Bronze Age Kiln Uncovered – Published June 2014

During the hey day of the Clyde steamers, Hell’s Glen was an important through route from Glasgow to St. Catherine’s, on to Inverary, and beyond. Coach horses were watered at Moses Well, which was known as Adam’s Well on very early maps. I’m not certain who Adam was – maybe it was Eve’s man, or the same one as in Adam’s Grave in Dunoon (Ardnadam).

Just beyond Moses’ Well, on the way out of the glen, there are the remains of an ancient track which ran alongside the burn. It has even been speculated that pilgrims of old may have travelled this route on their way to Iona. Most of this track is lost in the forest planting over the past 40 years, or lost under the now sodden bog. Hidden away half way along this track is a clearing in which there are two large boulders with Bronze Age cup markings on them, the remains of the settlement called Glean Beag and an old corn drying kiln.

There is a great deal of uncertainty regarding the purpose of cup marks – possibly for ritual use, astronomical observations, location of metal ores, and so on, but in truth, the purpose remains a bit of a mystery.Drying kilns were used to dry barley and corn prior to grinding it, and to prevent it from rotting if it was to be kept in storage. They were also used to dry malt for brewing or distilling. The corn was spread over woven branches or something similar, and the heat from a fire in the flue at the base of the kiln would dry the corn.

Corn kilns can be found throughout the Highlands and Islands, (and all over Britain), but most of them are in a poor state of repair. The majority date back to medieval times although some are from much earlier. The kiln in Hell’s Glen is in near perfect condition, but the future felling of surrounding trees could potentially cause severe damage – especially if the kiln is not easily visible. Over the years all these features had become completely overgrown with moss, especially the corn kiln which was also being partially hidden from view by the overhanging branches of the trees. Therefore, I felt it was important to strip the moss from the kiln, making it more visible, and to give other people the chance to see its structure. Having sought advice and approval from both Historic Scotland and Forestry Scotland, who bought the plantation a year or so ago, a group of us visited the site armed with a collection of saws, loppers, trowels, scrapers and brushes – oh, and of course, a camera. All the branches, and decades worth of accumulated moss covering the kiln and the cup marked rocks, were stripped off within an hour. The moss simply peeled off like a blanket, leaving the rock beneath as clean as if it had just been built. All with very little effort, or so it seemed to me – I just took lots of photographs!

It was important to make a photographic record of the progress to be sent to Historic Scotland. If you would like to see the kiln and cup marked rocks, it’s only a couple of hundred yards from the road in Hell’s Glen, but you might well need to be shown the way – I’d be happy to do so for anyone interested. Was the glen originally named from the Gaelic, Glen Ifhrinn, giving the name the Glen of Hell. Or could it could possibly be from a mistranslation – Glen Iarainn, meaning the Iron Glen or iarnaihd , iron- like and very forbidding? Or was it so called because of the gibbet on the knoll at the highest point of the glen where condemned prisoners were hanged and sent to Hell? Or is it simply Glean Beag, the small glen? Who knows, but today it’s more commonly known as Hell’s Glen.

The connection with iron may not be too far fetched. Most areas of Argyll have some evidence of “bloomeries”, dating back to between the 13th and 16th Centuries, when naturally occurring bog iron was smelted on site where a ready supply of wood was available to make charcoal. There are well documented sites at Loch Eck, Strachur and Strathlachlan, and certainly there used to be an excellent example of a bloom (the solid mix of iron and slag after smelting) in the garden of Ivy Bank where Davy Maclaughlan used to live, now owned by John Little – the bloom is no longer there. Slag from bloomeries can still be found on some of the wee bays along Loch Long.

With thanks to all the strippers – Jane Early and friends Jamie & Monica McKernan, Gary Broadbent, Phil Thompson, Dennis Bolt, Bridget and John Little, Donna and Roger Brook, and Sue Prescott.

This article appeared in the November 2013 issue o the Wee Goil

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The Wee Goil
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