Landscape Survey on Conchra Estate, Kyle of Lochalsh

In the spring of 2018, a team of AOC's surveyors conducted a landscape walkover survey ahead of new woodland creation on Conchra Estate in Kyle of Lochalsh, on behalf of Galbraith. The landscape of Conchra consists of steep-rising ground overlooking Loch Alsh and Loch Long to the north of Ardelve, near the site of the famous Eilean Donan Castle.

Conchra hut circles

Above: hut circles on terraces atop the steep hillsides above Loch Long (left and right) and on a steep-sided terrace above Conchra

Several hut circles and post-medieval settlement was previously known in the surrounding area, but there were very few known sites on the steep hillsides of the survey area, but the 2018 walkover survey located fifty-seven archaeological sites including hut circles, field systems and post-medieval structures. Of greatest surprise were the 12 hut circles located, only three of which had been previously identified.

At Conchra, the majority of the hut circles – the remains of roundhouses – are found between 160-220m above sea level, perched on small terraces overlooking the valleys and coastline below, in locations that are both exposed and difficult to access. The subcircular structures measured between 5.5m-6.5m internally within orthostat- and boulder-built walls. Many of the huts contained the secondary addition of twinning pens used by later pastoral farmers.

Although such structures cannot be dated by survey alone, it is known that climate conditions during the Bronze Age (some 4,000 years ago) were considerably warmer than in the modern period. This made settlement and use of higher ground possible, and previous research has shown considerable use of upland landscapes during this period in Scotland. Probable interpretations include their use as seasonal shelters, roundhouses or stock enclosures used during prehistoric or later periods. But, as with much of our landscape survey work, it is only through excavation that a definitive interpretation and date could be ascribed to such sites. The Conchra Estate survey has added important information to the archaeological record of this beautiful landscape, while ensuring that woodland management will not adversely impact upon their locations.