Portnancon is a well- preserved souterrain near the western shore of Loch Eriboll in Sutherland. It took 3 attempts to find it but after getting directions from a very helpful lady in Durness Tourist Information Centre we easily spotted the 2 large stones by the roadside that marked where to park. The souterrain wasn’t far from the road and I soon spotted the dark hole in amongst the heather.
This was my very first experience of a souterrain and would turn out to be the catalyst for much more research into the souterrains of Scotland and Ireland. It has also remained one of my favourites.
Souterrains were underground storage facilities,and in Scotland, were usually built underneath or beside Iron Age round houses. There had been evidence of a round house here in the past but this was destroyed when the road was built.
There has been some speculation that they may also have served some ritualistic purpose, but mainly, they were for storage and possibly sometimes used for refuge as well.
With great excitement, I pulled back the heather and tentatively made my way down the 12 steps into the darkness, not knowing what it was going to be like inside. Like most souterrains, the roof was very low at the entrance but then got higher. I started to make my way along the curving passage and I must admit, it was quite scary when I turned the corner and was out of site of the entrance and would have been in complete darkness if it wasn’t for my torch.
It is a fairly typical design of the small souterrains found on the Scottish Atlantic coast. An 8.5m long passage curves in an anti-clockwise direction and culminates in a small rounded-off chamber at the end. It has dry stone walls and the roof is made from stone lintels.
As the end of the passage came into view I had a heart-stopping moment! I’d seen a photo of it, so knew roughly what it would look like. However, down there at the end of the passage I could see what looked like two ropes hanging from the ceiling, one of which appeared to have a sack suspended from it. This was disconcerting for a few moments but I carried on and investigated. It turned out they were just roots from the ground above which had woven themselves into this sack-like shape – it looked quite eerie, though.
A slideshow is a good way of showing the descent into the souterrain!