Royal Commission on the Ancient and HIstorical Monument of Scotland

Billy MacRae (RCAHMS) – Inverclyde

Billy MacRae, RCAHMS

Billy MacRae, RCAHMS

A CUT ABOVE!

What is the connection between Petra, Nazca and Greenock?

Any ideas? No, well, I didn’t either until recently, but the answer is…they all have extensive aqueducts.

I’m Billy MacRae and I work as a Landscape Assessment Officer at RCAHMS and what I get excited about in archaeology is that it is not just about the extraordinary and exceptional, but also the ordinary and everyday things which were part of the experience of life in the past.

Inverclyde ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

Inverclyde ‘Contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2011’

The Loch Thom-Overton aqueduct, or “Greenock Cut”, as it is sometimes known, is a fantastic example of 19th century engineering and ingenuity. The Greenock Cut is also a symbol of the desire to harness and manipulate the landscape for what many believed was the advancement of society.

Loch Thom and Greenock Cut. Copyright RCAHMS (DP035861)

Loch Thom and Greenock Cut. Copyright RCAHMS (DP035861)

The complete water system comprises reservoirs, sluices, workers’ bothies and obviously, the water course itself. It was devised and built to power the industries in and around Greenock and also provide clean drinking water for an expanding population. The fact that this aqueduct provided Greenock’s water supply until 1971, a working life of over 140 years, is a testament to the skills and hard work of those who designed, built and maintained it. The industrial heritage of Inverclyde, the mills, factories and refineries were only made possible by civil engineering works like the Greenock Cut.

Looking towards Greenock from Loch Thom-Overton aqueduct. Copyright RCAHMS (DP 035862)

Looking towards Greenock from Loch Thom-Overton aqueduct. Copyright RCAHMS (DP 035862)

The other great thing about landscape archaeology and the Loch Thom-Overton aqueduct in particular, is that you don’t need to visit a museum or sit in the bottom of a muddy trench to appreciate it. There is a pathway which runs the length of the aqueduct and forms part of the Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park. This landscape bears witness to many thousands of years of human activity. While you are there, you could also look out for the remains of rig-and-furrow cultivation, hut-circles, cup-and-ring marked rocks, and there’s even a Roman road and fortlet not too far away.

As for Petra and Nazca (try Googling “Nabatean aqueduct” and “Nazca puquios”), they are pretty impressive too, but not quite so easy to visit for a stroll at the weekend.

This is what I’ve chosen for Day of Archaeology, but why not tell us your favourite archaeological sites in Scotland on Twitter using #MyArchaeology.