Lost settlements of Loch Lomond traced by archaeologists

Archaeologists have traced a series of lost settlements around Loch Lomond for the first time.

Archaeologists have found remannts of a "busy" 17th  Century rural community around the western side of Loch Lomond. PIC: Creative Commons.
Archaeologists have found remannts of a "busy" 17th Century rural community around the western side of Loch Lomond. PIC: Creative Commons.

More than 80 sites were found on the western shores of the loch and through the straths of Arrochar, with remnants of homes, byres, shielings, farmsteads and possibly a mill recovered.

The vast majority of sites were previously unknown with the remnants largely scattered over 30 settlements, many which have not been mapped before.

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The research, by Dr Heather James of Calluna Archaeology, gives fresh insight into how the landscape was populated hundreds of years ago.

Archaeologists at a deserted settlement overlooking Loch Lomond. PIC: Heather James/Calluna Archaeology.

The archaeologist was commissioned by Clan MacFarlane Worldwide to chart changes to the clan’s traditional territories over time.

A possible watchtower on Tarbet Island, which sits to the north west of the loch, which may have been used by clansmen to monitor activity on the water, was also discovered.

An early 17th Century almhouse on the western shore at Creag a’Phuirt, which sits opposite the former seat of Clan MacFarlane on the island of Elanvow, has also been pinpointed.

Dr James said: “We found over 80 new sites, most of them which had never been mentioned before.

Loch Lomond viewed from Ben Lomond with the lost settlements found west of the water, from the shoreline through Arrochar. PIC: Creative Commons

“We are bringing these sites back into common knowledge. These lochs and glens were not empty. There were lots of people out there farming and using the landscape.”

Ruined bridges, sheepfolds, earth banks, quarries and field clearance cairns were also found with many of the discoveries made in the straths of Arrochar, including Glen Douglas and Strath Dubh-Uisge.

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Dr James will now contribute the information to Canmore, the Historic Environment Scotland database, which will create a permanent record of how the famous Loch Lomond landscape - and its people - has changed over time.

Archaeologists at the site of 17th Century almshouses at the western shore of Loch Lomond. PIC: Heather James/Calluna Archaeology.

It is the first time the area has been mapped in this way.

Dr James believes the almshouse at Creag a’Phuirt was used by travellers passing through the area.

She added: “It is interesting that the almshouse was opposite the castle at Elanvow. They might have been used by those visiting the chief and perhaps they stayed overnight there before he went to meet them. I don’t think the building was lived in all the time but more used as a place for travellers to stop over.

A number of the sites were found in Glen Douglas, Arrocher. PIC: Flickr/John Johnston.

“This area certainly was a busy place. It strikes you as you walk through this landscape, there would have been lots of people and animals wandering about.

“Also on a quiet day, you can hear things for miles. It would have been very easy to keep and eye on what was going on in the area.

Dr James said it has been “fantastic” bringing the missing history of the area to life.

Only scant information on how the glen was inhabited existed until now, with rental records and the odd vague map reference the only real guide to everyday life around Loch Lomond.

The MacFarlanes owned much of land around Arrochar until the mid 18th Century.

Several members of the clan were executed for their role in the Battle of Glenfruin, when they joined Clan Gregor in the mass killing of men and neighbours from Clan Colquhoun in 1603.

The clan’s territories were sacked by Cromwell’s forces in the 17th Century with its early seat at Inveruglas Isle among properties destroyed.

Dr James added: “They were a clan who struggled to keep their head above water but they eventually made peace with their rivals, the Campbells, which helped them for a while.”

The clan lost men to other parts of Scotland, Ireland and America with the Loch Lomond and Arrochar lands sold off to pay debts following the death of 20th chief, Walter MacFarlane, in 1767.

Dr James said some of the newly mapped sites, such as Croitnein farmstead in Glen Douglas, were first recorded in rental documents in the 17th Century and were still occupied by the 19th Century.

Dr James added: “Once the Macfarlanes sold the estate in the late 18th century some of the land changed hands quite frequently as new people invested and speculated.

“Some was acquired by their old ‘enemies’ the Colquhouns.”

She said its not clear at this stage whether tenants were evicted or left their homes when their leases were not renewed.

“I expect it might be a mixture of both,” Dr James added.

Clan MacFarlane Worldwide are also funding a dig in September at a site at the top of Loch Lomond opposite Ardlui in search of a possible medieval stronghold.

Dr James has been assisted in her research by local volunteers, students from the University of Glasgow and members of the Association of certificated Field Archaeologists.