The following text is reproduced from a typewritten pamphlet by an unknown author, written some time before 1978.
A SHORT GUIDE TO THE MAJOR ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES AND ANCIENT MONUMENTS IN NORTH UIST, SOUTH UIST AND BENBECULA.
(* marks sites covered in the survey)
NORTH UIST: UIBHIST A TUATH
In 1928 the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland made a survey of all the then known archaeological monuments in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles. This revealed a marked concentration of prehistoric activity in North Uist. 180 monuments were listed. Others have been discovered since and many sites have been lost due to coastal erosion. The Island has probably been occupied continuously since Neolithic times (before 3000 B.C.)
Leaving Lochmaddy and travelling North West on the road to Sollas, you pass Blashaval on the left. On the back of this hill is a row of standing stones, Na Fir Bhreige or the False Men. These stones are said to represent three Skye men who deserted their wives and were turned into stone by a witch. Tradition also says that they are part of a large stone circle known as the False Men - two stones on Toroghas Hill in the West of the Island are also known by the same name. Standing stones probably date back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods (second or third millennia B.C.) and are thought to have sacred or ritual significance.
Continuing to the North West you come to the Lochportain turning on your right. This area was settled from Harris at the beginning of the century and has had a causeway only recently. A little way down this road you can leave the road and walk across the moors on your left to *Dun Torcuill in Loch an Duin. This is the best example of a broch in the Uists. A broch is a sophisticated development of the more common dun or stone-built fort, the majority of which are found on islands in lochs. Brochs have a hollow wall and were as much as 13m (40 feet) high. They are built of dry stone and represent the only really elaborate ancient buildings to be developed entirely in Scotland. It is quite possible that they evolved in the Western Isles. They date from the late Iron Age (100 B.C. to 200 A.D.) and may have continued to be built as late as the 4th Century A.D. Dun Torcuill (the name means Torquil's Fort) can be reached by causeway at low tide. It is unusual in that the central court is exactly elliptical. There are three later buildings, probably unconnected with the broch, on the North West of the Island. There is a fairly well preserved dun, Dun Nighean Righ Lochlainn, 'Fort of the daughter of the King of Norway' further down the road in Loch an Duin, on the right. This is a dry stone island fort again probably dating from the Iron Age (100 B.C. to 400 A.D.).
The next turning to the right off the main road is the Newton road. There was an early Christian settlement at Clachan Sands and the ruined church at Trumisgarry is one of the two old parish churches of Uist. Early Christian activity is indicated by a cross incised on a neck at Clach an t-Sagairt (stone of the priest) on the left of the road at Clachan Sands near Dun Rosail. This may date to the 7th or 8th century A.D. and probably represents Irish missionary activity. There is a well named for St. Columba - Tobar Chaluim Chille - opposite the Clachan Sands turning, but it is very unlikely that St. Columba ever visited North Uist.
There is an earth-house at Vallaouie, an Iron Age underground dry stone structure, the tunnel of which is thought locally to be over 100 yards long, but it is dangerous to enter. This type of structure, especially noted in Uist, has a long entrance tunnel and an inner beehive chamber, and probably dates from the Iron Age. It is likely that this type of monument is referred to in the account of Dean Munro who visited the Islands in 1549, 'into this north heid of Ywst there is sundrie covis and holes in the earth, coverit with heddir above, quhilk fosteris is many rebellis in the countrey of the north heid of Ywst'.
At the crossroads near the jetty is *Dun an Sticir, another well-preserved broch. It is approached by three causeways which are above water at low tide. Remains of later buildings - one inside the broch itself - can still be seen. The fort is traditionally associated with Hugh, the son of Archibald the Clerk, who in 1601-2 laid claim to part of North Uist, but was driven by the Chief of Clan Huistein (Sleat), who owned the Island, to a neighbouring islet, but was betrayed by his stepmother. He was imprisoned in Dunvegan Castle in Skye. Some versions of the story say he broke out of prison using the beef bones from his dinner, others that he went mad after being fed on salt meat and given no water.
Continuing towards Sollas at Ahmore on the left of the road on an island in a loch is *Dun Aonghais. This is the fort of Aonghus Fionn 'Angus the Fair' son of Donald H-Earrach who occupied it c.1520. He may have been its builder, or it may date from the Iron Age though it is of more sophisticated design than many of the Duns. It is built of dry stone and has two entrances, one of which is thought to be a 'boat entrance'. Like the majority of duns it is approached by a causeway which is now under water.
From Grenetote you can walk out along the sand at low tide to visit the archaeological excavations at Coileagan an Udhail, though work here will not be resumed until summer 1978. Take the track by the telephone box, take care crossing the ford and approach along the sands until reaching a cutting in the dunes. Proceed then along the track across the machair. At high tide the site can be reached by going down the track opposite the Co-op at Sollas. In the summer season there is a guide to show visitors around. The site was probably more or less continuously occupied from Neolithic or Bronze Age times until it was covered by sand-blow in a great storm in 1697 and the occupants moved to the modern Grenetote. Excavations which have been carried out by Dr. I.A.Crawford for the past sixteen years are revealing the history of this settlement and its environment, the first excavation of its kind in Western Scotland. Udal was one of the main residences of the Siolochadh Ghoraidh (anglicised to Siol Gorrie, the Sept of Godfrey) who held North Uist 1373-1469. Tradition tells of a feud between the Siol Gorrie and Siol Murdoch, who lived in the Valley of Hosta in the West of the Island. The men of the Siol Gorrie are said to have cut away the embankments of the Loch which was then in the hills above the valley so that the water rushed down the hillside and drowned the entire village of the Siol Murdoch. This is Loch Hosta and it is said that the remains of the houses can still be seen beneath the water. The survivors of Siol Murdoch, who were away hunting at the time, attacked the Siol Gorrie as they were working in the field unarmed, put all but one to the sword, and set fire to the Udal destroying 18 families. The story seems to be confirmed by the finding of ash and human bones at the Udal dating from this time.
If you continue beyond the site to where the rocks begin on the East side of the Peninsula at *Aird a'Mhorainn there is an early Christian incised cross, probably dating to the 7th or 8th century A.D. It may mark the landing place of one of the early missionary priests who came to Uist at this time. Nearby are Early Bronze Age cup markings on the rocks. These are thought also to have sacred or ritual significance. About 9 yards to the South East of the cross is a freshwater spring known variously as 'Well of the Priest’, 'Well of the Cross' or 'Well of the Cups'. That the site retained its religious associations is suggested by the nearby cemetery of the Macleans from the now uninhabited Island of Boreray.
Continuing westwards you pass the Committee Road leading from Sollas to Dusary which has its origin in relief work during the 1846 potato famine. Nearer to Dusary end of the road, on the left had side near the summit of Beinn a'Charra is a fine standing stone still over 9 feet high Clach Bharnach Bhraodag (the limpet stone of Freya).
You can cross to the island of Vallay at low tide from Claddach Vallay, taking care to avoid quicksand and fast incoming tides. The archaeological remains are not very spectacular however, though Vallay House built by Ewen MacDonald the factor in 1727 is worth a visit. *Kilpheder Cross, Crois Chill Pheadair, stands on a hill to the right of the road. It may be anthropomorphic. It was found in the churchyard and placed on the hill in the 1830s by An Dotair Ban.
Opposite the Tigharry turning is a track leading up to *South Clettraval - Cleatrabhal a Deas, on the slopes of which are a chambered cairn and wheelhouse with a standing stone a little to the west. The site has been excavated - the cairn in 1934 and the wheelhouse in 1946-48, by Sir Lindsay Scott. Many of the stones from the cairn have been used in later buildings so that the segmented chamber is revealed. The Cairn was a collective burial tomb consisting of chambers built of gigantic slabs of stone covered by a substantial cairn of stones, presumably used for the burial of a select few people and perhaps also as a focus for religious ritual. Two types of chambered cairn have been distinguished: passage graves, which are round cairns with round central chambers, and long cairns or galleried graves which have a long chamber running from one end and often have 'horns'. This particular example may be a hybrid between the two traditions. It dates from Neolithic times, c.3000 B.C. but finds of beaker pottery show that it remained in use in the Early Bronze Age.
Then in Iron Age times, perhaps in the 2nd century A.D., a wheelhouse farm was built from stones from the cairn. The wheelhouse is a type of structure particularly common in Uist, and unknown in the West of Scotland outside the outer Isles. It possible evolved from the brochs suggesting they were built by the same people, though the wheelhouse may be slightly later in date. They were occupied until at least the 4th century A.D. and squatter occupation is thought to have continued for several centuries after. They represent a very high standard of dry stone building and a rich material culture is associated with them. Wheelhouse farms are thought to be a stone version of the wooden buildings of the Little Woodbury culture which existed in South-West England in the 1st and 2nd centuries B.C. These people may have migrated up the West Coast in 80-50 B.C. having been driven from their homeland by the Belgae escaping from Caesar’s invasion of Gaul.
The wheelhouse itself is a circular dry stone structure with stone piers radiating from a central hearth area, in some cases the piers are bonded to the outer walls. The piers supported a wood and turf roof. Unfortunately not all the piers can now be seen clearly. Traces of the enclosing farmyard wall can be seen to the South-West, and several subsidiary structures can be seen within the farmyard - the largest of these is the byre, to the South-West of the wheelhouse. There is another chambered cairn, Tigh Cloiche, further down the hill.
Hougharry is a good example of the layout of a traditional 'baile' or township. It is a nucleated settlement. It was never cleared and houses continued to be built on the sites of their predecessors. This is very different from uncleared townships which were lotted as crofts in 1814 e.g. Paiblesgarry, and cleared townships which were resettled as crofting townships e.g. Grenetote. These have the typical pattern of houses sited individually on croft lands.
Goular is the site of the early parish church of Kilmuir. There is a ruined church and a very interesting burial ground containing graves of among others Iain MacCodrum, the Uist bard, and which provides a memorial to the clearances in the number of memorials to those who died in Canada or the U.S.A.
At Ardheisker is one of the finest thatched houses in the island. None of these houses can be dated earlier than the 19th century, but the style of building may date back to the 16th or 17th century, though the tradition of building rectangular houses was introduced by the Norse.
At Claddach Kirkibost near Westford Inn, is a standing stone Clach Mhor a Che which is over 8 feet in height. The name means ‘big stone of the pier’. There are some interesting archaeological remains at Carinish (Cairinis). There are two early ruined churches, *Teampull na Trionaid and *Teampull Clann a' Phiocair. Teampull na Trionaid probably dates from the 12th century as a stone structure. It is said to have been founded by Beathag, daughter of Somhairle (Somerled), who was first prioress of lona from c.1203, and enlarged by Imidh nic Ruairidh (Amie MacRuari) first wife of John, first Lord of the Isles, c.1350. It was reconstructed in the 16th century, and destroyed after the Reformation c.1581, the temple was burned and dismantled, all the paper was burned, and the teachers (the MacVicars) forced to flee to the Monarch Isles. It had been a college of learning where young men were trained for the priesthood and it became famous as a scholastic centre, with students coming from Europe. Other institutions e.g. schools of music, embroidery, leather work and the distillation of herbs grew up round the monastic centre. It is sometimes called ‘the first university in Scotland’. Duns Scotus (1265-1308), the philosopher, 'the first existentialist' was educated here. Local tradition says the teachers returned after the destruction of the establishment and continued teaching until the beginning of the 18th century. The building was restored in the 19th century by An Dotair Ban, but it has decayed badly since then. The name 'teampull' signifies that it was built in stone rather than in wood as earlier churches were.
*Teampull Clann a' Phiocair is later. It belonged to the MacVicars who were for long the teachers at the seminary.
*Feith na Fala, The Field of Blood was the site of the Battle of Carinish, 1601, the last battle to be fought in North Uist. MacLeod of Harris came with 60 warriors to lay waste North Uist to avenge Mary MacLeod who had been repudiated by her husband Donald Gorm Mor MacDonald (of Sleat). 16 Uist men, led by the Eriskay hero Domhnull Maclain ic Seumais, met the MacLeods and massacred them. The last three are said to have been killed on the ford to Baleshare and their skulls are supposed to have been displayed for a long time in the Teampull, where the cattle and goods had been taken for sanctuary. The battle was fought with swords and bows and arrows and an iron sword has been found on the site of the battlefield. In 1975 four Late Bronze Age spears were found in the peat South of Carinish.
There is a *Stone Circle, Cearcall Cloiche, round the road to the South of Carinish. Much of the stones are now obscured due to the growth of peat. There were at least 16 of them. The stone circle probably dates from the Neolithic or Beaker (Early Bronze Age) periods, the 2nd or 3rd millennium B.C. It is likely to have been a scared structure, part of a tradition of circular sacred structures which culminated in monuments such as Stonehenge.
Following a track a little further to the South, you can visit a *long cairn or earn fada, a chambered cairn of the galleried type. The two horns can be seen at the Eastern end. Many of the stones from the cairn have been used to build houses in the neighbourhood and the shielings which encroach on the cairn.
If you continue to the North East as far as Loch Caravat, you can see Dun Ban, the only Dun on the Island to have lime mortar in its walls. It was certainly built in the mediaeval period by someone familiar with the castles of the mainland. It is in quiet good state of preservation and has a 'boat harbour' - the entrance is set back 12 feet within a recess. There was a one-storied dwelling inside. Unfortunately the dun can only be visited by boat.
Returning from Clachan to Lochmaddy, go down to Locheport road. Locheport is one of the old harbours of the Island and there used to be a ferry calling at the pier. At Sidinish there is the one surviving example of a thatched house with a single central hearth. It is thatched with heather. Traditionally there were no windows and a central smoke hole.
Just beyond the pier, on the right of the road as you are going down to the hill of *Craonaval, Croineubhal which is worth visiting to see a variety of Neolithic and Early Bronze Age monuments. There are at least four chambered cairns on the hill and another a little to the East in varying stages of preservation. It is interesting to see so many cairns concentrated in one area - usually they are fairly spread out, and have been thought to represent individual communities. There is a ruined stone circle, known as Sornach Coir Fhinn or Sornach a Phobuill. There is also a prostrate pillar of stone 22" 3’ long resting in a hollow which is known as Ultach Fhinn (Fionn's armful). There is a standing stone near one of the chambered cairns which is 5 feet in height.
As you continue towards Lochmaddy, you pass Beinn Langass on your right. On this hill is the Neolithic passage grave *Barpa Langais dating to the 2nd or 3rd millennium B.C. This is one of the best preserved chambered cairns in Uist. Barpa is the local name for a chambered cairn. It is possible to enter the well preserved chamber inside. It is built of seven massive slabs surmounted by some dry walling and roofed with three large stone lintels. The chamber was opened c.1911 by Erskine Beveridge, the enlightened owner of the Island at the time. He did a great deal of excavations, though what he did would now be called looting, all over the Island and published his discoveries in a very interesting book 'North Uist, its archaeology and topography’ of which unfortunately only about 300 copies were ever printed. Among the objects he found inside were pottery and an arrowhead of the Beaker (Early Bronze Age) period, indicating that the tomb continued in use over a long period. It is likely that there is at least one other chamber in the North of the mound. It is unusual in that stones have not been taken from the cairn for the building of sheilings etc. You are recommended to take a torch to examine the chamber inside.
On the South side of Beinn Langass is a fine stone circle known as *Pobull Fhinn, the people of Fionn. *Cearcall Oloiche Langais is the finest example of a stone circle in the Uists. It is oval in shape and at least 24 stones can be counted. The surface of the ground within the circle has been levelled a little by excavation on the North side and a bank has been built on the South side. It is likely to have had religious as well as social significance. Stone circles were popularly associated with the legendary hero Fionn MacCumhaill who led his band of warriors, the Fiana, and their hunting dogs all over the land of Scotland and Ireland, guarding the land against invaders. Tales of Fionn were told for centuries in the Islands, and the Viking invasions became absorbed into them. Fionn's antagonists becoming the men of Lochlann who came across the ocean to attack Scotland. Fionn and Fiana are now only sleeping and their breathing is the wind. When the time comes, they will awake to the sound of the horn and arise to save the land from the final peril. A stone circle and a fallen standing stone on Craonaval are also named for Fionn. The Megaliths are also sometimes thought to be people turned to stone for misdeeds, often those who were practising the old religion after the coming of Christianity, perhaps dancing in a circle, and in some way the Fionn is connected with the old ways before the church tried to destroy the legends.
BENBECULA: BEINN NA FADHLA
The name 'Beinn Na Fadhla’ means 'the mountain between the fords'. This refers to Rueval (124m) which is the only mountain on the flat island. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments survey (1928) lists only 28 sites in Benbecula compared to 180 in North Uist. Of these 28, half of these are duns, dry stone forts on islands in lochs, of which hardly any remains can be seen now. Much of the stone has been used in later buildings.
The main town is Balivanich - Balle na Manach. The name means township of the monks, referring to the medieval monastery situated here which was destroyed in the Reformation. There is a ruined chapel here - Teampull Chaluim Chille, St. Columba's Chapel, unfortunately difficult of access as it is situated in the middle of a marsh. Although it is named for St. Columba he never visited Benbecula and as a stone structure it dates from medieval times. There is a well, Tobar Chaluim Chille, St. Columba's Well, to the South West of the chapel with a cairn composed of stones placed as offerings by people who came to drink there.
Continuing down the coast road down the West of the Island you come to Nunton, *Baile Nan Cailleach. The township of nuns; this refers to the medieval *nunnery which was situated here. Very little of the building remains as the stone was used in the building of Nunton House. The nunnery was destroyed after the Reformation. Local tradition says that the nuns suffered a horrible death. One version is that they were tied to a rock at low tide and left to drown. The site of the rock is not certain but there is a rock in Culla Bay on which the seaweed is said to grow in the shape of the nuns' hands. The prioress of the nunnery put a curse on Benbecula that the Island would never produce another priest and it never has.
The large house, most of which is now uninhabited, is *Nunton House, Taigh Mor Baile Nan Cailleach (**Please refer to foot note). This was the home of the MacDonalds of Clanranald House in 1715 when Caisteal Ormaclait (Ormaclett Castle), their previous home, burned down. They lived at Nunton until the end of their connection with the South Uist estate in 1839. It was the home farm attached to Borve Castle (Caisteal Bhuirgh). The farm's land stretched North from Creagorry on the West coast and an area of land in the East around Nunton Hill was also farmed. The farm was broken up after the First World War when men returning from the war demanded land of their own as they had been promised. The MacDonald who owned the farm then is said to have been killed by the land raiders in revenge for his killing of one of the men working for him who was caught stealing a carrot from the garden. Nunton is the site of Benbecula's burial ground. The first man to be buried there is said to have been a Barra man working for the MacDonalds of Clanranald who wanted to be buried within sight of the hills of Barra. There are the remains of a small chapel within the graveyard.
Continuing South, you come to *Borve Castle, Caisteal Bhuirgh, an oblong tower still standing to a fair height. It was at least three storeys high, built of rubble and mortar. The entrance is in the South Wall. The Castle is said to have been built in the 14th century by Imidh Nic Rualridh, first wife of John, first Lord of the Isles, who is also supposed to have built Teampull na Trionaid, Carinish. It is known to have still been occupied in 1625 when Ranald MacDonald of Benbecula is named in the Clan Donald records as 'of Castellborf'. Borve Castle is said to be connected by an underground tunnel to Teampull Bhuirgh, a church situated in the low hill 500 yards to the South West, which is known as Cnoc Mor an Fhidheir. The church was excavated, but is now covered by blown sand.
Carry on South-West to the crossroads at Creagorry, turn left and drive North as far as the quarry, turn right down the track towards the rubbish dump. Continue some distance down the rough track. There are *two chambered cairns to the right. These are communal burial mounds dating probably from the Neolithic period, the 2nd or 3rd millennium B.C. They consist of chambers built of gigantic slabs of stone, covered by a very large cairn of stones. Chambered cairns are the earliest large stone structures to have been built in Britain and represent an enormous effort on the part of the builders, who had no knowledge of metal. The stones must have been transported over a considerable distance, which suggests that those buried in the cairns must have been regarded as people of great importance. These are the only two chambered cairns known in Benbecula, while there are over 20 in North Uist.
Stones from both these cairns have been used to build shielings near to them. These shielings were small huts built for the use in the summertime by groups of people who brought their cattle to the hills to graze. They lived in the shielings and made butter and cheese from the milk.
The cairn to the West is known as Airidh na H' Aon Oidhche, 'the Shieling of the One Night’, and is the scene of a well-known local legend. One version of the story tells how three men from Nunton came to stay the night in the shieling. They should have been going further East, but were staying at Airigh Na H' Aon Oidhche so that the milkmaids from Nunton could walk out and back again in one day. Their evening talk turned to how much they would like some women with them to wash and cook for them. There came a knock at the door and in came three women. There were two rooms in the shieling and two of the men went down to the far room with two of the women, closing the door, leaving the head man, whose name was MacPhee, with the third woman in the other room. As he sat there, to his horror, he saw that she was gradually growing a beak, and then, to his further horror, that blood was trickling under the door from the far room. The woman saw he had noticed it and he began to panic. He told the woman that he would have to go outside to relieve himself as he did not like to do it in front of a woman, but she did not want to let him out of her sight. Finally they arranged that she would hold on to his cloak through the closed door. Once outside he stuck his knife through the cloak, pinning it to the wall, and started to run as he had never run before. With him was his dog, who had never worked for him. The woman waited a while and then she called to the man. Getting no reply, she opened the door, saw what had happened and started to run after him. MacPhee saw her coming after him and shouted to his dog 'if you don't work for me now you'll never work again'. The dog started to chase the beaked woman. MacPhee ran all the way to Nunton and left three pails of milk outside for the dog when he came home. When he opened the door in the morning he found the dog dead on the doorstep. It had drunk the three pails of milk and there was not a hair left on its body.
The other two men in the shieling had been murdered. It was never used again, and to this day no sheep or cattle will graze there.
Returning to the quarry, carry straight on on the road to Benbecula. On your right at Knock Rolu, beyond the caravan site you come to *Dun Buidhe or Yellow Fort in Loch Dun Mhurchaidh (the Loch of Murdoch's Dun). The fort, which probably dates from the Iron Age (200 B.C. to 200 A.D.), is built on a small island near the centre of the southern part of the Loch. This island lies at the South end of a larger island, Eilean Dubh (Black Island). Eilean Dubh is reached by a causeway defended by a stone wall, of which little remains, at the island end. Between Eilean Dubh and the Dun is a second massive causeway nearly 150 yards in length. The fort itself is a circular dry stone structure built at the edge of the water. It must have been of considerable strength but is now largely destroyed. Many of the stones have been used in the building of later structures on the island. These duns are clearly defensive structures or places of refuge and would seem to indicate a period of uncertainty, feuding and raiding.
At Gramsdale in the North of the Island are the remains of a stone circle and a standing stone, probably dating from Neolithic times, but the remains are very dilapidated.
SOUTH UIST: UIBHIST A DEAS
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments survey (1928) lists 69 monuments in South Uist, the largest of the three islands, but a number of sites were not listed.
Starting at *Pollacharra (bay of the standing stone) in the far South of the Island there is a fine standing stone which has been overthrown and re-erected. It is 5 feet 8 inches in height and probably dates to the 3rd millennium B.C. It stands about 10 feet above the high-water mark and marks an ancient landing place, which was perhaps also a meeting place.
At Smercett a little to the North of Pollacharra on the southern side of Loch Aisavat is a good example of a proto-megalith, sited on a small rise among other outcrops.
Travelling North, in Loch Dun na Cille to the South of Kilphedar is a dry stone fort, Dun na Cille (fort of the church or burial ground). It probably dates from the Iron Age (200 B.C. to 200 A.D.). It is on an island, Eilean Buidhe (Yellow Island) which is surrounded by the remains of a stone wall of considerable strength. In the interior of the Dun are the ruins of several later structures.
Further North on Kilphedar machair is a wheelhouse, *Taigh-Cuibhle Chill Pheadair which was excavated by Lethbridge in 1952, and is now surrounded by a fence to prevent damage by animals, The wheelhouse was a farmhouse, perhaps dating from the 2nd century A.D. It is a circular dry stone structure named from the stone piers which radiated from the central hearth area and supported a wood and turf roof. The wheelhouse is a type of structure particularly common in Uist, which is unknown in the West outside the Outer Isles. It is a specialised type of stone structure which may have evolved from the broch, which is in itself a development of the dun, or island fort. The wheelhouse itself is a very sophisticated form of dry stone architecture and is associated with a rich material culture including fine carved bone work, which suggests a wealthy and flourishing population. They date from the 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D. though squatter occupation continued for several centuries after this. If there were any farm buildings associated with this wheelhouse they have not been excavated, but there are certainly other excavated wheelhouses in the vicinity on the machair. At Kilphedar the wheelhouse was built on an older sand surface and has since been covered by sand blow, hence the appearance of having been built beneath the surface of the ground.
As you continue North, turn to the right at Mingary, and continue down the peat track. A little to your right, on the northern slope of Reineval is a chambered cairn, *Barpa Mhingearraidh. It is a collective burial tomb, dating from the 2nd or 3rd millennium B.C. The burials are in large stone-built chambers beneath the cairn. This one is an example of a passage grave, a round cairn with a round central chamber. It was surrounded by a ring of pillar stones set up among the stones on the edge of the cairn with their tops inclining slightly inwards.
A little to the North of Mingary, down a turning to the left at Milton, is *Flora MacDonald's House, Taigh Fhionnghaill Nic Dhomhnaill. This was not her birthplace, but she lived for a while in the house, which is L-shaped. A cairn was raised to her memory in the middle of it by the Clan Donald. Flora MacDonald was the daughter of Ronald MacDonald of Milton, who was a cadet of Clanranald (the MacDonalds who owned South Uist). He died when Flora was one year old. Her mother's second husband was Captain Hugh MacDonald of Ormadale in Skye. It was he who gave Flora the pass as Betty Burke and the boat crew who crossed the Minch when she met the Prince in a shieling. It was only with reluctance that she helped him escape. She died in Skye.
Near the shore between Kildonan and Bornish is a 7 foot high standing stone sligeanach (abounding in shells). About 100 yards to the North-West are two prostrate stones, both over 6 feet long.
There are 2 more interesting standing stones at Stoneybridge. The finest example of a standing stone in the Uists is that on the slopes of Beinn a’ Charra (the hill of the standing stone) *An Carra. It is 17 feet tall and commands a fine view of the coastal machair land. It probably dates to the 3rd millennium B.C. It is fantastic to think of men with no use of metal transporting and raising this stone, and it must have been for some very important purpose.
The other standing stone, Crois Chnoca Breaca, (the cross of the speckled hill) is near to the shore at Stoneybridge. It is shaped like a cross with one arm broken off, hence the name, though it is a completely natural formation.
Returning a little to South from Stoneybridge you can visit *0rmaclett Castle, Caisteal Ormaclait, the remains of the residence of the chief of Clanranald (Mac 'Ic Ailein). It was built in 1701 by Ailein Domhnallach (Allan MacDonald). It took seven years to build and was burned down seven years later in 1715 on the eve of the Battle of Sherriffmuir in which the builder was mortally wounded. A French architect and masons were employed in the building. It is two storeys and an attic in height and is built on a T-shaped plan. The main block is divided by a stone partition into two unequal parts; the larger part was probably subdivided by timber partitions and provided with a wooden stair. The entrance is in the North wall. There is an armorial panel above the door which is seen the other way up in the graveyard at Howmore. It represents a crest of the MacDonalds. The buildings to the North were steadings.
Continuing North you can visit the church and chapel at *Howmore (Hogh Mor) situated down the side road. This was a mediaeval monastery and college of some importance, visited by scholars from the mainland and from Europe. The remains of two churches dedicated respectively to St. Mary and St. Columba, and two isolated chapels, can be seen. They are built of rubble in lime mortar. The largest church is Teampull Mor (large church). The other one is Caibeal Dhiarmaid (Dermot's chapel). The largest chapel lies South of Teampull Mor, the second one, the most easterly structure, is Caibeal Nan Sagart (chapel of the priest). There is an armorial pan bearing a ship, a hand bearing a cross (the Red Hand of MacDonald), a castle, a lion and a bird. This is inverted at Ormaclett Castle. The monastery and college were destroyed after the Reformation.
About half a mile North of Howmore in Loch an Eilein down Drimsdale road is Caisteal Bheagram, the undated ruin of a small tower. The island had been enclosed by a wall at the water line, now represented by its foundation. Within the enclosure are foundations of other buildings lying west of the tower. The tower stands to a height of about 12 feet and contained at least two storeys. It is built of random rubble in shell lime mortar. The windows are only 7 inches square. Ronald Alansoun of 'Yland-Bagrim' or 'Ylanebigorn' appears on record in 1505 and 1508. The island can be reached by causeway only when the loch gates are closed.
The best example of a dun in South Uist is Dun Raouill (Ronald's Fort) on an island in the South of Loch Druidibeg (the loch of the small starling). It is best approached from Drimsdale road but can be reached only by boat. It is of very uncommon type, being rectangular in plan. The walls are massive and of good dry stone masonry, still reaching to a fair height. The entrance is 8 feet wide. The interior of the dun is divided into two rectangular compartments entered from a long passage. Opposite the entrance to the dun is an irregular setting of large boulders which may be a boat harbour. The date of the fort is uncertain. While most of the duns on the island date from the Iron Age, this one, being of more complex design, may be mediaeval. There are two small cairns nearby, and at the other side of Meall Hukarvat is a chambered cairn.
On the machair at Drimore a Viking house was excavated prior to the building of the rocket range. It cannot now be seen, but is interesting as it is the only known example of Viking remains in South Uist or Benbecula. Only the house, a rectangular stone building, was excavated. Most of the Viking settlement was probably concentrated on the fertile west coast machair lands, and a lot of the remains will have been lost due to coastal erosion. The land once extended much further westwards.
As you continue North, turn right down the Loch Carnan road. Stop at the quarry and proceed North across the moor to Loch Druim an lasgair (the loch of the back of the fisherman). One small island in the middle of this loch is a comparatively well preserved dry stone fort or dun with walls about 5 feet high. The island is inaccessible except by boat, but the dun can be viewed from the shore. Again the date is uncertain, it is probably an Iron Age (200 B.C. to 200 A.D.) structure, but may be later. It is an oval dry stone fort with two entrances, and the ruins of some circular buildings inside it.
SITES AT SOME DISTANCE FROM THE ROAD FOR THE MORE ADVENTUROUS EXPLORER
Most of the roads in South Uist run down the West side of the island, but there are quite a number of prehistoric remains on the East side of the island, some of which are fairly inaccessible. One of the most interesting areas is at the back of the two mountains Beinn Mhor and Hecla. People were still living here until the last century and it is amazing to think of them carrying provisions such as salt and grain all this distance. There were 12 or 14 families living out here, at Corodale and Usinish, though most lived at Usinish.
There are some fine earth houses at Usinish, which is perhaps more easily reached from Loch Skipport. The best of these is on the North side of Glen Usinish, beneath the precipitous face of Maoladh na h-Uamha. There is a wheelhouse here, built on the site of an earlier souterrain. The souterrain is a 14 foot long tunnel, ending in a domical beehive cell; all stone built. There are a number of other ruined buildings in the vicinity. There is a Bronze Age carin field on the lower slopes of Beinn Mhor at the confluence of the Abhainn Gheatry. There are about three small carins approximately 15 feet apart.
There are prehistoric settlement sites which are worth visiting on the small knoll behind the war memorial at Ben Corary between Bornish and Kildonan, in the pass between Arnaval and Ben Shuravat on the right bank of the Hornary River, near Askernish, and above the shore of Loch a Choire, East Kilbride, which is the hillside settlement of the MacDonalds of Boisdale.
At East Gerinish, some way beyond the end of Loch Carnan road is a very interesting underground stone tunnel, which can be traced for some distance along the ground, and seems to then continue upwards inside a hill to emerge on the top of it. This provides endless possibilities for speculation as to its use.
** The following corrections to the above text were kindly provided by Mr Angus MacMillan:
...I thought you might like to know that there is a slight inaccuracy in the mention of Nunton House. It was not the home of MacDonald of Clanranald at the date mentioned, nor did it become so as a result of the burning of Ormacleit. The house was first built by Ranald Og II of Benbecula in 1659 and rebuilt by Donald MacDonald III of Benbecula in 1710. Following the death of Ailean Dearg XIV of Clanranald that coincided with the loss of Ormacleit in 1715, Ailean's younger brother became chief and his homes remained Ormaclate though obviously not the Castle itself, and Castle Tioram in Moidart, which was forfeited as a result of the brothers being involved in the rising, until Ranald XV went into exile in France in 1716. It was not until after his death without an heir in 1725 that Donald III of the Benbecula family succeeded to the Captaincy and his home, already at Nunton, became the clan headquarters.