by hand rather than horse or ox drawn plough. As such, lazybeds are characteristic of very marginal ground for cultivation (and therefore of townships to which the population was cleared to off better agricultural land). Indeed, it’s for that reason that lazybeds are the most visible surviving form of rig (because rigs on better land have been obliterated by modern farming methods). And that fact may explain why the public tends to conflate lazybeds and rigs. But all that said, there will be a continuum with rigs at one end and lazybeds at the other and, in between the extremes, it may be hard to ascribe a tag. - lazybeds - rigs

    One thing we can agree on 100% - the subject is fascinating!