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Arch Walk 8 - Abhainn Chuil

Volunteer's account report author Colin Tucker

There was more than the usual sprinkling of cars at the Coll Beach car park on the morning of the 3rd of July. The usual beach walkers – with or without dogs – turned their heads to observe the small gathering of people dressed more for the moors than the sand. ‘What’s on today, then?’ some enquired. ‘Archaeology walk,’ was the response. We were bound for the valley of the Abhainn Chuil, the Coll River, to look for whatever evidence of pre- and early-history we could find. There had been some concern that we would be faced with a series of barbed-wire fences running down to the river’s edge, but we were ready to take whatever faced us.

The route was to follow the north bank of Abhainn Chuil as far as Cnoc nan Caorach, before crossing over and following Gil an t-Sagairt downstream. There are reports of illicit stills in the area around an Fhaing Ruaidh. On the south bank the ridge of high ground between Gil Thairsiadar and the river is the location of Tigh Thairsiadar, supposed home to a family of giants.

We set off on the north side of the river, but were soon struggling through head-high vegetation, and having to cross and recross the river as its meanders took it hard against one side or the other of the steep valley sides. A decision was soon made to leave the valley, and the planned route, and to head up on the south side above the valley, where as hoped, the going was easier. We were now walking the route backwards – the route that is, not ourselves.

Our first site was thus the remains of an enclosure and sheiling at Druim Fraoich, but there was little to see there. Not much further on, at Tigh Thairsiadar, there was clear evidence that at some time there had been some sort of a building, thought to have been a sheiling. Sadly, there was nothing to show that giants had once lived there. Close by we noticed a small plantation of Caledonian pine, inside a stone wall; it had clearly been planted for some purpose, but we were not sure what that was.

We were now clear of the river valley, and the river itself was now little more than a small stream, especially after the recent dry spell of weather. The landscape was rather featureless, and it was difficult to make out where the scattering of old sheilings might have been. We headed therefore to the summit of Cnoc nan Caorach, a good spot for lunch. We were also intrigued to find what looked like an odd monument – or something. It certainly did turn out to be odd. In front of half a telegraph pole was a three-framed white plastic window frame. Was this some ceremonial site for the Outend Coll sun worshippers? Or a site for parties on the moor? It was without doubt the oddest find on all the arch walks.

Lunch and siesta over, we started our downhill walk back towards the river valley, and perhaps those fences to cross. We were able to follow a peat road, which combined itself with the upper reaches of the Abhainn Chuill – this was not a problem as there was little water flowing, but it would have been difficult in a ‘normal’ summer. There were a couple of finds – evidence of two more sheilings, although little remained of either. We realised that the peat road would take us on to the end of the Outend Coll road, and the valley floor and those fences were forgotten.

This was week eight of the walks, and for the eighth consecutive Saturday the sun shone from a cloudless blue sky. We had been so lucky – would our good fortune last for another seven days?

Colin Tucker

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