Digging a Drovers’ Inn in Scotland
A new GUARD Archaeology community excavation is underway in Argyll; the excavation of the site of a Drovers’ Inn and what is 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 inn at Tigh Caol has provoked the interest of GUARD Archaeology Chairman, Donald Adamson, on the archaeology of cattle droving (and grain export) from the Highlands in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Donald, who has just completed a PhD at the University of Glasgow, considers that the single greatest catalyst for change in the Scottish Highlands immediately before and during the Agricultural Improvement of the eighteenth century was the growing export of black cattle in huge numbers. The archaeology of this trade has hitherto been much undervalued.
The Tigh Caol dig started on Monday 26 May 2014 with fantastic support from the Strachur and District Local History Society and volunteers from the local communities. Donald, together with GUARD Archaeology Project Manager Warren Bailie and five Glasgow University students got stuck straight in by opening the proposed excavation trenches, the positions of which had been discussed almost a year previously; so the anticipation was palpable. It quickly became clear that this, at first glance, simple rectangular dry-stone built building had a lot more going on.
A trench across the west gable end leading east into the structure revealed a fairly central, intricate, stone-paved hearth arrangement with charcoal rich deposits in the periphery representing the repeated raking out of the fire and discarded flints that would have been used to light it. This hearth lies within a room measuring approximately 4 m by 5 m, the size of your average living room or kitchen today. A low stone bench or platform was built against the north wall within this room. One can easily picture a drover or traveller resting here with their feet up by the central fire and a drink in their hand over 200 years ago.
The larger main room of the Tigh Caol Inn appears more open and there the beaten earth floor has been found with some organic deposits and a possible additional hearth in the east gable. Here among the wall collapse there is a substantial dressed lintel stone and other stones at floor level displaying signs of burning. The process of removing the collapsed east gable wall is currently underway.
One thing that has eluded the team so far has been the entrance but the two long axis walls are being uncovered and this, it is hoped, will reveal a doorway. Pupils from the local Strachur, Kilmodan, Toward, Tighnabruaich and Sandbank Gaelic Medium primary schools have been helping uncover the walls and have turned up some eighteenth century bottle glass. There were a total of 100 pupils assisting, all of which had a chance to dig, sieve, metal detect, plan and of course have fun!
The findings from the Tigh Caol dig so far is in keeping with the suspected eighteeenth to early nineteeth century date. The team have recovered multiple shards of eighteenth century bottle glass and various pottery wares such as delft, Staffordshire Slipware and other hand painted white glazed fine-wares.
The star finds so far are shards, including a base and rim, of a fine clear glass goblet of probable eighteenth century date. This is indicating the high quality items that this inn afforded visiting drovers.
Near the drover’s track which approaches from the south, on the edge of the nearby burn, the team’s metal detectorist, Jim Conquer, has also recovered a copper alloy horse harness keep with a double thistle design. This may have slipped off when a drover’s horse was taken for water or perhaps when it was traversing the burn.
The dig runs on to 5 June and anyone is welcome to come along and see the site first hand any time between 8 am and 4 pm every day. Or keep up to date with the findings from Tigh Caol on twitter with @Guard_Archaeol #tighcaol #pubdig
The site lies on the low side of the A886 road (NGR: NS 06301 95853), down the old road on the way to Strathlachlan Hall, near Leanach and about 2.5 km south‐east of Newton.
Tigh Caol underway © GUARD Archaeology
Tigh Caol excavation © GUARD Archaeology
Tigh Caol finds © GUARD Archaeology