By Roz Macaskill
It’s in the Glenbrittle area, boasts a tremendous view of the Cuillins and is made of water…but what is it?
"The Fairy Pools" or "Glenbrittle Beach" might be two obvious guesses - but there is also an ancient water feature that promises to take you straight back in time.
This medieval harbour and canal is located at Loch na h-Airde on the Rubha an Dunain peninsula..
In late 2017, the site was given Scheduled Monument status by Historic Environment Scotland (HES), ensuring its national importance is recognised. Describing the monument as rare, the paper states that the size of the docks and boat shelters suggest that this was an important harbour site in the medieval period. The complex could potentially have been associated with boat repair and construction or for overwintering boats.
Consisting of a stone-lined channel connecting Loch na h-Airde to the sea, the intricately-designed canal proves difficult to date. According to the paper published by HES, the remains of a wooden boat dating back to the 12th century have been identified on the loch bed. The paper states: "Although a boat fragment found in the loch dates from the early 12th century, it is currently not possible to confirm the date of the canal and harbour complex. The use of Loch na h-Airde as a boat anchorage may have early origins in the Norse period but the canal and harbour complex could have been constructed at any time in the medieval period, and is likely to have had a long sequence of development and use, as evidenced by a later boat fragment radiocarbon-dated to somewhere in the period 1730-1930."
The upper section of the canal is somewhat mysterious having been purposely blocked at some unknown time. HES report: "The blockage potentially may once have been a structure, perhaps a sluice or tide mill, that was demolished to stop access to Loch na h-Airde."
The monument status also includes two boat docks and noosts, or boat shelters. "The largest noost at Rubha an Dunain is the largest currently known in Scotland," states the HES report. "The sophistication of the complex at Rubha an Dunain makes it a rare and significant survival of a harbour complex associated with the West Highland and Hebridean galley tradition, perhaps with Norse origins."
So, next time you plan to visit Glenbrittle, consider making the trek to the canal. It may be less accessible than the popular Fairy Pools, but the solitude of the walk and the feel of stepping straight into history cannot be beaten.