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Baliscate - Past and Present

 

Baliscate Today

Scotland's Rural Past

Time Team

Baliscate Timeline

Maps

Bookshop

 

Time Team - May 2009

 

The programme was aired 25th April 2010 -

and can be watched again on the Channel 4 website

 

November 2008


The Herald



BURSTING out of the trees into a large clearing, in woods above Tobermory, Hylda Marsh and Bev Langhorn didn't quite know what to expect. Someone had lived here in centuries past - that much they knew, or at least strongly suspected, after seeing aerial photographs taken in the 1950s showing a square shape in the ground.

But for the best part of half a century, ever since the woods were planted, the hilltop had been a quiet, lonely place visited by scarcely a soul To get there, the pair had walked across boggy fields, thrown themselves over two burns and climbed up a scramble bank. The burning question was, who had lived there and when?

"It was quite overgrown with bracken, but there were obviously two square shapes, of about 40ft by 40ft, " remembers Hylda, who runs a guest house and holiday cottage agency in Tobermory.

"It was a bit like looking at one of those 3-D pictures where you have to take time to focus, " adds Bev, who, when she isn't sleuthing with Hylda, does the accounts at a local builders' yard. The ruins indicated a building set inside an enclosure. They also found a dishshaped stone.

Their hearts quickened: perhaps this might have been part of a Viking settlement. Eight months earlier, in April 2007, the duo had gone along to an open evening run by Scotland's Rural Past, a project hosted by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), which supports local communities to investigate ruined settlements.

Hylda and Bev had obtained the aerial photograph of the site from the RCAHMS, so, after measuring out the proportions of the squares with their feet, they returned to Tobermory and contacted the RCAHMS, briefly describing their findings. Half expecting to learn it was an animal enclosure of some sort, they were surprised to be told that it could in fact be a chapel. But don't get excited, said the experts.


That stoicism evaporated when two months later, in March this year, a team of experts from the RCAHMS came out with Bev and Hylda to take a closer look. "That was the day they told us what they thought it was - an early Christian chapel, dating from the fifth to tenth centuries - and that was when it really hit home, " says Bev. "One of the gentlemen went very quiet and started walking around quite excitedly. 'Tell me why it isn't, ' he kept saying to his colleagues, asking them to disprove it."

Documentary evidence of a church on the site is non-existent. Recently a team of RCAHMS surveyors spent two days examining, measuring and recording the ruins - and they concluded that the building was indeed an early Christian chapel. "We've looked at the plans of chapels in Mull and it fits, " said Ishbel Mackinnon, SRP field officer, speaking from the site. "It has the east-west orientation and an entrance positioned in the north wall, which conforms to what we would expect.

"We've also had a look at the dish-shaped stone and we're quite happy that the bowl has been worked." It may have been filled with oil and used as a lamp.

It is particularly significant because of its proximity to Iona. "It's an interesting period because of Columba, " says Strat Halliday, head of policy for survey and recording at RCAHMS. "Iona is such an important monastery; it's from there that all sorts of missionary activity took place. In that context, any new discovery is of interest."

Perhaps most important is the fact that this site was previously completely unknown and has now been recorded in the RCAHMS archive for posterity. It's one of a string of successes for Scotland's Rural Past, which has made an army of detectives out of Scotland's Sunday hikers, dog-walkers and anyone with an interest in local history. A five-year project that began in October 2006, its aim is to pinpoint the remains of hamlets, farmsteads, crofts, weavers' cottages, mills, quarries and churches in some cases, they may eventually be turned into visitor sites with interpretation boards.

The Baliscate chapel might never have been discovered if it weren't for Bev and Hylda. They decided to research the area around Baliscate, just outside Tobermory in January. "We were hoping that we'd find things, but we didn't know what, " says Hylda. "There was some talk that Baliscate was supposedly one of the original villages before Tobermory, so we hoped we'd find some of those clutches of houses from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries."

Their powers of observation have been crucial. Once they knew it might be a church, Bev and Hylda went to Mull Museum and looked for references to a church. The museum's curator found the transcript of an oral history interview done a few years ago: it turned out that according to folklore, there was indeed a church on the hill above Baliscate, another important part of the jigsaw of evidence.

Tertia Barnett, project manager for Scotland's Rural Past, is delighted with the find. "There's no record of it, it's not on the map and it's very, very old, " she says.

Though settlements from every period have been uncovered by SRP, the scheme has a clear remit: the past 500 years, and particularly the Highland Clearances. "There's a lot of political baggage around things like the Clearances, which are poorly understood, " says Barnett. "This project has been brought about to address that."

Several hundred sites relating to the past 500 years have been recorded. In Strathconnon, Rossshire, traces of more than 20 illicit whisky stills have been found. Documented history identifies the area as having been rife with illicit distilling, says Barnett. "There are known to have been scuffles between excisemen and locals, " she says.

Findings have also been made from the Neolithic until the early mediaeval period, including prehistoric rock art, round houses which could be Iron Age or later, and chambered cairns.

The majority of what's been done so far has been in the Highlands, where there are more crumbling settlements, says Barnett. "Within 50 years, something could go from being a roofed building to being ruined." Hence the urgency: the effects of weathering, land erosion and development can erase these human traces all too easily.

So can we expect Bev and Hylda's chapel to feature on Time Team in future? Well, although Scotland's Rural Past has been shortlisted for best project in the British Archaeological Awards, sponsored by Channel 4, among others, it doesn't mean that the sites it helps uncover will be excavated. The RCAHMS survey and record, and their purpose is to preserve rather than dig up. "Realistically, it's probably not going to be excavated, " says Halliday.

The amateur surveyors are doing a crucially important job building up a national collection, he adds. "Scotland's Rural Past is adding to the sum of our knowledge."

 

 
 
   
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

The latest on the Baliscate Chapel

 

We now have a report prepared by the Mull Museum for the Baliscate Chapel which has maps, photographs, diagrams and information about the site

it also includes the

Wessex Archaeology Report
January 2010
Ref: 71503
Baliscate Chapel
Isle of Mull
Archaeological Evaluation and Assessment of Results  on CD 45 pages

 

We are raising funds to continue the excavation and are selling the report for

 ?0 free postage

if you like a copy please use the button below

All proceeds from the sale of the report will go to the funding of the next stage of the excavation