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Field Visit

Date 23 April 2009 - 9 May 2009

Event ID 607343

Category Recording

Type Field Visit


NG 394 162 (centred on) An assessment survey was conducted 23 April–9 May 2009 following the discovery of medieval boat timbers on the northern edge of Loch na h-Àirde in 2000 and 2008. An aerial photography sortie facilitated by RCAHMS was conducted on 31 May 2009. Detailed surveys were conducted on the partly artificial channel 100m long which links the loch to the sea. Associated features include two nausts (stone-lined boat docks) which extend from its N side, close to the seaward end, and the tumbled foundations of at least three buildings. A promontory dun stands on a headland nearby (NG 396 159). Close to the centre of the canal is a blockage of stones, now tumbled but showing evidence of former structural cohesion. The margin of the loch follows the High Spring Tide contour, though its fill derives mainly from the surrounding catchment and is therefore partly fresh, with seawater entering only during extreme high tides. Although water now percolates through the blockage, the level in the loch remains largely constant throughout the tidal cycle.

A systematic search of the loch bed, most of which is less than 1.5m deep, was conducted with masks and snorkels. No further boat components were found, but a partly collapsed stone-built quay, now almost completely under water, extends on either side of the canal’s inshore mouth, with a gap in the middle. It was surmised that the canal was constructed so that vessels could be brought into and out of the loch, and water levels managed so that while there they would remain afloat throughout the tide, facilitating mooring or use of the quay. Since the process of bringing vessels into and out of the loch would have been quite complex, it seems likely that the system was intended for the secure over-wintering of craft, or for maintenance and perhaps boatbuilding on the loch’s shores.

One of the boat timbers found in the loch was probably from a clinker-built four-oared rowing boat c6m long. It has been radiocarbon dated to AD c1100. The other undated timber appears to be from a larger sailing vessel in the same tradition, perhaps more than 10m long. Neither craft could have had a local function in this tiny shallow loch, and were presumably there for safe-keeping or repair, or were being built. This implies that from at least the early 12th century the canal, blockage, and quay system, or some precursor of them, were in operation. Study of this remarkable maritime landscape is continuing, with research focused on determining the dates, associations and functions of the various features, including the dun.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland

Colin Martin – Morvern Maritime Centre

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