Petrified Oysters and Rock Grottoes: Pococke’s Tour Part 2

After surmounting the ‘frightfull hill’ of Berriedale and crossing the Helmsdale River in a coble, travelling Bishop Pococke probably started to relax as he entered the ‘beautifull country of Loth’, a parish that today most of us tend to dash through in our cars.

We soon came into the beautifull country of Loth. It is not easy to determine whether it had its name from the ancient Logi, situated here, or from some loughs. Loughs that have been drained, one part being called Lothmore (the great lough), another part Lothbeg (the little lough). A rivulet runs through it, formed by two streams which unite a little higher up. It is a fine narrow strip of arable ground, with several beautifull hillocks near the foot of the hills, and the supposed banks of the loughs are visible. Loughmore was situated towards the sea; Loughbeg is to the south-west. We took some refreshment at the house of Mr. [Robert] M’Cullogh, the minister at Lothkirk. He went with us to Lothbeg, where the banks of the lake are very plain, as well as the outlet that was made at the rocks towards the sea…

An old road running from the church at Clyne to Strath Brora, overlooking the area where Pococke searched for fossils. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

From this place we return’d to the road, and struck out of it again near the house of Clyne to the south-west, to a ridge of very low hills, where there are small quarries of a loose slaty limestone, in which there are petrified large oyster shells, the small Comu Ammonis, the Gryphites, and cockles, also the pecten, of most of which I brought away some specimens.

The editor of Pococke’s diary explains that what he actually did was employ ‘men to hew out masses of the rock, which he broke, and carried away a large quantity of shells.’ This claim of fairly large-scale excavation was apparently taken from Thomas Pennant’s travel account of 1769, but I can find no trace of it.

From this place we descended to the Brora, where to the west of the bridge is a beautifull natural cave opening to the river. We then went a little way to the south-west, to what is called the Dals, [the Doll] which is a most beautifull bason of a lake that has been drained, with an island in the middle of it. The flat is entirely covered with corn.

The River Brora, with the present village straight ahead and The Doll to the left. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie.

The cave was named as ‘Uai na Calman’. I wonder if anyone knows it? The ‘Dals’ is the Doll, still a rather lovely agricultural area. It is noticeable how often Pococke mentions good arable land. He was travelling at the prime time to see crops flourishing. That strip of good quality land down the east coast – and more patches appearing in what he describes as heath – would have been intensively maintained with manure to support the population. As he headed towards Strathsteven his geological interests resurface.

From that place we came to the sea-cliff, and descending, we afterwards ascended about fifty feet up a steep way to a grotto in the rock, where art has been used in cutting a bench or two, and about three feet higher is an inner appartment, which is worked out in a rough manner, with a large short kind of pillar between the two entrances, and opposite to the northern entrance is a part of it in which one may stand upright. As brambles and weeds grow upon the mouth of the outer cave, they have a beautifull effect, and the view of the fine strips of corn below and of the sea is most delightfull. This was probably the retreat of some hermit.

Does anyone know of this grotto today?

To be continued…

1 thought on “Petrified Oysters and Rock Grottoes: Pococke’s Tour Part 2

  1. It’s what we know as the Coves today, near Strathsteven, between Brora and Golspie. It is an amazing place, a high cave set into the old beach cliff line. Carvings and ‘seats’ inside. Stunning location.

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