Jill Harden is an archaeologist for RSPB Scotland. She is busy gathering historic environment information on our reserves. She’ll be providing updates regularly so watch this space for info on fascinating historical links.

Exploring history at Inversnaid

A day out on an RSPB reserve is always an eye-opener, even if it is dreich and damp. And my recent visit to Inversnaid was no exception. It’s a landscape that is full of history, even without its links to Rob Roy.

Parking by the ruins of an 18th century garrison block, with low cloud threatening rain, the atmosphere of the place was almost reminiscent of the dark days of military occupation following the Jacobite Rising of 1715. The aftermath of that campaign had a significant impact on travel in the highlands. Government troops were ordered to construct roads so that the army could react speedily to problems in the north. One was routed from Stirling through to Loch Lomond where a garrison presence was established. The populace were to be watched and controlled.

View of the garrison site at Inversnaid.

Comparing it with a garrison that was built at Ruthven, close to the RSPB Scotland reserve at Insh Marshes, gives us an idea of what the buildings originally looked like. The garrison accommodated around 60 soldiers, some on foot, a few with their horses, as well as their rations.

The soldiers were not coming into an empty glen, so they would have acquired at least some of their food and supplies from the farmed land round about. There are still traces of contemporary fields close to the garrison, although the homes of those who worked the land are long gone. However, their summer shieling huts are still to be seen, hidden away on small patches of green hill grazings and in sheltered spots by running water. It was to these that the younger folk decamped from May to September, to keep cattle and sheep away from growing crops and winter grasslands. There was no schooling to get in the way of everyday life then.

This line drawing by Denny Derbyshire gives an idea of what such shieling huts may have looked like.

A rapid archaeological assessment of the reserve was undertaken in 2003, recording various 19th and 20th century structures, but archaeologists never claimed to have found everything. Inversnaid proves this point. Fraser Lamont, the site manager, took me to an area where he was sure that there was history to be found. And he was right. Rob Coleman, the area manager was well impressed. Situated high above Loch Lomond, with what should have been great views of the hills to the west, was a group of shielings by a rushing burn. I took notes about the location and the structures as well as record photographs. This isn’t the first shieling area to be found on the reserve, but it is probably the most scenic.

Rob Coleman looking impressed (and cold) after finding shieling sites.

And on our way back  hundreds of fieldfares passed over our heads- what more could we ask for?

So the next step will be to write a wee history of the reserve, from an archaeological perspective, for staff to use and share with members and visitors. A positive step forward.