North Uist : Baleshare

After a quiet few months it was the new year and time to get out and about again. The first event of the year was a Scottish Islands archaeology symposium on the Isle of North Uist and  among the fieldtrips were one to the beach at Baleshare  and another to look at Barpa Langass chambered cairn.

BARPA LANGASS

Barpa Langass is the best preserved chambered cairn in the Western Isles and I’ve written about it in a previous post.

It isn’t safe to go inside it nowadays but luckily I had been inside it many years ago. The only thing I would add to the previous post is that after listening to a talk by a local structural engineer about fractures in the capstones and shifting and movement of some of the large orthostats, including the capstones, I will definitely not be going inside again! Not unless money can be found some time in the future to consolidate the structure and make it safe.

A collapse in the passage wall that occurred a few years ago

BALESHARE (Baile Sear)

Baleshare is a long,  low-lying  island joined to the rest of North Uist by a causeway.

Taken from the cafe at Claddach Kirkibost, looking across to the northern tip of Baleshare (on the left) and to the southern tip of Kirkibost Island (on the right)

Running down the west side of Baleshare is one continuous 4 mile long sandy beach and at various places along this beach,  remains from the Iron-Age have been  revealed in the sandy cliffs. Severe erosion from tides and storms is constantly revealing more shell middens and sometimes the walls of wheelhouses, a form of Iron-Age roundhouse characterized by inner radial walls resembling the spokes of a wheel.

Above L – wheelhouse walls sticking out of the sand dunes and R – an excavated wheelhouse about 6 miles away on Grimsay

Iron-Age Wheelhouse, exposed by a surge tide

At the same time as new archaeology is being revealed, existing remains are often  being lost to the sea.

The shell middens are depicted by an obvious strata of shells in the cliff face and contain the discarded shells of shellfish as well as animal and fish bones,  pottery sherds and other material that had been discarded and put on the midden.

Pieces of pottery and tools made from bone, flint and stone can often be found in the sandy cliff.

Although this is a coastal environment nowadays, these are settlements that would originally have been some distance from the sea. Erosion has been so dramatic, over not only centuries, but millennia, that the coast here once stretched 14km out to sea and a land bridge connected North Uist to the Monach Isles, a chain of low lying sandy islands visible 9 miles to the west.

The flat machair land on Baleshare

The whole of the island is now called Baile Sear, which means eastern township and Baile Siar, the western township has long since disappeared under sand and tides.

The photos above are of the shell middens and stone remains at Ceardach Ruadh (translates as the red smiddy)  which is to the north of the parking area at the beach.  Another site to the south, Sloc Sabhaid, was revealed after a severe hurricane in 2005 and  rescue excavations found the remains of Iron-Age roundhouses there to0.

On the east side of Baleshare, a walk from the end of the road takes you to a Neolithic cairn and nearby are some abandoned croft houses.

Beach between Baleshare and Benbecula

Above & below – Baleshare is surrounded by shallow tidal waters

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Cors-y-Gedol Dolmen, Gwynedd

Cors-y-Gedol turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. We had planned to spend the day exploring an area south of Harlech, with the main place on our itinerary being the burial cairns at Dyffryn Ardudwy  ( previous post).
This was one of the occasions where the information board at one site mentioned another interesting dolmen in the area (one I hadn’t heard of), so after a look round the burial cairn at Dyffryn Ardudwy we headed south from the village and took the next road left to Cors-y-Gedol.
This was a long straight road lined with oak trees and led up the hill to the Elizabethan manor house of Cors-y-Gedol. At the top of the road was a car park which was the starting point for various footpaths and walking routes up into the hills. We parked here and went through a field gate onto a gated farm road that led across the hillside.

It was a very pleasant walk along the road and the dolmen  was  right beside the road, so no problem finding this one!

The large capstone is supported by an upright at the front but the rear is resting on the cairn material. Like most dolmens, it would have been a long cairn with a cairn of stones covering the chamber and extending some distance to the rear, making it a long trapezoidal shape. This one was about 25m long and some of the cairn material is still clearly visible on the ground.

There isn’t much left of the burial chamber and most of the stones from the cairn would have provided useful building material over the years but it is still a picturesque dolmen in a very attractive setting.

Looking north west to Bardsey Island and the tip of the Llyn Peninsula in the distance

Walking along the road I’d noticed a lot of stones lying around and outlines of stone structures in the grass and undergrowth. Further investigation revealed that the whole area, particularly to the east (on the hill side of the track) was covered in what is probably the remains of hut circles and enclosures. No doubt providing plenty evidence of this area having been inhabited and farmed for thousands of years.

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Further along the road I came to this hut circle, probably dating back to the Iron-age.

The remains of the walls are probably quite well preserved underneath the grass and vegetation that’s grown over them.

Oak trees and gnarled hawthorns growing round the rim of the site emphasis the circular shape and give the interior quite an enclosed and private feel.

From the car park you can do a short walk along the road to the cairn, but for a longer circular walk you can carry on  until you reach the River Ysgethin.  From there you can  follow a footpath up the hillside and back down to the car park. The path skirts round this area which is full of intriguing remains. Definitely requires another visit and more investigation!

 

Dyffryn Ardudwy Burial Chamber, Gwynedd

This really is a lovely setting. Two burial chambers sit on a bed of stones in the shade of the trees and from their elevated position the sea is visible down below.
The village of Dyffryn Ardudwy is on the coast road, half-way between Harlech and Barmouth and the cairn is accessed by a sign-posted path at the southern end of the village.

The smaller, portal dolmen was built first. This is a typical dolmen shape with a heavy capstone resting on two portal stones and sloping down towards the rear. A closing slab acted as a door that sealed the entrance and after that, deposits were probably place inside through gaps in the sides and at the southern end of the tomb.

I’ve since read that there’s a small cup mark on one of the portal stones but I didn’t see it at the time.

Some time after the first tomb was built, a larger tomb was built to the east of it and then a monumental cairn was built which incorporated both tombs.  There’s plenty of the cairn material left on the ground to give a good idea of the size of the extended cairn.

The larger tomb, looking west with Cardigan Bay visible on the horizon

Fragments of Neolithic pottery were found in the older tomb and both Neolithic and Bronze Age pottery was found in the later one.

Showing the extent of the cairn material and giving an idea of how long the cairn would have been in its day

There are many prehistoric remains in this area. On the slopes leading up from the coastal plain to the higher hills behind you can find  dolmens, standing stones, stone circles and remains of ancient settlements. The Dyffryn Burial Cairn is the best example of the portal tombs in the area but there are others that are also worth seeing, such as Cors-y-Gedol, which we visited next and will probably be in the next post.

Looking from the large cairn to the small dolmen