Souterrain: OS Grid Reference – NC 6762 5929
From Bettyhill village, take the A836 road west towards Tongue. Several miles along the road, keep your eyes peeled for Borgie and Skerray on your right. Go down here for half-a-mile or so until, a hundred yards or so before the Borgie Hotel, a dirt-track on your right takes you down into some trees. As you enter the edge of the woodland, right by the trackside on your left, a large stone lays in the grass. A few yards from this is the hole in the ground.
Archaeology & History
When I was first shown this place, I could find no previous description of it in any of the archaeological records. I was fortunate in being taken here by one of the land-owners hereby, who told me that it had been known about locally for some years – but informing the archaeologists (patronizing as they were to the people hereby, as can be the case sometimes) was the last thing on their minds….
Immediately beneath the ridge where the Borgie chambered cairn once stood, the site was uncovered quite by accident when a local man went to move a large stone on the grassy embankment, to make use of it in walling or something similar. But much to his surprise, the boulder covered the entrance to an underground chamber known as a souterrain – inside which, local lore tends to tell, the little people once stayed. It’s an impressive structure! When Donna Murray took me to see this a few months ago, she said it was only a few yards long – but once I’d got inside, found it to be much longer than this. After dropping perhaps six feet down into the hollow, the very well-preserved wide chamber beneath – some 6-8 feet across – curved around to the north-northeast and into pitch blackness. I walked perhaps ten yards into the chamber, completely upright, and as the chamber curved and went further into the Earth, the pitch black stopped me venturing more.
The walls of the souterrain were very well structured indeed and were made up of hundreds of good-sized stones, akin to those used to build old stone walling in our northern hills. The floor was, typically, muddy and apart from a scatter of a few stones I could see little by way of a ‘floor’ beneath my feet (but it was dark!). However, the roofing was made up of large flat stones measuring 6-8 feet across, as wide as the structure itself, running parallel all along the chamber. I did not walk to the end of the chamber – but would assume that this roofing continued to the end of the souterrain.
In a number of souterrains we find examples of cup-and-ring carvings (the one at Pitcur, Perthshire, being one of the very best), but I could discern no such petroglyphs inside this chamber. However, considering how dark it was, another investigation with torches is necessary before any definitive remarks regarding internal petroglyphs can be made.
It’s in damn good condition indeed and is well worth looking at if you venture this far north. Other unrecorded prehistoric monuments are found all over this remote landscape – from cup-and-rings, to stone circles, to tombs, enclosures, cairns, you name it! If anyone knows of any permanent rental properties up here – please let me know and get in touch so that I can spend the rest of my life working here meandering, discovering and recording the prehistory of this truly archaic landscape! I’m serious!
Acknowledgements: Immense thanks to Donna from Borgie, for showing me this ancient monument and other sites.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian