Ledbeg heritage trail
There are many streams to cross in this walk and wet, muddy ground. Wellingtons or waterproof boots are essential.
Start this walk either where the Ledbeg quarry track meets the road (1), or at Ledbeg House (2).
If starting from the quarry road, head south towards Ledmore and take the first track on the right, over the bridge towards Ledbeg House. Built in 1740, this is the oldest habitable building in Assynt.
The easiest (and least muddy) way to start this walk is to cross the fence on the right of the track half way between the bridge and the house, close to the old water tank, and from there head west towards and through the gate in the deer fence.
Turn left, heading for the cleft in the foreground, southwards. Cross the stream. The trail is unmarked, but there is a faint path following the contour around the base of the hillock to the right.
Notice the paps of Cul Mor peeping over the skyline. To the south you can see clearly the lower double-tipped hill, which is where you are heading. There are chambered cairns on both tips. It is tempting to imagine how these must have looked when they were newly built, and imagine them as a tribute to the huge double-breasted formation of the mountain – a fertility symbol if ever there was one!
Keep following the contour. You will cross a small water course. Keep heading towards the cairns over a small rise. About 150 metres before the cairns, you reach a drainage ditch. Turn right and follow it north.
Lying in among the rushes is a very large, horizontal slab of stone (3), nicknamed the Badger Stone (after Bill Badger, the local resident who discovered it). The stone has been partly dug out to see if any indication can be found of it being erected as a standing stone. If you stand on its south side, the west end is suggestive of the head, shoulders and chest of a woman, leading to its other nickname, the Ledbeg Lady. Whether it ever stood is uncertain.
Walk towards and up onto the low hill with the exposed stones of the cairns to the south west. There is no easy path and a couple of streams to cross; the driest access is by bearing west a bit in a semi-circle to the right side of the right mound.
Both cairns (4) on the top are totally ruined, but the one on the right is the most impressive, particularly for the choice of stone used in the construction of the chambers. The big whitish stones are quartzite, which presumably were carried down from the top of the slope to the north west. Newly quarried they would have been bright white and would have sparkled in the candle- or lamp-light within the chamber. You can see the remains of the chamber and a big triangular portal stone.
The complex geology of this area is interesting and clearly seen from this vantage. Look east towards Loch Borralan, and rotate in a slow circle clockwise. To the south and west all the heathery ground is Lewissian gneiss, the oldest rock in the area. Above it is quartzite and to the north the big grey mountain of Craig Leath has clear quartzite screes. Between where you are standing and the quarry to the north east is limestone, and behind it is a large domed hill, which is a pluton. This is a blob of igneous rock that bulged up out of the earth’s core, and along its edge it superheated the limestone forming marble.
This highly valuable rock has been quarried for centuries, and in certain conditions it is possible to see the traces of the old road which was first constructed for transporting marble from the quarry, following the contour west and north to Kylesku.
Continue the walk by heading north towards the small tree plantation. On the left hand side of the stream there is a very distinct badger set and on the hill beyond you often see deer. From this point on there is no path
In front of the trees plantation, there is a pile of stones (5), with signs of drilling. What this quarry was used for is unknown. A substantial house ruin also remains here and beyond the trees is a large limestone fank. This whole glen was well-inhabited two hundred years ago, before it was cleared of people to make way for sheep.
About 100m to the north-east you can see another grey stone ruin (6). Head to it. It is a long building, about 20m in length, and there is a distinct field boundary below. There is speculation that this was a byre and field for the oxen that Jobson kept for hauling marble in the eighteenth century.
Head northwest uphill about 300 metres towards the closest limestone outcrop in a grassy patch. There is a footing of a small building (8), possibly a cottar’s house, on the outcrop, which is named after a Gille Dubh, or black boy.
From here head north east towards the left most mountain onto the ridge, heading for the high point. Before starting the climb you need to cross three streams. Notice the drains dug in a period of attempted improvement of the grazing land at some point late in the 20th century. On the top head in the direction of the tree plantation to the north and soon you will look down over Loch Awe.
Contour to your right when the loch is fully in view and you will see a very large chambered cairn (9). When this was intact, during the neolithic era, it must have been spectacular. Again you can see clearly the quartzite stones used as lintels or portal stones over the entrance or passage on the south east side (towards the road). Below the cairn is a big enclosure which may well be from the same period.
Continue in the direction of the mast on the far hill, staying up at this height and contouring around the hill south east until the tree plantation you visited earlier comes into view. Here is another chambered cairn, Carn a’ Mhandy (10), named after its discoverer. It is smaller and probably appreciably more recent than the others, possibly being from the bronze age and containing the grave of a single person.
Now head back to Ledbeg House (2), if this is where you began, trying not to get your feet wet. Alternatively walk directly down to the road on the north side of the bridge over the river.
Just over the bridge on the left hand side of the road are some quartzite stones, which are the remains of yet another neolithic chambered cairn (11). There is another barely visible behind Lyne Cottage above a grey rocky outcrop. In this immediate area, more than 40 chambered cairns have been discovered so far, making it clear that six thousand years ago this area was a hub of considerable activity, far different from today.
Complete the walk along the side of the road to the marble quarry (1) (and onto Ledbeg House (2) if necessary).