Saturday, March 10, 2018

Fair birlin' doon the loch to Castle Tioram.

We left Shoe Bay and set off up the South channel of Loch Moidart with both a fair wind and a flood  tide behind us. We were soon birlin' doon the loch at a most respectable rate of knots.

As we paddled deep inland, the loch narrowed and the wind dropped. To the south the land was relatively low lying and is where the outflow of River Sheil carries the fresh water from Loch Sheil into the salt water of Loch Moidart.

 To the north we were hemmed in by the rough slopes of Eilean Shona which fell steeply into the sea.

 Ahead and to the east, lay our next objective...

...Castle Tiorum (pron. Cheerum) whose ancient grey walls rise from the grey rocks of...

 ...the tidal island upon which it stands. On its NW side there is a sheltered cove, which at one time would have had...

 ...wooden birlinns, like this modern reconstruction, drawn up on its sands. Many think the Celtic birlinns were developed from Viking longships but it was actually the other way round. The Celts were using birlinns some 800 years before the time of the longships. Indeed, in his third book of the Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar describes them in detail and how they were superior to the Roman galleys.

 Today it was kayaks and an F-RIB rather than birlinns that drew up on the sands  below...

 ...the castle walls. Long gone castle defenders might have viewed our approach with some suspicion but we were intent on nothing more than...

 ...stopping for our fourth luncheon....


  1. That's an interesting observation re: the antiquity of birlinns. I'm going to have to look at de Bello Gallico because I thought it was the other way around! (Imagine a Mediterranean trieme nosing around the Firth of Lorn...)

    1. Hi Robert this is an English translation of the extract from The Gallic Wars Book 3 Julius Caesar 56 BCE:

      "For their ships were built and equipped after this manner. The keels were somewhat flatter than those of our ships, whereby they could more easily encounter the shallows and the ebbing of the tide: the prows were raised very high, and, in like manner the sterns were adapted to the force of the waves and storms [which they were formed to sustain]. The ships were built wholly of oak, and designed to endure any force and violence whatever; the benches which were made of planks a foot in breadth, were fastened by iron spikes of the thickness of a man's thumb; the anchors were secured fast by iron chains instead of cables, and for sails they used skins and thin dressed leather. These [were used] either through their want of canvas and their ignorance of its application, or for this reason, which is more probable, that they thought that such storms of the ocean, and such violent gales of wind could not be resisted by sails, nor ships of such great burden be conveniently enough managed by them. The encounter of our fleet with these ships' was of such a nature that our fleet excelled in speed alone, and the plying of the oars; other things, considering the nature of the place [and] the violence of the storms, were more suitable and better adapted on their side; for neither could our ships injure theirs with their beaks (so great was their strength), nor on account of their height was a weapon easily cast up to them; and for the same reason they were less readily locked in by rocks. To this was added, that whenever a storm began to rage and they ran before the wind, they both could weather the storm more easily and heave to securely in the shallows, and when left by the tide feared nothing from rocks and shelves: the risk of all which things was much to be dreaded by our ships."

    2. Caeser wrote this description after the Romans lost a naval battle with the Celts off Brittany. This is the original Latin in case you were classically schooled!! :o)

      Namque ipsorum naves ad hunc modum factae armataeque erant: carinae aliquanto planiores quam nostrarum navium, quo facilius vada ac decessum aestus excipere possent; prorae admodum erectae atque item puppes, ad magnitudinem fluctuum tempestatumque accommodatae; naves totae factae ex robore ad quamvis vim et contumeliam perferendam; transtra ex pedalibus in altitudinem trabibus, confixa clavis ferreis digiti pollicis crassitudine; ancorae pro funibus ferreis catenis revinctae; pelles pro velis alutaeque tenuiter confectae, [hae] sive propter inopiam lini atque eius usus inscientiam, sive eo, quod est magis veri simile, quod tantas tempestates Oceani tantosque impetus ventorum sustineri ac tanta onera navium regi velis non satis commode posse arbitrabantur. Cum his navibus nostrae classi eius modi congressus erat ut una celeritate et pulsu remorum praestaret, reliqua pro loci natura, pro vi tempestatum illis essent aptiora et accommodatiora. Neque enim iis nostrae rostro nocere poterant (tanta in iis erat firmitudo), neque propter altitudinem facile telum adigebatur, et eadem de causa minus commode copulis continebautur. Accedebat ut, cum [saevire ventus coepisset et] se vento dedissent, et tempestatem ferrent facilius et in vadis consisterent tutius et ab aestu relictae nihil saxa et cautes timerent; quarum rerum omnium nostris navibus casus erat extimescendus.

  2. Thanks for the clarification Douglas.��