Guidebook opens Luing treasure chest

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Luing might be just six miles long by one-and-a-half wide but it is an island crammed with historical and archaeological treasures.

A new easy-to-read guidebook officially being launched on the island this Saturday opens that treasure chest wide.

A free launch event, funded by Book Week Scotland, at the Atlantic Islands Centre starts at 3pm with a welcoming drink typical of Luing in the 17th century – booking is essential on 01852 314096.

Included in Ancient Luing’s 154 pages is the history of its tiny neighbouring island Torsa.

The book cover of Ancient Luing
Book Week Scotland is funding the Ancient Luing’s launch so it is free
Luing pier in the 1930s
Photograph: Courtesy courtesy of Ronnie McCord

Written by Mary Braithwaite and published by Luing History Group, the book, with more than 70 colour illustrations and nine maps, backtracks all the way to prehistoric times when hunter-gatherers collected hazelnuts in the woods, foraged its sea shores and possibly took shelter in caves and rocks.

Saturday’s launch will begin with an introduction by Mary to life on Luing in the 17th century, including all its religious and political strife to be followed with a reading in Gaelic and English of a stirring poem by bard of that era Dorothy Brown, Diorbhail Nic a’ Bhriuthainn.

Over two decades now Luing History Group has pulled together the island’s past and its people, assembling archives, surveying gravestones at Kilchattan and investigating ancient sites.

In 2016 it teamed up with the Association of Certified Field Archaeologists (ACFA) – without them both the guidebook would not have been possible, says Mary, who is a resident and breadmaker on Luing and also a holder of a BA (Hons) in Archaeology and Geography as well as a PhD in Archaeology and Anthropology and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

The guide takes the reader through the ages and a helpful Gazeteer lists the top 50 places to visit, starting with the slate quarries that dominate the northernmost point of Luing.

Number seven on the list is Cullipool Quay and the powder house where gunpowder was stored for blasting the rock; there are remains of old crofts, roundhouses, forts and farmsteads in the listings.

At Number 14 is the Well of Eve,  a stone-lined hole high up on the eastern flank of Leccamore ridge where according to folklore its water is good for curing eye diseases.

A mill and smiddy are known to have existed at Achafolla since the 17th century but only visible now are the ruins of a fine 19th century corn mill.

The old parish church at Kilchattan is in a fragile state today.

In the 13th century graffiti was carved on to stones on its outer walls that may depict a passing fleet as the Norwegian and Scots kings sought and fought to get control of the isles.

There is also boat graffiti carved into a vertical rock face on the south-west coast of Torsa overlooking a sheltered anchorage.

Under that rockface is a narrow ledge said to have been a good spot for fishing.

The book is far from the full story, says Mary.

Much research remains to be done, with more stories to come particularly about Luing’s families, its maritime past and the history of its townships and farms.

Plenty of scope for a sequel then.

Ancient Luing: A historical guide to the Isle of Luing costs £12.50 and is on sale at Luing Stores and the Atlantic Islands Centre.