9.5.5 Boat Building and Repair

Surviving boats from the period are rare, but recent work on timbers from a logboat found in the late 19th century at Conon Bridge near Dingwall has shed some light on its construction. It was a small craft, around 5m long, made from a hollowed-out oak; the workmanship has been described as ‘of the poorest quality’ (Mowat et al 2015). The presence of square-cut notches raises the possibility that it was originally designed as a paired vessel, in which case it would be the first known from Scotland. The advantage of such a construction would be to spread the load on river crossings. The logboat has been dated by dendrochronology and radiocarbon dating which have indicated that it was probably manufactured in the late 13th or early 14th century, the time when Dingwall was a royal burgh. It suggests that at this time there was access to large timbers; the oak used for the boat was probably around 300 years old (Mowat et al 2015). This boat provides valuable evidence of local river craft. 

Reconstruction of the River Conon logboat following laser scanning of the separate timbers. ©AOC Archaeology Group

No other logboats survive from the Highlands, although antiquarian accounts describe other now-lost examples including from Loch Kinellan, Easter Ross (MHG3987); Loch of the Clans (MHG6991) and Nairnside (MHG6978), Nairnshire; Loch Laggan (MHG2604) and Loch Oich (Mowat et al 2015, 337–338) on the Great Glen (MHG2604); Loch Chaluim Chille, Skye (MHG26636; MHG5775) and Acharacle, Lochaber (MHG351). However, logboats found elsewhere in Scotland are from a wide date range, and unless wood survives, it is not possible to date such simple constructions (Mowat et al 2015, 330–7). Some of the lost finds were from crannog sites, and therefore possibly Iron Age, although medieval crannogs are known from the Highlands (Stratigos and Noble forthcoming), so a later date cannot be ruled out.

Ship building on a larger scale also took place in the Highlands. Matthew Paris mentions Count Hugh of St Pol obtaining a newly built boat from Inverness in the mid 13th century, to be used to transport crusaders (Barrow 2005). This shows that shipbuilding yards existed in the burgh that were capable of producing large ships, although given development on the shoreline remains are unlikely to have survived.

At Eilean Donan Castle, strips of unfinished roves, together with bolts and spike nails suggest shipwrights were working at the castle (Clark et al forthcoming; Case Study Eilean Donan Castle). The evidence from Smoo Cave complex in northwest Sutherland has been interpreted as occasional use of the caves by mariners who may have undertaken repairs and processed fish there (Pollard 2005, 45; Case Study Geodha Smoo Cave Complex).


Case Study: Eilean Donan Castle

Case Study: Geodha Smoo Cave Complex

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