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High Morlaggan

Township (Period Unassigned)

Site Name High Morlaggan

Classification Township (Period Unassigned)

Alternative Name(s) High Morelaggan; Murlagan; Morlichan; Murligan; Marlacan; Murelagan

Canmore ID 301028

Site Number NN20SE 42

NGR NN 2773 0163

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Arrochar
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Dumbarton
  • Former County Dunbartonshire

Archaeology Notes

The remains of four or five buildings are situated on a WNW-facing slope about 200m inland and at an altitude of around 75m above the E shore of Loch Long, about 2.5km south of the village of Arrochar. They are backed by a row of crags and surrounded by a head dyke. The head dyke runs from NN 2750 0137 to NN 2769 0182 and incorporates numerous natural boulders along the stretch NW of the main group of buildings. The nearest visible water sources are around 65m NNW or around 80m WNW. Several rows of hawthorns and a pollarded rowan grow close to the buildings. The remains of two further buildings have been identified; one at the SW limit of the head dyke, and one around 50m W of the main group of buildings, situated between these and the loch. Three of the buildings are associated with enclosed garden plots, some of which have been terraced.

There are numerous clearance cairns and evidence of rig and furrow on the hillside below the buildings, within the head dyke, as well as small, terraced areas at the bottom of the slope, close to the loch. The combined extent of the terraced areas, rig and furrow, and clearance cairns (excluding the garden plots associated with the buildings) amounts to around 1 hectare.

All the buildings are of dry-stone construction and none have evidence of fireplaces. The remains of virtually all walls are below window height. Within the main group of buildings, the principal building measures about 14.6×5.6m externally and is oriented WNW-ESE, with two possible entrances on the NNE side. The external walls are about 0.8m thick. There is a low, internal wall across the width of the building, and evidence of modification of the ESE end of the building by the addition of internal walls. An irregular, roughly circular, terraced plot about 20-28m diameter surrounded by a low wall is located 3m WNW of this building.

A second building located SSW of the principal building measures about 7.2×5m externally and is oriented SSW-NNE with a doorway facing WNW. Its external walls are about 0.7m thick. There is a small addition on the outside of the NNE wall and an irregular, roughly circular, terraced plot about 22-26m diameter surrounded by a low wall attached to the SSW wall.

A third building is located NNE of the principal building. It measures 5.4×4.6m externally and is oriented almost N-S, with an entrance in the S wall and a possible window in the N wall. Its external walls are about 0.8m thick. There is evidence of extensive modification including possible narrowing of the doorway and the additon of an internal wall in the SE corner. The distribution of rubble to the west of the building suggests that it may once have extended in this direction. The head dyke abuts the NE corner of this building.

A fourth building is located WNW of the third building. It measures about 3.8×4m externally, but is of poor construction and the ESE wall is slightly longer than the opposite WNW wall. The walls are about 0.6m thick. There is an entrance in the SSW corner.

A fifth building lies about 29m N of the principal building. It is oriented N-S and is almost square, measuring approximately 5.8×5.8m externally, with an entrance in the W wall and a possible window in the S wall. The external walls are about 0.7m thick. A roughly rectangular plot bordered by a stone wall surrounds the building, joined to the NE and SW corners, with an entrance to the W, adjacent to the building. The plot (including the house) measures about 19×14m and its enclosing wall incorporates some large, natural boulders. Part of the wall surrounding this plot has a more regular appearance, with a squared corner to the SW, than the other plots and there is evidence of a possibly earlier plot to the N of the building.

The earliest mention of the site (referred to as Murlagan) is noted in a manuscript dated 1514, when it was given to John McFarlane by Dugal McCoull, in payment of a debt (Hill Collection of McFarlane Manuscripts, Procurator Fiscal's Library, Glasgow). Throughout the late 1500s and 1600s, Murlagan was valued at 20 shillings, and was given as life-rent to the spouses of various members of the Clan McFarlane. In 1787, the Duke of Argyll commissioned the building of a road along the east side of Loch Long below High Morlaggan. This was soon followed by the construction of a small group buildings on the roadside below High Morlaggan, also taking the name Morlaggan (modern-day Morelaggan). Estate records from the early 1800s record four tenants at Murlagan when, together with the neighbouring farm of Tynalarach, Murlagan provided pasture for 600 sheep. Muirlagan was included in the sale of lands to Luss estates in 1821. The West Highland Railway was built in 1890, parallel to the road on the hillside above High Morlaggan. Only two buildings are marked as roofed on the 3rd edition Ordnance Survey map (1914), and the last mention of anyone living there was in 1916. It is believed that much of the stone from High Morlaggan was used to construct the newer buildings beside the road.

Information from SRP High Morlaggan, October 2009.


Reference (1 February 2001 - 30 November 2008)

Oral history, old maps, old postcards, census records, estate records, aerial photos, diary entry, family tree. Documentary results are summarized in a leaflet, 'High Morelaggan', produced as part of the project.

Field Visit (30 March 2007 - 31 May 2009)

Plane table survey of buildings/fields and GPS survey of surrounding area.

Excavation (November 2009)

NN 27730 01630 The deserted settlement of High Morlaggan consists of at least four structures surrounded by a series of enclosures. Map and documentary evidence suggests that the site was occupied as early as the 16th century and abandoned by the early 20th century. The excavation in November 2009 shed light on the later stages of the site’s history and its inhabitants, while providing glimpses of earlier phases of occupation.

The excavation concentrated on two structures, which were assumed to be byre buildings, with people occupying one side of the structure and animals the other. One building (Structure 2) appears to record this division, with a floor and possible hearth at one end of the divided structure. The function of the second building (Structure 3) was less clear and further work is required. The buildings were much altered in the later period, with extensive robbing and internal modification. The relative wealth of artefacts (mainly pottery and glass), that appeared to derive from the later occupation of the site, somewhat flies in the face of the perceived image of highlanders living in dire circumstances and relative poverty. Study of the cultural artefacts and comparative analysis may go some way to correcting this generally accepted and perhaps erroneous view.

Archive: Kilmartin House Museum (intended). Reports: RCAHMS and WoSAS SMR (intended)

Funder: Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park Authority and Scottish Natural Heritage

Roddy Regan – High Morlaggan Project and Kilmartin House Museum

Excavation (April 2011 - May 2011)

NN 27730 01630 The second season of excavation at High Morlaggan, April–May 2011, has shed light on the earlier stages of the site’s history. The excavation of Structures 2 and 3 continued and Structures 1 and 4 were also investigated. This phase of work uncovered the slight and disparate remnants of earlier structures and floors. Any earlier remains appear to have been badly disturbed during what may have been a fairly substantial ‘redevelopment’ of the settlement in the late 18th or perhaps early 19th century, perhaps reflecting broader developments in agricultural improvement across the W of Scotland. It is to this period that the surviving buildings in the settlement appear to belong. Within the excavated structures investigations have shown a fairly fluid development of space in the buildings, with internal areas and sometimes the buildings themselves changing use. This period also sees a major change of the material culture in the settlement, with the arrival of mass produced objects indicating that from the mid-19th century the people of High Morlaggan were well connected to the wider Scottish markets.

Archive: Kilmartin House Museum (intended). Report: RCAHMS and WoSAS

Funder: The Heritage Lottery Fund, Leader Argyll and Islands, and Robert Kiln Charitable Trust

High Morlaggan Project and Kilmartin House Museum, 2011

Watching Brief (26 April 2016)

NN 27675 01707 – NN 27670 01718 A watching brief undertaken, on 26 April 2016, during the excavation of a 15m long earth cable trench from a pole on an overhead power line at Morelaggan. Nothing of archaeological significance was recorded.

Archive and report: NRHE

Funder: SSE

John Lewis - Scotia Archaeology

(Source: DES, Volume 18)


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