by Cathy Dagg in “A guide to Ullapool”
Although people have been living in the Ullapool area since the end of the Ice Age. About 9000 years ago, they have left little evidence to be unearthed by archaeologists. However, there are so few documentary records of life here, even for relatively recent times that we have had to depend on interpreting what little evidence there is. This often produces more questions than answers.
We know, for example, from the evidence of place names, that the Vikings were not just occasional raiders from the sea, they were in fact settled and farming in Ullapool. (Norse: Ulla-Bolstadr = Ulla’s steading). Yet the only archaeological evidence for their presence is the discovery by road workers in the 1950s of 3 steatite bowls near Braemore Junction. The Vikings used steatite (soapstone) for a variety of utensils, but complete bowls are very rare in Britain, and so are very valuable archaeologically. Unfortunately, two of the three bowls have since disappeared but the third can be seen in the Ullapool Museum.
Other chance finds of artifacts offer a view of a much richer prehistoric society in the Ullapool area than the lack of settlements would suggest: Objects such as the Late Bronze Age Bronze sword found at Inverbroom and a decorative bronze pin found near Dun an Ruigh Ruadh (now on display in the Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh). These suggest contact and trade between the north west of Scotland and the rich cultures of the Continental and Irish/Scandinavian Bronze and Iron Ages. They indicate the presence of some individuals of personal wealth and status far greater than the few settlements and forts around Ullapool would seem to merit.
The most visible prehistoric sites in the landscape are Iron Age forts. The centuries around the time of the Roman pacification of Britain were times of great unrest in the north of Scotland, and all along the coast people built fortifications to protect themselves and their livestock from seaborne raiders. There are four such defended sites close to Ullapool. On the shore of Loch Broom opposite to the village are Dun Lagaidh and Dun Ruigh Ruadh. The former is a semi-broch, an incomplete circle making use of a natural cliff to complete its defences, and the latter is a multi-period site, which has been rebuilt several times from the early Iron Age to Mediaeval times, on top of a small isolated ridge.
A few miles north of Ullapool are Dun Canna and Langwell Dun. Both are now ruinous, with little of their original structure visible, but are worth visiting for their impressive locations; Langwell Dun perched over a ravine and Dun Canna on a promontory tucked under the dramatic cliffs at the foot of Ben Mhor Coigeach.
In more peaceful times, Bronze and Iron Age farmers lived in small round houses, or hut circles. There are many of these hut circles to be seen in the Achiltibuie area, and there is one good example of two round houses and their associated fields, approximately three miles north of Ullapool on the road to Rhue.
More recently, archaeological techniques have been applied to recording and interpreting the settlements of the past few centuries, as the traditional way of life in the Highlands passes in to history. The wilderness areas around Ullapool were once filled with small townships, summer shielings, grazings and drove routes, until famine and hardship or deliberate clearances forced the people to abandon them. The old township at Inverlael, the settlements at the far end of Loch Achall, even the “street” of houses on Morefield Brae, are all worth visiting as evocative reminders of past lives.
Use the menu below for a walk through the past history of Ullapool. If there is anything you would like to add or if indeed you have some old photos of Ullapool and its people we would love to hear from you.
| Before 1788