Ardnamurchan - Shaped by Thousands of Years
The history of Ardnamurchan has been shaped by molten rock from over 1000 million years ago. From this time, the landscape has evolved and the life within Ardnamurchan changed and grown. Evidence of this evolution is seen in the Moine rocks that form the foundation of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. Moine rock was formed from sediments exposed to high temperatures and pressures within the earth's core. As the earths crust was shaped, molten larva cooled to produce rock formations. In west Ardnamurchan these rocks have, remained unchanged, with the structure of the original marine sediments visible exposed rocks today.
60 million years ago, as the earth's crust between Europe and Greenland split apart, creating the northeast Atlantic Ocean, Ardnamurchan was one of five major volcanic areas along the Scottish west coast. Ardnamurchan is well known for these well-developed ring structures and some of these volcanic craters are clearly visible today, even though there has been no volcanic activity for over 1 million years.
Once the volcanic activity ceased, these extinct volcanoes went through many millions of years of erosion by water and ice, sculpting and revealing the landmass that is seen today.
There are great opportunities to view fossils all over Ardnamurchan and children love fossil hunting. Finding a fossil really brings alive these dinosaur aged rocks to both young and old.
Geology & Archaeology
The geology of the Ardnamurchan peninsula is of both national and international significance and is studied regularly by field trips from leading UK and European universities. Ardnamurchan is also currently part of a five year archaeological project which is looking at evidence of the very last hunter gatherers and the first farmers who lived on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula (4000 - 8000 years ago). For further information visit the Ardnamurchan Transitions Project website.
The Ancient rocks of Ardnamurchan win Geopark status
Lochaber has been awarded European Geopark status and is the 31st to join the list of geoparks. Ardnamurchan forms an important part of this geopark, with its volcanic ring dyke and Moine rocks. www.lochabergeopark.org.uk
The European Geoparks Network (EGN) was set up in 2000 in an effort to protect and promote zones with rocks and features considered to be unique. The new park stretches from Rannoch Moor in the south to Knoydart in the north, and from the Small Isles in the west to Glen Spean in the east.
Moidart History Group
For those interested our local history, the Moidart History Group promotes the history, heritage & culture of this remote area of the Scottish Highlands. It has researched and assembled a large amount of information about the area, which is freely available to visitors.
Who were the people of Ardnamurchan?
Ardnamurchan may appear, today, to be rather a peaceful, quite and remote corner of Scotland. However, the fact that it is a peninsula on the west coast with poor land access made it ideal for the "power barons" of the past. A base on this peninsula could be a highly important strategic fortification for overseeing activities in Mull, Skye, the Argyll coast and even as far as the Western Isles.
This is why the Vikings landed here and stayed for over 500 years - the names Placaig, Acarsaig, Ormsaig and Grigadale are all Norse in origin. But they were not the first settlers on the peninsula - there is evidence of ancient settlers going back 4,000 years.
The Vikings finally left Ardnamurchan in the mid 13th century having been challenged by the powerful Scottish leader called Somerled. The Vikings, once settlers, now became invaders and their rule came to an end with the assassination of the tyrannical ruler Muchdragon MacRi Lochlunn in 1266. He was slain on the slopes of Ben Hiant by one of his vassals Evun Cleireach. There are a few local landmarks to the north and west of Ben Hiant whose origins come from Evun's name.
With the demise of Viking rule, Ardnamurchan became part of the feudal holdings of the Scottish King David II. Mingary Castle was built around this time (circa 1400) and it served the needs of the Lords of the Isles against the wishes of the Crown. Feuding was common and the Crown found Ardnamurchan and its rugged terrain difficult to control. 3 expeditions tried to quell these feuds but all failed. After Angus, Lord of the Isles was assassinated in 1490, John MacIan, Chief of the MacIans, favoured King James IV and whilst this move gave him control of the lands, he fell out of favour with his neighbouring islanders.
Following the death of King James IV in 1513, feuding again started and Mingary Castle was eventually destroyed in 1517. It was rebuilt again by the MacIan and again destroyed in 1519.
Ardnamurchan was passed to Archibald, the 4th Earl of Argyll in 1540. Finally, the Campbells dispossessed the MacIans in 1626 where most were killed in Morvern after a spate of piracy! The castle was inhabited until around 1838.
In 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie landed at Loch nan Uamh near Arisaig and immediately set off for Kinlochmoidart. Being a Hanoverian, Campbell, stronghold, his presence in this parish was not welcome by the local minister in Kilchoan although it was by many of his parishioners. He very quickly broke the news to the Sheriff in Inveraray. Dalilea was the nearest the Bonnie Prince came to Ardnamurchan preferring to hide in the more welcoming realms of Lochaber.
After the '45 rising and to a certain extent, as a result of it, the Highland Clearances took hold in the Highlands and Islands and Ardnamurchan was not spared. In 1828 the townships of Coire-mhuilinn, Skinod, Buarblaig and Tornamona were cleared and in 1853, the Swordle townships.
Since then the estate has been sold several times, sometimes in parcels until today when the estate now consists of the much of the peninsula instead of the whole peninsula as in the mid 19th century.
The history of this remote area of west coast Scotland is fascinating, sometimes harsh and violent and often sad but, above all, it has been highly prized not only by the power barons of medieval times but by the people it has housed, sheltered and sustained over the centuries.
Who are the people of Ardnamurchan Today?
The people today are a varied mix of people, in several communities, with Gaelic traditions and language living alongside its more cosmopolitan mix of neighbours. Local schools encourage and teach Gaelic alongside information technology and mainstream subjects.
A Sense of Community
There are several community clusters in Ardnamurchan, each with their own identity and needs. Ardnamurchan is a vibrant place, thanks to these strong and empowered communities.
Kilchoan owns and runs its own community centre and tourist information point, has control of its moorings and village pier and works tirelessly to improve the village and its facilities.
Acharacle Community Company has taken responsibility for recycling and reuse projects across the whole of Ardnamurchan. It owns the local post office building that provides business opportunities for several local businesses.
In Strontian, the Sunart Community Company manage fishing rights on the Strontian and Polloch Rivers and Loch Doilet and are responsible for the Strontian village green and two areas within the Strontian community woodland. They are also in the process of developing a community hydro-electric scheme, which, if successful, will bring significant funds into the community.
Through determined fundraising, notably through the Glenuig Music Festival (1983-1993) the Glenuig community built the magnificent Glenuig Hall that is owned and managed by the Community Association. The Association is currently looking into the future of the village shop, hoping to build new premises to be run as a Community Enterprise along with a fuel station.
The Children of Ardnamurchan
Aside from the remoteness of Ardnamurchan, children enjoy a safe and stimulating place to grow and learn. With such small numbers, strong and lasting friendships are born that ensure they stay connected for life.
Children enjoy local sports, take part in community activity and have a sense of pride in their place. They are also given the opportunity to go bowling, to the cinema and do all the other things a child can do in town. Distance becomes relative and children learn to enjoy travel.
There are strong well-attended youth clubs and sporting sessions and these also foster a great sense of camaraderie and care for other members of their peer groups.
Schooling in Ardnamurchan
Ardnamurchan High School is one of Highland Region's newest schools. Opening in 2002, it services the remote and rural communities of Ardnamurchan, Morven, and Moidart. As a "21st Century Schools", Ardnamurchan High has excellent information technology resources, as well as a modern purpose built school. With 130 pupils (May 2007) pupils benefit from smaller than average class sizes, more teacher contact, and a curriculum that is tailored to their individual needs from ages 11 to 18. The school has a team of 17 teaching staff, serving the pupils, and the community. The school is also a new community school, and under the banner of "The Sunart Centre" is a focal point for a wide range of community based events. Many children go onto further education from here. Acharacle are set to follow with a brand new Community Primary School in the next few years.
Music and the Arts in Ardnamurchan
There is a strong music ethos in Ardnamurchan, with a traditional Feisan Movement. Fèis nan Garbh Chrìochan is the local movement that supports development of community-based Gaelic arts tuition festivals throughout Scotland. This is open to all children from 5 to 18 years and has been instrumental in developing much of the musical talent in the Highlands. The feisan movement conducts year round teaching sessions in music art and dance. Alongside an annual week long teaching event this allows youngsters, particularly from remote and rural areas access to music and the arts. Many youngsters go onto careers in these field or attend centres of excellence such as Plockton Music School. Many youngsters also return in later years as tutors to ensure the traditions are maintained.