Marion Campbell, author and archaeologist; born December 16, 1919, died June 13, 2000

Marion Campbell of Kilberry, who has died at the age of 80, was beloved not only for her achievements but for her imperious courage. Like her own fictional heroes, she fought to the end. Two days before her death, as she lay apparently unconscious in the hospital at Oban, I was telling someone in the same ward about a lost standing-stone at Ballymeanach and remarking that nobody knew when it had fallen. Suddenly a muffled voice from behind the oxygen mask said: ''Well, I know! It was in 1943, when a Shetland pony was sheltering against it from the storm. The poor beast was nearly scared to death.''

Almost her entire life was spent in Argyll, mostly on the windy headland of Kilberry above the Sound of Jura. In the course of that life, she was soldier and a sailor, a landowner and a farmer, a nationalist politician and a district councillor, a novelist and playwright, a historian and archaeologist. It was her passion for antiquity, her profound emotional and imaginative response to the evidence of pre-history and the distant past, which above all defined Marion Campbell.

In many ways, she could have been born 200 years ago in central Europe. The liberal revolutions there were largely made by patriot antiquaries. They were often

minor landowners, often without much formal education; the good causes to which they devoted

their energies converged into

one great cause which would guarantee and transcend them all: national independence.

Marion Campbell was just such a patriot antiquary. This in no way means she was less than a scientific archaeologist; she could and did excavate and analyse results with the best of the profession. In fact, it means she was splendidly ahead of her time, now that awareness of ''cultural landscapes'' and continuities between prehistoric relics and present communities have become archaeological orthodoxy again. Her land of Mid-Argyll told her that people there had always faced the same problems of nourishment and survival, and that Bronze Age tribesmen and twentieth-century crofters must have responded in much the same way to the view of a distant mountain at the head of a glacial fjord.

Her family had been in Kilberry Castle for more than 300 years when Marion was born in 1919. The Campbells were Knapdale lairds who became nineteenth-century governors and soldiers in British India; her mother was the daughter of one of the Durand brothers who demarcated India's northern frontiers. Marion was born into a sense of responsibility, lonelier still as the only survivor among her siblings. She was sent away briefly to school in Edinburgh, but most of her education was self-taught, supplemented by a father who read Sophocles and Kipling to her. One gain from that school was a friend who was later to share her life. In the school holidays, Mary Sandeman from Jura and Marion at Kilberry used torches to signal to one another across the Sound at night.

Marion inherited Kilberry when she was only eight, on the death of her father. But Kilberry was sold to a relative in 1931, a female cousin who surprised the family by leaving it once more to Marion in 1938. By now, war was close. Marion turned down the possibility of a place at Oxford and joined the ATS (Women's Army), later during the war transferring to the WRNS (Royal Navy). It was a decisive choice. She renounced the chance of university qualifications, but in the services she gained the invaluable skills of running an office and keeping accounts. When she returned to Kilberry and took over what seemed a hopelessly insolvent Highland estate and a huge leaking castle, this skill enabled her to cope.

By now she was living in the castle entirely alone. Was she to spend her life as a farmer? Marion Campbell, once a solitary child ranging the Knapdale hills in clouds of imaginative fantasy, knew that she had the calling of a writer and she took another decision - a painful one - to begin selling off the farms which she had brought back to prosperity. She had paid her debts to the land. Now she would act as a sort of cultural missionary, persuading others to share her conviction that communication with dead generations, through science or the imagination, was an unfailing source of energy in the present.

Her first published historical novel, The Wide Blue Road, appeared in 1957. It was the first of five aimed at young readers. But she was already deep into local archaeology. In 1954, Mary Sandeman and her mother had moved into Kilberry, beginning a personal and working partnership that was to last until Mary's death in 1995. In 1962, after happy years of trudging the landscape in sun and storm, they produced the astonishing ''Mid-Argyll: an archaeological survey'', a model of accurate field survey pre-dating the state's effort by nearly 30 years. Marion helped to set up the National History and Antequarian Society of Mid-Argyll in 1953, and for many years edited its magazine Kist (the excellent bibliography compiled by Michael Davis lists no fewer than 43 contributions by her, from ''Saint Columbo's cave'' - which she excavated - to ''Cup-and-Conundrum Marks''. She was the moving spirit behind

the Auchindrain township museum, which she hoped would resemble the rural community museums of Scandinavia or Central Europe which had done so much to rouse a sense of identity. In the same spirit, 30 years on, she proved a firm and powerful supporter of the new Kilmartin House museum which opened in 1997. As well as all these activities, Marion was for 20 years a councillor on the old Mid-Argyll District Council and served as chairman for four years until ''reorganisation'' in 1975. She had joined the SNP in 1961, a fundamental commitment made long before the party emerged from the political margins.

In 1977 she brought out the first edition of Argyll the Enduring Heartland, the impassioned and richly written hymn to her land and its past which remains her best-known book. But for some 40 years Marion Campbell had been piling up notes for a serious biography on Alexander III. She had set her historical novels mostly in his reign and she argued - convincingly - that this King had created a Scotland capable of surviving the Wars of Independence, which followed his death. After long gestation, she published Alexander III, King of Scots in 1999.

It was to be her last book. But an earlier work brought her fame and excitement in her last years. The Dark Twin, a complex, ominous romance about Iron Age Argyll, at first appeared in 1973. Unknown to Marion, it became a cult novel in the United States and in 1997 the Californian film producer Charner Wallis suddenly arrived at Kilberry with plans to film both The Wide Blue Road and The Dark Twin'. Idiotic headlines followed: ''Why Hollywood went mad over a little old lady in Argyll.''

Marion Campbell of Kilberry was anything but that. She was a witty, formidable intellectual; restlessly creative but impatient with fools; a practical Argyll farmer, but also a generous romantic loyal to Clan Campbell, to her beloved ''Heartland'' and to the cause of Scotland. A few years ago, when she and Mary Sandeman moved out of the castle into a cottage near the shore, it gave her deep pleasure to know that her young cousin John Campbell and his wife would be moving in and carrying on the family presence.

I see her as I first knew her, a straight-backed woman with level blue eyes which never left yours, high colour in her cheeks, light-chestnut hair, quick laughter. She was kind, but tough and hardy in a manner of her ancestors.

In the hospital she lifted the mask to announce briefly: ''Not

as bad as it looks!'' Unhappily

it was, and Argyll has lost its bard and champion.