The Cougie Enclosure

Not all sites can be easily identified or assigned to a particular historic or prehistoric period.  One such enigmatic site is the large enclosure at Cougie, west of Tomich.

It lies on a steeply sloping south-facing hillside and measures about 60 metres north – south and slightly less east – west.  Its walls are rough stone boulders, partly covered in turf, and standing now only about 30 cm high.

It has two narrow entrances, one in the east and one in the west, and a low wall extends several metres out from the west wall towards the north-east in the interior of the enclosure.

Large enclosures such as this are normally thought to be stock enclosures, from any period from the Bronze Age to the 19th century (a modern example is the fank at Knockfin), and this interpretation would fit with the enclosure’s location, either belonging to a farm or sheep-run, or possibly as an overnight stop for cattle being driven from the west coast to the markets in the east, such as Muir of Ord.  It would also accord with the heavy growth of nettles in the south part of the enclosure, suggesting ground fertilized by stock.

The problem with this identification is that the uphill, northern end of the enclosure is open, and is much too wide to have been closed by a gate.  It could possibly have been closed by removable hurdles, but there are no known parallels for this in the area.  It is one of the joys of archaeology that one can speculate and try to solve a mystery.

Some have suggested that the site could be a Neolithic henge (a circular ritual structure, often with two opposed entrances).  But there are few henges in the Highlands, and the open side remains unexplained.  Others have suggested an unfinished Iron Age or Dark Age hillfort, although the steeply sloping ground would make this rather unusual.  One thing in support of a fairly ancient origin is the fact that it is known locally as the Druids’ Circle, and while this is a very fanciful interpretation, it does suggest that local people were aware of its antiquity; they would not have called it that if they remembered it being used as a stock enclosure.

Another possible explanation is a marching camp for the soldiers of the Hanoverian armies which occupied the Highlands after the 1745 Jacobite rising.  Again, it would have to be either unfinished, or the open end closed with some temporary barrier, or simply guarded by sentries.

Strathglass Heritage Association has carried out some preliminary survey work on the enclosure, and we hope to explore further, although we may never find out exactly what it is.