Archaeologists discover bottles and hearth of pub on haunted 19th century cattle lands

By Ben Miller | 06 June 2014

18th century glass and a 19th century coin could chart the rise and fall of a pub used by drovers within sight of a ghostly lady

A photo of a hand holding out various small archaeological artefacts
Finds from Tigh Caol© GUARD Archaeology Ltd
Resting with their feet up and supping a drink, the spoils of a drover or traveller, popping to the pub in rural Scotland 200 years ago, have been found in a hearth the size of a modern-day living room in Ayrshire.

The abandoned stop-off - known as a Drovers’ Inn - is the first of its kind to be found in the country, excavated on the edge of a droving route known for its position near a bridge haunted by ghosts on the Cowal Peninsula.

“The site lies on the low side of the A886 road, down the old road on the way to Strathlachlan Hall, near Leanach, about 2.5 kilometres south‐east of Newton,” says Warren Bailie, who devised the community excavation after it provoked the interest of Donald Adamson, an expert on 17th and 18th century droving.

Adamson believes the burgeoning export of black cattle - exported in huge numbers during the period - was the single great catalyst for change at the time, leaving largely unexplored archaeological rewards.

“The site of Tigh Caol is now a series of low walls of approximately 0.2 to 0.3 metres, high enveloped in vegetation, that lie on a slightly raised platform on the inside of a meander of a burn.

“A nearby bridge called the Witches Bridge carries (Thomas) Telford’s road over the burn. To the north of this bridge, along the main road edge about a mile from the site of the inn, lies a foreboding large quartzite glacial erratic known as Cailleach Glas, which translates as the ‘grey old woman' or 'grey haired witch'.”

Despite local history book accounts of the hand-wringing “grey lady” – the wraith was reported several times by one bygone resident – an extensive team of diggers, including the local history society, schools and local volunteers, spent two weeks opening the trenches, where a stone-paved central hearth contained charcoal-rich deposits from a well-raked fire surrounded by discarded flints.

Multiple shards of 18th century bottle glass accompanied pottery wares including delft, Staffordshire Slipware, hand-painted white glazed fine-wares and the base and rim of a fine clear glass goblet.

A 19th century coin could mark the point when the inn went out of use, while metal detectorist Jim Conquer found a copper alloy horse harness, adorned with a double thistle design thought to have slipped off one drover’s horse.

The demise of the inn could be put down to the building of Telford’s parallel engineered road, constructed during the early 19th century with an improved surface and gradient for carriages.

“By 1870, the site was described in the Ordnance Survey Name Book as 'the ruins of what was formerly an inn',” says Bailie.

“It was depicted as a single unroofed building on the Ordnance Survey's First Edition map of the area.”

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A photo of a large group of people carrying out outdoor excavations under a tent
© GUARD Archaeology Ltd
A photo of a large group of people carrying out outdoor excavations under a tent
© GUARD Archaeology Ltd
A photo of a large mound of thick grass within the countryside hills
© GUARD Archaeology Ltd
A photo of a red and white archaeological measuring stick next to a rock on grassland
© GUARD Archaeology Ltd
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