Sunday, October 04, 2015

At the Foot of Ben Lomond: Ardess Hidden History Walk

-->Entry for 3 October 2015:

Almost two years ago, we spent a lovely afternoon exploring Sallochy, on the east side of Loch Lomond (see: ).  Today we returned to this area, driving a bit further up the same road, to Rowardennan, best known as the trailhead for the climb up Ben Lomond.  Climbing Ben Lomond is definitely on my list of things to do before I leave Scotland (whenever that turns out to be); however, today was more of a preparatory scouting expedition, so instead we did shorter walk around Ardess, at the foot of the mountain. 

Ardess is now a cluster of buildings, including a youth hostel and ranger station, where we picked up a copy of the map for a fascinating archeological walk through the scattered ruins of the 18th century village of Ardess (“high water” in Scots Gaelic, referring to the lovely waterfall in the photo), on the slopes above the modern structures.  There we saw first the remains of traditional “rig and furrow” agriculture, in which crops were grown on ridges alternating with shallow drainage ditches.  Then as we progressed up the trail we started seeing the foundation stones of traditional houses (on which wooden or sod structures with thatched roofs were built) and we followed the upper dyke (stone wall) separating farming from grazing land use.  There was even the ruin of a smelter shack used for refining “bog iron” (which we saw greasy-looking orange traces of at one point along the path).  And far above us, there was the ridge of the trail leading to the top of the ben, and the mountain itself, while across Loch Lomond we could see the village of Inverbeg.

It was a lovely afternoon, as we enjoyed the last of the Indian Summer we’ve been having in Scotland.  Nevertheless, as we progressed from one ruin to another, I remembered the village of Wester Sallochy, which we had seen two years ago, just down the road.  Those ruins were more recent, from the 19th century, and much more intact than what we saw today.  At the same time, however, both places filled me with a sense of melancholy that both of these places had once contained the life of lively lives living there but now vanished.  As TS Eliot wrote in East Coker:
            “The dancers have all gone under the hill”

In the case of Ardess, I was left with something a bit more than melancholy:  it was the Scots Gaelic-speaking Celtic people who were driven off the land by wealthy landowners, in an act of what we today would call ethnic cleaning, and the land was then used for raising sheep and hunting deer and other game animals.  So Ardess is another piece of Scottish historical trauma, which even today echoes in the hearts of the people of Scotland.

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