Take the directions to find the unusual and impressive West Strathan petroglyph, and keep following the road up past the carving until you reach the dead-end. A footpath takes you down to the river, where a rickety bridge takes you to the other side. From here, a footpath to your right goes up the slope at an easy angle and into the wilds ahead. Just a couple of hundred yards up, keeps your eyes peeled some 10-20 yards above you, to the left. It is a little difficult to see, and perhaps is better looked at from above the footpath, then looking down onto it. If you’re patient, you’ll find it!
Archaeology & History
Stuck out on its own, way off the beaten track, this seemingly isolated ‘hut circle’—as it’s been officially termed—rests on a small level piece of land some 400 yards north from the ruins of Dalvraid’s chambered cairn. It’s nowt much to look at to be honest, and is probably only gonna be of interest to the hardcore antiquarians amongst you.
When I came here, the walling was mainly covered in dead bracken and internally is a veritable lawn!—but it was pretty easy to make out. Slightly ovoid in form, with its entrance on the southern side, the circle is 10 yards across; and the although the low walling is barely a yard high on three sides, on the eastern section the natural slope was dug into to create a higher wall on that side.
Take the same directions to reach the impressive Carn Ban prehistoric tomb. From here, walk along the winding track past the giant cairn onto the moors for about 350 yards, until the track goes dead straight and heads NNW uphill. Walk up here for another 350 yards keeping your eyes peeled on the rounded pyramidal hill with the large rock on top. The circle is 20 yards off the track as you head up to the pyramidal hill stone.
Archaeology & History
Although this site is mentioned in notes by the Scottish Royal Commission and highlighted by Ordnance Survey, information thereafter is pretty scarce. Which is surprising when you check this place out first-hand. It’s bloody impressive! David Cowley (1997) describes the area, but not in much detail.
Northern arc of walling
Eastern arc of walling
The circle seems to have been rediscovered first of all by the dowser J. Scott Elliott (1964), who thought it was a cairn circle – which is understandable. However, it has been classified by the Royal Commission lads as a “hut circle”, so we’ll stick with that for the time being.
An entrance to the circle doesn’t stand out. There may be one on the southeastern side, but this isn’t clear; and what looked like a possible entrance on its northern edge was discounted, as a larger stone blocked this on the outside. There was no immediate evidence of any internal structure, no hearth, no tomb – merely a small stone at its centre, deeply embedded in the peat. This may, however, cover a central cist – which would make this a cairn circle and not a large hut circle. But that’s guesswork on my behalf!
Never excavated, what we’ve got here is a very well-preserved, large ring of stones, more typical of Pennine and Derbyshire ring cairns than any standard hut circles. But this is Scotland we’re talking about! This impressive ring measures outer-edge to outer-edge 12 yards in diameter (north-south), by 11 yards (east-west), with the stone walling that defines the ring being between 3 and 4 feet across all round, and between 1-2 feet high. And it’s in damn good nick! More similar in structure to the likes of Roms Law, a number of notably large stones define the edges, but many hundreds of smaller packing stones build up the ring walls. Of the larger rocks in the ring, the most notable one is a large white quartz crystal stone on its NNE side.
Quartz rock reflects the sun, looking W
It’s an impressive site whatever it may be! – in very good condition for its age (Bronze Age by the look of it) and, whilst still visible above the heather, well worth checking out if you like your stone circles and prehistoric rings. The small prehistoric graveyard 30-40 yards south and east, plus the extensive settlement systems all over these moors are all worth exploring if you visit this place.
Cowley, David C., “Archaeological Landscapes in Strathbraan,” in Tayside & Fife Archaeological Journal, volume 3, 1997.
Scott-Elliot, J., “Kinloch House, Amulree,” in Discovery & Excavation in Scotland, 1964.
Scott-Elliot, J., Dowsing – One Man’s Way, Neville Spearman: London 1977.
Along the A836 between Tongue and Bettyhill—nearly 5 miles (7.75km) east of Tongue—take the minor road north to Modsary and Skerray. Some 1.75 miles along you’ll notice an inland loch to your right, and where the loch finishes, take the minor track up on your right to Modsary. Walk past the cottages, through the gate and walk diagonally left down onto the moor. A small cave is across in front of you. Head towards that, but on the flat-ish piece of heathland barely 50 yards before it, above the small burn, look around for the low circular walling.
Archaeology & History
This previously unrecorded prehistoric hut circle was rediscovered in May 2018 by Sarah Maclean of Borgie during a brief excursion here, looking at the ancient clearance village of Modsary (which appears to be Iron Age in origin). In walking onto the moor, shortly before leaving me to my own devices, she pointed out this low ring of barely discernible stones, wondering, “is this another hut circle?” (there are some on the western-side of the road from Modsary) It would certainly seem so!
It is constructed upon what seems to be a natural platform of earth above the slow-running burn. A low ring of stone walling defines the construction: visible in parts, covered in vegetation for the most. With an entrance on its southeast, the ring measures roughly 9 yards by 10 yards in diameter; with its outer walls being less than 2 feet high all round; but the width of the walls in some places measures up to 3 feet across. It is certainly man-made and is certainly olde. It requires excavation to assess its original construction period, although based on others I’ve seen that have been dated, would seem to be Iron Age in origin.
From this to the small cave that I mentioned, a most peculiar rectangular stone construction is evident 2-3 yards below it; and heading 40 yards south, beneath a craggy hill, a line of ancient walling runs SE-NW, with a much overgrown semi-circular arc of large stones, seemingly artificial in nature. It would seem there is a lot more hiding beneath the heather hereby than official records suggest…
Acknowledgements: Massive thanks to Sarah Maclean for locating and showing me this site; and also to Donna Murray for giving me a base-camp. Huge huge thanks indeed.
Along the A836 road a mile east of Bettyhill, a track goes south onto the moors just before Loch Salachaidh. Walk along here for several miles, past the windmills and past the Achadh Thaibstil Cairn, until you reach the remote green fields that are the remains of the clearance village of Achamore. As you walk into the green grasses, a ruined building is to your left. In front of you, a large raised round structure almost entirely covered in grass. You’re here!
Archaeology & History
This is a curious structure – and were it not for being labelled as a ‘hut circle’ by the lads at Ordnance Survey, on first impression I’d be more tempted to classify it as either a collapsed broch, or a large cairn circle. This is entirely due to the size of the thing, as it’s big for a hut circle!
NW arc of the circle
Circular in form, the sides of the structure on its eastern face are nearly three feet high, piled at an angle of nearly 45 degrees, and several feet across before you reach the internal section of the said ‘hut circle.’ As you walk around it, the height of the piled stones diminishes to between 1-2 feet, but the diameter of the walling all round is consistently wide – increasing the thought of it being a collapsed or robbed-out broch. The diameter of the structure is some 20 yards across, with an approximate circumference of 64 yards.
‘Hut circle’ atop of nearby hill
Another “hut circle” is immediately visible some 80 yards to the south, on top of the nearby grassy hilltop. The majority of this is also covered in meadow grasses, with edges and upper surfaces all but hidden. On its southeastern edge is what looks like a structural stone ‘entrance’ some two yards across and three yards long.
Other smaller hut circles in the area indicate that this region – like others nearby – was a place of consistent human habitation from prehistoric (probably Neolithic) times, unbroken all the way through until the 18th century.
Take the A836 road (between Bettyhill and Tongue), crossing the metal bridge across the River Naver a mile south of Bettyhill. Keep going for nearly a mile, past the houses and into the small trees, keeping your eyes peeled to the right where a small but notable bracken-covered mound rises 10-20 yards in the rough field. Go through the gate and you’re there!
Archaeology & History
A site which, from the nearby roadside, has all the hallmarks of being yet another Sutherland broch (there are tons of them up here!)—but apparently it isn’t! Despite being shown on the earliest OS-map of the region as a ‘Pict’s House’ (which are usually brochs), the site has subsequently been designated by modern archaeologists as a simple ‘hut circle’. I have my doubts over this, as it’s a most unusual one with little logic over its positioning—unless it was either a look-out point, or an odd ritual spot.
As you can see from the poor photos I got of the place, a large angled tumulus-like hillock (it’s akin to a mini-Silbury Hill at first sight) rises up from the ground with a reasonably uniform angle around much of it, to a height of between 16-20 feet. Scattered rocks and stones adorn the mound as you walk up its embankments and onto the top where, around the edges, a notable man-made ring of walling shows it to have been artificially created. Unfortunately most of the top of the mound was completely covered in thick decayed bracken when I visited, so it was difficult to get any good photos of this topmost walling.
From the top of the mound, the walling is between 1-3 feet high, in a roughly circular setting, measuring 36-40 feet across. The most distinct section of it was visible on the west-to-south-to-east section; with the lowest and depleted section occurring on its northern edges. The entrance to the ‘hut circle’ is apparently on its eastern side. Although it is assumed to be Iron Age in nature, its real age is unknown.
Mercer, R.J. & Howell, J.M., Archaeological Field Survey in Northern Scotland – volume 2, University of Edinburgh 1976-1983.
Take the same directions to reach the giant Carn Ban prehistoric tomb. Follow the track past the tomb further onto the moorland until you reach a small wooden bridge over the small burn. From here, walk straight north off-path onto the moor for 100 yards and a small rise in the land, with several cairns just below it, is the site in question.
Archaeology & History
Hut circle are hut circles – right? Well, usually that’s the case. We find them attached to, or within, or outlying prehistoric enclosures and can date from anywhere between the neolithic and Iron Age periods. With the site we’re looking at here, on the outer western side of Glen Cochill’s southernmost giant enclosure, there’s something amiss….or maybe that should be, “something rather peculiar.”
Paul Hornby found it a few weeks ago during an exploration of the region’s prehistory. We went in search of, and found, the giant Carn Ban close by, but noticed curious archaeological undulations ebbing in and out of the heathlands: cairns, walls, hut circles, settlements, more cairns—and then this!
Consisting of two slightly larger-than-average ovals of walled stone, probably Bronze Age in date, the first impression was of a remarkably well-preserved site (and that it is!), seemingly of an elongated stretch of walling, with a central wall that split it into two halves. Each ‘hut circle’ was found to be between six and seven yards across, with the two conjoined architectural features giving an overall NW-SE length of 14 yards. But the more we looked at this, the more obvious it became that this was originally one single hut circle—the lower southeastern one—with an additional one that was added and attached onto the northwestern side at a later date, probably several centuries later.
Walking around the structure we found that the very well-preserved walls—about 2 feet wide in places and rising a foot or so above the compacted peat—had been built onto a raised platform of earth. This was no ordinary hut circle! The ground beneath it seems to have been raised and supported and on the southern side in particular it is notable that other building stones are compacted into the peat. There may even be the remains of a secondary outer wall on this southern edge, where it seems that the entrance was made.
Here’s the curious bit: immediately outside the northwestern and southern walls are small prehistoric tombs, or cairns. Not just one or two, but more than a dozen of them, all constructed within 20 yards of this curiously raised double hut circle. Literally, a small prehistoric house of some form was raised in the centre of a prehistoric graveyard—and it doesn’t end here.
Of at least three giant enclosures in this region, and what looks like a very well-preserved prehistoric tribal hall or meeting place, there are upwards of a hundred tombs scattered nearby. Two cairn circles were also found about 100 yards to the north, one of which was damaged by a military road a few centuries ago.
I give this double-roomed abode the somewhat provocative title of the Shaman’s Lodge because of its setting: surrounded by tombs, the ‘house’ would seem to have been a deliberate setting erected in the Land of the Dead here. I hope you can forgive my imaginative mind seeing this as a structure where, perhaps, a medicine woman would give rites to the dead, either for those being buried in the small graves, or rites relating to the giant White Cairn of the ancestors close by. Shamans of one form or another occur in every culture on Earth and have been traced throughout all early cultures. If no such individuals ever existed within the British Isles, someone needs to paint one helluva good reason as to why they believe such a thing….
When the heather grows back here, the site will disappear again beneath the vegetation. It is unlikely to re-appear for quite sometime, so I recommend that anyone wanting to have a look at this does so pretty quick before our Earth covers it once again….
Stewart, Margaret E.C., “Strath Tay in the Second Millenium BC – A Field Survey”, in Proceedings Society Antiquaries Scotland, volume 92, 1961
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks again to Paul Hornby for his assistance with site inspection, and additional use of his photos.