Eilean Nan Caorach

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Site Type FORT, HUT(S)
Canmore ID 4849
Site Number NC37SE 1
NGR NC 3509 7149
Council HIGHLAND
Parish DURNESS
Former Region HIGHLAND
Former District SUTHERLAND
Former County SUTHERLAND
Datum OSGB36 - NGR

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Archaeological Notes

NC37SE 1 3509 7149.

NC 351 716. A probable fort or possible monastic settlement on Eilean nan Caorach, a large rocky plateau with sea-cliffs on three sides and on the fourth sloping down very steeply to a broad isthmus. A track climbs diagonally up this slope from the east, and at the crest of the slope is a very strong wall of massive boulders, some of them 3 ft to 4 ft each way. The wall is pierced by an entrance at the head of the track and behind the wall at the east end is a stone hut circle, 12 ft in diameter internally. There are many other circular depressions on the summit, some of which may be huts, but many must be shell-holes as the site lies in a naval firing range.
Information from R G Lamb 1972.

This fortification is generally as desribed by Lamb. The strong wall on the S side of a plateau extends for about 65.0m; it averages 2.2m wide and 0.5m high. Many outer facing stones survive, some particularly large, but there is little indication of an inner face. The small, sub-circular stell which abuts the wall almost undoubtedly post-dates it. No further structures could be identified from the numerous shell-holes. Therefore from the size and position of the wall, and the natural strength of the site, it can be assumed that this is a promontory fort.
Surveyed at 1:10,000.
Visited by OS (J B) 2 June 1980.

Additional information to R J Lamb 1972: The entrance gap through the wall is 2.5m wide and lined with boulders similar to those forming the foundation of the wall. The hut circle measures 3.7m overall.
R G Lamb 1980.

The wall is currently as described by both Lamb and OS (JB) with an entrance break in the wall at point 34988 71932 (figure 1). The stone hut mentioned is at GR 35051 71927 (figure 2). Another possible stone hut is located at 35003 71944. This consists of a sunken circular feature surrounded by rocks of various sizes.
Lieu 2000, 1.

There was evidence to suggest the presence of a fort at the site. The location was on a natural promontory and would provide a suitable place for a building outlined by the original description. However on inspection this year there was nothing to suggest the presence of a fort. The area was heavily scared with bomb creators. Closer inspection of the site revealed large boulders had been marked as reference points for Aircraft on bombing runs. The depressions originally recorded by RG Lamb in 1972 refer to established shell holes rather than huts. There are the remains of a possible entrance on the western side of the promontory but nothing to establish the site as a sizeable fort. The circular stone hut remains in same condition as was recorded last year.
Street 2001, 10.

This fort (CWTC08 363) is situated on Eilean nan Caorach (Sheep Island), a low-lying but prominent craggy limestone ridge, which measures 480m from WNW to ESE by 150m transversely and stands some 11m above the isthmus that connects it with much higher ground to the SSW. Precipitous cliffs at the ESE end and low-lying bare rock at the WNW end suggest that the inhabitable area of the ridge could not have been larger than 280m by 90m. Access to the ridge from the isthmus has been restricted by a wall which runs along the southern crest of the ridge for a distance of about 80m, linking steep, natural slopes at either end. This wall measures some 2m in thickness and up to 0.7m in height over inner and outer boulder wall-faces and a rubble core. It has been damaged in several places by bombs or shells. An entrance through the wall, some 25m from its WSW end, measures 1.9m in width. It is serviced by a narrow track, some 30m in length, which obliquely ascends the natural slope from the isthmus and is revetted by a low stone wall on its lower side.
The interior of the fort, which appears to be naturally characterised by a number of low exposures of bedrock and a thin covering of peaty soil, has been devastated by bombs and shells (one bomb crater measures up to 16m across and over 3m in depth) and there are no visible features that may be contemporary with the wall.
Several structures have been recorded within the fort. There is a hut (CWTC08 56), which lies 16m E of the entrance to the fort, its S side overlying the remains of the fort wall. Roughly circular on plan, it measures up to 2.8m in diameter within a rubble wall 1.2m in thickness and up to 0.5m in height, with an entrance on the WNW. Elsewhere, there are the grass-grown footings of three subrectangular huts (CWTC08 141-3). One (CWTC08 142) has been used as the site for a more recent construction (now ruined) which was built with a timber frame and clad with corrugated steel sheets. The remaining features within the interior are the burnt-out and rusting remains of at least eight vehicles (CWTC08 376–83) that have been used as targets. Most have been damaged beyond recognition.
A roughly circular hut (CWTC08 291) is set into the foot of the slope below the S side of the fort, about 20m SW of the similar hut (CWTC08 56) overlying the fort wall on the crest of the slope above. It measures about 2.4m in diameter within a rubble wall 0.8m in thickness and 0.4m in height. Attached to its WNW side is an enclosure measuring about 3m square within a low rubble wall.
(CWTC08 56, 141–3, 291, 363)
Visited by RCAHMS (JRS, JH) 10 August 2008.


May 1970 to September 1973
 FIELD VISIT

Notes Field visit by Dr RJ Lamb. Fieldwork undertaken (1970-1973) for PhD thesis on Iron Age promontory forts.

Further details

2 June 1980
 FIELD VISIT

Notes Field visit by Ordnance Survey.

Further details

4 August 2008 to 15 August 2008
 PROJECT

Further details

 
Books and References

Lamb, R G (1980a) Iron Age promontory forts in the Northern Isles, Brit Archaeol Rep, BAR British, vol.79 Oxford
Page(s): 71 Held at RCAHMS P.81

Lieu, A (2000) Cape Wrath Naval Bombing Range: Operation Auk - An Archaeological Update
Page(s): 1

RCAHMS (2009) Cape Wrath Training Centre in JB Stevenson
Page(s): 5, 12, 23, 25, 36, 45-46

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