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Byegone Days of Cambusbarron

The following are extracts from the book "Bygone Days in Cambusbarron" and have been reproduced here with the kind permission of the Author Mr P.T. Paterson, a resident in Cambusbarron.

On a cold February morning in 1879, work was brought to a halt at Drummond’s Coney Park Nursery, Cambusbarron. Some of the men digging through a mound of earth, in the centre of the nursery, had struck an obstacle. When they cleared back the soil, the gardeners discovered several stones placed against and over each other as if to form a small wall sealed by a yellowish clay the Coneypark men had not seen before in their nursery.

Robert the Bruce at Chapel Well
And when they broke through this mound the men were astonished at what they found: a human skeleton. It was propped against the inside wall. It had been there for 2,500 years. And as fresh air displaced the fetid atmosphere of the tomb, and the intruders stood transfixed, the skeleton disintegrated before their eyes.

Through its circumstances were fairly dramatic, this find, the tomb of some important person, (Map Reference 783926) was only one of several made in the locality during the second half of the nineteenth century which suggest that some kind of community was already established in Cambusbarron during the Bronze Age - from 1700 to 500 B.C., in the Stirling area. At least four other cists - a cist being a tomb consisting of a stone chest covered with stone slabs - were found in the stretch of land between Birkhill and the Kings Park: two were discovered in the garden of Birkhill House (780926 and 779926), one containing bones and an ornamental urn, possibly a food vessel; a partly destroyed cist was found in Birkhill sand-pit (779925), and a broken urn in the sand-pit and adjoining Douglas Terrace (782920).

Besides these cist finds, several other pieces of Bronze Age pottery have been discovered in the Cambusbarron area, including beakers and cinerary urns (i.e. urns containing ashes of the dead). Unfortunately, the exact circumstances surrounding these discoveries, perhaps as many as ten, have not been recorded, though most of the relics are preserved in either the Smith Institute or the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh.

A final interesting, if enigmatic, Bronze Age relic is the cup-and-ring marking in the Kings Park where it overlooks the village. This consists of a natural stone marked by what appears to be a cup 1½ inches in diameter and ½ inch deep surrounded by a ring 5 inches in diameter and ¼ inch deep. Last officially inspected in 1958, it was then described as being near the summit of the crag that borders the Park and lies behind Douglas Terrace, some 45 yards east of a seat on the summit. The map reference is 783930, but the hopeful searcher will have much difficulty in discovering its whereabouts due to the thick growth of turf and bushes in the area. Its significance, like others found throughout the British Isles and the continent, remains a mystery though one theory suggests that the markings may symbolise the sun (cup) and its heat (ring) and that they were produced in connection with the activities of the Bronze Age smiths and smelters.

About the earlier inhabitants of Cambusbarron before the Bronze Age dwellers, little is known and we have to rely even more on inference and guess work. After the Ice Age, some 8,000 years ago, some areas of present day Cambusbarron were under water - part of the great post-glacial flood created by the melting of the ice; the River Forth is a modern descendant of that sea. Much of the flat, low-lying land is a noticeable feature of the Forth Valley, both to the east and west of Stirling once formed the bed of this great sea loch. Prince Charlie in Cambusbarron 1745

Numerous fish fossils and remains have been recorded in the area, the most interesting of which was the 50 ft. skeleton of a whale found at West Carse on Touch estate during the construction of the present Dunbarton Road in the early years of last century. The present Touch Road, in fact, as it leaves the village from the West End, follows the line of the prehistoric raised beach of the Forth and a great, semi-circular bay was once formed behind Touch House, Gartur House and Hillhead Farm. From approximately 3,000 B.C. the water gradually receded until by Christian times it had reached the present shoreline of the Forth. And it is the carse clay of the one-time sea that has provided evidence of the earliest human presence in the Stirling area in the form of primitive tools made from bone and antlers. "Kitchen middens" alongside testify to the diet of these people of the Mesolithic Period ("Meso - lithic" - middle stone age, i.e. they lived 3,500 years ago): mussels, cockles, periwinkles and whelks, fish and perhaps the occasional luxury of a stranded whale. A heavy round stone with a hole in the middle, unearthed by Mr. W. McEwan a few years ago from the fields of his Hillhead Farm, may well be a net-sinker used by these early fishermen. A barked flint arrow-head from Murrayshall Lime Kilns in 1911, a clay-stone axe from Whitehouse Farm in 1893 and an axe-head from Greystale Farm in 1880 are the only other recorded finds in the locality which may date from Stone Age times.
Whether or not Stone Age Man settled for any length of time in what is now Cambusbarron, is impossible to say. It may well be that, driven to ensure a steady food supply, he was nomadic and, living in rough brush-wood and reeded huts or tents, he wandered up and down the southern shoreline of the prehistoric Forth. The first farmers, possibly the forefathers of those who left the Coneypark and Birkhill relics, came to the area in approximately 3,000 B.C., coinciding with the receding waters of the Forth. Attracted by lighter sands and gravel which supported a more open vegetation cover than the heavier, if ultimately more productive, clay soil, these early farmers ignored both the re-emerging carse lands — in later centuries to become some of the best farmland in Scotland— and the more exposed uplands, to settle on the lower, better-drained hill slopes of the region, onland such as that around Cambusbarron and, in particular, that of the Touch area which has up to fairly recent times supported a number of farms. Not until the invention of the heavy plough in the Iron Age did the farmers move down to the carse.
The dwellings of these people, though still extremely primitive, were more permanent than the wattle and daub huts of their predecessors, and consisted of a singular rectangular room with stone and mud walls and a thatched roof held up by central timber posts. At one end there would be a door, but no windows, the only outlet being in the centre of the roof for smoke from the fire. Unfortunately, no finds of such dwelling places have been made in our area though they are recorded elsewhere. A third phase in the prehistory of the Cambusbarron area is marked by a number of Iron Age sites, particularly of the hill fort and dun variety which are found exclusively to the west and south west of the village. That no such remains are presently known inside the village itself does not preclude their earlier existence: their sites may have been built upon over the centuries or have been destroyed by the plough or - a common fate for many ancient monuments - they may have been quarries for later builders and their material plundered.

main street cambusbaronA fourth possibility is that the comparatively more gentle slopes of Cambusbarron did not impress the builders of these duns and forts as having the same forbidding defensive qualities as the clifftops and steep summits of the Murrayshall, Sauchie Crags and Gillies Hill areas. It is on the west-facing crag of Gillies Hill that is recorded the nearest of these hill forts to the village. It lay just back from the cliff face at a point where the crags are interrupted by a transverse gully (769917). The other Gillies Hill site is the Wallstale Dun (774909) which lies on a south-projecting spur of the woodland 160 yards north of Wallstale Farm. This was once known to local people as "The Temple" and was a favourite picnic spot in Victorian days. Duns were generally smaller than hill forts and, varying greatly in size and shape, date of construction and duration of occupation, seem to have been used for defence.

They were distinguished by their comparatively small size and disproportionately thick walls. Today’s interested antiquarian, however, is inevitably disappointed when he arrives at one of the sites: due to extensive quarrying by later generations, the duns and hill forts have lost most of their stonework and it is often difficult to imagine them as they once were. With one notable exception, this is true of the remaining sites in the Murravshall/ Sauchie/Touch area: there is Wester Craigend, or Sauchie Fort, (767906) lying approximately 360 yards west of Craigend House, on the high cliffs above the Bannockburn (or Limestone Burn, as it has been known to generations of Cambusbarron people); Touchadam Fort, (767909) now merely a rocky mound just to the north of Limestone Road at the entrance of Murrayshall Farm. This site was known by locals in Victorian times as "The Camp"; the Touch Muir Dun, in open moorland which descends gradually southwards to the left bank of the upper reaches of the West Burn 30 yards away. It is 770 yards N.N.W. by N. of what was once the boathouse of No.4 loch, Touch Muir. It is 42 ft. in diameter and a ruined stone wall varying in thickness between 8 and 12 ft. is now a grass banking though the eastern entrance is well defined; there are two dun sites on the Castlehill area of Touch, the first (766908) on a rocky outcrop 760 yards S.E. of the ruins of Castlehill Farmhouse. All the stones were removed last century. The second (760909) is on a rocky knoll a quarter of a mile south of the same ruined farmhouse.

Four other prehistoric sites in this area, though not apparently duns or hill forts, should be recorded. One is Woodside Homesteads (753912) and this lies in the uppermost of the cultivated fields of Woodside Farm some 650 yards SW. of this Farmhouse. It is D-shaped in plan and is 170 ft. in length E. to W. A group of small huts would have stood within the boundaries of the homestead and the stone foundations of two may still be observed. The second is described by the Royal Commission of Ancient Monuments as a "Mound at Touch" (750931) lying beside the farm road running south from the former West Lodge of Touch, 300 yards from that building. It may be a denuded cairn. Thirdly there is an enclosure on Touch Muir, consisting now of only a few boulders, 100 yards W.N.W. from Touch Muir Dun, near the West Burn (722920). And finally indeterminate ruins (749930) have been found on open ground 400 yards south of Touch West Lodge. They may be the remains of an ancient farmhouse. The most impressive Iron Age site in the area is, however, the dun at Castlehill Wood. This lies 1,100 yards W.S.W. of the ruins of the Castlehill Farmhouse and is oval shaped, measuring 75 ft. from N.E. to SW. by 50 ft. transversely within a dry stone dyke 6 ft. thick situated at a height of 650 ft. above sea-level, the dun commands a fine view of the surrounding countryside and its original occupants would have been able to maintain visual contact with most of the other forts in the area. Remains of fires have been found, as have various small artifacts which suggest that occupants lived in the adjacent area, possibly in wattle and daub shelters. More interestingly, fragments of Roman glass have also been uncovered, dating the structure to the first or second century A.D. and suggesting that the invading Romans may have taken temporary occupation of the fort; alternatively, the fragments may be the result of invader/native trade or battle plunder.

The Romans themselves have left almost no traceable impact on Cambusbarron. A local 19th Century tradition that Birkhill House was built on the site of a Roman villa seems unlikely; a record of fragments of a Roman urn being found in Cambusbarron Sandpit, formerly to the west of Birkhill House, may have more validity or may be the result of confusion with Bronze Age relics there; and the 1841 Statistical Account suggestion that the foundations of a road uncovered at Bearside Farm in the 1830s was Roman, is now regarded as doubtful, though the Account contended that the road might lead to Castlehill Dun or to a ford over the Forth at Kildean. (More recent research suggests that the main Roman road north came through St. Ninians then veered slightly to the west of Stirling through Laurelhill Place and Snowdon Place, and then probably to Kildean. The Iron Age duns and hill forts are the final remnants of Cambusbarron’s prehistory. In fact, spanning as they do they gulf between BC and AD they are bridges in time between the distant days of our earliest ancestors, and the beginnings of what we regard as recorded history. Despite the ravages of the intervening millennia, these very old stones, ancient relics of Cambusbarron’s earliest days, profoundly affect the imagination; we think of their silent survive over the centuries, the lost worlds that surged and fell around them, and most of all, of the people who left them.