Kirkton is a spooky place. Climb up from Loch Assynt through the ruins of a village where nearly 30 families were cleared two hundred years ago, trying not to get lost among the weird, lumpy limestone rocks, which form ridges that occlude and baffle, even when you think you know the way. Work your way up, and eventually you find yourself in a boggy glen, where springs gush out of the rock as if from nowhere.
Here there are strange mounds. Humps, like pelvic bones of a buried giant. Bumps, like breasts. What are they?
The archaeologists say they are burnt mounds. There are an indeterminate number of them, seven according to the first record, four or maybe five according to a more recent archaeological survey. But this ground seems to shift as you pass – when you look behind you it’s no longer the same as it was on the way in. Some of the lumps may be formed by humans, others have more ‘natural’ causes. But what is natural and what is unnatural? It’s hard to say.
At Stronechrubie the archaeologists are digging a burnt mound, as we walk among these smaller, more mysterious features, but even down there, close to the road, in the open valley, the burnt mounds ask more questions than they answer. What were they for? Cooking? Brewing? Tanning? Bathing?
Here, in this glen of shifting springs, we wonder about magical rituals and secret birthing rites. We imagine the smell of woodsmoke and the cries of a woman in labour. Romany and Jorine our guides point out medicinal herbs in the grass, and we can almost hear the chanting of the shaman as she sits beside her steaming water vat, gesturing cures out of the haze, invoking the temperamental spirit that sends sweet clear water out of the earth into these shifting, variable springs.
As if joining the incantation, a stag roars and his harem of five hinds gallop away towards the valley of the trolls, the Trallygill, up there in the mountains. We have no difficulty believing in the trolls.
We leave the secret glen and return to the modern world, still partly entranced, still full of wondering…