Thursday, November 12, 2020

Crògary Mòr and the Cave of Gold - North Uist

The old peat track up Bealach Maari looked inviting. As I strolled up the track the sun blazed intensely down, and so I stopped to take my shirt off. After a minute of savouring the cooling air the midges found me. I put the shirt back on. My destination was the summit of Crògary Mòr, five miles east of Vallay Island. I had wanted to walk over to Vallay, but the tides were not right for a daytime return, so I decided to get a view of the island from the summit of Crògary Mòr; at 590 feet one of the highest hills in the area. I was also doing something I love to do on a walk, following in the footsteps of an author. Alasdair Alpin Macgregor climbed Crògary Mòr in the 1920s, and wrote the following:

Not a halt do I allow myself until my brogues are feeling the rocky summit of Crogary Mòr, and the eyes of me searching for the cave of gold reputed by the isles-folk to contain of precious metal the fill of seven cow’s hides . . . And I see, too, where the moors of Eaval appear to slip over the horizon into the great North Ford. And the Isle of Benbecula lies beyond, like a ruby set in a sea of glittering sapphire. 

Erskine Beveridge also wrote about the treasure of Crògary Mòr:

A tradition is locally current to the effect that one of the MacQueens of Oronsay buried a golden treasure in a foal’s skin near the summit of Crogary More at a spot from whence the sun can be seen shining upon three forts at the same time. These conditions infer a hiding-place on the north face of the hill, within view presumably of Dun na Mairbhe, Dun Aonghuis, and Dun Rosail.

Hmmm . . . A secret location where the sun can be seen simultaneously shining on three prehistoric forts. Exciting stuff. Like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Hopefully there would not be any deadly booby-traps waiting to spring on someone unworthy of the treasure (like me). And as for that treasure, there is a bit of a discrepancy in the descriptions. Would the amount of gold fill the hide of one foal, or seven cows?  And what exactly is a ‘hide-full’ in the metric system?

Crogary Mor seen from Loch Aonghais

The top of the hill was a steep, bald hump of bedrock. As I climbed to the summit I kept an eye out for the cave of gold, but saw nothing. On reaching the top I took out a map to pinpoint exactly where the three forts were that Beveridge mentioned. The one known as Dun na Mairbhe, dun of the dead—a good name for a zombie movie—could be seen a mile to the north on an island in Vallaquie Strand. Also visible was Dun Aonghuis a mile to the northwest, and Dun Rosail, two miles to the northeast.

But no matter where I stood on the hill the sun was shining on all three forts. Perhaps Beveridge was thinking of the wrong three. The bottom line was that I had to give up my hunt for gold. So for all you treasure seekers there, start plotting the locations of the duns of North Uist, all five-hundred. Then see if you can figure out another three that are visible from one spot on Crògary Mòr.

What I could see from the summit was the isle-studded sea; Vallay, Oronsay, and myriad islands beyond, including St Kilda on the far horizon. 

Looking northwest from Crogary Mor

The hill known as Maari, nearly as high as Crògary Mòr, lay a half-mile to the west. The pass between the two hills is called Bealach Maari, and at its southern end is a seven-foot standing stone. The stone may be a boundary- or way-marker, but it could have other roots. I say that because on the western slopes of Blathaisbhal, two miles to the southeast, there are three other standing stones. This trio is set in a linear alignment that points directly to the stone in Bealach Maari. Perhaps all of them are markers left to guide someone who knows the secret to the cave of gold. 

Hopefully I’ve inspired you to search for the hidden gold of Crògary Mòr. If you find it, kindly forward me one cow’s hide worth as a commission for the idea.

Stone alignment at Blathaisbhal - the hills Maari and Crogary Mor in the distance

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