Case Study: A landscape of task, season and meaning

Waughenwae Knowe lies at the transition between the improved farmland occupying the floor of Strathearn and the high ground of the Ochil Hills.  On top of the Knowe, a D-shaped enclosure contains rig-and-furrow cultivation remains and, in places, the rig appears to extend beyond the enclosure.  This may represent a post-medieval in-take of land: a temporary enclosure for penning livestock to manure the ground before it was ploughed; after manuring, the enclosure became redundant and the plough began to break it down. Above the enclosure, incised lines run down the hillside representing tracks leading down from the high pastures. These braided trackways skirt round the Knowe, to the left of the D-shaped enclosure, and appear to cut through an earth bank. The bank may be associated with a number of structures and enclosures visible nearby.

Aerial photograph of Waughenwae Knowe, Perthshire. The remains of the field system, rig-and-furrow, farmstead, and trackways can all be seen, © HES

This landscape is being investigated by the Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF) project.  Survey of the Ochil Hills has identified a rich landscape of modern-era archaeological remains to the south of Dunning and Forteviot, and this survey has provided evidence for interpretation of the tasks and meanings through which this landscape would have been constructed and known in the modern past.

Braided trackways and – deeply-eroded grooves (up to 2m deep) and – run up and down the steeper slopes, petering out when those slopes give way to level or more gently-sloping ground.  The tracks appear to have been created as cattle dug their hooves in when climbing or descending, and they have no doubt been accentuated by water erosion.  The tracks tend to occur as groups of parallel and cross-cutting lines, perhaps representing the repeated passage of livestock over a number of years: the most extensive section comprises up to 12 individual, inter-weaving lines.

Because they are only visible where they have been incised into the steeper slopes, the tracks only appear as short lengths.  However, when studied at landscape scale, it is possible to connect the individual lengths to form longer routes and to relate them to other archaeological remains, such as the enclosures and cultivation remains on the lower slopes of the hills.  In 2009, members of the SERF team walked one of these routes from its apparent end-point high in the Ochil Hills down to the farms around the village of Dunning (Dalglish and Given 2009).  The start point was the Common of Dunning (NO 01740 08885), a natural bowl nestling in the hills.  The Common is on record far back into the medieval period and appears to be the destination of many of the braided trackways.  Climbing out of the Common, moving north, one passes over Chapel Hill and – a name which may indicate the boundary between the Common and lands granted, in the late Middle Ages, to endow a chapel at Glasgow Cathedral.  The summit of Chapel Hill is traversed by a large, denuded earth bank which may once have defined the edge of the Common more precisely and funnelled droves of livestock along certain routes.  Moving over Chapel Hill, the sense of enclosure felt when standing within the large bowl of the Common gives way to extensive views down to Strathearn.  The place-name and constructed earth bank marking this boundary coincide with a significant visual transition in the landscape.  From here, various routes can be followed to descend from Chapel Hill to the farmlands in the strath below: the different groupings of braided trackways represent repeated journeys to and from particular farms or particular groups of farms.  As the tracks approach the low ground, they interact with other archaeological features (as at Waughenwae Knowe).  In places, the tracks respect the banks which once enclosed cropped fields, skirting round curvilinear head dykes which define the core lands of individual farms.  In other places, the tracks crash through earlier boundaries and take a more direct route down from the hill.

These routes may have been followed since the Middle Ages, but the nature and meaning of their use will have changed with time and circumstance: today, there is a local memory of a route over to the Common known as the and ‘Corb Roadand ’ and thought to have been used to bypass the nineteenth-century turnpike (toll) road which winds through these hills (the B934).

Taken together, the various archaeological features, place-names, topographical features and historical documents relating to this area provide a rich body of evidence from which to construct an understanding of the tasks, practices and movements through which this landscape was known, such as the seasonal movement of livestock to and from the common pastures.  The evidence allows us to consider the affordances and constraints of the landscape: boundaries of ownership and controls on access, the management of potential conflicts between crops and cattle, movements across a varied and changing land surface.  And the evidence points towards the experiences, perceptions and relationships which may have conditioned the landscape as it was for those living and working within it: particular routes followed at particular times of year, natural and built features linked to meanings and landscape knowledge, visual and bodily engagements with the land, co-operation in certain tasks but not in others, the coming together of discrete communities into larger groups at particular times of year, relationships between different groups of farmers and between farmers and landowners.

Return to Section 8.2 Inhabited Landscapes


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