I had added this strange little news item a week or son ago but it has disappeared. Perhaps it was thought to be of little interest, but I feel this is important.
This appears to be a personal excavation by Brian Robertson (no Thin Lizzy connection) on a site covered by Historic Scotland and RCAHMS... continues...
When the Stronach Ridge was clear of the present forestry the rock art site provided a fine view of some of the hills from Beinn Nuis to Goatfell , what had gone unnoticed was that the from the panels the sun would set over the summit of Beinn Nuis at the Summer solstice ,not in itself that noteworthy but there would also have been an eleven minute “Sun roll “ down to the bealach between Beinn Nuis and Beinn Tarsuinn . Unlike other sites where sun rolls can be seen from rock art panels the Stronach Ridge markings have quite a few radials which , if in the correct orientation , could provide an argument for evidence of intentionality and a possible recognition of the phenomena by the engravers , sadly the radials were grouped around 250 -280 with one at 290 degrees when 304 was what was required . This is in itself typical of radials in that they usually follow the slope the rock .
I grabbed a couple of hours during the afternoon while Junior and my OH played with the latest consumer purchase – Arran Monopoly. While they were racing around buying up the likes of Catacol and Lochranza and vying for control of Arran Aromatics, I parked up on the String Road just at the pull-in, up from the stalkers path and headed into Stronach Wood.
I could hear shooting going on up in the hills and on Monday we'd watched and heard stags at the rut in the corrie high above Corrie, from the North Goatfell Ridge and all the way back down the mountain. There were fresh quad tracks on the stalker's path all the way to the carvings. The carvings are about half a mile along the path and actually are the path. This is a shameful state of affairs. For the want of a few felled trees, some fenceposts and a hundred yards of fencing wire, foot and quad traffic could be diverted off these beautiful panels. It wouldn't stop the interested folks getting as close as they wished but it might stop the wear and tear of unintentional damage from the through traffic.
I photographed the panels and checked out some triangular pointy peaks on the panel slightly above the birds I'd noticed during the summer's visits. They appeared to mirror the view to the pyramidical peaks of North Arran (Goatfell, Cir Mhor and Beinn Tarsuinn).
With the forestry plantation still surrounding the panels, photographing them with the back drop of the peaks wasn't possible – but it will be one day! The illustrations from Coles (1901) nearly show the orientation (it would be slightly more turned to the right).
The panels in the Kilmartin Valley haven't suffered by being displayed well. This site could easily be cleaned back and should be properly examined. Without a doubt, there is much more art to be found around the three exposed panels. I was looking for some more…
You see, I'd had a wee plan to seek out the lost panel (panel K) reported to be 80 yards to the West back in 1901. It hasn't been seen since and was thought to be buried by bulldozer action in the dense forestry plantation. I paced and measured. I measured and paced. I retraced my steps and thanked my lucky stars it was October and the midges were all dead. After a while and right on the eighty yard mark I came across the edge of an eight foot slab buried in soil, pine needles and peat. It was right where it should be and had a plantation tree growing on top of it. I had no spade, trowel, GPS or axe. I photographed it.
I was kicking myself for not bringing at least a wee trowel, so I promised myself yet another trip over to Arran later this year - this time properly equipped to shift some of the soil off this likely slab. It didn't look like anything worse (or more) than the peaty spoil from the drainage ditch between the planting lines for the trees had been heaped up on top of the slab. Then the trees had been planted and had been patiently dropping sixty years of pine needles on top of that. So maybe I'd found panel K? A winter trip was definitely on!
With myself exhausted and the camera battery dying, I headed out of the forestry, onto the top of the Stronach Ridge and wound my way along a rocky crag-edge on the lower slopes of Muileann Gaoithe heading towards the Parking Area and cairn at Allt Mor at the bend halfway up the String Road. At one point below me, a large slab of rock at the side of the ridge-crag formed a great-looking rock shelter enclosing a squarish area the size of my living room. I checked my map (I aint got no GPS) and it was at NR 995 360. I climbed down carefully to have a look and nearly put my foot down on a BIG Adder.
It hadn't sensed or seen me. It lay dozing, coiled in a considerable heap in the last warmth of the afternoon in the rock shelter. I leaned down as close as I dared and snapped a picture. It woke and slid very quickly into the long grass. It was between three and a half and four feet long. A BIG Adder! I legged it out of the shelter pronto. I'll have to go back in winter for a photo of the rock shelter too.
I got back to the road and decided to forgo the cairn at Allt Mor and head down the hill to my car. I'd had enough excitement for one day. Stronach Wood... it's the gift that just keeps giving. Go get some I say.
I'd photographed the main panels and was turning to go when I saw a strange looking crack in the steep step of rock in the ground between the cup and ring panels. I looked again. And again! My heart went into overdrive and I had to sit down. I thought it was going to burst out of my chest. I was looking at a three foor long, two foot high bird like a Raven. I stood up. I sat down again and approached it sliding along the peaty grass. I ran my fingers along the deeply carved beak and around the beautifully shaped head. I simply could not believe what I was seeing and touching. I took a photo with my other half's new camera.
When I looked back at the image on the camera screen under the trees, I saw what appeared to be a pair of bird's feet above the Raven's head. I walked over to check. As I looked in disbelief a Heron took shape. I could make out a bird below the Raven's beak. It looked like a Curlew. It wasn't carved out in deep relief like the Raven and Heron.
I resisted the temptation to wash off the deep coating of lichen, mossy slime and the peaty discoloured patina on the carvings and just started taking pictures as they were. The wind suddenly dropped and a horrendous midge attack ensued. I fled their bites shaking with utter joy. A sense of elemental elation carried me out of the wood and back to the car. I drove back to Lamlash. My head swam. I had to pull over at the top of the hill between Brodick and Lamlash and get out and get my breath back.
I returned a number of times that week. On the last day Mrs HD and The Boy came with me. They spotted the birds straight away (when I showed them the direction to look!). Suitably amazed, Alison took some nice photos. There had been a lot of rain the night before and that morning so the Raven was standing in a puddle of water and the carvings showed up better.
Reported the carvings by email to RCAHMS early in the week. Notified the Brodick Museum and Arran Heritage. Sent on the photos to both. I simply could not understand how these carvings sat in plain sight for so long without being noticed. A quick examination of photos on TMA and on BRAC showed the carvings visible but far in the background of Hob and Greywether's photos. In the 1901 PSAS illustration the carvings lie under a strip of peat and turf separating the known cup and ring panels. Hmm... I thought... When exactly did the peat and turf wear away? Drove to Edinburgh to examine Stan Beckensall's 2004 manuscript report and the photo archive at RCAHMS on Thursday. Beckensall never noticed them, his report contains no photographs. But I found M van Hoek's photo, it was exactly the view I needed and showed the strip of peat to be there in 1980 but a bit of the rock is beginning to show through. I paid the very helpful member of staff £1.18 for the colour photocopy of it and left.
RCAHMS got in touch today and asked me to pass the details on to Discovery and Excavation Scotland. So that's that.
So anybody going to Arran this summer, get along to Stronach Wood (very easy access and very close to Brodick) and catch some elemental revelation for free.
My 1994 OS Landranger map had not one but two sites marked at Stronach Wood - one being the main one here in Stronach Wood and the other a few hundred yards further up the hill. I decided to start with the one further up the hill then walk down to the next. The first attempt ended with me sunk in a bog, totally drenched, bearing many midge bites and harbouring a deep sense of failure and disappointment. Then I set up a big Red Deer deep in the insect infested bracken and heard gun shots break the afternoon air a few minutes later. My sense of failure and disappointment turned immediately to one of getting off the hill before I caught a stalker's bullet. I made my way noisily down to my car on the String Road determined toreturn and find the carvings. Getting changed back at the cottage I found a derr tick munching its way into my shoulder. Nasty creatures, they are difficult to extract without leaving the jaws in your flesh. It left a very painful bite which swoll badly and is still draining a week later.
The following morning I found myself back in the same mire and unable to find the stone as marked on my map. It took a third attempt to come to the conclusion that the old edition of the map was simply wrong or I needed new specs. I do need new specs but the old OS map seems to show two sites and I've posted the relevant map clipping to show folks where not to go (just in case their map is as old as mine was).
I bought the new OS Pathfinder edition and there was only one site marked! Once I had tracked down the deer stalker's access track off the main road I was at the carvings in a few minutes. But get this folks… there were quad tyre marks across the panels! (Once you shoot that deer on the hill you gotta get that yummy venison down to the butcher's shop and onto the plate somehow. Maybe Arran Heritage should take out a few of the plantation trees and take the path around the carvings…)
These carvings are groovy. I've seen many a cup and ring from Ben Lawers to Achnabreck but nothing had prepared me for the utter grooviness of these. Fluid and writhing… some of these seem to have a real sense of movement in them. A devastating midge attack suddenly ensued when the wind dropped and I had to flee the site but I was drawn back twice more during my week on Arran to look at and photograph some other stuff I'd seen up there - but I'll post about that once it has all been checked out and verified. If they are for real it will be a big WOW! But until things are verified then I shall temper my enthusiasm and say nowt!
The complete removal of the forestry plantations around Giants Graves above Whiting Bay has transformed the landscape they occupy. I'm sure this plantation at Stronach Wood will soon be due for clear felling as well. It will help with interpretation of the this site in relation to the megaliths in the immediate area and the notable landmarks in the landscape (Goatfell, Cir Mhor etc). There must be more art lurking under the peat on the red Arran sandstone which forms this hill!
This is high quality rock art. Interestingy different motifs, from the kind found in Argyle or Galloway, a distinct Arran style? Emphasis on the double channels leading down-slope from the cups and rings. It left me hoping that there must be more on the island somewhere. The motifs even percolated into my dreams the night after visiting.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing things is the possible anthropomorphic carving. Fans of The Sons of TC Lethridge are directed towards the track 'A Pilot's Eyes', which mentions the site and the possibilities of sightlines being formed via avenues cut through the trees. Goat Fell would probably be a contender for such an sightline avenue, but of course there's no hard evidence for such, but it's an appealling idea nonetheless.
We found the site with no bother, you just follow the track, it's the only outcrop, difficult to miss, just over the brow of the hill.
The trees are a bit densely planted, but despite this don't seem too oppressive. Shame about the effect on the view though.
As I walked up to this site, I thought "You'll not see much here. It's in a forest, Morris couldn't find carvings seen by an earlier researcher and the last report in Canmore talked about advancing heather growth."
How completely and utterly wrong I was!
Both panels are completely clear of vegetation and you can see not just the art recorded by Sommerville and Morris but also superb designs discovered in 1982.
Altogether, there are about 20 cup and ring motifs all deeply carved and with some interesting variations on the more "normal" designs. The length of the "tails" in some cases is particularly striking.
Altogether, this has to rank amongst the best rock art panels in Scotland. It was certainly the highlight of my trip.
Access There is a forest road and path to the site. Access is off the B880 and there is room to park two cars just off the main road. The forest road has a barrier across it but, otherwise, no obstacles.