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The Forgotten Dun

Spending each summer holiday in Lewis was an immense privilege, and fishing for wild brown trout on the lochs in the moors was wonderful. The trout were rarely large, but the experience of being under a huge sky with nothing to disturb one's thoughts was fantastic.

I think the first loch my Dad ever took me and my brothers to fish on was Loch Drollavat at the back of Swordale. Our favourite spot was a high peat bank at the north-eastern corner of the loch. We caught far too many eels on the worm, but as our skill with the fly-rod developed so did the number of trout which were fried in the evenings.

My brother Iain, probably about 1992

In order to reach the favoured spot, we would walk out from the northern end of Swordale. The track leads past the northern end of Loch Swordale from where we would cross the moor to get around the north-western corner of Loch Drollavat. Perhaps 200 metres further on there is an unusual grass covered patch which juts out into the loch. It features on the Ordnance Survey map from 1851:

Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland

The grass is covering a long-forgotten heap of stones. In the 1850s the cartographers failed to gather that this was a place of some significance, suggesting that even then the local community had lost some of the traditional lore. However, three early 19th century copies of a lost 1807-9 estate map of Lewis all mark a 'Dun' at this site (see here for more detail).

Aerial image of the now-separated lochs (courtesy of Colin Macleod)

It is interesting to speculate as to who may have lived there, perhaps 1000 years ago. What I find fascinating is that, although their names are long since gone, we know more of them than future generations will probably know of us. This may sound a little far-fetched, but it is a fact that we can see the remnants of their home. Will there be any visible evidence of my 1930s semi-detached home in 3021? I suspect not.

I'm reminded of the old metrical psalm:

Frail man, his days are like the grass,

as flow'r in field he grows:

For over it the wind doth pass,

and it away is gone;

And of the place where once it was

it shall no more be known.

Psalm 103:15-16

Thankfully, this is not the whole message. Just before this honest appraisal of our mortality, the psalmist has expressed God's knowledge of us:

For he remembers we are dust,

and he our frame well knows.

And then the psalmist goes on to God's promise to those of us who love him:

But unto them that do him fear

God's mercy never ends;

And to their children's children still

his righteousness extends.

'His' righteousness; not mine! I am safe, because I have his righteousness.

I do not need to fear the passing of time, or the danger of being forgotten by those who come after me. He remembers, and He keeps me.

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