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Arch Walk 4 - Staran nam Boireanaich to Sìthean Àirigh Mhurchaidh

Volunteer's account report author DJ Mackenzie

[This account refers to walk 3 and walk 5 as well as to this walk.]

It's a bit like Mars, the more you find out the more questions it poses. Why did they built these walls? To keep the cattle or the Niseachs out...? Did they take the West Coast route from France to build the càrn a' Mharc to show ownership or as a burial ground? Was this a forested area and how were the stones collected.Was it so fertile back in the day that it needed serious protection?

The company and landscape was so inspiring. This is where we come from. Was this really Tir Na Nog with plentiful game and fish and settlers bringing their new agricultural skills to the area ?

Not many signs of life on the moor now but in Victorian times, the records of Gress lodge highlight many salmon, trout, grouse, pheasant and deer each year. During the walk, we saw one nest with eggs, startled two deer, one hare and several ducks and ducklings, couple of frogs and signs of trout, two eagles and various small skeleton remains of eagles' meal, seaguls and geese near the village no midges and I foound only one tick.

The Gress river walk shows such an intensive use of the land through necessity, the route brings back memories of going to the shileling in the mid fifties with my grand-parents, the old bus was towed out to Cnocan Dubh, where my grandmother loved to spend a month and my uncle would check out the pools in the river! The iconic names of shielings, fishing pools and streams indicate important economic activity even in recent times when poaching was not unknown these names were in regular use by Rachie, Sparrow, Domhnall Solid, Iain A Phabie. They knew these names well.

Congratulations to CEBac for such inspirational walks in the area.

The walk to Muirneag indicated an intensity of occupation from beehive huts to round and rectangualar shaped stone buildings with carefully constructed storage cavities showing such pride in construction. Some structures gave rise to speculation that they maybe were for distilling whisky. After all the Shoeburn distillery in the Castle grounds was built in 1854 to try to control illicit distilling. Surely the number of structures close together along the river must have resulted in a ceilidh or two with a few drams of uisge beatha! And how about that famous sermon preached on Muirnag? There must have been a community there as well as travellers from Back and Ness.

These were days of exploration meeting few other walkers. The sense of space and environment was most keenly felt on Muirneag where we could view the vast horizon and the island coastline and ponder the ancient beehive dwellings and the forgotten boundary lines that radiate around there. A real privilege . What an enormous effort though it must have been worth it. We can never be sure why.

So what next?How much of this can be collated? New sites have been added to those already on maps and can we confirm the whisky stills theories, can we find a still buried in haste and forgotten? Some structures seemed large enough to shelter cattle so were these dwellings more permanent than shielings? How many more scraps of details remain in the community that can be added to build a more detailed account of the use of the moor? Do pass them on to CEBac.

D J Mackenzie

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