Case Study 15: Auchindrain Township

Piers Dixon

The baile of Auchindrain (CANMORE ID 23412) is situated in the saddle of a bealach (pass) between the Leacan Water and the Douglas Water at about 75m OD in a geographically marginal location. Indeed, the very place-name Auchindrain (Achadh an Droighinn) is indicative of its marginality. The prefix Achadh means a field and has been interpreted as denoting a secondary settlement. High ridges to the north and south limit cultivable ground to a narrow strip barely 500m across at the march dyke with the neighbouring toun of Braleckan, and narrowing to as little as 250m at the watershed. Land suitable for cultivation is therefore limited and is mainly to be found on the south-facing slope, where the fields used for hay and forage crops up until the 1960s are to be found. This geographically marginal location suggests that the Auchindrain settlement is a secondary one, perhaps growing up as an outfield improvement, which was colonised from the primary settlement at Braleckan sometime in the medieval period.

The early history of Auchindrain (Achadh an Droighinn, ‘Field of the Thorn-tree’) is obscure. The Lochfyneside township was probably included in the various royal grants of the barony of Glenaray to the Campbells of Argyll. In 1534 it was in the possession of Archibald MacAlasdair Maclver, a member of the Campbell family of Ballochyle (Cowal), whose future wife, Marion MacNaughton, received a liferent charter of the four merklands of Auchindrain from the 4th Earl of Argyll as part of her marriage-settlement. The township was a multiple-tenancy farm with six tenants in 1752 and continued to be occupied as such until 1963 when the last tenant retired.

The majority of the buildings straggle irregularly along the north bank of a small tributary of the Eas a’ Chorabha for about 400m (Figure 116). In the 19th century, each tenant’s family appears to have occupied a byre-dwelling, usually associated with a barn, stable and cart-shed as well as a small kailyard and a stackyard, while cottars and tradesmen occupied rather smaller houses. The dwellings are for the most part built on an East-West axis and the doors and windows are concentrated in their S walls, while the barns stand at right angles to them, probably to utilise the prevailing westerly winds in their winnowing-passages. A roadway winds through the township from North East to South West, linking it at each end to the public road, which is here also joined by the former drove-road from Lochaweside.

Figure 116: Plan of township (east) (RCAHMS 1991, 458-9) © HES

The buildings are of local rubble masonry, originally laid in clay mortar but subsequently rebuilt or pointed with lime mortar. Water-runnels are provided at the bases of the walls where necessary, and many of the buildings are fronted by raised cobbled areas. All comprise a single main storey which may incorporate a loft or half-loft, but some of the dwellings have been provided with attic floors in comparatively recent times. The typical byre-dwelling comprises a ‘room’, closet, kitchen and byre, all disposed linearly under the same roof, with separate entrance-doorways to the house and byre, but with inter-communication between the byre and kitchen.

Most of the buildings are cruck-framed, all the surviving couples, except one, being of two members, scarf-jointed and pegged at wall-head level. The majority of the crucks were sawn off at wall-head level when the original thatched roofs were replaced by coverings of corrugated iron (Figure 117). Some of the barns and other subsidiary buildings were originally hip-roofed at one or both ends and incorporated crucks placed centrally in the end-walls. Most of the byre-dwellings are gable-ended, but one at least of them (Figure 116114, Building H) was originally hip-roofed at the byre end but gable-ended at the house end. The corn-dryer at the south end of Building K (Figure 116) is a mid-19th century building, but it was constructed on the site of the earlier kiln barn (HES B19320). Close examination on the ground revealed that the earlier kiln was a platform type constructed in one end of a barn, typical of those found on the Western Isles. Furthermore, the kiln barn has the type of footings more typical of a pre-improvement building, with a superstructure of turf, or perhaps of wattles, as here in a barn.

Figure 117: View of township from NE). The farmstead in the foreground includes a barn to the left that was previously a byre-house; the house to the right is a 19th century addition. The primary structures were byre-houses aligned with the slope. © HES

While the present buildings date from the early 19th century, there is evidence of earlier phases to be found at the site. For example, two of the barns in the middle of the settlement preserve the traces, variously, of earlier phases and redundant byres (Figure 114, Buildings J and N). Furthermore Langlands estate plan of 1789 (Fairhurst 1968) shows the majority of the buildings were orientated roughly from north-west to south-east, and it is suggested the primary buildings that are visible on the site were those laid out down the slope on this axis. This type of arrangement is seen at other sites in Argyll, which were abandoned in the 18th century (eg. Blarowin, Glenshira, Canmore ID 23639; Strone Point, Canmore ID 40467). Most of the buildings have squared corners, but one building, now no longer visible, at the entrance to the site from the public road had rounded corners when recorded by RCAHMS. This appears to be common architectural feature of excavated medieval buildings in Argyll, such as that excavated at MacEwan’s castle (Canmore ID 39861), or at Loch Glashan (Buildings 2 and 3).

The pre-improvement fields are depicted on Langlands’ plan of 1789. This map shows a large field surrounding the toun on the north, east and west, and peripheral outfields to the south, east and west with a funnel-shaped drove way leading onto the moor to the south. By the time of the 1st edition OS 6-inch map (surveyed 1871-2), these divisions had changed. The fields to the north-east, on the south side of the public road, had been enclosed in rectilinear-shaped fields. Those to the north of the road were still delimited by curvilinear head-dykes defining their upper limits and sub-divided into parallel-sided fields by a series of small burns. A funnel-shaped drove way lined by earthen banks now led out of the village uphill to the sheepfold to the north and beyond to the peat banks. However, the boundaries of the township were enclosed by stone dykes to east and west (still to be seen today), straightening the boundaries that used to follow topographic features. That to the west with Braleckan, for example, used to follow the line of a small burn, traceable on both the 1st edition OS map and aerial photography (Figure 118). It would seem that the improved field between it and the infield was former outfield. The extent of the cultivated land at that time from an analysis of the 1st edition OS map was c42ha. In addition what had been a small field to the south of the village, c5ha in extent, appears to have gone out of use by the time of the 1st edition OS map, which outlines its head-dyke but depicts the area with rough pasture symbols. It absence from the map suggest this may have been an outfield intake. The character of the rig with furlongs of adjacent rigs – running in the same direction, sometimes curving sinuously and sometimes relatively straight – is evident. The former is generally narrower and slighter than the latter, which is about 5m in breadth from furrow to furrow and typifies Improvement Period rig. In some furlongs the sinuous rig varies in width within the length of the rig, pinching towards one end to accommodate the uneven terrain and in other places overlapping rigs indicating successive phases of use may be seen, not just blocking furlongs to accommodate the uneven ground, but suggesting outfield episodes of cultivation (Figure 118).

Figure 118: RAF aerial photograph of Auchindrain in 1946 © (Copyright HES 106G/SCOT/UK 160, 21 Aug. 46, Image 4431)

The pink area is the cultivated land in 1789. The shading depicts the infield area in 1789, based on Langlands’ plan. An additional field (5ha) which lies immediately to the S of the township, was probably outfield as was the improved field to the west of the infield. The right-angled return on the east is where the topography has changed due to 19th century improvements and the course of the pre-improvement field boundary could not be traced.

The 1789 estate plan depicts the shieling-huts. There is therefore good reason to suppose that transhumance still took place at that time, but that it had certainly ceased well-before 1871-2 when the OS mapped the ruins and most probably at the end of the 18th century. The upper course of the Douglas Water which runs North East for 3km from Loch Dubh-ghlas through a flat-bottomed valley, falls gradually from an elevation of 320m at the loch to 250m at its broadest point, Coire Dubh-ghlas. Although separated from the townships of Braleckan, Auchindrain and Killean by about 3.5km of rough ground rising in many places to over 400m, this valley provided their main area for the summer grazing of cattle until the practice was abandoned towards the end of the 18th century. Most of the identifiable groups of shieling-huts are named and the township boundaries shown on the series of farm-plans surveyed in about 1789. The Langlands’ plan of nearby Killean township also indicates two intermediate shielings on the Allt Fearna, at about NN 039068 (‘Ariaultfearn’) and NN 028063, and one or two huts are identifiable at each of these sites. It is not certain whether they served separate grazing-grounds. A larger group of huts (‘Ariva1lichveg’) at an elevation of 400m, about 1.1km NE of Loch Leacann (NN 009044) was attached to Braleckan, as was ‘Drinacraig’, 400m NW of Loch Leckan (NN 993034). Both of these shielings were reached from Braleckan by a drove-road and served independent areas of pasture. Except for the second group (‘Arihelach’), which lies near the source of the Douglas Water, where the valley is fairly narrow and sheltered, the huts are placed in tributary valleys a little N of the exposed valley-bottom (Figure 119). Most of the surviving structures are predominantly of stone, although some turf may also have been used in their construction, but the walls seldom survive to a height of more than 0.5m, and they are unlikely ever to have been appreciably higher. In several cases masonry has been removed from the walls to build small circular twinning-pens for sheep.

Figure 119: Shieling group at Arihelach on the Douglas Water (RCAHMS 1991, 470) © HES

Auchindrain Bibliography

  • Fairhurst, H 1968, ‘An old estate plan of Auchindrain, Mid-Argyll’, Scot Stud, 12, 183-7.
  • RCAHMS 1992, Argyll: An Inventory of the Monuments, Volume 7, Mid Argyll and Cowal: Medieval and Later Monuments, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Edinburgh, Nos. 213, 219.

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