The Scottish Highlands, Land Of Ancient Peoples

Glencoe is in the heart of the Scottish highlands – in the old days it was renowned for being inaccessible. Yet people have been around here for up top 10,000 years, since the retreat of the last Ice Age. They’ve left their traces.

The traces of people who lived in this area 3,000 years ago have been found a short drive from here.

Mesolithic people moved from site to site based on fishing and hunting. River mouths and estuaries were good sites, they always needed fresh water and materials for building shelters. The weather was warmer then than it is to-day. In this area they also needed protection in the winter, so caves seem to be a good answer. Go North round the shoreline from Oban for a couple of miles to Ganavan sands and you’ll see where they lived.

On the right you’ll pass the old castle built on short cliffs with caves. That’s where the Mesolithic people lived – their rubbish tips have been found. The water level was 16 foot or so higher then. They have found human bones as well as bone and stone artefacts. Tourists can see the caves where they lived. They were all over Ardamurchan, opposite here, and on the Inner Islands. For how long did they live here? Oh, just for four thousand years or so, until settled farming developed.

This country belonged to a farming people, the Picts, during Roman times. They built the strange circular defensive “brochs”. It is a marvellous thing to visit, we’ve been there. Very strange. There is a broch on the island of Lismore nearby, easily found but hardly ever visited to-day.

But during the Roman times the Western Islands were raided and occupied by the Scotia from Northern Ireland. They established an early Kingdom called Dalriada and there are a multitude of remains of them and their burial sites around the Kilmartin area South of Oban, under 2 hours drive from here. After St. Columba established his base on Iona and travelled extensively around the Western Isles, he brought the Picts and the Scots together.

Vikings raided the West Coast from the late 8th century onwards and later settled mostly in the Hebrides. Loch Linnie was the furthest inland they came. One of the early raids was on Iona in 795, part of a series.

The early Scottish kings were buried on Iona just down the road, across the ferry to Mull then one more short ferry trip.

The Vikings came because they had clan wars in Norway taking their toll on the people, and the looting of the Christan Churches helped to fund their local wars back home. They took Scots people with them as slaves. Late in the Viking period there are records of a battle in Laroch, the older name for Ballachulish near Glencoe village and remains have been found there. There is a legend that a Viking ship foundered on a rock in the mouth of Loch Leven on the South Side near where the bridge is now, and a Viking Prince was drowned. If you look West at the lochside at low tide from close to the Bridge you will see such a rock as could do this damage at high tide.

The famous Viking, King Haakon died in Orkney after his ships were damaged in the storm at the Battle of Largs in 1263. This saw the end of the Viking rule in Scotland. His son, Magnus, gave up the Islands after that and a lasting treaty was signed three years later. By this time the Vikings had settled in the Island communities, had all intermarried, had converted to Christianity.

About author:

John Winkler used to be the marketing correspondent for The Times in London. Now retired he and his wife have a pretty period cottage on the lochside at Glencoe in Scotland. They let it out for vacations.-