The Tarradale Challenges

The brief was to be inspired by the Tarradale Through Time project and produce an artwork, photograph or piece of creative writing for us. We are now very pleased to be able to bring you the results.

Three separate challenges were set up encouraging people to engage their creativity by producing a work of art or a photograph or a piece of creative writing. The only criterion was that the submission had something to do with Tarradale in its widest sense. The entries, from a wide cross-section of the community, included watercolours, wood engravings, different styles of photography, creative essays and poems.

It was very difficult to choose clear winners and as far as we are concerned everyone that engaged with the project was a winner. A selection of the submissions is included here and these should be seen as representative of the quality of the entries. The TARRADALE THROUGH TIME team engaged in a degree of creativity themselves by commissioning three-dimensional models of the antler harpoon found at the shell midden excavations in Tarradale in 2017. The harpoon is such a rare and important find that we want it to be the identifying badge or logo for the TARRADALE THROUGH TIME project and we intend to present reproductions of the harpoon as prizes for the creative challenges.



The barrow cemetery excavation was often carried out in rather blustery and wet weather and one of the art challenge submissions was a moody watercolour, with the title Rain clouds over Tarradale.  

ARTWORK: Rain clouds over Tarradale by Margie Trewin


The photography challenge was the most popular category with a range of photographs taken in and around the Tarradale excavations. Photographers could submit one photograph or a few photographs to illustrate a theme. Again we can only show a small sample of the photographs, one from a study by Konia Tack simply entitled Buckets and another called Life’s shadow.

PHOTOGRAPHY: Buckets by Konia Tack


PHOTOGRAPHY: Life’s shadow (anonymous)


The creative writing challenge was also popular, with the barrow cemetery and its shadowy grave providing inspiration for a number of entries. One of these was in the form of an excellent poem The last man. It conveys a moving depth of feeling and poignancy. A very different inspiration for creative writing were the remains of an abandoned settlement surveyed and excavated near Tarradale Mains farm in 2018. A cluster of houses appears on the Tarradale estate map of 1788 but all that remains today is just the overgrown footings of the buildings. We do not know when or why this settlement of poor tenants was abandoned but life on the edge is dramatically portrayed in the essay Tam’s Tarradale dilemma.


Tarradale Primary School

The TARRADALE THROUGH TIME project has worked in partnership with Tarradale Primary School throughout the project. Lachlan McKeggie, our outreach coordinator, has engaged with pupils in most of the classes, with archaeological workshops in the school and visits to the excavations. The school also took part in the TARRADALE THROUGH TIME creative challenges with the current Primary 7 class writing wonderful poems using the initial letters of TARRADALE THROUGH TIME for the beginning of each line. We were amazed at the high standard of the entries; it says a great deal about both engagement of the pupils and the professionalism of the teachers. Unfortunately we cannot print all the poems here and our selection should be seen as purely representative of the quality of the entries. The whole of P7 are winners.




The Last Man by Sheila Lockhart


At first it was a rough ride,

soil was heaved,

rocks and earth flung aside.

I trembled

as they stripped off the years.


Later a kind of tenderness,

as they lifted and sifted

the fine grains of the past.

Rain seeped in, rinsing clean

what once had been my flesh.


I heard their voices, familiar

yet strange, like echoes

from the day they laid me here

to rest.


They didn’t bring the usual offerings,

but stood around at dusk,

hushed and listening, respecting

the mysteries of the place.

Their shadows stroked

what once had been my face.


When they’ve left I’ll sleep again,

until rain dissolves all trace of me.

Dream of geese weaving seasons

through the skies,

of battle cries and boots and hooves,

ploughmen’s songs,

furrowed fields, strangers

at my tomb.


Now night creeps round the sacred hill.

The last man turns to go,

weighed down with questioning.

My silent voice calls out,

one last sweep will shed my shroud.

A shadow on sand is all that’s left.

Enough for him.


My sightless eyes gaze up,

behind his smile wild geese

still weaving seasons through the skies.





Should I go or should I stay?


My name’s Tam.  Tam Mciver.   Ewan’s lad.

We live at Tarradale in a wee cottage my dad built from turf, clay and bools.  That was in 1786 when I was just a wee bairn.  It’s not much, but it’s home.  It’s getting crowded now my three brothers and sister came along, we all shared a bed so it was nice and cosy.  I’m too big for that now; should have left home long since.

My dad, Duncan, Norman and John are all mailers so they had to break in the land when they were moved here, it was just scrub and tussocks.  They didn’t have a choice; they were evicted from better land for “improvements”. Now there’s kale yards and rig and furrow but it’s pitiful small, not enough to feed us all. The mailers work for Dr Murchison’s factor sometimes, but not for money, oh no! That’s just for the rent.  The young Murchison boy, he’s too young to take charge so it’s all down to the factor and he cares nothing for the likes of us. 

When I was small, I went with the men to the ploughing in the big fields.  When you’re a boy you find all sorts of queer things looking at the ground and kicking the loose soil with your toes.  The men never find nothing, they’re too busy looking to the horses and such like.  I’ve got a stone arrowhead, a beauty it is, real sharp.  And there’s little seashells too.  How did they get right up here, twenty feet above the sea?

A rich man came after one of the boys found a bronze axe.  He said he was an anti-quarry-man so I thought he didn’t want Dr Murchison re-opening the old quarry, but he laughed and said no, it meant he was interested in digging up old things.  Then he said it again slower and it sounded like anti-queery-ane but it still made no sense.  Anyway, he took the axe away and nobody has seen it since.

That quarry though, that could be our salvation if only it would stay open but sometimes it shuts for months, even years, and then times are hard.  I’ve been working there since I was big enough.  It seems there’s no end to the stone needed for the big canal that’s being dug at Inverness.  A man came on a horse to make sure the stone was good quality and hewn out just right.  I was dressing some blocks and he said I had a talent for it.  He told me that when he was my age he’d been hewing stone and now he oversaw the whole canal and building docks and bridges. Telford he said his name was.  Still, it gave me some ideas.  Maybe I didn’t need to spend my life in Tarradale.  So I went to see his assistant, a Mathew Davidson, but it was only Irish he was setting on, said we highlanders were unreliable.

Maybe I could go and fight the Froggies.  There’s lots from round here signed up to be soldiers to fight Bonaparte.  Or maybe I could sail for Canada.  There’re ships they say, from Aberdeen and some of them calls at Cromarty. They say there’s land for the taking, acres and acres, not just some wee kale yard.  But it’s a big step.  Here I am, sleeping on straw by the fire in my parent’s kitchen, working when there’s work and starving when there’s not. One thing is sure, there’s no future here for five families in these poor cottages.  If I go, I can carry everything I own in my pockets, no need for a bag.  I’ve only one set of clothes.

One thing in my pocket will be that stone arrowhead I picked up as a bairn.

It’ll remind me of Tarradale. 

Of home.






Tools are at hand

Amazing relics in the sand

Relics, pottery and decaying bones

Rolling around in

Acid ground.

Drones examining the dig

Archaeology has never been so big!

Let the research begin

Exciting destiny awaits!


Tarradale is a special place

History has a Pictish race

Riddling the historians

Oral features only remaining

Underworld is containing

Groundbreaking bodies

Hunting the soil!!


Tarradale through time

Is uncovering the past

Making history themselves

Ensuring the past



TARRADALE THROUGH TIME by Mia-Louise Donaldson   P7


Trotting through the big fields

Archaeology is the way to go

Researching is meant to be nice and slow

Running through dirt and barrows is fun

After the day is over the works not done

Dirt, stone and other materials bury the hidden bones

An entire team of people start on mounds

Learning about fascinating pottery

Exciting mounds with the outline of a square


They all go for fun and care

Happy as can be and they like to share

Revealing the undead and graves that are big

Optional mounds they like to dig

Unreasonable pottery will be kept

Getting all the sources is useful

Helping people gives them joy


Time is up ready to go

I’m realIy happy I got to do this

Mr Lachlan was nice and it was great

We will be back soon let’s celebrate!





Trenches were dug

Amazing experience




Drones to scan the area

Artefacts may be found

Learning about Pictish burial

Examined carefully


Taking care of evidence

Hollow burial trench

Round burials

Old cultures explored

Underground burials

Ground full of secrets

Historical detail expanded


Tools like shovels, picks, sieves

Important information

Mounds unfold the past

Evidence of Pictish times




Tools in the ground

All circling round

Researching the Picts

Relics in the ground

Acid is breaking bones

Drones in the sky

Amazing artefacts

Lots of time

Exploring the past


Trenches aren’t that a deep

Holes in the ground

Raking through the ground

Only teeth remain

Under the soil

Gathering evidence and relics

Hollowing out the ground


Trowels at the ready

In the trenches we will dig

Making history in the soil

Every day is something different



Further details of the challenges and Terms and Conditions can be seen here.

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