Travellers engaged in a serpentine journey southwards along the north-west coast of Scotland might well do a lot worse that to pause for a while - take a cerebral breather - at Gairloch... in order to prepare for the scenic onslaught that awaits receptive minds at Loch Maree and Torridon. There is another reason, however. For perched upon the rocky headland of An Dun, rising at the southern end of the beach (Gaineamh Mhor), are the remnants of an ancient fort. Now I've never been one for lounging upon sand in the sun... however lounging upon a possible Pictish fort overlooking a sun-kissed beach? Well that's a different matter. Gairloch is an attractive enough town catering for the traditional genre of seaside holiday maker, the fine sandy coast complemented by a backdrop of rugged hills softened somewhat with greenery. It also possesses an award winning heritage centre housing a Pictish stone, apparently featuring the likeness of a salmon (sounds a bit fishy to me), found locally in 1880.
I park by the memorial to the crew of a USAAF B24 Liberator which crashed nearby on June 13th 1945 with the loss of all the brave gentlemen on board... lest we forget. Hell, we must never forget, no matter how much Uncle Sam may annoy us nowadays. An Dun and its fort are visible at the far end of Gaineamh Mhor, although I would advise against clambering down the headland hereabouts as I did, but instead walking a bit further toward the golf course - yes, I'm afraid Gairloch has one of those, too - and taking a path there.... particularly if you have little 'uns. Which ever way you approach note that the fort crowns the inner section of the rocky promontory, this separated from the outer by a deep, natural cleft.
The site is isolated from the hinterland by what appeared to me to be the remains of a cross-wall with rock cut ditch, although there are suggestions this could relate to a later castle which local folk tradition infers once stood here (J H Dixon 1886). The enclosure itself is small (20m N-S by 14m E-W according to Canmore, only large enough to accommodate an extended family, perhaps?) defended by the grassy remains of a single wall. Not large, but it is enough since the flanks of the promontory are quite precipitous.
As I sit and take in the glorious sweep of Gaineamh Mhor the sun breaks through the afternoon cloud cover drenching this coastal landscape with light. The sound of children playing with bucket and spade below me seems in keeping with the vibe here; in fact I can imagine a guard standing sentinel hearing the same thing several millennia before. Certainly makes a lot more sense than the metallic 'thwak' of a bleedin' golf ball, but there you are. Yeah, some ancient forts, particularly those sited upon inhospitable hill tops, leave the visitor in awe of the apparent resilience of our predecessors... 'rather you than I, my fore bearing dude friends'. But not here upon An Dun. Yeah, I could see me building a little hut and seeing out my days here. Bit chilly in the winter, but then the gulfstream is pretty favourable around these parts.
A vitrified fort originating from the Iron Age, An Dun was probably re-modeled during the early centuries AD by the Vikings and later became the seat of local Mackenzie and Macleod chiefs. Little can now be seen above ground, but excavation has found sections of fire-fused stone walling.
When you walk to the dun from the road, you may well go through a little dip in the ground called 'Leabaidh na Ba Baine' - the bed of the white cow. It's said to have been scooped out by Fingal himself to provide a comfy spot where his white cow could calve.
Mentioned in 'Gairloch in North-west Ross-shire' by John Dixon (1886).