Islanders are digging up the past on Luing

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Hundreds of historic features have been uncovered on Luing, from Bronze-Age houses to a possible Neolithic long cairn.

Visiting archaeologists have been carrying out a survey of the island’s archaeology over the past two years with help from the local history group.

About 450 features and sites have been found so far, with the treasure haul also including boat grafitti from the 1200s at Kilchattan chapel, Iron-Age houses, forts, signs of a mill, sheltered anchorages on the eastern side of the island and bygone townships, and all this on just one corner of the island so far, says Mary Braithwaite from Luing History Group.

History group members Ian Marshall, Christine McDiarmid, Margaret Gardiner and Mary Braithwaite at Leccamore iron age fort on Luing. NO_T11_Luinghistorygroup03-LeccamoreFort
History group members Ian Marshall, Christine McDiarmid, Margaret Gardiner and Mary Braithwaite recording at Leccamore Iron-Age fort on Luing.

Dugie Macinnes has been in charge of the survey and the last visit from the Association of Certificated Field Archaeologists (ACFA) was in February, with a return trip promised soon to explore what could be the remains of a small neolithic long cairn.

‘Dugie is in charge and gives us instructions. We joined the survey as a hobby,’ said Mrs Braithwaite.

Recently the history group has been out holding tape measures and recording on a scale map a little croft house above the ferry – a two-cell home measuring about 5ms by 3.5ms inside.

What looks like a jumble of stones can tell you a lot about Luing’s past, it all pieces together over time.

‘There are also lookouts watching the seaways where the main threats to the island would once have come from. There were once galley ships and birlinns [a wooden vessel propelled by sail and oar] going up and down.

‘Merchants, military forces, saints, pilgrims would all have passed this way. It was a place people passed through to get to other places, a bit like today’s Tyndrum,’ said Mrs Braithwaite.

Leccamore Iron Age fort on Luing. NO_T11_luinghistorygroup02-LeccamoreFort
Leccamore Iron-Age fort on Luing.

In the 19th century the Comet, the first steamboat from Glasgow to Fort William, was another visitor. It came via Easdale and Luing because Oban ‘was nothing’ at that time.

‘Because Luing is so close to the mainland it was once a heavily contested area,’ added Mrs Braithwaite.

In 1577 and 1579 Luing was invaded by the Campbells, the Earl of Argyll who owned the land at that time but could not get access to it because it was defended by the MacLeans of Duart.

‘They came and took cattle, sheep and stripped the women and children of their clothes trying to impose some kind of authority,’ said Mrs Braithwaite.

Members of the history group have also been transcribing intriguing documents from the Breadalbane Muniments revealing what land tenants from the 17th century to the early 20th century on the Netherlorn Estate were getting up to – if they were cutting peat the right way or mending their walls.

‘Life was hard on Luing. We can see from signs left behind how land tenants tried to cultivate every inch they could, right up to the highest ridges of the island. They were growing corn, oats and barley way up, close to the top. They were so desperate to make the most of what earth they had,’ said Mrs Braithwaite.

‘The potential for the survey here is never ending, but not unique to Luing. These features will be on other islands, you just need to look for them,’ she added.

Future plans include carrying on with the survey work, the possibility of information displays for visitors, organising more walking routes and exploring the island’s submerged maritime past.