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Strathnairn Heritage Association

Essich - Dunlichity - Gask

Leave Inverness by Stratherrick Road; beyond burgh boundary, take first side road to the left, heading for Culduthel. To right of this road, at 659417, a short cist beaker burial 'was unearthed during gravel pit workings in 1971. Further along, in clump of trees beyond field on right, are the remains of Culduthel Cairn (662418); a Clava-type cairn with only six kerbstones, and no outer monoliths, remaining. Another short cist burial, discovered in 1928 about 230 yards (210m) north-east of Culduthel Cairn, produced a jet necklace (now in National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh).

Return and continue southwards along Stratherrick Road, leading by Essich and Loch Ashie, the route chosen originally in 1726 by Wade's roadmakers, before the Loch Ness-side road was built in 1732. After passing on left, farm road to Knocknagael, and, on right, side road to Torbreck, stop on left at Knocknagael Boar Stone (657414), an Ancient Monument. This incised slab is one of the largest Pictish monuments in North Scotland; a Class 1 Symbol Stone, dating probably from late 6th century, it displays the figure of a boar, above which is carved the abstract "mirror-case" motif. To prevent disfiguring by vandals, it has been over-protected by particularly nasty mesh fencing. At Knocknagael, overlooking the steep, wooded west side of the burn opposite the farm, is an earthwork (657403) of the motte and bailey type: the motte summit is about 60ft. (18m) by 45ft. (14m), the bailey (to the west) about 75ft. (23m) diameter.

Follow road uphill, passing on right the dilapidated House of Essich, the supposed site of a medieval chapel. In the right-hand verge, at corner of access road to steading, is small gravestone, marked with monogram initials and date 1794. To the left, some distance up side road to Bunachton, are the foundations of numerous houses, and outbuildings, remains of the depopulated village of Essich, a thriving small community frojn medieval till 19th century times.

Continue on up the road beyond Essich, and on the higher ridge to the east at the 600ft. (182m) contour, visit the largest burial monument in North Scotland, Carn Glas or Grey Caim (649381); really three burial cairns of the Orkney- Cromarty type, linked into one large complex, about 126 yards (115m) long by 19 yards (17m) across. Each cairn is oval in plan, that in centre being smallest; each may indicate the possibility of three distinct periods of construction.

In 1863 flint arrowheads were found near the junction of the next farm road leading to Drumashie, a house reputed to be haunted. North of this, where the fields meet the woodlands, there is a cemetery of Bronze Age short cists, one of which (635378) yielded a Beaker burial, when uncovered in 1962. On Essich Moor, to the left, between the road and the Allt Mor, as far as its outlet from Loch Ashie, are many clearance cairns and hut circles, particularly near map ref. 643375; nearer the roadway at 636367, and at the roadside 631359.

To the south-east lies the shallow Loch Ashie which, with the deeper and more scenic Loch Duntelchaig, provides the water supply for Inverness. On reaching a crossroads, turn left downhill along a single-track road towards the end of the loch: stop to view the Clach-na-Brataich or Banner Stone (621343) — a holed stone, just within the plantation fence on left of road. This stone has local legendary associations with the "Phantom Battle", which tradition says has been witnessed from early times right up to the present day; the most likely time to see the ghostly armies locked in combat is said to be after dawn on a May morning. It has to be stated, however, that there is no historical record of a battle having been fought at or near Loch Ashie.

On the right of the road, the moorland south of Ashie is dotted with round cairns, and just west of the high stone march-dyke is a well-defined hut-circle (620337), partially destroyed by estate forestry ploughing in 1973. Walk over the moor to Buaile Chomhnard or "Fold of the Battle" (621332); a ruined wall of huge boulders round a circular enclosure aboui. 100ft. (30m) in diameter. If a prehistoric dun, the location has little defensive value: if of later date, as a fold or animal enclosure, it may have served the drovers using this route on their way between the Aird, by the old ford of Bona, and Dunlichity and thence through the hills by Glen Kyllachy to Strathdearn and the South.

The farm road on the right to deserted West Town of Duntelchaig should be walked along to visit West Town Cairn (621325); very ruinous and disturbed, the cairn is irregular in shape and raised on a rock outcrop. Designated as a Clava type ring-cairn, the central chamber shows evidence of later use as a smelting-hearth in the Iron Age. Between the grass-parks here and the birch-clad shore of Loch Duntelchaig are several hut-circles and at Midtown a short cist burial was uncovered in 1830.

Follow the road round the north end of the Loch through Preas Dubh, a wooded promontory where there is a disturbed cairn of indefinite type (635324); also numerous cairns north of the road. Picturesque Loch Duntelchaig is followed by the much smaller, but equally beautiful Loch a'Chlachain, where the road winds round the western shore under rocky crags to reach Dunlichity Church (659331), and its peaceful churchyard with Watch-house, on left of road. See Inverness Field Club's Information Board on gate. The earliest church here was dedicated to St Finan; the present building dates partly from 1569, rebuilt 1758. An east extension, perhaps the original chancel, is now the enclosed burial-place of the Shaws of Tordarroch. The graveyard contains many memorials of Mackintoshes, MacBeans, MacGillivrays and other septs of Clan Chattan.

On opposite bank of Allt a'Chlachain from churchyard gate are the foundations of an old meal mill, known as Drumbuie mill; the now-dry channel of the mill-lade is clearly visible. There is a good large cup-mark or basin, known as "The Font" (661327), on right of road beside small burn a short distance along the way to Brin. Further along the same route, on the rocky north-east flank of Creag Buidhe is the fragmentary ruin of Cam Bheithin fort (66631S) occupying the uneven summit of a precipitous crag at a height of 900ft. (275m): although most of the stone walls have collapsed down the rock face the fort enclosed an oval area of 148ft. (45m) by 58ft. (17.5m).

Return to road down Strathnairn, continue north-eastwards for 1 mile (1.6km), and turn right to cross river by a little narrow hump-backed bridge of the early 19th century. To the right, on top of a steep bank, is Tordarroch House (677335), the recently restored high towerhouse and mansion of the Shaws of Tordarroch, Chiefs of Clan Ay. Ancestral home of the Shaws since the 15th century, it was a three-storey building in 1746, and the Episcopalian Bishop Forbes stayed here in 1770. Tordarroch Cairn (679334), a Clava-type ring cairn, with one large cup-marked stone, lies in low boggy ground due east of Tordarroch farm-steading. On the summit south of the House are the foundations of a dun (676334).

Return to the west bank of the Nairn following the road as far as Balnafoich crossroads, and turn left along B861. Look out, to the right, for the tall slim slab which is the south monolith of the Gask Cairn (679358), a ring-cairn - the' largest in area of all the Clava-type cairns. The outer ring is 126ft. (38m) diameter and highest monolith is lift. (3.3m) high, but only 9ins (222mm) thick.

Continue uphill to top of ridge of Drumossie Muir: on left of road, recent forestry planting has ploughed through five hut-circles in the Carr Ban area and there are more, undisturbed, on moor at 672374 On right hand in a plantation, is Tomfad Cairn (678374), excavated in 1963; an Orkney-Cromarty cairn with double-compartment burial chamber, in which beaker sherds were found. Beyond, north of the wood, on both sides of road, in open moorland more hut-circles have been identified.

Returning downhill to Inverness, pass on right, the wooded estate of Leys Castle built in 1833 for Col. Baillie of Leys, M.P. for the Inverness Burghs until his death in 1838. On left at burgh boundary, is Culduthel Hospital [now demolished]; the original building was Culduthel House, built by Col. James Fraser (1756-1816)