Archaeologists working at a National Trust for Scotland garden in Argyll have found evidence of a monastic settlement dating to the 7th – 9th century AD. The news comes as Crarae Garden prepares to unveil the results of a seven year refurbishment project on Thursday 9 April.
As part of the refurbishment, archaeologists carried out important excavation work at the site, located 10 miles south of Inveraray. There was already evidence that Crarae has been a spiritual place for thousands of years – a Neolithic chambered cairn, Bronze Age burial mound and medieval church and graveyard are all nearby.
The most recent digs discovered that the church site and graveyard were surrounded by a wide ditch and a stone bank, similar to the monastic ‘vallum’ at Iona. Access to the site was via a wooden bridge over the ditch and along a kerbed and paved stone roadway up to the small church in the centre.
Radiocarbon dating suggests that the site dates back to the 7th – 9th century AD, making it contemporary with the Iona structures. Archaeologists also uncovered a possible timber building built in the same period that may have been a blacksmiths.
Derek Alexander, National Trust for Scotland Archaeologist said, “It is very exciting to discover the remains of a small monastic settlement at Crarae. The surrounding ditch and bank, and the radiocarbon dates when set alongside the placename evidence of ‘Killevin’ and the previous discovery of a 8th- 9th century cross in the graveyard, all point towards an important religious establishment. This was possibly an outlier related to the large early monastery sites on Iona or indeed on Lismore.”
The archaeological work was part of a major programme of re-development at Crarae Garden which began in 2002. Funded by the Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund and Argyll and Islands Enterprise, the £500,000 project involved cataloguing, mapping and numbering the nationally important plant collection, as well as improving footpaths, bridges and updating the way information about the garden was presented to visitors.
Visitors will now learn about Crarae’s similarity to a Himalayan gorge, with its stunning mix of rhododendrons, camellias, magnolias and azaleas. Like a glen in the Himalayas, Crarae has a tranquil and spiritual feel to it and the interpretation is sprinkled with references to elemental forces.
On 9 April, Beechgrove Garden’s Jim McColl is dropping by Crarae Garden to officially declare the refurbishment complete.
Head gardener Nigel Price said, “We are gearing up for a great season at Crarae this year. Now that our extensive refurbishment is complete, the garden is looking better than ever. We can’t wait to show off our fabulous new look to our visitors in 2009.”
Crarae Garden is open daily all year round. The visitor centre is open daily from 10am until 5pm. Entry costs £5.50 for an adult and £15 for a family. The event on 9 April gets underway at 11am.