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Ballachly

Broch (Iron Age)(Possible), Burial Ground (Period Unassigned), Chapel (Period Unassigned)

Site Name Ballachly

Classification Broch (Iron Age)(Possible), Burial Ground (Period Unassigned), Chapel (Period Unassigned)

Canmore ID 8276

Site Number ND14SE 7

NGR ND 1932 4478

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/8276

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

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Latheron
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Caithness
  • Former County Caithness

Archaeology Notes

ND14SE 7 1932 4478.

(ND 1932 4478) Grave Yard (NAT)

OS 1:10,000 map, (1975)

A graveyard, enclosed and still in use in 1910, said to be the site of a chapel dedicated to the 7th century St Triduan. There were remains of a small building on the N of the enclosure in 1871, but its nature was not known. When visited by the RCAHMS in 1910, any old tombstones there might have been were obscured by rank weeds and grass.

RCAHMS 1911; Name Book 1871; A MacKay 1914.

Much rubble and building material lie scattered within and around the graveyard, but no intelligible foundation remains. Weathering has made all the old tombstones illegible.

Visited by OS (R L) 9 May 1967.

No change to the previous report.

Visited by OS (N K B) 6 December 1982.

Activities

Field Visit (September 2009)

ND 19316 44757 A brief visit in September 2009 suggested that local traditions of this graveyard having an underlying broch mound are likely to be accurate. The substantial mound lies in an improved pasture field and has a sub-circular plan with a diameter of over 80m. Its height is difficult to gauge due to the presence of the rectangular walled graveyard enclosure on the southern half of the mound’s crown, but is likely to be well over 5m. The remainder of the mound surface is grass-covered and has much surface and subsurface stone rubble, although the nature of the surface material suggests modern field clearance dumping has also occurred. No individual structural features can be identified, but the surface in the northern half of the summit crown has several small and partially exposed stone settings poking through the grass cover.

The identification as a probable broch therefore derives from the general profile and size of the mound, which is very typical for the site type. Secondary indications are provided by association, with references in the RCAHMS record to a chapel dedicated to the 7th-century St Triduan. This may have been the remains of a small building visible on the N of the enclosure in 1871 when the site was first recorded, but is not mentioned by the 1911 RCAHMS report. The nearby presence of a recorded broch mound is also relevant (ND14SE 6, RBW ND14 1). This scheduled site is also named Ballachly, and lies at ND 1956 4423, c550m S of the graveyard.

The graveyard is in a chaotic state, but has some intriguing features. Recent efforts to clear entrenched shrub growth have revealed many gravestones. These include one large dressed grave slab, c2.0 x 0.7m, lying in situ on the ground which has no inscription apart from a deeply etched phrase in a Victorian typeface ‘This grave never to be opened’. Various lurid explanations for such a stark inscription can probably be discounted in favour of a possible grave for the victim(s) of a disease such as cholera. All the graveyard inscriptions have been previously recorded (AS Cowper and I Ross, Caithness Monumental Inscriptions pre 1855), though without any further explanation for this example.

The enclosure wall has construction differences which may conceal earlier structural remnants. The main approach comes in from the S to the entry; the S wall is the best built section, with well dressed and mortared masonry. The N wall, which straddles the summit of the mound, is built differently, with the standing portion apparently constructed of piled clearance rubble, and a quasi-bench platform extending S into the enclosure at a lower level, as if remnant walling lies under the recent rubble. Some large masonry extends at ground level N out of the wall base, but any extension of the outline has vanished. The following sequence can be suggested. A large broch settlement was followed by a Late Iron Age chapel built onto the derelict mound, possibly crowning the summit. Subsequent use of the site, which may have lasted for several centuries into the historic period, focused on the chapel and possibly involved the insertion of associated minor structures and features, particularly on the N half of the mound. The remains of the chapel or a replacement building survived until at least 1871, but were removed soon afterwards. The current graveyard enclosure may date from before 1871, but a possible tidying and rebuild phase may have included the removal of earlier structural features after that date to explain their apparent disappearance by 1910, when the graveyard was still used for burials but had become neglected. Its decline continued until a recent vegetation clearance and refurbishment exercise.

Although some of the detail of this sequence is conjectural, the underlying impression is of a significant broch mound which is likely to contain a protracted later series of minor structural developments from the late prehistoric onwards. A detailed recording survey of the whole site, including the modern graveyard and its enclosure wall, could be a very productive exercise.

David Lynn

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