Archaeology Dec 2023

December might seem an odd time to commence an archaeological excavation! I must admit, I had my reservations. However, all went  V E R Y   W E L L  !

The archaeological digs at Clestrain are hugely important to our understanding of the A-Listed building and how families have lived there over the centuries. When we come to restore the property, the information gleaned through the digs will be invaluable to creating a faithful restoration. Below are some of the findings from our latest dig.

Below we have the north east section of the deep drain that was built after the Rae family’s tenure at The Hall of Clestrain. The whole north courtyard was back filled and levelled to the height of these capstones, so the surface rose by around 3ft. Quite a change since John Rae’s time there.

The drain (left) was chocked with ancient pig manure, which had solidified and blocked the drain. This was shovelled away and that part of the drain runs fine. The section to the north west remains blocked and will be cleared in the springtime.

This (far right) shows the back of the retaining wall, which surrounds three sides of the Hall of Clestrain. You can see the thick deposit of farm midden thrown in behind it. This masks the original berm of the building terrace originally dug to build the Hall on. We do not know the date of this yet, but it seems very likely to have been sliced out sometime before 1740.

Here (left) we have a two meter by one and a half meter cut through the concrete of the pig pens. You can see a beautiful stone block floor. Set in it, or set on it is a hefty stone flag. This might well be a hearthstone. The slab above could have supported a cast iron kitchen stove. Broken pieces of such a stove were discovered during the excavations in previous years. Directly behind this slab we see probable signs of a blocked-in fireplace. A little further examination is required here.

As the wall dries a bit, we may see a greater difference. A considerable amount of water had to be removed to get this photograph!

The John Rae Society is grateful to ORCA {Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology} for doing the excavations for us and specifically Paul Clark. ORCA Senior Projects Manager. Rick Barton and Kevin Kerr. They will be producing a report of the dig which we will share at a later date.

Andrew Appleby.