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Sorely Missed Fort William, July 2nd 2004

N.B. Actually the third site was visited a couple of days before and the order is of starting points on the road rather than geographical location of the sites. All sites reached from the Glen Nevis road on the right-hand side coming from Fort William but I am reviewing from the opposite route !

A small road goes up the side of the Glen Nevis Restaurant and Bar (I suggest leaving your vehicle in the carpark). If I had known it was this close I would have gone earlier in the week to perhaps better effect. The road takes a slight detour to the left behind said building and then straightens up. In the field in front of the white cottage, on your left still, is a small clump of trees that marks Dun Dige 'Dun of the Dyke'. Once you see the size of it you will be sure that it is a saucer barrow only much later re-used as a fortlet (which was burnt down some time after 1386 by a rival clan supposedly - in the NMRS there is a slight hesitancy about the Sorlie connection as an early stronghold of theirs). The tree at the back is quite large (though I may be speaking from an Orcadian viewpoint here) and the two at the front fairly so. These stand on a short flat mound but there appears to be a 'platform' in front of this. About the whole is a dark annular ring of damp-loving vegetation that delineates the moat. Climbing over the gate I found myself just over knee-deep in still dewy grass. At the back of the mound there is a small but not too shallow pan-shaped depression that I take to have been the entrance. Some smallish boulders can be seen around there, probably part of a wall. Probably needs to be seen when the vegatation isn't quite so lush to make more out.
We continued up the hill and along a track snaking behind the modern red houses. When we came to the gate across the forest road, still going left, there were many signs around. Their map said the route ahead was closed until the end of June and July had now started but owing to a big sign on the barring gate saying no to unauthorised persons I myself felt defeated here. I believe this to be the route that behind the Youth Hostel goes up to meet the West Highland Way, but not seeing any obvious connection from below when we were on that way later I would hazard that by steep they meant as in mountain-climbing steep ! So you are warned off that approach. Where we were now the forest road to the right does go to the West Highland Way and the upper route to Dun Deardail, in case you feel up to doing both sites in a one-r without backtracking.

So my sister and I went back to the main road and decided to go to the peat track a little further along that she knew from a previous holiday, part of the Cow Hill Circuit. At the top where it meets the West Highland Way several directions are signposted. I decided against the (shorter) sharp climb to the skyline, and boy did Dun Deardail take me for an even worse 'ride' later. Instead we opted for the 2.8km (ha, ha) to the vitrified fort. A long steady walk along the forest road. We saw where a turnoff (seen earlier as I mentioned) goes down to Dun Dige but I opted in my ignorance of the hardships ahead for continuance. There is much here for the naturalist and the geologist but ornithologists need ears able to identify birdsong if they are not to end up as frustrated as I. Views as good as any on the Ben Nevis walks I'll warrant and a little easier on the feet. Looking across the glen to Ben Nevis and way on down to the main road. Nevis Forest about you with many cascading streams, rocky outcrops, landslips, all covered in plants. Is it me or are the foxgloves particularly rampant this years ? Ferns aplenty. Low hummocks of tiny white flowers, yellow pimpernel on tall stems, bramble flowers, white and red wild roses. All the different greens of the conifers this time of year, even on the same tree, different needle textures simiarly. Peedie saplings either side of the road. So gosh darn cute - especially the ones only a matter of inches tall you want to take home and 'mother'. Further up it seems we are into mountain flower territory, including one with incredibly blue flowers a scant few millimetres in size. Believe me going this route you simply must have either a digital camera with several cards spare or a video camera. You simply must. And of course I had neither.
Finally we reached the point where the signpost points to the Dun Deardail track off the West Highland Way. You go over the most incredible turnstile, of such a size you could literally take a pram over it. Wowsers. Except the track is strictly for the feet. It is basically a gravel path consolidated by black bags of something spongy underneath, so that you have the strange (and at times disconcerting) feeling of walking on a deep forest floor. Just before the fort is a big hill called An Dun despite being nothing of the sort, purely natural. At one marshy spot there is a duckboard walk. My sister wisely went no further. I cannot recommend this site to anyone that is not either very sure of foot or else foolhardy - you imagine beforehand someone will have made a level route straight into the interior of Dun Deardail but instead find yourself clambering up the steep sides on a not-quite-straight stony path. By this time I had been generously drenched by the rain and my peculiar metabolism meant I was fair roasting too ! The narrow path is composed of different materials, the right hand section (below the level of the left by several inches) is all fragmented planes of presumably bedrock whilst the left is small boulders and rocks, the right all grey but the left of differing hues not all owing to vitrification. I think in far drier weather climbing over the turf would have been my choice instead. Once you do reach the top its mostly depression, with a narrow outer circuit at the edge of the sharp drop about the site. I should have taken photos of what I could make out but didn't want to use up the shots left on my SLR after Dun Dige and by now was feeling fairly miserable owing to the situation and the weather. That will have to be a task for someone else - any takers ? I made most of the circuit when I had a bit of a slip. Fortunately this was towards the interior as though the drop isn't sheer I don't think you'd stop until you hit the bottom of the slopes anything up to 700m below. There are what appear to be reasonably sized structures around the edges of the interior but my view was rather damp and this really is the wrong season for a major recce unless you can get around nettles and such. Oh maybe if I'd had my digital camera I couldn't have excused myself to my sister as I did; we'll never know as I wouldn't risk it again. On my way back down I held close to the slope and went down gingerly with my hands holding tight on the turf as I practically slithered down. You have been warned.
Dun Deardail is one in a line of vitrified forts that stretches from Craig Phadraig outside Inverness all the way down to the West Coast. Most of its names refer to a fancied connection with Princess Deirdre (see miscellaneous) but it is also known as Dun Dearg Suil 'Hill of the Red Eye'. This has been read as a reference to usage as a beacon hill when surely one could as well read in a folk-memory of its vitrification or an astute inference by analogy that this had happened. Bringing in the female connection I was minded of Sekhmet as the eye of Hat-Hor. Or we might have lost a legend about some woman mourning her dead lover red-eyed. Was her Naoise (not the Irish one) buried at Dun Dige mayhap ? Coming down took about an hour.

Back down to the main road again my third site is unlikely to be archaeology proper. A little further along to Fort William again there is an erratic glacial boulder of man-height alongside the footpath. A plaque in big letters names it The Wishing Stone, a fanciful modernisation of Clach Chomhairle 'Stone of Council' - at certain times of the year it turns thrice, and as it does so questions can be asked of it. It is held that the stone was placed here to commemorate a victory of the Sliochd Shomhairle Ruaidh, and from its name of Clach Shomhairle 'Samuel's Stone' the extinct Sorlie line of the Cameron chiefs derived their name. Could council/Samuel have meant something else originally ?? Looking at it I could plainly see raised lines running over its surface. They are presumably natural but surely could be why it has been held to be of significance by man.

wideford Posted by wideford
4th July 2004ce
Edited 14th July 2004ce

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