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Arch Walk 5 - Muirneag

Volunteer's account report author AM Fox


Having been unable to join the first four Archaeological walks I arrived at the fank at Back full of enthusiasm and with great anticipation. I had know idea what lay ahead….

After the introductions, which were easy as Dòmhnalls were thick on the ground, we piled into two vans and set off to our starting point at Sìthean Àirigh Mhurchaidh. The weather was kind - enough wind to keep the midgies and the rain clouds away. Before we set off following the River Griais, Ian McHardy, the archaeologist, showed us maps highlighting the known àirigh sites and explained that we would check each one to record the shape, size and type of construction. There were 19 sites to find.

In no time at all we found the first, and then they came thick and fast up the Back side of the river. Each site was different; round stone constructions, ones with squared off ends, others rectangular in shape. Some had two doors, others just one. We also found what appeared to be a turf circular sheiling, while another small ruin was thought, perhaps to have been an illicit still. Each site was carefully recorded and this process offered insight into life in this part of Lewis over several centuries and also provided welcome rests from the fairly rough terrain along the river side. We came to the old dam, managing to dodge the 24 hour CCTV….

We continued on up until we came to a small oxbow lake in the river which denoted the point of diversion whereafter we followed Allt a Deas Muirneag and onwards to Muirneag itself. The going began to get a good bit tougher as we traversed across crevasses in the peat, and moved into much more mossy and heather covered terrain. The sheilings became fewer and further between. Who can blame our forebears for sticking to more readily accessible land though Ian did explain that the landscape that we were enjoying would have been very different before the peat built up. While our forebears would have walked the same paths, underfoot would have been very different.

By now we were seeing a lot of wildlife. Our canine companion enjoyed the pursuit of deer, birds, dragonflies and even frogs. She was largely unsuccessful (an unlucky dragonfly getting second prize) but never lost her enthusiasm. We watched carefully as Arctic Skuas circled and we shared tales of bloody encounters. A pair of Golden Eagles graced us on two different occasions with their soaring presence. We also had a number of frog encounters, and the flowers were beautiful throughout

After a couple of hours we were ready to head up the hill. It was heavy going as one’s feet sunk with every step into thick moss and heather but we kept moving and four hours after setting out in the vans we reached the top……. of the smaller of the two summits. At that stage we stopped for much needed sustenance and enjoyed the amazing views all around us. We heard about a sermon once preached at that very place and wondered at the resilience of the congregation. Duly revitalised we set off for the trig point on top of Muirneag which at 248m is the most Northerly Marilyn on Lewis. We were rewarded with stunning 360 degree views of the island and a great sense of satisfaction. From the top keen eyes spotted other possible àirighs while we also knew there to be sites of interests further round the hill so the group split into two and set off. The group I was in took advantage of our physically easier task and had a wonderful rest lying in the luxurious moss taking in the spectacular views to the east while waiting for our intrepid companions.

Once together we set off at a pace back to the vans. Finding a most welcome quad track enabled a speedier descent back down to the river banks. Progress was then slower but there was a real sense of a good job done and an adventure shared.

We were all exhausted, including Bess the dog, by the time we reached the vans almost 6 hours after we left them. We had shared a great day out and I for one am already looking forward to next Saturday.

Alison Fox

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