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Arch Walk 7 - Allt Cheargoil and Loch an Ealaich

Volunteer's account report author D I Macdonald

Saturday 26th June, 10am, Back village fank

Present: Ian Mchardy (archaeologist), Donald I Macdonald (CEBac), Colin Tucker (Anna Mec), Donald Macdonald (Dalick), DJ Mackenzie (Seonaidh Iain Thormoid), Bess (Collie dog)

This route took us up the banks of Allt Ceargoil, starting from the Druim Rèidh reseeding, reaching up to Loch an Eallaich, climbing to the summit of Cnoc a’ Mhaide before coming back through Out End Coll and across the moor to Sithean Strangoil.

The theme of the day was definitely water. (Although none came from the sky – like all the walks we were blessed with warm, sunny weather and a pleasant breeze.)

First we were struck by the huge lazy-beds visible by the stream in Druim Rèidh, ossified ocean waves. We speculated as to whether they had been made larger than the usual sort to keep the crops dry if the stream burst its banks.

Rather overgrown, but still visible here, was the old well -- “Fuaran na Faing” -- tucked up above the south bank. All around was evidence of habitation, but it was difficult to trace out building shapes. Again, we wondered if floodwater had played a part in obscuring things, and even if the wandering meanders of the stream had played a part in jumbling up the archaeological record.

Ian found what looked to be an old firepit in the end of what appeared to be the rough shape of a building. He explained that without finding pottery shards it was almost impossible to date anything we could see.

A little further on we came to our most exciting discovery of the day, and again it had to do with water – the water of life! Just before the fence separating the receding from the south Back village peat road was the remains of a building that had all the hallmarks of being an illicit still. It was fascinating to wonder who had (perhaps) spent time hunched over a copper worm there, carefully tending the fire as the spirits condensed at the other end.

Crossing over to the Druim na Seòbhrach reseeding our eye was caught by a circular mound, 10 yards from the stream, like an àiridh but with very thick walls. Had this been a turf structure? Another 100 yards upstream we came to a large enclosed area, likely a primitive fank. It had a strange opening towards the stream.

Shortly after this we parted company with All Cheargoil and followed Allt Loch an Eallaich upstream to the loch itself. The ground round it was difficult to walk, and the loch itself has clearly shrunk over the years. One of our company remarked that it was probably called “An Eallach” because getting to it was such a burden. There is meant to be an illicit still near the loch, but we couldn’t find it – the vegetation at times was chest-high.

Seeking higher ground we came to Cnoc a’ Mhaide, and lunch-with-a-panoramic-view. Evidence of old stones on this summit, and we wondered if it might have been a cairn of some sort at one time.

Tired by our exertions round Loch an Eallach we were glad of the easier route along the peatroad and into Out End Coll. We cut up a field here and crossed back to Vatisker (deviating slightly from the planned route), where the watery theme was apparent one last time – with a maritime tang – as there was a big colony of nesting seagulls between the two villages! Fortunately they were reasonably tolerant of archaeologically-minded walkers blundering into their midst. The final stretch was downhill and on tarred roads, through An Cladhan, down Leathad an Cachalan and back to the cars.

D I Macdonald

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