Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Double-Beehive - Tighe Dhubhastail

If you are looking for an amazing walk to a remote shieling, one of the best is a three-mile trek from Morsgail Lodge to Airighean Tighe Dhubhastail (the shieling house of Dubastal). The shieling lies in a pastoral site straddling a peaty stream at NB 0997 2128. Here you'll find the ruins of four rectangular structures, their stones covered with yellow lichen, along with what's left of an older double beehive cell. 

Tighe Dhubhastail - double beehive ruin hidden in the grass at centre
I wanted to see this site because of an evocative drawing of the double-beehive made when it was occupied. (See page 10 at this link of the Proceedings of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries Vol 7, 1866.) The drawing was part of a report on a visit to the shieling by Captain FWL Thomas. Here is a paraphrased version of the Captain’s report, where he refers to the beehives by their Gaelic name, bothan.

   Being Sunday-stayed at Kinlochresort, we thought to improve the occasion by visiting the shielings in the neighborhood. Along with the gamekeeper we were soon at Tighe Dhubhastail (Dubastal having been a freebooter who lived on the world at large). Here was a bothan, in which the family was at home. This was the summer pasturage of the tenants of Crolista on Loch Roag. The bothan was double of the usual beehive shape, with the dwelling and dairy attached, and green with growing turf. A doorway, easily closed with a straw mat, led to the boudoir within. Close to the door was the fire, the smoke escaping through a hole in the dome. In the circular wall were three niches containing drying cheeses. A low interior door led from the dwelling to the dairy, which was six feet square. 
   The occupants were three young women, dressed in printed cotton gowns, and, being Sunday, they had finished their toilette at the burn to good purpose. Some eight of us packed into the hut while frothed milk was handed about.

The cells have partially collapsed in the years since the captain visited, and some of their stones were taken to build nearby shelters. But their entrances, and the low passage between them, are intact. Thick grass clogged the entrance, but I was able to tunnel through it to crawl into the boudoir, the main dwelling chamber (unfortunately there were no young women in printed gowns to greet me). The chamber was about 10 feet in diameter, and must have been quite crowded when Captain Thomas and seven others sat inside to enjoy some frothed milk. Another bit of grass-tunneling took me through the low interior passage to the dairy chamber, from where more crawling led back outside via a small backdoor. 

The 'boudoir' chamber
After crawling through the beehives I found the spot where the drawing of them had been made 150 years ago. The following composite image gives you a then-and-now view of the beehives. It was an amazing place to visit and think back on all the summers once spent by the folks of Crolista in this beautiful oasis on the moorland.

Then and Now - upper drawing from Proceedings of the Society of Scottish Antiquaries (Vol. 7, 1866)

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