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Scandinavians and the Middle Ages

The brochs, wheelhouses and similar round or oval buildings were lived in until around about AD 800, when Scandinavian invaders arrived in the islands. The Vikings had come. They became the rulers of the Hebrides for nearly 500 years.

If you look at aerial photographs of Berie, you can see the outline of 3 or 4 long, rectangular buildings near the broch, on the shores of the silted-up loch. These may have been a Viking farm, as the immigrants brought rectangular architecture with them from Scandinavia. The incomers were pagans, and they buried their dead near their farms, not in the Christian cemetery. At Cnip, they reused the Bronze Age cemetery as a family burial ground; perhaps they were attracted by the visible remains of the early burial cairn, which would have reminded them of their home land, where burial cairns were still in use.

By about AD 1000, the Scandinavian Scots were Christian, and had intermarried with local people. But the Hebrides were still part of Norway, and the local archbishop was based in Trondheim. We know, from archaeological digs and stray finds elsewhere, that there was active trade between the islands and Norway. This seems to have changed after 1266, when the islands were given to Scotland, as part of the Treaty of Perth. The treaty allowed people to move to Norway, if they wished, but we think most people stayed in the islands. DNA analyses have shown that most islanders have a proportion of Scandinavian blood.

Norse MillIn the Middle Ages, the islands were a part of the Lordship of the Isles, a Gaelic-speaking lordship controlling the West Coast of Scotland, that was nearly as powerful as the Scottish Crown. We know little about Bhaltos at this time, but its tax valuation as the Fourteen Penny Land (discussed above) dates from this time. Ships and shipping were important to the lordship, as the best and quickest means of transport, so the Peninsula, with its sheltered harbours, would have been an important place.

In the years after the Middle Ages, from the 16th century onwards, this area was probably valuable mostly because of its rich land. We know that grain was grown, probably barley and oats, because there are a series of water mills (see map) in the hills behind Traigh na Berie. If you walk up the stream with the mills, you will come to Loch Bharabhat at the top with the Iron Age broch in it.