Laid Heritage Trail
This walk should only be attempted with suitable walking attire. It involves a degree of hill climbing out into exposed hillside.
The walk can be completed in around three hours but the views can be magnificent and sites are of great historical interest. The temptation is to linger. Leave the Durness Tourist Information Car park and drive about ten miles west on the A838 toward Tongue. At the disused quarry opposite 93 Laid is the starting point for the walk. Follow the posts that start the proposed eventual Laid heritage and geology trail to the HOOD stones The walk continues to the Wheelhouse taking in six lochans and returns down to the road by the Alt an Lagain burn For the more adventurous the walk can continue along the ridge skirting Meall nan Cra to the group of Bronze age cairns that may have been a cemetery. The walk can be completed by returning down to the road and back to the quarry. This would take about five hours.
The walk is exposed in poor weather with no real shelter. Always let someone know your approximate time of return.
Laid is the village on the east shore of Loch Eriboll with 18 crofts. Loch Eriboll, Hoan Fjord, is a lengthy and deep sea loch about sixteen kilometres long with a south – west direction and varying from one point five to six point five kilometres in breadth. The view to the east is over Loch Eriboll to the island of Eilean Choraidh and Ben Hope, the most northerly Munro.
To the south at the head of the loch is the dramatic entrance to Strath Beag. North is the Atlantic and mouth of the loch marked by the distinctive cliffs of Whitten Head. The are is of considerable geological interest with visiting students being frequently taken to the area. The island in the mouth of Loch Eriboll, Eilean Hoan is leased by the RSPB and has been managed as a nature reserve.
Loch Eriboll was the site of the surrender of the German U-boat fleet in May 1945. Between the 10th and 20th May, over thirty U-boats came into Loch Eriboll. The crescent promontory of Ard Neakie pushes out to the middle from the eastern shore.
This loch has been used as a naval anchorage for much of the 20th century. When ships anchored in Loch Eriboll in the 1920s and 1930s some crew members would climb the hill to the west of the loch and leave their ship’s name written in stone letters about two metres high in a patch one by two metres. The most prominent is the HOOD and it is the Hood’s tragic history that makes the hillside such a poignant spot.
Hood stones (NC 4135 6056)
Loch Eriboll was extensively used by the fleet during the war and the sailors of the various battleships have left their mark by spelling out the name’s of their ships with stones on the hillside above the loch. The stones are in two groups at a height of some 800 ¾eet. Ships, which can be identified, are Valiant, Swift, Whirlwind, Union, Unga, Lucrctia, Blake and of course Hood which has its name spelled out twice. There are other names more difiicull to make out as the stones have become overgrown or moved by animals or the weather. The Hood is the most famous and it is still difficult to grasp the size of the catastrophe of the sinking of the Hood to the salvo from the Bismarck with only three survivors out of a crew of 1500 both in terms of loss of life and the psychological effect on the nation when its largest warship was blown out the water in its first encounter with the new German pocket battleships. These stones are a sobering reminder of these times but the sailors who put them there would certainly have taken some satisfaction if they could have seen, some years later, the surrender of the German North Atlantic U-boat fleet in Loch Eriboll at the end of the war
Wheelhouse (NC 4049 6102)
The well preserved iron age wheel house is one of the best in Scotland and is a scheduled ancient monument.
A wheelhouse is a dry stone dwelling house used in the Iron Age. Circular in construction with slabs of rock forming the basis of the roof, these slabs appear also to mark interior divisions of a family habitation. The Wheelhouse on the Trail is an enigmatic structure known as Tigh na Fiarnain, House of the Fingalians, which lies at a height of 950 ¾eet at the end of a ridge overlooking a lochan. Considering its age of some two thousand years it is in excellent condition and in fact is one of the best-preserved wheelhouses in Scotland.
It measures 5.5 meters NE-SW by 5 meters NW-SE within its dry built wall, 1.1 meters thick and 1.4 meters high, with the entrance in the east. In the interior a circle of seven orthostats set at a distance of about 1 metre form the wall, one of which is lintelled, another partially so, and possible roofing slabs lie about. Some of the internal lintels appear to be re-erections. To the north are traces of an outer wall, which appears to curve in towards the wall, and on the southwest are traces of yet another enclosure; formed by erect slabs now collapsed.
The enigma is a double one. Firstly these structures are found in three main areas, the Hebrides, Shetland (but not Orkney) and Caithness, and the; lintels is the type to which this wheel house belongs because of its free-standing orthostats as opposed to the radial walls of the true Hebridean wheel house. This one is however a geographically isolated example. And secondly nearly all the other wheelhouses lie below the 50-foot contour and are associated with other buildings. Why was this one built so high up in such an isolated spot? One explanation, which of course can never be proved, is that strangers, possibly coming from Caithness, who were allowed only this spot to make their home, built it.
Bronze Age Cairns (NC 3877 5866)
There are eight cairns in all, although some are difficult to make out, stretched along a ridge at a height of 1050 feet looking down on Loch Eriboll and lying between Bealach Mor to the north and Bealach Loch na Seilg to the south. Three standing stones lie at the northern end and the supposition is that this is a Bronze Age cemetery situated in this spot because of the proximity to the two main routes between Loch Eriboll and the Durness peninsula mentioned above. The main cairn is situated on fairly level ground and measures 19 meters in diameter with a height on 4 meters. Only the west half remains, the east half having been extensively robbed. It is formed of small broken stones and is partly heather and turf covered. In the center a number of flat stones, not in situ, possibly represent the remains of a cist. The other cairns lie to the north of the main one along a shallow ridge with a stunning view from the last one down Bealach Mor to The Kyle of Durness, Balnakeil beach and Faraid Head. The use of such sites, not necessarily associated with settlement, for burial purposes is a common feature of this period.
Souterrain (NC 4282 6129)
The Souterrain or Earth House lies below ground at the roadside some three hundred yards from the sea near Port Chamuill and is cited as one of the best preserved in Scotland. The entrance was blocked by a slab 3 feet 6 inches long which now lies beside it. The entrance passage is some 3 yards long but barely a yard wide and twelve curving – this is typical of this structure – stone steps lead down into the gallery which measures 27 feet long, between 4 and 5 feet high and 4 feet wide. The entrance was within a hut circle in the southeast arc but all that remains of this is some walling extending for about 5 yards on either side of the entrance. The exact purpose of these later prehistoric structures is not clear. Hiding place, store and winter dwelling have all been postulated. The storage function seems to, have most support but there may have been a combination of all three. The local name was An Labaidh-fholaich – the hiding place.
PLANTS TO SEE
From the quarry up to the HOOD stones the vegetation is a mosaic of heather, bell heather, purple moorgrass and deergrass interspread with small patches of bare eroded peat. Other species listed were scattered amongst the main constituents. Heather, heath spotted– orchid, Great sundew, Round Leaved Sundew, Bell Heather, Common Cottongrass, Hare’s ail Cottongrass, Fir Clubmoss, Heath Rush, Juniper, Purple Moor grass, Bog Asphodel, Heath Milkwort, Tormentil, Deergrass.
Beyond the HOOD stones, over the ridge and down towards the lochs the area of quartz pavement scree is most interesting and in this area were added.
Mountain Everlasting, Bearberry, Alpine Bearberry (particularly low altitude), Hard Fern, Wavy Hair Grass, Crowberry, Common Butterwort, Goldenrod and Devils-bit Scabious (very dwarf hill top forms).
As well as those more obvious species there are green Ribbed Sedge, carnation Sedge, Star Sedge, Fescues, Bents. The first loch had near the margins Common Yellow sedge, Spike Rush, Heath Bedstraw, Soft Rush, Lousewort, The three lochs have growing in the water Common sedge, Bottle Sedge, Bulbous Rush, Shoreweed, Water lobelia, Bogbean, Alternate Water-Milfoil, Pondweed, Lesser, Spearwort, Floating Bur-weed. Following down the burn Great Wood Rush, Bracken, Eared Willow, Rowan, lemon Scented Fern, Sphagnum Bogmosses, Green Ribbed Sedge, Slender St. Johns-wort, New Zealand Willow herb.