THE GLENELG AND ARNISDALE TOURIST INFORMATION GUIDE

 

 

The Glenelg timeline

 

Once upon a time, many years ago.................

20,000BC: life was fun in Glenelg twenty-two thousand years ago! Mammoths grazed in Arnisdale, sabre-tooth tigers terrorised the folk in Moyle. At Quarry, Macrae and Filbert ran the local agency for West Sussex Flint Tools PLC. At the Inn there were seafood dinners every day and little else. Up in Glenbeg people claimed to have seen a Woolly Rhinoceros. But all was soon to change. Chill winds and cold summers came first: then ice that refused to melt and got thicker and thicker. At last Glaciers half a mile thick ground along from the north. All life disappeared without trace: nothing like it would happen again until clan chiefs and landowners wiped out a whole civilisation in the 19th century, but that's for later! Mountains were ground down into boulders, shingle and scree which would cover the landscape once the ice retreated. People and animals emigrated south to Birmingham and waited.

 

10,000BC: the glaciers have gone: life returns gradually. Once again seafood is the staple diet, but soon all kinds of plants and animals are added. In Camas nan Alltan, just north of Sandaig, shell middens mark a settlement of about 3500BC. People lived in caves or simple tents of hazel branches covered with skins, and kept on the move.

3,000BC: farming arrives along with permanent houses. The division of the land into arable, pasture and forest begins and remains much the same until 19th century clearances and 20th century commercial forestry. Someone important was buried in the chambered cairn at Balvraid. The farm villages (Gaelic = baile) formed at this time probably were little changed until the great evictions. Substantial stone houses, some round and others oval, were the homes of the people; circles of stone or wooden posts were places of community gatherings. No doubt the great structures of Skara Brae, Calanais and Maes Howe had their smaller, simpler and now lost equivalents in Glenelg.

 

2,000BC: the craft of metalworking comes gradually northwards. The skills known as the Bronze Age will change everything. Work in gold and in bronze began at the same time, creating new tools and weapons along with objects of exquisite beauty. It's easier for able and powerful individuals to lord it over the rest – and it's much easier to kill people! The cairn at Balvraid was re-opened and re-used for burial: and up the track a large rock had cup-markings cut into it.

 

1,000BC: the Iron Age is on its way, and Glenelg now has lots of stuff to prove it! Small hillforts (Macleod's Castle and Culindune), vitrified forts (underneath Eilean Donan) and larger enclosures (Baghan Buarblach and Baghan Galltair) and a better class of round house with double walls. We look east across Britain and speak Pictish, a P-Celtic language ancestor of Welsh. We worship the power of lochs, rivers and mountains and make long journeys to meet with others and deposit offerings in secret places (e.g. Ardachaidh in Strath in Skye) For comfort and security and pride we build the great brochs – surely we are the people and nothing like us ever was! With iron, killing people is a dawdle!

 

1AD: in a village in Judea an event takes place which will shortly change us for ever. Other events of which we were aware include the steady advance of the Roman Empire, which counted many of the tribes in the south of Britain as its allies. We knew about the Romans (and the Greeks) from trade and interesting objects which made their way up the west coast. In the summer of 83 some of our men went to Aberdeenshire to confront Agricola's Roman army, which smashed us, according to the few who came back. At thesame time the Roman battle fleet sailed south down the Kyle: huge vessels with three banks of oars, walls lined with bronze and gold full of ferocious looking soldiers. We watched from a safe distance. After 450 the news comes up that the Romans have left Britain leaving a soft but rich population ripe for plunder. We begin to look west and south to our kin in the Isles and in Ireland, and learn to speak a Q-Celtic language called Gaelic. But some of the old Pictish names like Pitalman for Bail' an Ailm we continue to use for nearly 2000 years.

 

500AD: events come quickly at this time. In 563 Columba from Ireland sets up a Christian community in Iona, and soon the faith of Christ is established in Glenelg. A new language is soon heard, Latin, the tongue of ancient Rome. Worship, books and inscriptions will use this language for centuries.

 

795AD: Skye pillaged by the Vikings. Some of them settle in Glenelg, which eventually becomes a Norwegian possession under the King of Mann. Another new language to learn! Arnisdale, Rosdail, Scammadale, Swardland, Scallisaig and Sandwick are Norse place names. Before too long they become Christian and our Church is subject to the Archbishop of Nidaros in Norway. Mam Ratagan is an international frontier. The typical Norse settlement had a “long house” such as the ones at Sandaig and Mhoghsgeir in Lochhourn. 850AD: Scots and Picts now united in lands north of Forth and Clyde. We're too busy coping with the Norse to notice!

 

1018AD: Scottish border pushed south to the Tweed. The new lands and much of the east coast speak English. For centuries this will remain a novelty in Glenelg.

 

1066AD: the Norman Conquest: by brute force in England and invitation in Scotland. Norman-French familes (Frasers, Chisholms, Roses, Bruces, Bissetts, Baillies (originally de Baliols) and more) receive lands and titles in the Highlands and eventually become “more Gaelic than the Gaels”

 

1265AD: after the battle of Largs the Isles, including Glenelg, become Scottish. Norse settlers have the choice: go to Norway or become Scots. Some went to Iceland. There's no record of how many did what.

 

1286AD: death of Alexander III, “that Scotlande lede in lauche and le” and of his heir, the Maid of Norway. A long period of uncertainty follows as Bruce, Balliol, Comyn and Plantagenet struggle for control of Scotland. Chiefs and nobles support different parties, sometimes allied with England against Scotland. And they fight amongst themselves, mostly for land. The West drifts away from the Scottish crown. And this starts another long period when the centre tries to bring the islands back under control. That'smore or less what happened for the next 300 years!

 

1314AD: during the War of Independence King Robert gives Glenelg to Randolph, Earl of Murray. How the events of this time were felt in Glenelg we don't know: the fighting came no nearer than Urquhart Castle.

 

1342AD: King David grants Glenelg to Macleod of Harris (and Dunvegan) with whose family it remained till 1811. Well, more or less: at times the Crown, the Macdonalds, the Campbells and the Frasers stuck their fingers in.

 

1651AD: at the battle of Worcester the Macleod contingent in the Scottish army is largely wiped out. Neighbouring clans kindly agree to suspend all feuds until the children grow up and become available for the next slaughter!

 

1745AD: the last Jacobite rising. Macleod of Dunvegan raises 800 men to fight for the King. They fight at Inverurie, Moy and Culloden: the last MacCrimmon to play the pipes in battle was shot at Moy. He had foretold that he would never return to Dunvegan. As a loyal parish, Glenelg is spared the harraying that was inflicted on the Jacobite districts. But how will Macleod reward his loyal tenants? Loyalty for loyalty? Not likely!

 

1776AD: a survey of Glenelg shows that already many farmers were heading for America and a better life.

 

1804AD: the Macleod chief, greedy for money and deeply in debt, evicts 76 tenants and their families and lets the land to sheep farmers at greatly increased rents.

 

1810AD: Glenelg is sold and the centuries' old connection with Macleod of Harris (aka of Dunvegan) is ended.

 

1843AD: The Disruption. Many leave the national Church and form the Free Church in protest against patronage

 

1849AD: 500 people are evicted and forced to emigrate. The land is “put under” sheep.

 

914AD: the First World War. The names of the fallen are on the War Memorial. After the war the big farms in Glenmore were divided into crofts for returning ex-servicemen, mostly from Staffin on Skye.

 

1920AD: at this time the majority of the people spoke Gaelic and used it as their normal speech. But as more and more people spoke only English the use of Gaelic became less and less. By the end of the century it had ceased to be used except on special occasions: who knows if learning the language in schools, now universal, will change this?

 

1939AD: the Second World War. Glenelg is within the security orbit of the Naval Base at Kyle of Lochalsh. A boom from Sandaig to Skye keeps German submarines out. The first aerial survey of Glenelg was made a few years earlier by the German Air Force: copies of this were only found recently and are in the National Library in Edinburgh. Ardentoul was a naval fuel bunker.

 

Rev David Kellas

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