Cairnwochel, Ardoch, Perthshire

Chambered Cairn (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NN 830 127

Archaeology & History

References to this site are few and far between.  I wandered past the place the other day on my way back from the megaliths of Dunruchan and Comrie without knowing anything about the place; but was, for some reason, drawn up the grassy hill slope towards the forestry plantation, where the scattered old walling implied (to me at least) the presence of some old prehistoric ruin… But as the daylight hours were fading, I had to head for home, wondering what it was that was pulling my nose to this place I’d never visited before.

The following day when I was searching for information about the prehistoric archaeology of the area, I came across Audrey Henshall’s (1972) description of some giant cairns that once stood here, upon the hilltop – exactly where my nose had led me!  Sadly however, they have been all-but destroyed.

At least two prominent prehistoric cairns were to be found in relative proximity to each other hereby, each with their own name.  The site was first described in A. Gordon’s 1726 work, Itinerarium Septentrionale, where he wrote the following:

“On the hill above the moor are two great heaps of stones, the one called Cairnwochel, the other Cairnlee: the former of these is the greatest curiosity of its kind that I ever met with; the quantity of great rough stones lying above one another almost surpasses belief, which made me have the curiosity to measure it, and I found the whole heap to be about 182 feet in length, 30 in sloping height, and 45 in breadth at the bottom.  That at Cairnlea is not near so considerable as the former.”

Nearer to the end of the 18th century, Cairnwochel was mentioned again – this time in the Old Statistical Account (1793), where a description was given of some dig into the giant cairn, to see what lay beneath the mass of rocks.  The report told that,

“there was found a stone coffin, in which there was a skeleton 7 feet long.  The cairn lay from north to south and the coffin was nearly in the middle of it, with the head to the east. Most of the stones have been carried away to inclose the neighbouring farms; but the coffin, with a few large stones around it, has, by the order of Sir William Stirling, been preserved.”

When Miss Henshall explored the site in the 1960s, she found very little left of this once superb tomb, simply, “the only sign of any structure (were) a few laid stones on its S side, possibly part of a revetting wall-face.”

The sheer size of the cairn implies that it was probably Neolithic in origin (its description reminded me of the King’s and Queen’s Cairns near Skipton, Yorkshire).   We have hardly any information about the nearby Cairnlea site.  The intrusion of the forestry commission here has probably covered over a number of other important Neolithic and Bronze Age remains, but if anyone has further information on this site it would be hugely welcome.


  1. Henshall, Audrey, The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 2, Edinburgh University Press 1972.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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