‘The Hidden Heritage of a Landscape: Vengeful Vikings and Reckless Rustlers’ is a project run by Arrochar and Tarbet Community Development Trust, and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Argyll and the Islands LEADER.
It aims to uncover more about the history of the strategic strip of land connecting Arrochar on Loch Long with Tarbet on Loch Lomond. It’s widely known that the Vikings dragged their boats across the isthmus to Loch Lomond just before the Battle of Largs in 1263, but the project is using a combination of documentary research, surveying and excavation to shed light on some of the many other people who have used the landscape over the centuries, both before and after the Vikings.
Although this community heritage project hopes to find new archaeological evidence for past occupation and use of the area, it also places great emphasis on training local people in the techniques needed to investigate this historic landscape. By providing hands-on experience of archaeology, together with a whole variety of stimulating activities, the project hopes to raise awareness of the area’s important cultural heritage, and aims to use the information gathered to promote the area to visitors.
The project kicked off with a range of workshops held in the Three Villages Hall in Arrochar, on topics including documentary research sources and techniques, gathering information from old maps and plans, and how to use geographic information systems and aerial photography. Dr. Simon Taylor (Glasgow University) generated enough enthusiasm at his workshop on place names to prompt the formation of a local Place Name Group, now committed to producing a comprehensive list of local place names. In March, internationally renowned Viking expert (and local resident) Dr. Colleen Batey (Glasgow University) presented ‘The Vikings in Scotland: Myth and Reality’ to an enthralled audience who felt privileged to be allowed to handle genuine 1,000-year-old Viking artefacts. Members of the re-enactment group Glasgow Vikings also generously gave their time and loaned costumes and replica items for the day.
Adult volunteers and school children took part in a major walkover survey of the area coordinated by archaeologists from Northlight Heritage. Following on from this, over 70 volunteers helped to excavate several sites during four weeks in May, 2013: a deserted rural settlement called Creag an’t Serraich, Arrochar Primary School’s playing field in Tarbet, circular enclosures near Ballyhennan Church and some mysterious mounds near Arrochar. More information about the results will be posted on the website http://hiddenheritage.org.uk/) and Facebook page.
Engaging local schools in the history of the landscape and the process of archaeology is a major focus of the Hidden Heritage Project. Both primary and secondary school pupils have been involved in the survey and excavations (managed by Northlight Heritage), as well as in learning how to use old documents to research the past, and how to record features using simple survey techniques. The excitement of the local Viking connection has been celebrated by primary school pupils through Viking culture workshops with Glasgow Vikings, a chance to handle Viking finds with Dr. Batey, and making Lewis chessmen and replica Viking longboats. A poetry book, drama workshops (Scottish Youth Theatre), and Viking boat-themed playground musical equipment (GalGael Trust) still to come! A memorable Open Day at the excavations on May 25th was visited by over 150 people, who came to hear about the archaeology, listen to Norse fiddle music, taste some venison stew, try some traditional rural crafts and drink some Haakon Viking Ale!
The digging is about to come to an end, but there is plenty more to do. Finds processing, analysis and publications will follow, and brochures and posters will be designed to promote the area and encourage locals and visitors alike to explore its beauty and history, while appreciating the need to care for and protect the landscape.
A final conference will take place in May 2014 to disseminate the results of the surveying and excavations, and to celebrate the many aspects of the project.
Image by Richard Barrett-Small