The Leny Woods Community Archaeology Project, which ran from March to June 2019, was match-funded by Forestry and Land Scotland and delivered by Northlight Heritage as a pilot archaeology project for Callander’s Landscape. The following video, recorded during our excavations, provides an overview of the project:

Watch our Leny Woods video on YouTube.

Leny Woods is situated at the Highland Boundary Fault and holds a range of important archaeological features, including the focus for this project, platforms for charcoal-making. This project was designed to involve volunteers in learning heritage skills and engage wider audiences in celebrating the rich heritage of the area. The overall aims were:

  • To better understand the chronology and function of archaeological features in Leny Wood and the degree to which they may be associated with charcoal burning as set in a wider historical and cultural context;
  • To afford professionally led volunteer training opportunities that will be available to both local and wider audiences;
  • To provide unique opportunities for learning, skills development, and celebrating the cultural heritage of the Leny Woods area;
  • To enhance the Historic Environment Record and to identify future management needs and interpretative opportunities.

Volunteer Training

Volunteers measuring out Site 15 before the trenches go in, May 2019

The project involved volunteers during the entire process, from project design, to field surveys and excavations, all the way through to desk-based reporting at the end of the project. This gave volunteers an opportunity to be trained in a range of skills, while gaining an understanding of how archaeology projects are planned and delivered. There is often a perception that archaeology is “just digging” but this project aimed to show that there is much more to it than that!


The image above shows the step-by-step process for Leny Woods Community Archaeology Project: Project Design and Archive Research, Walkover and Measured Surveys, Historic Woodland Assessment, Woodland Crafts and Charcoal Making, Excavations (including reporting)

Training was initially focused on desk-based work and archive research, which gave the volunteers an understanding of the work involved in planning and designing an archaeology project. Throughout the rest of March the volunteers were out in the field, conducting walkover surveys to identify new archaeological sites and measured surveys to accurately assess the size and scope of an individual site. These improved the volunteers’ skills in orienteering, data management, and surveying.

The Historic Environment Audit, which brings together the results of these surveys, will be made available here soon.

With this project’s focus on the woodlands, there was a strong consideration of ecology alongside the archaeology. One of our training events involved a dendrochronologist (tree-dating expert) conducting an historic woodland assessment, which revealed more about how the Woods have been managed. Later in April, our volunteers were trained in woodcrafts and modern charcoal-making techniques with Green Aspirations, which helped our preparations for our kiln experiment.

All of these surveys and assessments were important steps before the undertaking of the excavations over the course of two weeks in May. Our volunteers excavated three different sites, thought to be platforms for charcoal-making, in Leny Woods. They uncovered some interesting artefacts, including the star find: a clay pipe dating to c.1650s made by William Banks, a pipe-manufacturer with a royal monopoly from Canongate in Edinburgh.

The Data Structure Report, which brings together the results of the excavations, will be made available here soon.

Our 36 volunteers were an extremely dedicated and hardworking group and 100% of them agreed that the training would help them with their future activities. One volunteer said the highlight of the training was being able to “understand the whole process that has to be undertaken in order to design and implement an archaeology project of this kind. Until the training I didn’t really appreciate the range of skills used by archaeologists”.

Experimental Archaeology

The charcoal produced by our experimental kiln, June 2019

The charcoal produced by our experimental kiln, June 2019

To bring to life how people made charcoal in past centuries, we conducted an experiment to build and fire a traditional charcoal kiln in Leny Woods, made from timber, hay, soil, and turf. Once the kiln was constructed and fired, it had to be monitored constantly for 4 consecutive days to ensure the fire was burning at the correct temperature. If too much oxygen enters the kiln, the temperature will rise and the timber will quickly turn to ash, rather than charcoal.

Northlight Heritage, Green Aspirations, and our volunteers worked around the clock and their hard work paid off – the kiln was cooled with water and the soil “crust” broken open, revealing two builders bags worth of charcoal. The experiment was successful! This was an immersive experience that illuminated the working life of woodland colliers from a bygone era. We also discovered that the traditional kiln is an excellent midgie repellent!

To bring together everything we had learned on the project, we held a Woodland Celebration in June while the traditional kiln was still turning timber into charcoal, slowly but surely. We had various fun activities for everyone to enjoy, including woodland crafts, storytelling, music, cooking, axe-throwing, and guided walks. Deli Ecosse, local bakers in Callander, provided some delicious homemade bannocks and our storyteller, Paraig, regaled us with legends and poetry around the campfire. It was a great way to end the project and show our appreciation to the volunteers for all their hard work!

Community Outreach

Getting Creative (in Callander) at our environmental art workshop, June 9th 2019

Getting creative (in Callander) at our environmental art workshop, June 9th 2019

Alongside training for volunteers, this project delivered a range of bespoke outreach events with the local community. This included four visits from McLaren High School during the excavations, with 110 S1 pupils digging in the trenches and building collier’s huts! The Callander Youth Project’s Youth Club also visited during our excavations for an introduction into archaeology. We welcomed Stirling Young Archaeologist’s Club to the site after our Woodland Celebration in June, where they enjoyed a guided walk around the woods and learned about stratigraphy.

We also took advantage of the woodland setting with the local Brownie group, who had a lovely session constructing shelters and creating hapa zome (leaf hammering) artwork. Last but not least, local artists, Creative in Callander, made a series of fantastic environmental art installations in Leny Woods using found materials.

Key statistics from the project

Project by numbers: • 980 hours of volunteer training • 96 continuous hours tending to the traditional charcoal kiln • 110 S1 Pupils digging in trenches and building collier huts • 2 days of surveys rescheduled due to a blizzard • 1 Victorian silver plated spoon discovered during the excavations • 97% of volunteers enjoyed the training • 1m midges repelled by charcoal smoke

Final Reports

Studying and working in an ancient woodland for over three months generated a huge amount of information and data. This has been pulled together into a series of reports, which can be accessed below. As a result of this project, we know more about Leny Woods and the important role it played in Callander’s woodland industry.

Historic Environment Assessment

Historical Research

Historic Woodland Assessment

Archaeological Excavation: Data Structure Report