Baligill

BALIGILL is a small village just to the east of and adjoining the croft lands of Strathy on the north side of the road. A settlement on the north coast of Sutherland, Highland Council Area, Baligill lies 3 miles (5 km) south east of Strathy Point, nearly 2 miles (3 km) west of Melvich. It was once a centre of woollen milling. The Baligill is an area of beautiful stone ruins amongst a mixture of modern and old buildings. An area of agriculture with dry stane dykes of pleasant appeal. Stone and agriculture dominate and give the village a rare glimpse of a close working locality.

 

If you take the Gaelic interpretation of the name Baligill “Baile na Gillean” – it translates as, “township of the boys” and may have been the site of a summer shieling.The Norse interpretation as could be suggested by the “gill” element of the name is “ravine of the grassy slope”.

 

Baligill Head is the headland and extends into the Pentland Firth near the township of Baligill to the northwest of Melvich. Baligill loch lies to the south.

 

“Small communities like our own are
very clear about what is good, strong
and valuable about local ways of life
in the midst of the challenges of globalisation…”

 

GEOLOGY.

 

The underlying geology is an out¼er of the Old Red Sandstone basin that borders the extreme edge of the metamorphic rocks that make up the most part of Sutherland’s geology. The sandstone was laid down in the Devonian period millions of years ago, in the shallow water of the massive “Lake Orcadie”, which covered an area from the Orkney’s in the north to the Moray coast in the south and a large part of what is now the North Sea. This sandstone was laid down a little every year; the fine silts covering anything that drifted to the bottom of the lake. These layers made the sandstone easy to split and shape into suitable sizes for building. Some of the layers contain fossil fish. The gravel and boulder clay that was deposited as the ice retreated at the end of the last glaciations period can be seen where the land is slipping over the cliff edge. The different layers of the sandstone can easily be seen on the exposed rock faces and the cliff faces. Among the sandstone there are outcrops of limestone. There is one layer that is very peculiar as it is a mix of pebbles, gravel and sand. It has not formed the solid layer that you would expect to find in the middle of a series of sandstone beds. The layers have at some time in the distant past been subject to a tilting motion in the earth’s crust, as they slope downward at roughly ten degrees in a northerly direction.

 

INDUSTRIAL REMAINS. (NC 855 661)

 

There are the ruins fan “L” shaped water mill, measuring 15.5M x 11.5M over all, built aboutthe year 1800 beside the Baligill bum. It was originally a meal mill but was converted to a woolen mill in 1860. This mill has undergone some structural changes m its lifetime with extensions being added. The mill laid and the position of the dam can still be seen. The mill was last used in the late 1960’s not as a mill but as a place for working with and dipping sheep. (NC 855 657)If you follow the track down the bum you will come upon two old limekilns. The kilns were part of the Sutherland Estates measures to improve the quality of the soil in the area. One a round kiln 5M in diameter built c.1820, which has been strengthened with buttresses some time after construction and the other kiln 5M square built about 1870. These kilns would have been fired with peat and loaded with the local limestone quarried a short distance away. Aòer bummg the quicklime (calcium oxide) would be extracted through the openings at the base of the kilns. The peat would have been cut on the moor on Clais nan Each. You can still see the old disused peat banks as you travel along the road. (Kilns NC 855 659, quarry NC 859 659, peat banks centering at NC 857 655) There are the remains of three other kilns about 500M WSW of the Baligill limekilns referred to as “Strathy Lime Kilns” and a quarry where fossils have been found up until the 1980’s. (NC 851 656)

 

IRON AGE.

 

On a promontory to the east of the Ba¼gill bum is the site of one of two promontory forts to be found in the area. “An Dun” is roughly oval in shape, 13.5M x 9.5M, in the ruins there are some upright stones, some people think may be grave markers. Some defensive work can be seen, a possible rampart and ditch. It probably dates to the Iron Age. (NC 856 662) To the west of the bum on another promontory some 27 meters high sits “Dun Mhairtein” a promontory fort that dates to the 1″ century BC or slightly earlier. This fort encloses an area more than 250sq meters, behind what was a stone-reverted rampart some 4 meters thick, which may have had a timber stockade on top. The entrance is easily recognizable just right of centre. The approach to the fort has been made more defendable by digging away the earth on each side of the central pathway leaving a 2 meters wide access. The soil would have been thrown up on to the rampart to increase the height. Inside the rampart there is evidence of structures and a souterram. The remains of what may have been a Norse type Blockhouse can easily be seen. (NC 853 663) To the south and west of the fort and at a slightly higher level there is what may be the remains of a field system from the same period. This area was not laid out for crofting at the time of the clearances but was set out as common grazing, and was not subjected to cultivation. There was a ditch and bank boundary to keep the animals out of the crofters’ fields and on the common grazing during the growing season. This bank may not look very high and the ditch has fílled in over the years but the old breeds of sheep and cows were much smaller than the modem breeds. (NC 853 663) Between Baligill and Portskerra on a nearly inaccessible promontory are the remains of what is thought to be a monastic site “An Tomaidh Bhuidhe”. It is possible there may be a connection to St Donnan and his monastery on Eigg.