The Pre-Historic Settlement At Rhue
by Colin Scouller in “A guide to Ullapool”
Down A Minor road signposted “Rhue” branches left off the A.835 about 2.5 miles north of Ullapool and after about a quarter of a mile, bends sharply to the right. Most of the settlement, which covers four acres or more, lies on the moor above the bend.
Approximately fifty yards north of the bend is a circle of stones about forty feet in diameter, partly covered by heather, which are the remains of a round house. Its entrance was at the southeast where there is a gap in the circle, and the hearth would have been near the centre where there is now a small mound. Ten yards to the west, there are parts of what appears to be a smaller circle some 18 feet in diameter, which may have been a storage hut. Some 70 yards to the north another hut circle, about 25ft. in diameter, can be seen in the heather. To the west and east of the circles are a number of smaller heather-covered mounds, one of which is partially exposed in the bank on the right hand side of the road as you approach the bend, where it can be seen to consist of a heap of boulders and smaller stones.
The circle of stones making up the wall of the round house would originally have been about 3ft, high. The outer ends of the rafters of a conical roof would have rested on the top surface of the wall. The roof would probably have been further supported be vertical posts inside the house and thatched with heather and turf or both.
The climate at the time of the settlement would have been drier than today and little or no peat would yet have been formed. The mounds are in fact field clearance heaps, indicating that the area over which they extend was cultivated by the inhabitants, probably to grow barley and oats. They would also have engaged in stock rearing, hunting and fishing. The Strathan burn was conveniently close for supplies of fresh water.
The very few round house settlements in the north of Scotland which have been excavated produced radio carbon dates for their occupation falling between 1500 BC and 100 AD, i.e. during the Late Bronze and the Iron Ages. With no other evidence available, we can only suppose that Rhue was occupied for some time during this period. The two round houses may not have been in use simultaneously and the settlement could have lasted for several generations. It was small, probably housing just one extended family group of 20 to 30 including children.
In trying to visualise their environment, we should forget the present hillside covered with heather and peat, and think of grassland with patches of trees and scrub, a drier and sunnier climate in which the sown crops would flourish, livestock grazing on the hill above, and an abundant harvest of fish from the loch below.
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