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Arch Walk 2 - An Gàradh Dubh

Volunteer's account report author Colin Tucker

The second Arch Walk covered an area lying to the north of Gress. It could be described as a mystery walk, not because we didn’t know where we were going, but because much of what was discovered left more questions than answers. One of the aims of the walk was to trace the route of the turf dyke known as the Gàrradh Dubh (Black Wall). It did not take long before this became evident.

Before we reached the Wall, we came across foundations of a building, still close to the township. They could clearly be seen, and in length about that of a black house; the width, however, was considered to be too great for it to have been that. The first mystery.

The Gàrradh Dubh was soon reached. It could be seen as a dark scar crossing the moor, and we were easily able to follow its course and not it continuing to the north and west. It consisted of a turf wall, with a ditch on one side formed from the removal of peat to form the wall. A number of questions immediately arose. What was its purpose? Did it mark a boundary between Gress and other townships? When was it constructed? Did it relate to ‘pre-farm’ times, or was it a farm boundary? Was its purpose to keep stock in, or others out?

The length and size of the Wall would have required a huge amount of labour – days and days of hard work with basic tools, but it was commented on that there would have been a much larger pool of labour then than today.

There was also some discussion as to how significant on which side of the wall was the ditch; this seemed to alter from place to place.

Skirting round Loch Beinn Iobheir, the mouth of Loch Corsabhat was reached. Here there was clear evidence that a stone and turf dam had been constructed, with a sluice gate. It was also noted that the level of the loch would have been much higher at one time. The allt running out of the loch curved its way round Beinn Iobheir, working its way down to where the mill was situated. This time we had an explanation for the archaeological evidence – a simple but effective method of ensuring a supply of water for Gress Mill.

Further north was Loch Sgeireach Mòr. On a small islet, reached by stepping-stones, we found remains of a building. The stones were well covered with vegetation, but the outline was easily discernable: the outline of a stone building about 6m by 2m. There was only conjecture as to what it was.

North of the loch, the line of the Gàrradh Dubh could be seen running to the north-west – to be followed at a later date, perhaps.

The next site visited was on the east side of Loch Langavat. Here was clear evidence of a small building, possible a shieling. It was located just above the edge of the loch. It was stone-built, with a door at either end, rectangular in shape but with rounded corners. Our local expert informed us that this was also the site of a still, and not far from the building, the ground beside a stream running down to the loch had clearly been altered by man. Again, questions rather than answers. Was the ground levelled for the still, or to create small reservoirs for the necessary water? Discussion suggested that the whisky produced would have been for local consumption rather than any commercial purposes. It would be nice to picture the locals taking their product along the loch shore to happily drink in the bothan. It was also thought that the copper still had been buried at the site, but, of course, there was no evidence of this.

This was another very successful Arch Walk. The organiser and experts are to be both thanked and commended for its success. If future walks are as good then it can only lead to a much more comprehensive coverage of the history of the area.

Colin Tucker

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