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Uncovering our heritage in the forest

Uncovering our heritage in the forest
Nikki Brown works at Kilfinan Community Forest in Tighnabruaich. She tells us about a recent archaeological survey of the forest, what was unearthed and where you can see some of the features identified. With contribution from Claire Ellis, Argyll Archaeology.

Over a week in July, we were delighted to welcome Clare Ellis and Ben Bendicks of Argyll Archaeology and over twenty volunteers to take part in an archaeological survey of Kilfinan Community Forest. Clare and Ben provided the volunteers with valuable training to give them every chance of finding some ancient goodies. The volunteers were led by four Dunoon Grammar students, who worked at the forest for four weeks over the summer as part of a school placement pilot programme.

The team surveyed all of the forest, weaving their way through dense forest, leaping over bogs and scaling the height of Barr Liath from which they were treated to fantastic views south to Arran and beyond. They made a number of exciting discoveries, and if you visit the forest today you can see some of these identified features.

Following a programme of felling and rhododendron clearance, the old curling rink is still overgrown but visible, as the forest road curves round and up to the right after you walk past the sawmill shed. The curling rink was in use until the 1950s, and Clare said: “We are really keen to find out more it. We would love to hear from you if have photographs of the curling rink being used or if you or one of your relatives used the rink; is it true for example that women weren’t allowed to use the rink?” Please e-mail your photos or stories to Clare at ellisclare@argyll-archaeology.co.uk. You can also see the old tin hut which players presumably used as a changing facility, or to shelter from the Argyll weather!

Keep walking and you’ll get to an ancient road, The Kilfinan Way, which is shown on a 1747-55 military map running northwards through the forest. The road originally connected the settlements of Otter Ferry, Kilfinan and Kames, and the parish minister also used this route to deliver his sermons on Sundays around the district. Clare said: “We have discovered that this road is still visible in many places. Much of the road is lower than the surrounding ground, eroded by hundreds of years of use by women and children taking their cattle up into the hills for the summer grazing as well as by drovers taking their cattle to market”.

Keep going and you’ll eventually come to the old Tighnabruaich reservoir, which was built in the late 19th century, and is now home to many woodland birds. It’s a lovely picnic spot within the forest, but make sure you wear wellies as the route along the Kilfinan Way can be boggy! The team recorded the original water tanks and a series of weirs associated with the reservoir. The weirs create a series of dramatic ponds within a natural gorge of the Allt Mor, all of which can be appreciated from the newly clear forest path.

Back in the lower part of the forest, the path network winds up through a native area of woodland, eventually taking you up to the Victorian Falls, a stunning 19th-century man-made waterfall. Interpretation signage gives you more information about its history and the wildlife living there. On the way you'll pass through the 'red squirrel walk', which has benches, a hide, signage and feeders; it was created by the students during their work placement over the summer. Be quiet as you pass through!

On the way keep an eye out for wildlife. Plants, animals and birds thrive at the forest edge where there’s more light and a wider variety of plants than in the deep forest. In spring you might even spot the orange-tip butterfly feeding on bluebell nectar and enjoying the sunny woodland glades.

Call Nikki on 01700 811159 or pop into the office for more information or directions to any of these interesting landmarks!

Visit: www.kilfinancommunityforest.co.uk
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