Banquo’s Walk, a pathway near the town of Fort William in the Highlands of Scotland long associated with Shakespeare’s Macbeth, may have little to do with the semi-historic figure that bears its name.
Banquo appears in Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s most famous (and infamous) tragedies. Banquo, the Thane of Lochaber, loses his life to treachery during the play; a tree-lined road in the vicinity of Fort William, which is within Lochaber, has long been known as Banquo’s Walk in honor of the historical figure, the progenitor of both Clan Cameron and Clan Macintosh. The road was assumed to have been part of a ceremonial path to Tor Castle, where both clans once held power.
However, scientists say that Banquo’s Walk may not be much older than the nineteenth century, a remnant of clay mining activity in the area. According to an article on the BBC website, the Lochaber Archaeological Society surveyed Banquo’s Walk in November 2016, combining their research efforts with staff from the Inverness office of AOC Archaeology.
Banquo’s Walk was found to be markedly different from other old roads in that it was both inconsistent in how low-lying it was, and how its surface was “inexplicably wide.” Additionally, the path, which was defined by a bank on either side of it, seemed to not just terminate abruptly, but also lead from seemingly nowhere.
There seemed to be no logical explanation for Banquo’s Walk to be used as any sort of thoroughfare, according to the archaeologists. This prompted the researchers to excavate a portion of the path, which revealed no road surface at all – instead it was found that a natural clay layer, quite clearly present out with the banks, had been removed from between them.
Clive Talbot, a member of the Society that was involved in the study, said that an analysis of the surviving natural layers and additional examination revealed that the surface of Banquo’s Walk had been created by removing these natural clay deposits. The banks on either side were built by the upcast of their creation, Talbot added.
Mary Peteranna, the AOC Archaeology staff member that spearheaded the research work, remarked that a natural soil strata evaluation revealed that the most reasonable explanation for the rather inexplicable path was that it was created to extract the thick, natural band of clay that existed at the time of the creation of Banquo’s Walk. Historical mapping puts this as occurring prior to the middle of the nineteenth century, Peteranna added, stating that Banquo’s Walk coincides neatly with a road that would have been used prior to the Caledonian Canal’s construction in the early years of the 1800s.
In fact, Peteranna said that the possibility that the clay was mined specifically for the construction of the canal is high. Using clay to line the canals, a practice known as “puddling”, was common at the time, which makes the story all the more plausible. However, if there’s one thing that the research can say with some certainty, it’s that Banquo’s Walk was clearly not a processional or ceremonial route to Tor Castle.