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Blar Na Coille

Military Camp

Site Name Blar Na Coille

Classification Military Camp

Alternative Name(s) Wester Kirkhill

Canmore ID 116626

Site Number NH54NW 46

NGR NH 544 453

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/116626

Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Kirkhill
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Inverness
  • Former County Inverness-shire

Archaeology Notes

NH54NW 46 544 453

NH 44/54 OS 544453 No. 16 (i) Blar na Coille.

Marked B on the plan. There can be seen in the fir wood a very eroded rampart and outer ditch running from the field dyke at A to B where there is a rounded corner. The Kirkhill to Dunballoch road is then parallel to it as far as corner D. Farm weeds were seen being dumped in the outer ditch at corner B in the late nineteen-forties. The best section of the outer ditch of this apparently large military camp of perhaps 168 acres can be seen at the roadside close to corner B. It appears to be 5 feet wide here and the silting up has still left a depth of 1 foot in relation to the ground at the outside of the camp. At C there is evidence of what appear to be a gateway with an internal rampart turning inwards with a curve, and its' ditch on the down side is 20 yards long. This rampart is now so eroded that it forms a terrace in the sloping ground here. A sharp dip in the ground below the roadside fence may indicate the spot where the outer ditch, after turning at right angles, came outwards in a curve and with its rampart continued a short distance forming a quarter circle, now below the public road. About 18 yards from the dip and towards corner D, there comes out from the outer ditch at an angle of approx. 45° a strip of rushes 8 yards in length. This low strip now forms part of a drainage channel to the roadside ditch and may be following what was origin¬ally a traverse trip ditch at the gateway entrance. The best section of the rampart can be seen between a large stone and corner D. This large stone is 4 feet long, 2 feet wide and 2 feet high and is incorporated in the rampart near a lay-by. The rampart in this area is now 10 feet wide at the base and over 2 feet high in relation to the ground at the inside of the camp. The corner at D is very eroded; this may have been partly caused by logs being dragged across the rampart for loading at the roadside. It appears that the camp was later used at some period or periods as an enclosure for livestock. Soil from a more recent, narrower and shallower internal ditch was used to heighten an eroded rampart, which has since been further eroded, so causing an already silted up outer ditch to be completely filled up in places in the process. This later internal ditch now gives the impression of a less rounded curve at corner D than that found at corner B. 45 yards west of gateway C, at a higher and drier area, there is no trace at all of the rampart and ditches for about 4 yards. This could be where a later higher, drier and more suitable gateway was placed opposite Lovat Castle for the use of domestic livestock. At E where an old estate track runs outside of, and parallel to, the camp outer ditch and rampart, there is evidence of a gateway which was later closed up. Some of the soil for this blocking up was probably taken from the nearest section of an internal curved rampart, resulting in the end of this rampart now being seen as a crag and tail mound. The mound itself is too substantial to be only the end of a rampart and is of a later period. A few yards southwards there are clear indi¬cations of a considerable quantity of soil being dug out of the centre of the main rampart in the recent past. The soil was pro¬bably used to fill in a nearby traverse trip ditch. This would probably be when the estate forestry track was laid out at the time the wood was first planted in 1766. Inside the camp and a short distance in from gateway E, there can be seen evidence of turf re¬moval at some period or periods prior to 1766. This and other now swampy areas are marked in green on the map. At F there was an internal expansion to the rampart now eroded to 6 yards x 6 yards. On each side of this internal expansion, the later period internal ditch stops abruptly, which seems to indicate that the eroded expansion was used as a conveniently high and dry gateway for livestock, the outer ditch having been almost completely silted up or filled in. Directly opposite the internal expansion at F, and outside the camp, there is a ring earthwork at P, now approx. 16 yards x 15 yards. It consists of an internal rampart and outer ditch which appears to be 9 feet wide in its best section. Due to its very eroded condition it is difficult to say whether this earthwork is circular or a square with rounded corners. An entrance causeway next to the camp cannot now be detected. The internal expansion may have been a platform for monitoring signals sent from a temporary wooden watch tower within the ring earthwork to a supportive fleet in the tidal river anchorage opposite the hard standing at T. This tower is also in the optimum position to keep surveillance over the Stockford of Ross, the crossing place for armies, and the surrounding area as far as the hill forts on Dun Mor and Phoineas Hill. This ring work is almost certainly multi-period and interfered with by camping armies in later times. Between N and M there is a straight and what now appears to be a flat-bottomed ditch 9 feet wide with the up-cast to each side. This ditch may have extended further at each end but cannot now be traced as those areas are out-with the woodland. Recent forestry ploughing has obliterated the section of the ditch near M, but it could be seen for a short time at M after scrub birch was cut in May 1987. This ditch is probably older than the camp, and in cone junction with the former Conon Loch shoreline (Y to Z), burial mounds at V and also swampy areas, dictated the situation and shape of the camp. At G there can be seen crossing the forestry track at an angle the remains of an eroded external curved rampart, also the dip of its outer ditch. This earthwork had not been thorough¬ly levelled when the estate track was made. The ground is also very slightly higher where the end of an internal curved rampart of a gateway would have been, if identical to that found at E. Also there are clear indications of the ground being slightly lower in a narrow strip on each side of the forestry track for a total length of 8 yards. It also comes out from the outer ditch at an angle of approx. 45°, but this traverse trip ditch appears to be a yard or two nearer the outer external curved rampart than at gateway C. Between gateway G and corner H there is a low mound inside the camp and very close to the rampart. The erosion characteristics indicate that it post dates the construction of the rampart and is earlier than the most probable and cost effective re-use of the camp as a stock enclosure by the Anglo Normans and perhaps others before and later. The erosion characteristics were caused by the natural movement of animals, both wild and domestic, in the close proximity of the rampart. After whins were cut, very slight evidence could be seen of that section of t corner at H furthest away from the track. Soil may have been re¬moved from the section of the corner nearest the rampart when it was extended as a turf wall for a short distance in sympathy with the newly laid out estate track. This corner was then ploughed out as an estate map of 1800 shows this area as being cultivated. As sheep tramped down long grass growing among a line of high whins along the edge of an arable field, faint traces could be seen here and there of the outer ditch as far as J, where faint traces can also be seen of a gateway similar to that at E and G, such as a short section of the outer curved ditch and rampart. No evidence can be seen of gateway J having been blocked up in the same manner as gateways C, E and G. There appears evidence on the ground at -field dyke that the section of the internal curved rampart next to the main rampart was not demolished. Gateway J may have been re¬tained in its original state. After whins had been cut below electricity pylons, very faint traces could also be seen of the main rampart near J. This main rampart is on the line of the parish boundary between Kirkhill and Kiltarlity, which seems to indicate that there may have been a linear earthwork here in Anglo-Norman times which began in this area at the end of the 12th century. After J the parish boundary now follows field boundaries and, being in airfields, there is no further trace of the rampart and outer ditch, faint traces of what may be the angled hump of the rampart at corner W can be identified in an uncultivated 5 yard wide strip behind the hedge at OS 537443. W being on the line of H to J, and X being o the line of B to A, it is reasonable to assume that the Kirkhill - Phoineas road was originally a track running on the outside of, a parallel to, a straight outer ditch of the camp, the road being slightly realigned. K is probably an Anglo-Norman earthwork at OS 535447 (No. 11). At L there appears to be a very eroded soil plat form with a very silted up ditch at the south side. This earthwork is similar to the one at OS 629445 (No. 5). 11.0 yds S.W. of this platform L there is a ditch 7 yds long with the up-cast to the N.E. This and another may be a Hanoverian sanitary trench, as there was detachment of Redcoats camped in this area above Conon Bank in 1746. The sod platform L is situated almost equidistant between line of rampart H to D & supposed line of rampart W to X. This p form is also in direct line between gateway J & corner B & on direct line between

the supposed corner at X and the corner at H. About 125 yards port of this platform there is a large stone 3 feet high, and this stone is also in a direct line between corner B, sod platform L and gate¬way J. This stone is almost in the dead centre of the camp, and if the line from H to D was extended and the line from X to B likewise the large stone would be on the alignment of this intersection and the presumed corner at W. The exact position of the large central stone and the sod platform L was measured and calculated as to its distance from two nearby old forestry tracks which can be identified on the ground and on an old map. The other aforementioned large stone incorporated in the side of the rampart next to the outer ditch between corner D and gateway C, when aligned on corner B may have positioned corner D. All five corners of the camp can be line up on the sod platform L or one of the two large stones with another corner or an intersection point. Gateway E is almost the same dis¬tance (following the rampart round past corner D) from gateway C as it is from gateway G. R is a field track terraced into the brae and S is a public road, both coming up through the raised beach by the easiest route. From gateway E via R to the riverside hard standing at T, OS 538462 (No. 9) is the same distance as from gateway C via S to T.

Coghill et al 1989

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