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Loch Lomond, Clairinish

Island Dwelling (Medieval), Pin

Site Name Loch Lomond, Clairinish

Classification Island Dwelling (Medieval), Pin

Alternative Name(s) Clairinch

Canmore ID 43480

Site Number NS48NW 41

NGR NS 41298 89870

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

  • Council Stirling
  • Parish Buchanan
  • Former Region Central
  • Former District Stirling
  • Former County Stirlingshire

Archaeology Notes

NS49SW 3 41298 89870

Formerly NS49SW 3, incorrectly assigned to that map sheet, the information has been transferred to this number.

Indeterminate Remains, Clairinch. This island is so densely overgrown that no proper examination of the remains that exist on it is possible. In 1935, however, near the NE end of the island Mr J M Davidson identified the foundations of an oblong drystone building some 37ft 6ins long by 19ft wide, divided transversely into two compartments of equal size and having what may have been an oven or a small corn-drying kiln set like an apse in the centre of the N side. This small structure had a circular paved bottom, about 4ft. in diameter, which was extended inwards, to communicate with the interior of the building, by a single large flat slab - its level being 1ft 10ins higher that that of the floor inside. Further but less definite remains included (i) foundations, perhaps representing a hut-circle about 20ft in diameter, with traces of some associated structures and a little paving; (ii) another set of foundations, with some paving, which yielded the head of an iron ring-headed pin; (iii) a building close to the shore at the NE end of the island , which measured 46ft by 23ft 6ins; it showed no traces of habitation and may be of no great antiquity.

The head of the pin to which reference has just been made is of a La Tene I (c) type, examples of which have been found in Scotland in contexts which were thought to suggest that they were lost in the 1st. century BC or the 1st, or even the 2nd, century AD. The presence of this pin might indicate that some of the structural remains on the island were occupied in the Early Iron Age, a suggestion which might also apply to the adjacent crannog (NS49SW 2).

RCAHMS 1963, visited 1957.

At NS 4135 9001 there are traces of 5 rectangular stone buildings, the largest of which measures 17 x 7m. There is no evidence of any circular structures.

Visited by OS (I A) 21 March 1973.

NS 413 900 A ring-headed pin of La Tene 1 type was found in a structure of an indeterminate nature on the island of Clairinch.

RCAHMS 1963; RCAHMS 1979.

The slight remains of a group of buildings are situated at the N end of the island of Clairinsh, Loch Lomond. The island lies approximately 1km SW of Balmaha and measures 140m NE to SW by 200m at its widest point. It stands no more than 6m above the mean water level of the loch and is formed of glacial deposits - a mixture of sand gravel and scattered boulders. Wave action has created a substantial bank around the island a few feet from the waters edge. The island, which is a Nature Reserve, is a thickly covered with trees and undergrowth.

The island is first mentioned in 1225 when a charter of Maldonus, Earl of Lennox, granting the island to Absalon, his seneschal, in return for a pound of wax yearly was given on Clairinsh itself. This charter was confirmed by Alexander II in 1231.

No buildings are shown on maps by Blaeu, Roy (1749-55) or on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map.

Some excavation was carried out by JM Davidson, a member of the Glasgow Archaeological Society for WG Buchannan, the owner of the island in the spring of 1935. The foundations of four buildings were partly or fully exposed. No conclusive evidence of date or function was recovered.

Some work on building F has been undertaken by Professor WHC Frend since 1978.

The seven structures or groups of structures cluster at the N end of the island. They may be identified as the remains of dwellings and associated agricultural buildings. All are basically rectangular built of stone of types found on the island and there is no evidence for the use of mortar or clay as bonding. They mostly survive at foundation level or slightly above. It is difficult to estimate how much their state of preservation varies; structures A, B D and F were cleared to some extent in 1935 and structure F also in 1980, which has resulted in different amounts of stonework being visible. The placing of spoil heaps close to or across buildings has confused their outlines. There are no traces of arable farming on the island.

The remains of the most northerly of the structures on the island, A, are situated on a terrace some 1.5m above the present level of the loch and 7.25m from the water's edge, adjacent to a beach of sand and shingle. The rectangular building is aligned roughly E to W, measuring 19m by 8.5m overall. The walls, which survive for the most part as a low bank of vegetation-covered rubble are approximately 1.5m thick. The E wall appears to be wider on plan. What has been identified as a part of a course of irregular footings can be seen at the base of the rubble bank towards its N end. The actual wall line was probably about 0.3m further W. Several short stretches of inner wall are visible and these would indicate an original width for the wall close to its base of 1.2m. Only one course of stonework is generally visible, but on the N side externally the wall survives up to 0.6m high in five courses. Most of the visible stone is small rubble, though along the N side closest to the loch larger stones have been used as a revetment. The line of the walls has been distorted by the growth of tree roots, particularly on the N and W sides. The NW corner of the building is missing. This may be the result of wave action or the falling of some large tree of which no trace remains. What may be the site of an entrance is visible on the N side as a marked lowering in the line if tumbled rubble. The interior of the building is level. The remains of the 5 ft wide (1.5m) trench dug by Davidson lie 4.5m from the W end of the building and parallel to it. He made no finds and recorded only the presence of tumbled rubble within the building.

The simple form of the structure gives little indication of its function, but its size and the substantial nature of the walls would indicate that it was not a shelter or fold for animals as suggested by Davidson. It may have been used as a dwelling or as a store.

Building B lies 26m SW of A and is the most westerly of the group. The structure is basically rectangular with its long axis NE to SW and consists of two rooms or compartments. The overall length of the structure is 15.5m. The internal length of the larger NE area is 9.25m and its width is 4.5m within walls 0.75m thick on average. The SW compartment has walls only 0.6m thick and measures internally 3.7m NE to SW by 4m NW to SE. The NW wall of the smaller room is continuous with that of the larger one, but its SE wall joins the central wall at right angles at a point 0.8m from its E end. The growth of trees on and through the wall makes their precise definition difficult particularly at the SW end. While for much of their length the walls are visible only as bands of tumbled rubble covered with vegetation, there are substantial lengths of inner and outer facing stones surviving, with one stretch standing up to 0.3m high in three courses. On the exterior of the building no more than one course is visible. The NE wall has a greater thickness than the others, as though designed to bear a greater weight. A slab which forms part of the inner face is laid through this wall; this may indicate the site of a fireplace. The position of the entrances is not clear, but there are slight diminutions of tumbled walling at points on the NW, SE and cross walls which may be the sites of doorways. The interior of the building is level and there are no features visible. Close to the E exterior corner are two large pieces of stone, one a slab and the other a block. It is unlikely that they are in their original position, although the slab might have formed part of a pathway. They would seem to have some specific structural function. In general the stone used in building this structure and which is visible at this level is more substantial than that employed in the other structures.

In his report, Davidson says that he excavated what must have been this structure 'completely'. His description does not conform to the RCAHMS plan. He found two sherds of glazed pottery, which he thought were possibly medieval, and a sherd of grey unglazed fabric; these sherds cannot now be traced.

Building B may be a dwelling with two rooms or with an attached store. No building sequence can be established.

Building C is situated close to the NE point of the island, close to the beach where it is most usual to land. It lies 16m ENE of A. The extremely overgrown state of this building, which was not mentioned by Davidson # makes it difficult to describe in any detail. It appears to rectangular with its long axis roughly E to W. The walls consist for the most part of low grass and vegetation covered bands of rubble, though at one point on the E side a short section stands 0.25m high in two visible courses of drystone walling. The overall length of the structure is 9.5m and its apparent width is 4.25m with walls about 1m thick. The course of the N wall is unclear. No entrance can be traced and the interior is featureless. There is no indication of its function within the group of buildings on Clairinsh.

A confused mixture of walls, excavation trenches and spoil heaps lie on a slight rise midway between buildings B and F. There are the remains of buildings on two different alignments Di and Dii, but little that is certain can be said of their form or sequence. Trees and heavy vegetation distort and conceal the structure.

Di: there is a wall running roughly E to W for 10m with no clear termination at either end, which was thoroughly cleared on one side by Davidson' who appears to have dug to a level below its foundations. It stands in two visible courses 0.5m high and about 1m wide. A considerable length of facing is visible on the fully cleared S side of the wall and a shorter length on the N. A short stretch of wall 0.75m with facing stones visible on both sides which can be followed for only 2m before it is obscured by a spoil heap, runs N from the E to W wall at a near right angle. To the S of the E to W wall are traces of another wall running S at a similar angle to that described above. It survives as a mound of tumble rubble about 0.8m thick, which can be traced for about 2m before a spoil heap conceals it. No facing stones are visible. Davidson had cleared to the E and W of this section of the structure so that it now stands about 0.25m high. This wall could be his creation , as could the apparent rubble wall running E from it at a near right angle for some 3.5m before turning to form a small enclosed area against the E to W wall described initially. Two stones on the E side which lie through the thickness of the wall are apparently the sides of a doorway. This enclosed area could have been created by Davidson's excavation. It measures about 3m E to W by 2.5m to 3m internally and if genuine is the least rectangular structure on the island.

Dii: immediately to the NE of these walls and forming part of the same mass of tumbled stone and spoil heaps are the remains of a second structure aligned differently from the walls described above. Its state of preservation is such as to render the identification of its long axis dubious, but it seems to run NW to SE, to have internal measurements of about 4.3m by 4m and to be subrectangular. The width of the walls cannot be measured with any certainty. There is a considerable length of inner facing stones visible, at one point standing up to 0.2m high in two thin courses. On the NE and SE sides some irregularly laid stones seem to have formed a low footing for the wall. It is not possible to define the line of the walls on the SE, SW and NW where they are close to the other series of walls. There was no indication of the site of an entrance and no features are visible in the interior.

A wide area of scattered rubble extends some 10m to the NW.

Because of the difference in alignment it seems unlikely that the two series of structures could have been designed to be in use at the same time. It is not possible to establish the sequence of the structures or their function.

Davidson christened this site the 'Clairinsh Maze' and was unable to make sense of his findings, which do, however, seem to indicate that there was more than one building period involved. He found the head of an iron ring-headed pin, which Ludovic Mann thought was Iron Age, a sherd of possible medieval pottery, an iron ring of three-quarter inch diameter and a flint flake. None of these objects can now be traced.

The slight remains of a rectangular building, E, lie 15m to the E of Dii. With its long axis running roughly NW to SE it measures 9m by 5.75m over walls approximately 1m thick. These survive as low bands of rubble thickly covered with bracken and other vegetation and with trees growing through the walls. The site of the entrance cannot be identified and the interior is featureless.

Building F lies 8m SE of Dii. It consists of a two-celled rectangular drystone-built structure with a subcircular feature at its NW end. It was excavated by Davidson in 1935 and the N end was again cleared in 1980. The degree to which the walls are exposed varies . Numerous trees grow through the walls distorting their line. The long axis lies roughly NW to SE and the building measures 11.5m by 5m to 5.5m over walls with an apparent width of scattered rubble of about 1m. The actual size of stones used in the building is small and there is some slate scattered on the site which may have been used for pinnings. A few short stretches of outer face are visible, but only one possible line of inner facing stone on the NE. Davidson says that there was no trace of an inner wall line corresponding to the outer (E) wall and described the interior as circular with the appearance of a knobbly bowl; he recognised no floor levels. Davidson also described the W (sic) wall as indefinite, a description which has been shown by professor Frend's work to be inaccurate. For the most part only one course of walling is visible, but a short stretch of the wall stands up to 0.25m high in two course. To the S of the cross wall on the NE side is a break in the tumbled rubble. This may have been created during digging on the site, but there is a large slab laid through the wall at this point which may be one side of a doorway. A similar gap on the opposite side seems more likely to be only the result of stone clearance. A tree growing out of the cross wall may mask the site of the entrance from one section of the building to another. The interiors of both compartments are confused by growing trees and spoil heaps, but they appear to be approximately rectangular in shape; with the NW chamber measuring about 3.7m by 3.1m and the other 4.5m NW to SE by 3.5m.

On the NW side if the buildings is a subcircular oven-like structure, lying through and beyond the line of the wall. It is not centrally placed but is nearer the W corner. The sequence cannot be established, but this structure appears to be of one build with the rectangular building. The floor of the interior of the oven-like structure is formed of ten flat slabs laid so as to form a near level surface; one slab appears to have marks of tooling. The interior measures 2.2m NW to SE by 1.1m. This surface is higher than the original floor of the main building. Below the slabs at the mouth of the oven-like structure may be seen two courses of walling, carefully constructed with pinnings. A line of stones, some of which are wedge-shaped, line the interior of the oven-like structure, presumably forming the bottom course of an enclosing wall or dome. The curved exterior wall is turned with projecting tooth-like stones. The SW side is thickened so that it is 1.4m thick and continuous with the main wall; on the other side the thickness is 0.75m.

The function of this building must be linked with the subcircular feature at its NW end. This has the appearance of an oven-end and, if it served to dry grain, must have been heated as such an oven would be heated, by lighting a fire inside it and raking out the fuel after this had heated the fabric. There are no visible traces of a flue. The building may have acted as a kiln-barn. Davidson made no finds in it.

Faint traces of a rectangular structure, G, lie 10m E of building F on the very edge of the natural terrace and less than 5m from the present water line. The building is aligned NE to SW and measures approximately 9m by 7m overall. The walls appear as low vegetation covered banks with some stone visible and their original width cannot be ascertained. Much of the NE and NW walls have been laid through the wall; this may indicate the site of the entrance. The building is similar in size and shape to E.

A low wide earthen ban, some 0.2m high and about 2m wide, lies close to the group of buildings, but in no direct relationship to them, and with no clear termination at either end. It bisects the NE end of the island, running for 50m before turning NW at a right angle and continuing for another 15m. A number of large trees grow out of it, but it is not known whether the bank precedes or is contemporary with their planting.

The dating of the group of buildings cannot be established with precision. The nature of Davidson's excavations does not allow the finds he made to be assigned to any firm context preceding, accompanying or post-dating the occupation of the structures. Only in the case of one group of buildings (Di and Dii) is it possible to say that the structures must have been in use successively, although the general similarity in form between the other buildings recorded would suggest that they belonged to the same period of time even if they were not all occupied simultaneously.

The absence of any indication of a settlement on the island on the maps of the area from the end of the 16th century to the 18th century cannot be regarded as conclusive proof that no settlement was in existence at this period, although other settlements on islands in Loch Lomond were noted. The lack of a map based on an independent survey between that prepared by Pont and Gordon and incorporated in Blaeu's Atlas and the Military Survey (Roy 1747-55) is to be regretted.

Certain features of the construction of the buildings, especially the use of stone, the absence of lime mortar and their near rectangular form would suggest a date between the 16th and the 19th century. The omission of any mention of a settlement on the island may indicate that the island was deserted by this time. Although it is difficult to argue from negative evidence the balance of probabilities would indicate a date centring in the 17th or early 18th century.

The settlement may be compared in general terms to certain sites noted by RCAHMS in their survey of Argyll, where similar problems concerning dating apply. One site that could be suggested as a parallel is the island settlement in Loch Ballygrant (NR46NW 19.00) where there is a range of buildings of similar sizes, though more irregular form.

Visited by RCAHMS (MMB) February 1981

The buildings clustered at the N end of Clairinsh are so overgrown that hardly any detail may be discerned. Building C can no longer be traced at all. Building E can only be traced in parts and it was impossible to determine its plan. The E end of Building G is being actively eroded by the loch. Building A is also suffering from erosion. It is clear that the vegetation and erosion by the loch has increased quite markedly since 1981.

Building A (feature 2) the 1930's excavation trench of Building A , dug by Davidson, is clearly visible. The E end is overgrown, particularly along its external face. The N wall is suffering active erosion and is being undermined by the loch. Tumbled masonry extends some 3m out from the face of the N wall. Wall slightly bowed along N face. Beach gravel build up and erosion present along the W side.

About 13m W of the NW corner of building A, there are four large boulders projecting from the eroding section (feature 4). They may be structural A number of apparently eroded or disturbed structural stones are present on the N shore and one piece of pierced roof slate was also noted.

Building B (feature 11) found as described by previous surveyors except walls where definable appear to be 0.9m wide and standing up to 0.4m maximum. Collapsed masonry spreads over c.3m along the wall lines. Overgrown.

Building C (feature 1): is entirely obscured by shifting beach gravel which has been washed up over it and now only detectable as an unconvincing sub to rectangular depression. Bramble and bracken cover also obscures the building. It would be impossible to detect if one was not aware it was there beforehand.

Building D (feature 15) is entirely overgrown and the lines of what appear to be two superimposed rectangular structures on slightly different alignments is difficult to determine. Excavation spoil further confuses the lines of the buildings. As described by RCAHMS.

Building E (feature 16) is overgrown, as described by RCAHMS.

Building F (feature 17) is less overgrown than the other structures due to late 1970s clearance. As described by previous surveyors. The presence of what is apparently a corn-drying kiln integral to the N end of the building and its direct association with or inclusion within a winnowing and storage barn suggests the remains are of some status.

Building G (feature 18) The E end of the building is now suffering active erosion by the loch and the structural integrity has already been lost. The gravels being actively deposited by water action stretch as far as the W wall of the building. A wind to thrown tree in the N wall has disturbed the masonry. The description by the RCAHMS indicates increased erosion since 1981.

There is an L-shaped enclosure bank (feature 8) on the S side of buildings at N end of island, identified by earlier surveyors. Varying between 2m to 3m in width and standing up to 0.4m high. Mature trees established on it. Possibly runs W to a junction with building. F and its return to the N may run up to the SW corner of building. B, c.26m to the north.

On the E side of the island to the S of the buildings, there are traces of field clearance (feature 7) and a bank (feature 6) and an open area perhaps the remnants of an area of cultivation.

FIRAT 1995; NMRS MS 993/2

Four islands in Stirling District were part of Phase 1 of the Loch Lomond Islands Survey which took place in March 1995. All island reports are abbreviated from full report. Only feature lists attached. Full reports in the NMRS and Central Region SMR.

NS 413 900 Seven buildings, one with integral corn-drying kiln, structural remains, large boulders, enclosure bank, pond, survey pegs.

Sponsors: Friends of Loch Lomond and National Trust for Scotland.

F Baker 1995.


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