Nature Notes from Argyll
(and occasionally other places)
Sat 19 Jun 2010 Taynuilt area.
An outing by the Lorn Historical and Archaeological Society, led by John MacFarlane of Taynuilt, to look at some historical features of the village and surrounding area. A chance for me to learn something about the place where I live. It was absolutely riveting. Pity this sort of event is so rare.
First we went up to the church and the nearby standing stone at
Taynuilt. This is the view approx south-west from there. The bright
green area just below the centre is the site of a sheiling where people used to
stay when they moved their cattle to higher ground in the summer. The wind
farm on the horizon shows a present-day use of hill ground.
The Taynuilt standing stone, or Nelson Monument. Legend has it that a witch (obviously a giant one) had this stone in her bag and when she tripped on an island while crossing Loch Etive the stone flew out of her bag and landed on a mound opposite the present Balindore road end. There it lay until 1805. There is, I believe, no record of it ever having been seen upright, but it is thought to have originally been a standing stone which fell at some point in the distant past.
In 1805 Taynuilt was a busy place with the iron furnace employing 600 workers churning out cannonballs. When the workers heard of Nelson's victory at Trafalgar they were delighted as this would mean more orders for cannonballs, and to celebrate they moved the stone from where it was lying and erected it on the hillock in the village where it is today. This was the first ever monument to Lord Nelson, some 35 years earlier than Nelson's Column in London.
John told us that the present site of the stone is believed to
be a pre-Christian Beltane fire site, and certainly it would be ideal for this
purpose as it can be seen from a great distance all around. So not a bad
place for the ancient megalith to have ended up.
View north-west from the same spot, looking across Airds Bay to
Airds Point and the slopes on the far side of Loch Etive.
We then had a look at the parish church. Apparently there
have been seven churches at this spot over the centuries. The present
church was designed by Telford and built in 1829. The workmen incorporated
the sheela-na-gig (above left) and gargoyle (right) from the previous church,
which still lies in ruins beside the present one.
On the left is the aumbry from the previous church. The
stone on the right is a replica of Cladh na Macraidh, an ancient stone which
used to stand in Glen Lonan but was plundered by the Edinburgh Museum. The
flower may be pre-Christian, with the cross added later.
Next we visited Balindore about a mile west of Taynuilt where
John and other knowledgeable people interpreted various features of the
landscape. On the left is a low turf dyke, running from bottom left through the
centre of the picture. Dykes of turf without any stones were not built to
prevent livestock crossing but simply to mark boundaries. This one could
be medieval or perhaps even from the iron age. In the RH pic the area of
brown vegetation with a grey stone in front of it, just below right of centre,
is where cattle were driven across the burn.
Stone with a possible prehistoric cup mark. There are many
of these in Argyll; some are clearly the work of human hands but simple
depressions like this are less certain. The Gaelic name of the burn in the
RH pic means stream of meeting or confrontation. Behind it is the field of
confrontation where a famous battle took place around 1532 between the local
MacDougalls and the Campbells of Cawdor over who should collect the rent for the
bishops. They decided to sort it out by a battle of seven champions from
each side. The 7 chosen by the MacDougall side were brothers.
The remaining members of the two clans watched the battle from
these two hills, the MacDougall hill on the left and the Campbell one on the right,
each cheering on their team of seven champions. A piper stood on another
hill nearby and played to spur the combatants on. Pipers were neutral and
were not to be killed in battle. The seven Campbell champions defeated the
seven MacDougalls. But the MacDougalls had prepared for such an
outcome by hiding a team of reinforcements behind their hill, and these now
charged onto the battlefield in order to rout the seven Campbells. The
Campbells however had hidden reinforcements behind their own hill and these
too now charged forward and entered the fray. Once again the Campbells were
victorious. This put them in control of rent collection in Muckairn, and
they have been ever since. These things happen.
This boulder is thought to have been the place where people attempted to resolve disputes, before moving to the adjacent battlefield if they could not come to an agreement. Its use may date back to pre-Christian days. The stone is a glacial erratic, with striations caused by glacial scouring or wind etching. Kestrels and buzzards often perch on it. We didn't see those but we saw a swift flying over.
In the other pic, the hollow sloping from the bottom RH corner through the middle is thought to be a corn-drying kiln. In favour of this is that it faces north-east and is right in the middle of lazy-beds where corn would have been grown.
A view of Loch Etive from the spot, showing the two piers at Taynuilt and
material from the granite quarry on the far side.
I wasn't thinking about botany on this outing but did happen to notice this
Lesser Butterfly Orchid, the first I'd seen in mainland Argyll.
We then moved on to Inverawe and learned a lot about its
history. It used to be a major communications hub (it was then called
Taynuilt, which is now confined to the land west of the river) in the days when
the Bonawe Ferry was the main route across Loch Etive. There is little
sign of its former status now. There was also a prehistoric settlement
here, with two hill-forts. Dun Mor, covered with bushes in the LH pic was the main one, with
Dun Deirdre (called Dun Leigh on the map) as an outstation, on the low hill on the right.
The flat land in between was the settlement. The River Awe would have been
higher in those days and you could get to Loch Awe from Loch Etive by curragh
along the river. Dun Mor would have dominated the river mouth.
All photos and other content copyright © Carl Farmer