You may have heard of Public Archaeology but a new GUARD Archaeology community excavation has a twist; we are about to start digging a pub, a former Drovers' Inn to be precise and what may be the first such excavation of a Drovers' Inn anywhere in Scotland.
On the road to Glendaruel in Argyll are the ruins of 'Tigh Caol', an old inn on the edge of a droving route on the Cowal Peninsula area near Strachur.
The old drove route was used before the roughly parallel Telford engineered road was built. The building of Telford's road in the early nineteenth century probably led to the demise of the inn as traffic began to move faster with a generally improved surface and gradient and with the increasing use of carriages. Telford's road therefore lessened the need for both drover and livestock to stop for a rest. By 1870, the site was described in the Ordnance Survey Name Book as 'the ruins of what was formerly an inn' and depicted as a single unroofed building on the Ordnance Survey's First Edition map of the area.
The inn at Tigh Caol has provoked the interest of GUARD Archaeology Chairman, Donald Adamson, who has just completed a PhD at the University of Glasgow, on the archaeology of cattle droving (and grain export) from the Highlands in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Donald's view is that the single greatest catalyst for change in the Scottish Highlands immediately before and during Improvement was the growing export of black cattle in huge numbers. The archaeology of this trade has hitherto been much undervalued.
Donald has instigated this research excavation, which will take place from 26 May to 6 June 2014, to investigate the archaeological remains at Tigh Caol, in particular to examine archaeological features and finds that may distinguish the building as an inn rather than a residential dwelling.
The Strachur and District Local History Society are closely involved, arranging local school participation and local volunteer participants. There will also be five archaeology students from the University of Glasgow assisting with the excavation. The excavations will be led by Warren Bailie from GUARD Archaeology who will be supervising and training the volunteer participants.
The site lies on the low side of the A886 road (NGR: NS 06301 95853), 2.5 km south‐east of Newton in Argyll. The site of Tigh Caol is now a series of low walls approximately 0.2 m to 0.3 m high enveloped in vegetation, that lie on a slightly raised platform on the inside of a meander of a burn. A nearby bridge called the 'Witches Bridge' carries Telford's road over the burn. To the north of this bridge along the main road edge lies a foreboding large quartzite glacial erratic known as 'Cailleach Glas', which translates as the 'grey old woman' or 'grey-haired witch'.
The 'Grey Lady' so one reads in the late Bella Douglas's local history book:
'haunts this part of the Glen road. She crosses and re-crosses the road, wringing her hands and moaning. Some folks have seen her and one man still resident in the district, says he has seen her several times.'
But if you're not too spooked by the Grey-haired Witch hanging around and you would like to come for a visit or join in for a few hours, a day or even more in any capacity, be it providing local knowledge or digging; contact Strachur and District Local History Society directly or GUARD Archaeology Limited at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Tigh Caol.
Throughout the course of the excavation, Strathlachlan Hall, courtesy of the hall committee, will be the base for catering and welfare facilities. If you can't make it to the site, follow the dig on twitter @Guard_Archaeol #pubarch #TighCaol where we will be putting photos and updates over the course of the dig.