chapter  10
16 Pages

New Places for Old: The Reinhabitation of Cleared Landscapes in Northern Scotland

In 1997, I spent six weeks walking along the northern coast of Sutherland, the county that forms the northwestern part of mainland Scotland (see Figure 10.1). Our brief was to survey the 100 km stretch of coast from the Kyle of Durness on the west to Torrisdale Bay on the east, recording all the archaeological remains along the coastal fringe on behalf of Historic Scotland. One day, while working along the edge of Lamigo Bay in the area known as Skerray, my colleague and I observed several puzzling structures on one of the crofts. Nestled in a narrow gully, above cliffs that plunged to the sea, were several stone settings and little drystone structures shaped like boats, their prows pointing out to sea. Boat-shaped settings are known in Scotland (for example, on the island of Hirta in the St. Kilda Archipelago) and are usually thought to be prehistoric, although these did appear rather fresh. We duly recorded them anyway. Later, we discovered that a few years earlier a sculptor, visiting a neighboring croft, had gone up to the gully and begun to rearrange several lambing shelters he found there into ship shapes. But the crofter had objected because the shelters had been built by her father and she wanted them preserved as they were-the archaeology of the previous generation.