HARP’s HEART Walk Day 3

posted 15 May 2019, 07:06 by Harp Archaeology   [ updated 21 May 2019, 08:50 ]


After a long day yesterday we woke up with stunning views down Loch Lochy, and were buoyed by the fact that we would be following a nice made path today, with no need to climb fences, ford streams, or cross bogs! We had camped at the Laggan Locks, a lovely little spot owned by Scottish Canals, where we even had a cup of tea and a nice chat at the little kiosk there. As well as being part of the Caledonian Canal, Laggan was also the location of the Battle of the Shirts in 1544, to decide who would become chief of the MacDonalds of Clan Ranald. There was a rout, with hundreds of men killed on both sides, and John of Moidart the victorious contender, becoming clan chief until his death in 1574. The waters of Loch Lochy were said to have run red with blood for days after the battle, thankfully for us they were a sparkling blue today!
Our walk today followed stretches of the Caledonian Canal, which was completed in 1822, and followed the geological fault of the Great Glen, via the lochs, and provided a route across the country for sea farming vessels of the time. The canal was designed by Thomas Telford and was originally both a job creation scheme, to help stem the depopulation of the Highlands, and a military scheme to provide safe passage for ships due to the Napoleonic Wars. By the time the canal was completed the wars with France were at an end, and the canal became a popular tourist destination, with paddle steamers providing trips up and down the Glen. To this day, the Caledonian Canal remains as popular as ever with tourists.


At the south end of Loch Oich, our route diverted away from the canal and once again picked up the line of the old Great Glen railway, passing the former station at Invergarry. Unfortunately the museum wasn’t open today so we couldn’t have a go at driving the Diesel engine there!

As we continued along, the railway line actually sits above the former military rod, with nice stretches of it visible below us, and we were able to get down and check some of them out. In the distance, with stunning views over the loch, we also had glimpses of prehistoric crannogs in the loch, were people used to live in houses supported by stilts, on small islands in the water. Further up Loch Oich we passed Eilean Drynachan, another crannog! These artificial island dwellings were fairly common across Scotland and Ireland stretching back as far as 5,000 years ago! In the distance, on the other side of the loch, we also had views across to Invergarry Castle. This was quite striking in terms of the archaeological landscape, as we were standing on an early 20th century railway, overlooking an 18th century military road, with views across to prehistoric dwellings, and a medieval castle.




After a well earned lunch and a cooling paddle in the loch, we continued our journey for another 5 or 6 miles along the Caledonian Canal to our destination in Fort Augustus.

Fort Augustus, or ‘Wadesburgh’, is another town in the Highlands that is steeped with some interesting military history. The original fortification here was built in 1716 following the large Jacobite uprising the previous year. This barracks was apparently called the “Kiliwhimen Barracks” due to English speaking officials mistaking the Gaelic place name Cille Chuimein. This barracks did have some enclosed protection from a stone curtain wall, complete with musket loops, and two angled bastions, which would enable the defenders to provide enfilading fire on any attackers. The barracks was constructed upon an area of high ground to the west of Loch Ness and to the immediate south of the settlement, giving it a strong position overlooking the surrounding landscape. 

The settlement’s original Gaelic name is derived from the “Church of Chuimein” which took its name from the Abbot of Iona, Chuimein who established a church here in the 6th century. 

Wade’s 1724 report highlights the dilapidated nature and inadequacies of these barracks and in 1729 construction work began on a new, larger and more imposing fortification closer to the banks of Loch Ness. The new fort was named Fort Augustus in honour of the second son of George II, Augustus the Duke of Cumberland. Cumberland of course would later be labelled “Butcher Cumberland” in light of atrocities carried out in the Highlands under his command. In theory, the new and improved Fort Augustus would have been rather formidable, a square plan with thick stone walls furnished with angled bastions brisling with 6-pounder cannon. These walls would be protected by an earthwork bank, a glacis, that would absorb incoming artillery fire, the gap between the glacis and the walls would create a further obstacle for attackers to get through. All the while under enfilading fire from the angles bastions. The positioning of this new fort was in part to cover the jetty for another one of Wade’s new additions to the British army in the Highlands, the Highland Galley, that would be capable of ferrying 80 troops around Loch Ness. This idea was actually a resurrected Cromwellian plan, another indication of some of the continuities in military thinking from the 17th to 18th centuries. During the 1740’s Wade arranged for some further additions to the fort, apparently in response to rumours of an incoming French sponsored invasion in 1743/44. In 1743 Wade authored two memorials to the Board of Ordnance requesting a “master gunner” and two further experienced gunners to be posted to Fort Augustus in company with a number of new artillery pieces. Wade made a specific request for six coehorn mortars and 2 one and a half pounders on “galloping carriages” that “may be ready to march with the partys that may be sent to the Highlands”. This is an obvious connection being made between the road network and military response to trouble, illustrating the connection between, fort, road, material culture and landscape.


During the opening gambits of The ’45, Fort Augustus and Fort William were simply bypassed by the Jacobite army, thus saving time, men and ammunition. However, in 1746 the Jacobite forces turned their attention to the Great Glen forts in order to strengthen their hold on the region. Previous to the siege at Fort William, Fort Augustus was targeted by the Jacobites and after a mortar round hit the powder magazine and breached the defences leading the garrison to surrender. The garrison were taken to Inverness where they were realised after the Jacobites defeat at Culloden. 


Unfortunately there is very little left of the fort visible, with it now within the grounds of the highland club, and the former barracks now a hotel. That aside however, Fort Augustus was a beautiful place to end the day with some fish and chips, and we were able to rest our weary bodies in proper beds in one of the hostels here!

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