Kirkton Heritage Trail
Start from the second parking layby (1) north of Inchnadamph, which looks down the length of Loch Assynt.(Coming from the west,it is the first layby on the right after the Ardvreck Castle and Calda House car park). Take care crossing the road and walk towards Inchnadamph a few metres and cross the barbed-wire fence on the right hand side of the stream that flows from a waterfall to pass under the road close to the layby. Keeping by the fence (to avoid the wettest ground, walk towards the waterfall.
On the crag to the left, notice that there are bands of light and dark grey limestone. Originally (400 million or so years ago) these were laid down in just two horizontal layers, one light, one dark, but the crashing together of the continents broke the rock up, like cutting a tray of two-layered baking, and shunted the pieces on top of each other. If you look up at the holly tree in the crag you can clearly see the extreme angle that the layers are now lying at as a result.
At the bottom of the waterfall, turn right up the slope and you will soon come to a complex of ruins from the settlement of Kirkton (2) which was cleared of people in the early 1800s. Twenty-eight families were forced out of their homes here and sent to live on coastal crofts, to make way for sheep ranching.
All of these houses would have been turf roofed without windows. The first buildings you encounter are a ruined barn and the remains of a long low dwelling house, with a doorway on its long north side. To the west end the family would have kept their cattle, living in the eastern end of the building. There is another house to the south.
Follow the little path between the two houses, heading uphill towards the high peak of Connival in the distance. Turn right after about 25 metres, and about 30 metres ahead there is another complex of buildings similar to the first group.
Now continue heading towards Connival, eastwards and up somewhat. You will pass a singular dark stone with a green cap, and then, on a terrace running south east, reach another couple of houses within a banked enclosure (3). This was possibly a kaleyard, or a place to keep animals from straying, but it is notable within this settlement as the only houses within a surrounding dyke. Mostly the land would have been used in common, but this area was clearly for the use of one family.
We do not know how long people lived here in Kirkton, but it was probably for many centuries and perhaps all the way back to the bronze age, four thousand or so years ago. Some intriguing signs of human use of this area are still visible and we will visit them next.
Turning north, head up the small valley behind the enclosure, over the ridge and down to the braided burn (stream), keeping to the right of the massive boulder. Turn right, east up the glen. About 100 metres up the stream you will reach one of several burnt mounds (4).
Burnt mounds usually consist of two low humps, in a roughly crescent shape, and in the dip between them a water trough is often found. The humps are made of stones discarded after splitting as a result of being heated in a fire and used to heat the water in the trough. They mostly date back to the bronze age but their function is mysterious: perhaps they were used for bathing or something akin to saunas and sweat lodges, for feasting, processing of wool or hides, beer making or rituals and ceremonies associated with initiation or birthing.
The mounds in this glen are fairly small and are all opposite springs. Because the underlying rock is limestone, the route of water courses underground changes over time and so they will have emerged in different spots as the centuries past. Perhaps this is why there are several mounds. We can guess that these springs may well have had magical or spiritual significance, and they certainly provide a source of pure water. Maybe the mounds were used for ritual bathing, or as birthing sites or maybe these were a version of saunas or sweat lodges.
A second mound is about 25 metres further on and a third, bigger, mound a bit further again. In this third mound the space for the water tank is more clearly visible (though four thousand years of time passing means that you do have to use your imagination here). The glen is rich in herbs that grow on limestone, many of which, like selfheal and eyebright, have medicinal uses. Imagine a tent structure over the mound, a steaming tank of hot water in the dip and a shaman or medicine woman inside brewing herbs (or beer!).
Now carry on east towards the new turreted lodge. Go through the wall and continue towards the drive. At the lodge driveway turn right and about 100 metres down the track, just before it dips downhill, on the left hand side are the circular traces of a building (5).
This is what remains of a round house, also known as a hut circle, of likely bronze age period- so perhaps the people who used the burnt mounds lived here. It would have probably had low walls of stone and turf, a thatched roof, a central hearth and partitioned spaces around the circumference for sleeping, keeping livestock and other purposes.
We do know that the inhabitants of the round house weren’t the first people to live here as there are late stone age remains close to here. If you look east towards the mountains, down the glen there is a distinct, large, singular tree beside the ruins of a farm house. Beyond this on the flat area above the tree is a neolithic chambered cairn.
On up the glen there are caves, which would have provided shelter to the earliest people to live in this area after the ice age. If you are interested there are accessible caves beyond Inchnadamph, known as the bone caves, where the signs of early people have been found, as well as bones of bears, lynx, reindeer and other animals that roamed this land in years gone by. The glen and the river are called the Trallygil, which means Valley of the Trolls. It is probably a Norse name, but we suspect that the trolls were here long before the Vikings came!
Continue down the track towards Inchnadamph until it goes through a substantial stone dyke. Just beyond it turn right and follow the dyke. At the corner go through a break in the wall and carry on in the same direction, contouring below the crag on your right. Keep heading towards the high peak of Quinag and you will eventually return to the ruined houses and the waterfall. Walk down the slope to the base of the waterfall and back to the layby.