Garadh Ban Wood, Buchanan, Stirlingshire

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NS 45217 91907

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 282019

Getting Here

The main stones in this ruined cairn

The main stones in this ruined cairn

On the B837 between Balmaha and Drymen at the hamlet called Milton of Buchanan, at the little road junction where the houses are on the right, go uphill for 1 mile (1.6km) until you reach the West Highland Way, where you need to go left (NW).  Keep walking for another half-mile (if you get to end of the forestry plantation, you’ve gone too far) where, on your left, a small widening valley appears.  Walk along the eastern edge of this, keeping your eyes peeled for a small upright stone and two large flat companions next to it.

Archaeology & History

This site is really only for the archaeological purists amongst you, as the forestry plantation has truly taken its toll on the site and very little of it remains.  It appears to have been described first of all in H.G. Smith’s (1896) masterful local history work—although popular tradition was not assigning the place as a prehistoric tomb of any sort.  Rather, it possessed a somewhat familiar folklore element, well-known to occult historians and antiquarians.  Smith told us:

“Not far off, in Garradh-ban Wood, is the ‘Deil’s foot mark stone‘.  It is a large flat stone, 7 feet long and 6 feet wide, with an impression on it not unlike a huge foot mark.  There is another stone close to it, 7 feet by 5 feet.  These stones were probably placed there for some purpose now unknown.”

Mr Smith’s dimensions of the stones correlate closely with the modern analysis taken up by the archaeologists who visited the site more than 100 years later.  Mainly comprising of two large stones on the ground with an accompanying upright monolith on the western side, the official Canmore account tells us:

“The cairn has been reduced to a low stony mound measuring 15m from N to S by 12m transversely and up to 0.5m in height. The chamber, which lies off-centre to the SW, comprises two upright stones and two displaced capstones. The overall plan of the chamber can no longer be determined, and the two upright stones are set splayed to one another; that on the W measures 0.53m by 0.25m and 0.15m in height, and that on the E is heavily laminated measuring 1m by 0.18m and 0.8m in height. The SE corner of one capstone rests on the smaller of the two uprights. It measures 2.1m by 2.03m and up to 0.3m in thickness, and has two fragments broken off at its NE corner. The second capstone lies immediately adjacent to the N, flush with the surface of the cairn, and measures 2.3m by 1.7m and 0.17m in thickness.”

When they assessed the site in 2006, archaeologists reported finding small pieces of quartz scattered over the surface of the cairn, but when we visited here last week, there was little trace of any.

The 'Deil's foot mark'

The ‘Deil’s foot mark’

Garadh Ban, looking west

Garadh Ban, looking west

I was hoping that the “Devil’s footmark” on the stone was going to be a cup-marking of some form, as found at some other sites (Kilneuair church, etc)—but it wasn’t to be.  Instead, it seems that the curvaceous indentation left by the ‘devil’ was simply a natural cavity.  The folktale behind the name, and its possible cultural function, seems to have been forgotten.

Although (perhaps) unrelated, H.G. Smith told us of other remains not too far from here, which remain elusive and not in any official record-books.  We had a quick meander over to see if there was anything to be seen, but daylight was fading fast and more searches are required.  It sounds intriguing:

“A little above these ruins (of Cul-an-Endainn farmhouse at NS 4453 9244 – PB), on the right of the burn, but considerably above it, is a curious structure built of turf.  It is quite round, and is 25 feet in diameter at the top and 15 feet at the bottom.  It has entrances at the south, east and west.  There are others of the same construction both above and below, but not so well defined.”

Recently, industrialists have gone onto this part of the countryside and have already began scarring the hillsides, perhaps even destroying these curious remains before we’ve had a chance to assess them.  Hopefully however, they will remain untouched and allow us site analysis before any real damage is done.

Folklore

Followers of the christian cult said this site was a place where the devil had been.

References:

  1. Smith, H. Guthrie, Strathendrick and its Inhabitants from Early Times, James Maclehose: Glasgow 1896.

Acknowledgements:  Many thanks to Aisha Domleo, Lara & Leo Domleo, Unabel Gordon, Nina Harris, Paul Hornby and Naomi Ross for their help and attendance in finding this ancient site. 

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.094795, -4.489620 Garadh Ban

Broadgate, Strathblane, Stirlingshire

Chambered Cairn (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 5674 7938

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 44453

Archaeology & History

A once-impressive large prehistoric long cairn could be found close to the grid-reference given here, whose existence and destruction was recorded, thankfully, by local antiquarians in the 18th and 19th centuries respectively.   There are remains of other prehistoric sites in and around the spot—including the standing stones of both Broadgate Farm and Strathblane Church—close to which Mr J.G. Smith (1866) described,

“towards the end of last century a mound was levelled at Broadgate near this spot, and many stone coffins, each containing an urn full of earth and burnt bones, were found.”

Smith himself refers to the lengthier description of the mound’s destruction in Ure’s History of Rutherglen (1793), in which the site was described as

“an ancient burying place, the origins of which is unknown, was 60 yards in length, 14 feet in height, and of a considerable breadth.  It was composed of gravel, and lay east and west.  In the bottom were a great many coffins of stone, placed in a row, and separated from one another by a single flag.  Every coffin contained an urn, that was full of earth and burnt bones.  Beside each urn was a pillar about 3 feet in height, and 8 inches in thickness.  They were fragments of basaltic five-sided columns, a few rocks of which are found in the parish.  Most of the pillars are built in a dyke adjoining to the church.  The urns on being touched fell in pieces.”

Due to the seemingly extravagant lay-out of this cairn, Audrey Henshall (1972) took the site to be a chambered tomb of some considerable importance.  She was probably right!  In her magnum opus (1972) on the subject she wrote:

“The description of the ‘cists’ suggests a segmented chamber of Clyde type, but the mound composed of gravel (instead of being a cairn) suggests a natural feature.  A long mound, probably natural, exists on Broadgate Farm in which a restricted excavation produced a cist of Bronze Age type. Possibly the Strathblane mound was similar; it may have contained a segmented chamber (…where a chamber has been built into a natural mound), or it may have contained cists of later type for single burials.”

Subsequent explorations by the Royal Commission (1963) and local historians to find any remains of the site have proved fruitless.

References:

  1. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 2, Edinburgh University Press 1972.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  3. Scott, J.G., “Inventory of Clyde Cairns,” in Megalithic Enquiries in the West of Britain,Liverpool University Press 1969.
  4. Smith, John G., The Parish of Strathblane, James Maclehose: Glasgow 1886.
  5. Ure, David, The History of Rutherglen and East Kilbride, Glasgow 1793.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.985893, -4.297862 Broadgate cairn

Beinn na Caillich cairn, Broadford, Skye

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NG 6291 2377

Getting Here

Henshall’s plan of Beinn na Caillich tomb

From Broadford town, head northwest outta town up the A87 for a mile, turning left and stopping by the electricity station just 100 yards along.  Follow the line of cables down, SE, through the trees, dead straight for about 600 yards (crossing the large stream about halfway) till you notice an open gap through the trees on your right where, 40 yards in, there’s a large circular arena which has been kept aside amidst which a scattered mound is clearly visible.  In this opening in the trees…this is where the tomb/s rest…

Archaeology & History

Sited a mile east on lowlands beneath the shadow of Beinn na Cailleach mountain, with its host of heathen legends and lore, is reputed to be the prehistoric remains of an important ancestral burial site, under dominion of the cailleach’s eye.  In Audrey Henshall’s (1972-2) magnum opus she describes the remains of what may be two separate tombs here as “difficult to interpret”; even “questioning whether they do in fact represent the ruins of a chambered cairn” as has been ascribed.  The site is still included in the Canmore survey, where they cite the same reference as I do here, but add no additional data to Henshall’s query.  There is obviously something to be seen here, but until excavation of the site has been done, the exact nature of what lies here cannot be clarified.  Miss Henshall wrote:

“There is a setting of stones forming about a third of the west side of a circle which would have a diameter of about 30ft if complete; its greatest N to S measurement is 23ft. The stones are thin slabs 4 to 5in thick, up to 3ft 6in long, set on their long sides and projecting up to 2ft above the turf.  The stones have probably been reduced in size due to natural fracturing as the stone readily flakes away. Within this setting, which might be interpreted as the kerb of a cairn, there is a rise of about 1ft above ground level and the grass grows greener, but except for this and a number of boulders lying about the site, there is no sign of cairn material. This is curious as there is no obvious reason for removing it.

“Inside the ‘kerb’ there is a horse-shoe setting of five similar slabs, just visible except for two on the S side which project 1ft 2in due to some peat on their N side having been removed. The enclosed area is 7ft wide by 7ft 6in long, open on the E end.  On this side, 14ft from the W end of the setting, is a larger stone, set on end, 2ft 8in high.  This might be regarded as a portal stone except that it is set opposite the centre of the open end of the horse-shoe setting, and there is a low thin slab projecting westwards from the middle of its W face.  E of this there lie a number of flat slabs and boulders, the larger (some measuring 3ft 8in by 3ft and 4 by 2ft) marked on the plan, but they do not suggest the form of the original structure.

“A stone is set radially to the kerb, 15ft 8in to the N.  It is on its long edge, 4ft 11in long and 2ft 2in high.  Twenty eight feet S of the kerb there is a circular setting of small boulders, 6ft 6in across inside, and part of another concentric setting can be traced 6ft outside these.”

References:

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

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  57.243040, -5.931341 Beinn na Caillich cairn

Tongue House, Tongue, Sutherland

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 5926 5862

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5325

Getting Here

Tongue House chambered cairn amidst the trees

I approached this by walking along the B8438 road northwest out of Tongue village, towards the road-crossing over the Kyle of Tongue.  There’s a small tiny road on the right (easily missed) nearly a mile out, just as the road starts to bend, which leads you down to Tongue House.  Go along here for about 325 yards (300m) and just as the road bends to the left, walk into the woods. Keep straight forward, following the low-level stream, and when you see the buildings ahead of you, veer diagonally upslope until you hit the large Tongue Burn. Cross this and walk uphill to the tree-covered knoll ahead. You’re there!

Archaeology & History

…and again, looking north

From the descriptions I’d read of this site, I wasn’t expecting much at all—but it was much better than I anticipated, and in a beautiful woodland setting too.  Admittedly the site is much overgrown, but the overall size, edges and outline of the tomb is easily discernible.  In pacing across it, from outer-edge to outer-edge, it measured 18 yards by 19 yards across.  All round the edges are many overgrown tumbles of smaller rocks which obviously had been part of the cairn in previous centuries; but it is primarily defined by the larger earthfast rocks at the very top of the natural knoll in the trees, all of them covered in deep mosses.

The site was first mentioned in James Horsburgh’s (1870) survey of the region.  He explored a small section of the monument and, upon digging, found a chamber therein—defined by Audrey Henshall (1963) as “a single compartment chamber”—telling us:

“A little to the south of Tongue House, and near the fountain head that supplies it with water, there is the chamber of a cairn of the same description as that near Skelpick, but rather smaller; on clearing it out, I found that one of the large upright stones had two holes bored artificially a short way into each of its sides, but not quite opposite, the holes were about 3 inches diameter.”

However, these internal structures have not been seen since and in Henshall & Ritchie’s (1995) catalogue of Sutherland’s giant tombs, there is some confusion over the definition of the structure itself, questioning whether or not it was indeed a chambered tomb.

“The ‘chambered cairn’ is a circular stone structure overgrown with small trees and covered in leaf-litter and moss.  A kerb about 15m in diameter can be traced for much of the circuit.  The kerb is of unusually substantial and closely-set boulders which have the appearance of the base of a massive wall such as is inappropriate for a dun or a broch rather than a cairn.  The interior is filled with loose stones including some quite large boulders, roughly to the level of the top of the kerb.  There is no indication that these boulders have formed part of a neolithic chamber or that the structure was a cairn.  There seem to be three possibilities: that the structure is not Horsburgh’s cairn; that the structure is that which he investigated but that he was mistaken in regarding it as a chambered cairn; that the writers are mistaken in identifying the structure as a ruined broch or dun.”

Despite this, the general consensus today is that the monument is indeed a chambered cairn.

References:

  1. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – 2 volumes, Edinburgh University Press 1963 & 1972.
  2. Henshall, Audrey S. & Ritchie, J.N.G, The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 1995.
  3. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870
  4. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.493223, -4.415964 Tongue House

Fiscary (3), Farr, Sutherland

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 73222 62484

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 6446
  2. Pict’s House

Getting Here

Fiscary 3 giant cairn, looking west

Fiscary 3 giant cairn, looking west

Along the A836 road from Bettyhill to Thurso, a mile east of the village keep your eyes peeled to your left (or to the right if you’re coming the other way!), looking north, and you’ll see some very large piles of stones a few hundred yards away. Go through the gate onto the rough grasslands and the first one you reach is the cairn in question. Y’ can’t miss it!

Archaeology & History

On 1878 OS-map as Picts House

On 1878 OS-map as Picts House

Close to the Fiscary 1 and Fiscary 2 tombs, this is the third and southernmost of the three giant cairns on this moorland hillside and is the second largest of the trio.  Curiously it was the only one highlighted by the Ordnance Survey lads in their cartographic analysis here in 1873—they somehow missed the others—when they told it to be a ‘Pictish House’, or broch.  A few years later when the Royal Commission (1911) fellas got their noses up here, they said that this,

“which is the most easterly, is circular in form, is about 68ft in diameter, and 15ft 6in to the apex, on which a small pile of stones has recently been erected.  The cairn does not appear to have been excavated, but the stones in several places have been pulled out, probably in attempts to discover the chambers or in pursuit of rabbits.”

Looking into its centre

Looking into its centre

Long stone at southern edge

Long stone at southern edge

Considering the size of this giant cairn and its close association with is neighbours 150 yards northwest, I’m surprised at the lack of attention it’s been given.  Within the collapse of stones on its southern-side we find an elongated stone which seems to have stood upright at some point in the past, either at the very edge of the cairn, or just inside it.  It may even have been a covering stone to a collapsed entrance, but without an excavation we’re not gonna know for certain.

The fact that this cairn is on the slopes south of the crowning cairns of Fiscary 1 and Fiscary 2 implies that this was built some centuries later than them.  Also notable here is that the view to the north is blocked and we are instead only looking across a panorama east, south and west.

Folklore

Looking across into the east

Looking across into the east

Local tradition told that this was a Pict’s house, or broch (it may well have been) and is shown as such on the first Ordnance Survey account of the region in 1878.  Otta Swire (1963) told that this landscape was once peopled by giants who made the land and played a part in the creation of some of the giant tombs around here.  One time local school-teacher at Bettyhill, Alan Temperley (1977) also told us how the fairy folk lived close to the giant tombs of Fiscary.

References:

  1. Gourley, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
  2. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 1, Edinburgh University Press 1963.
  3. Henshall, Audrey S., “The Distant Past,” in The Sutherland Book (edited by Donald Omand), Northern Times: Golspie 1991.
  4. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 1995.
  5. Lelong, Olivia C., “Writing People into the Landscape: Approaches to the Archaeology of Badenoch and Strathnaver,” University of Glasgow 2002.
  6. o’ Reilly, Kevin & Crockford, Ashley, What to See Around Bettyhill, privately printed 2009.
  7. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.
  8. Sutherland, George, Folk-lore Gleanings and Character Sketches from the Far North, John o’ Groats Journal: Wick 1937.
  9. Temperley, Alan, Tales of the North Coast, Research Publishing Company: London 1977.

Acknowledgments:  HUGE thanks to Aisha Domleo and for getting me up here.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.531911, -4.179048 Fiscary (3)

Fiscary (2), Farr, Sutherland

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 73112 62604

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 6445
  2. Carn Chaoile

Getting Here

A mile east of Bettyhill along the A836 road, watch out for the large piles of rocks up on the hill on your left (north).  Go through the gate, past the Fiscary 3 cairn and 150 yards northwest you’ll reach the crowning cairn on the hilltop itself – the Fiscary 2 cairn.

Archaeology & History

Fiscary 2 cairn, looking NW

Fiscary 2 cairn, looking NW

The second of the three giant chambered cairns on this moorland hillside is the largest (only just!) of them all.  Positioned right on top of the small hill, this great mass of rocks stands out from the roadside a quarter-mile to the south quite blatantly, yet it somehow evaded the eyes of the early Ordnance Survey lads in their visit here in 1873 (though the nearby Fiscary 3 cairn was plotted).  Odd…

Aisha against the size of the cairn

Aisha against the size of the cairn

When I came here with Aisha and her clan a few weeks ago Nature was blasting us with full gales and so half her bunch returned after a short while, leaving us to get thrown about in the winds!  Even just trying to stand upright on this and its associated tomb proved difficult.  But despite this and the low grey clouds—typical of northern Scottish weather—it was obvious that the views from here would be superb, seeing far into the distance with a 360º view.  I have little doubt that other important prehistoric sites would be speaking with this giant neolithic cairn, but there is nothing in the archaeology accounts to help us on such matters.

The giant tomb is almost linked to its companion—Fiscary 1—by a low scatter of rocks running between them, with only a yard or two separating their disturbed masses.  Several archaeology students have posited that the two seemingly separate sites were, many thousands of years ago, perhaps one elongated chambered tomb, just like the ones found nearby at the Coille na borgie and Long Skelpick cairns; but it seems unlikely in this case…

Fiscary 2 Cairn, looking SE

Fiscary 2 Cairn, looking SE

Fiscary-2 on 1908 OS-map

Although Adam Gunn (1893) mentioned the “four large cairns” at Fiscally (the fourth and smallest is 262 yards to the west), the first real description I can find of the place comes from an article by a local man called Cathel Kerr (1892) who told us it was “about 220 feet in circumference, and 15 or 16 in height”; but most of his article dealt with his excavation into the adjacent Fiscary 1 tomb, which he noticed was connected by a stone platform that ran between the two sites.  This was the first mention of such a connecting platform—and a curious feature it is indeed.  When the Royal Commission lads came here in May 1909 they also noted this connecting platform.  They found that the cairn itself,

“does not appear to have been excavated.  It is circular with a diameter of about 52ft and is some 10ft high to the top of the modern pile of stones on its apex.  It presents a peculiar feature.  At the north end is clearly visible a broad platform of stones extending to a distance of 25ft from the base of the cairn and, though largely overgrown with turf, traceable by the outline of stones almost entirely around it.  This platform has been described as a neck connecting the two cairns (Fiscary 1 and 2, PB), but in reality it stops 7ft distant from the adjacent cairn.”

Henshall's ground-plan of Fiscally 1 & 2

Henshall’s ground-plan of Fiscally 1 & 2

Holding onto her hat at Fiscary 2

Holding onto her hat at Fiscary 2

Indeed, this “platform” seems to have been either deliberately constructed with the hilltop cairn positioned on top of it, or has been set around the tomb.  It’s difficult to say with any certainty.

The great Audrey Henshall (1963; 1995) wrote extensively about this ancient monument in her works, finalizing her site entry in The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland (1995).  After describing in some detail the archaeological association this site has with Fiscary 1, she turned her attention here and wrote:

“The larger south cairn (Fiscary 2, PB) is bare, steep-sided, and has been little disturbed.  The diameters are between 19.5 to 21.5m, and the height is 5.5m measured from the NW.  The edge is clear for about half of the circuit.  The surrounding platform is quite low and is partly covered with peat and deep heather which in places obscure the edge.  The platform varies in width from 4.8 to 7.3m.  On the SE side the cairn edge is clear and there is no sign of the platform.  It appears on the NE side where it is largely free of heather, and the cairn material merges into its stones.  This part of the platform is edged by a rough kerb which fades away westwards into the spread of stones which links the two cairns.  In the area between the cairns the stones are mainly covered by peat on which grow turf and heather.  The spread of stones appears to be thin, but on the NW side of the cairn, where there is evidently a drop in ground level, breaks in the peat cover show that here the stone spread has considerable depth.  Round the W side the platform is heather-covered, and along the SW part, where the hill drops away steeply, there is a rough kerb at a lower level than elsewhere, within which the surface of the platform rises to the base of the cairn.  The S end of the platform, which here is bare stones, seems to turn sharply towards the S edge of the cairn, though the actual edge of the platform is indefinite.”

The likelihood is that this cairn is the oldest of the cluster of three found here, most likely constructed in the neolithic period.  Its position in the landscape would indicate that the site would have been built to commemorate the spirit of a local tribal elder, a King or Queen.  It’s a superb site and I’ll be visiting it again very soon indeed!

Folklore

Bouncy elven sprite rushes by

Bouncy elven sprite rushes by!

Otta Swire (1963) not only told that this landscape was once peopled by giants who made the land and played a part in the creation of some of the giant tombs around here.  The one time local school-teacher at Bettyhill, Alan Temperley (1977), also told us that the fairy folk lived close to the giant tombs of Fiscary.

References:

  1. Gourley, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
  2. Gunn, Adam & Mackay, John, Sutherland and the Reay Country, John Mackay: Glasgow 1893.
  3. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 1, Edinburgh University Press 1963.
  4. Henshall, Audrey S., “The Distant Past,” in The Sutherland Book (edited by Donald Omand), Northern Times: Golspie 1991.
  5. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 1995.
  6. Kerr, Cathel, “Notice of the Excavation of a Chambered Cairn in the Parish of Farr, Sutherlandshire,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 26, 1892
  7. Lelong, Olivia C., “Writing People into the Landscape: Approaches to the Archaeology of Badenoch and Strathnaver,” University of Glasgow 2002.
  8. o’ Reilly, Kevin & Crockford, Ashley, What to See Around Bettyhill, privately printed 2009.
  9. Sutherland, George, Folk-lore Gleanings and Character Sketches from the Far North, John o’ Groats Journal: Wick 1937.
  10. Temperley, Alan, Tales of the North Coast, Research Publishing Company: London 1977.

Acknowledgments:  To the beautiful Aisha Domleo, for her images, bounce, spirit and madness – as well as getting me up to see this cluster of sites. 

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.532963, -4.181047 Fiscary 2

Fiscary (1), Farr, Sutherland

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 73102 62629

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 6445
  2. Carn Chaoile
  3. SUT 29 (Henshall)

Getting Here

Fiscary 1 cairn - from Fiscary 2

Fiscary 1 cairn – from Fiscary 2

A mile east of Bettyhill on the A836 road, watch for the large piles of rocks up on the hill on your left (north).  Go through the gate, past the Fiscary 3 cairn and 150 yards northwest you’ll reach the crowning cairn of Fiscary 2 on the hilltop itself.  Fiscary 1 is just a few yards in front of you.

Archaeology & History

Although this is the smallest of the Fiscary cairns, it is the one that has had been investigated more than the others in this cluster—and you can tell as it’s been dug into.  However, saying that, when Aisha and me were here a few weeks ago, the wind was blowing with such strength that we could give it little more than a cursory overview, as we were both getting blown about like a pair o’ puffters in the gale that was raging in from the sea!  Twas quite overwhelming…

Fiscary 1 to the rear

Fiscary 1 to the rear

One of the first things you notice is how this cairn is inextricably linked, both physically and otherwise, to its close partner on the hilltop only yards away: the Fiscary 2 cairn.  Fiscary 2 reaches outwards towards where we now stand—slightly below the larger tomb immediately north (the airt of Death itself): almost as if an ancient Queen and Her King were resting still hand-in-hand in their respective burial sites.

Aisha on top!

Aisha on top!

…And although such romance may seem nothing more than that, recall that we are probably looking at two giant archaic monuments whose birth emerged in the neolithic: when time was measured by night, not day; when the Moon was Prima Mater’s aide and portender; and patriarchy had yet to be borne…. Giant hilltop cairns were the places of our ancient shaman-kings, queens and tribal elders, whose integral relationship with the cycles of the world to which we are (still) bound, were culturally very different in some fundamental ways, before rites of passage were disposed of…. But I’m moving away from the modern history of the Fiscary tomb…. Soz!

Around the time when some of the indigenous northerners up here were seeing the fading lights of their animistic cosmology disappear into the emergence of ‘history’, when the traditional tales were ebbing, Fiscary 1 was at least being written about—albeit in a detached way, as a museum piece, a piece of architecture.  It’s the way things have become.  The tomb was excavated by a local man called Cathel Kerr in the latter half of the 19th century, although he reported that it had already been dug into a few years earlier.  Kerr told that some of the stones had been taken by an unnamed local for building purposes (not good!).  “It had been opened from the top” he said—continuing:

“and there was abundant evidence around the cairn, that large slabs of stone had been removed from the interior.  A little observation showed that there was the appearance of an internal chamber… The…cairn is about 150 feet in circumference and about 9 or 10 feet in height, and between it and (Fiscary 2) there is what seems to me to be a neck of stones joining the two cairns… Most of the neck joining the two cairns is covered over with turf, but a very slight observation reveals the fact that underneath it the mass of stones is continuous.  The apparent depth of stones is from 3 to 4 feet. It is most unlikely that this neck could have been formed by stones falling from the top of the cairns.

“The chamber, when opened, proved to be tripartite.  The entrance is from the west or northwest side, between two upright stones, with a large heavy slab thrown across them.  The passage is only 3 or 4 feet long, and about 3 feet high, and nearly the same in width.  This leads into a small chamber measuring about 6 feet by 3 feet.  In front of it, on the north side, a large upright slab projects, and helps to form part of the end of the inner chamber and a division between the two on the south side.  In all likelihood the stone corresponding to that one has been removed, so that there is nothing to mark the division between the chambers on that side.  The larger chamber measures 6 feet 4 inches by 7 feet 9 inches.  The sides are made up of large upright slabs and masonry, built up between the slabs.  The corners are all rounded and there is the appearance of vaulting by the stones overlapping one another.  The height of this chamber at present is about 5 feet.  The end of the chamber is made up by two upright stones, with nearly 2 feet of an entrance between them, leading into the innermost chamber.  This chamber is a very irregular oblong; indeed the ends are rounded.  On an average it is 5 feet 9 inches long, by 33 inches wide, and 3 or 4 feet in height.  It had the appearance of being covered over with slabs, some of which stood on edge inside; but of this I am not very sure, as the roofing of all the chambers has been interfered with.

“Inside there lay on the floor a large quantity of broken stones and black earth.  Underneath there was what seemed a mixture  of ashes and earth, with numerous pieces of charred wood, but no charred bones as far as I could see.  Underneath that layer there was ordinary gravel.  I found some fragments of bones on the innermost part, and some in the larger chamber.  They do not appear to me to be of very great antiquity.  A small vitrified mass was found on the floor.”

When the Royal Commission (1911) lads turned up to see the site in 1909 they reported—in a rather exaggerated manner—that the cairn “is now completely destroyed” and then in the next sentence said,

“The chamber is half filled-up with debris and only two or three large slabs remain, the others having disappeared.  Its diameter has been about 46ft, and its height 4ft to 5ft.”

If the Royal Commission believe that’s an example of something being “completely destroyed”, they should turn their eyes and attention to sites like the Nixon’s Station cairn on top of Ilkley Moor which, when I was young, was larger than any of the Fiscary cairns; but somehow under the watchful eyes of the regional archaeologists in the 1980s and ’90s, was levelled to the ground – i.e., properly destroyed!

Audrey Henshall's ground plan

Audrey Henshall’s ground plan

In more recent years the cairn has received the honourable attention of the great Audrey Henshall (1963; 1995) who, in her updated site profile of Fiscary 1, told us not much more about the site than her predecessor Kerr.  Contextualizing the place with its partner Fiscary 2 and the platform upon which it rests, she wrote:

“The paired cairns appear to be independent structures 8.5m apart, though a platform extending beyond the base of the south cairn, which has no internal features exposed, spreads to the base of the north cairn, which contains a ruined chamber… The north cairn is of bare angular stones with turf and heather only encroaching over the edges.  Its limits are well-defined and give a roughly square plan with short diameters of 16.5m… Kerr exposed the roofless tripartite chamber, and most of the structure which he recorded was visible in 1955 (Henshall 1963).  Less could be seen in 1992 as the chamber had been largely filled by loose stones…”

Much like the situation as it is today.  More recently a small pile of stones has been added to the top of the cairn, from whence the view is excellent to the north, east and west.  The larger Fiscary 2 cairn blocks the view directly south.

Folklore

Otta Swire (1963) not only told that this landscape was once peopled by giants who made the land and played a part in the creation of some of the giant tombs around here.  The one time local school-teacher at Bettyhill, Alan Temperley (1977), also told us that the fairy folk lived close to the giant tombs of Fiscary.

References:

  1. Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return, RKP: London 1955.
  2. Gourley, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
  3. Gunn, Adam & Mackay, John, Sutherland and the Reay Country, John Mackay: Glasgow 1893.
  4. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 1, Edinburgh University Press 1963.
  5. Henshall, Audrey S., “The Distant Past,” in The Sutherland Book (edited by Donald Omand), Northern Times: Golspie 1991.
  6. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 1995.
  7. Kerr, Cathel, “Notice of the Excavation of a Chambered Cairn in the Parish of Farr, Sutherlandshire,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 26, 1892
  8. Lelong, Olivia C., “Writing People into the Landscape: Approaches to the Archaeology of Badenoch and Strathnaver,” University of Glasgow 2002.
  9. o’ Reilly, Kevin & Crockford, Ashley, What to See Around Bettyhill, privately printed 2009.
  10. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.
  11. Sutherland, George, Folk-lore Gleanings and Character Sketches from the Far North, John o’ Groats Journal: Wick 1937.
  12. Temperley, Alan, Tales of the North Coast, Research Publishing Company: London 1977.

Acknowledgments:  Huge thanks to beautiful Aisha Domleo again, for help with some of the photos – and adding your elegant spirit and energy to the place – as well as getting me up here in the first place! 

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.533190, -4.181226 Fiscary 1

Dalvraid, West Strathan, Melness, Sutherland

 

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  58.531431, -4.465902 Dalvraid Chambered Cairn

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 5652 6300

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5409

Getting Here

Dalvraid07

Dalvraid’s ruined internal chamber

Along the A838 road between Tongue and Durness, just over the Tongue bridge take the first right to Melness, Skinnet and beyond.  Pass the previously unrecorded West Strathan petroglyph and go right to the end of the road.  Walk down the path and cross the river, heading then up the diagonal path onto the moors.  Approaching level ground, look back down to the river and head south across the moorland towards the fence.  As you near where the fencing approaches the river, zigzag about and you’ll find it amidst a cluster of bracken in the heather.

Archaeology & History

Dalvraid's chamber, looking W

Dalvraid’s chamber, looking W

This apparent Neolithic chambered structure is pretty much in ruins and, by the look of things, has been severely robbed of much earth and stone at some time in the not-too-distant past.  A relatively small artificial platform of stone and earth in roughly circular form can be discerned when the heather or bracken is low, but much of the large mound that was built here has long since been dismantled.  Instead, we have remnants of an internal stone chamber, consisting of a small upright monolith with an adjoining stone roughly at right-angle, with another small but elongated stone running roughly parallel with it – creating a small stone ‘U’-shaped chamber.

When Tom Welsh (1973) came to write about the site, “100m from east bank of Strath Melness Burn,” he described it as follows:

“remains of a circular cairn, diameter 16m, with 8 visible kerb-stones.  Perimeter flattened on W side while cairn material curves inwards in the manner of a facade.  Leading from this for 4m into the cairn is a slightly curving depression, with two large displaced slabs lying across entrance.  2m further in is a rectangular cist, 1.75 x 0.8m, with 4 slabs in situ.  At E end a slab 0.80m long, 0.12m thick has adjoining it at right angles the only slab on the N side, 0.40m long and 0.25m thick.   The angle is supported by an embedded stone 0.40 x 0.12m.  Forming the S side of the cist are slabs 0.50 x 0.10 and 0.89 x 0.12m.  On perimeter of cairn, E side, is a small stone with a socket mark 0.04m diameter 0.025m deep.”

The mound of Dalvraid

The mound of Dalvraid

Dalvraid's chamber, looking SE

Dalvraid’s chamber, looking SE

If you walk away from the remains of this small chamber, you’ll see a scatter of stones here and there around the edges, defining how the cairn used to be.  But unless you’re a real chambered tomb fanatic, this isn’t worth too much attention.  It almost seems that it will fall beneath moorland debris in the coming century, perhaps never to be seen again…..

References:

  1. Welsh, Thomas C., “Dalvraid, chambered cairn”, in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1973

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

Skelpick Long, Strath Naver, Sutherland

Chambered Cairn: OS Grid Reference – NC 72245 56745

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 6276
  2. Long Skelpick
  3. Skelpick Burn

Getting Here

The huge cairn, looking east

The huge cairn, looking east

From the delightful village of Bettyhill, take the A836 road west. A mile out, just as the tiny road bridge crosses the sea-river, take the tiny road on your left. Go past the roadside lochan until you reach the first Skelpick house several miles down. Walk across the fields on your left (east) until you reach the wobbly wooden tidgy-widgy-bridgey that crosses the Skelpick Burn. Across on the other side – you can’t miss it!

Archaeology & History

The overgrown northern face

The overgrown northern face

As you wander down the poetic geoscapes of Strathnaver, meandering back and forth along the tributaries and Her tiny primal forest remains, on the edges of Her marshes, rivulets and rocky moorlands, tomb after tomb raise themselves to the eyes and feet of the wanderer.  They’re everywhere it seems!  But this one, above all others, hits the eyesight with an unexpected magnitude.  This is a giant–one helluva giant!–and typical of the structure and status of many of the immense prehistoric chambered tombs in this remote northern region of our entrancing heathen isles.

Rising out of the moorland heather to a height of sixteen feet in parts, tens of thousands of rocks make up this elongated artificial ridge, running like a spine NNW-SSE down the direction of the glen, pointing to the lowest dip in the distant southern horizon several miles away.  And although overgrown when we visited the site, at each extremity the elongated cairn has curious stretches of stones projecting out of its sides, like a pair of horns at each end.  Weird!

The long cairn, heading south

The long cairn, heading south

The giant cairn, heading north

The giant cairn, heading north

Once you get on top of the cairn, its northern end is the most impressive section. Wider than the rest of the monument, this is where, some ten feet below the top of the rock-pile, a large internal opening was covered over, hiding an impressive chamber (two birch trees mark the spot).  This is in incredibly good condition when you remember that you are looking at something that was built in the neolithic period some 6000 years ago!

Spider guards chamber of bones

Spider guards chamber of bones

Little Lara at the entrance

Little Lara at the entrance

On my first visit, I sat inside the shelter of the chamber for around an hour, either inside the main ‘tomb’ section, or beneath a huge intact covering stone 12 feet outside the entrance (hiding from both rain and midges) that stretches from one side of the cairn to the other; noting, on its underside, two cup-marks: one is definitely crustacean in nature, whilst the other may be man-made (though we cannot discount it too having a crustacean origin). But we can safely say that this long stone was dragged some considerable distance from the coast to its present position and positioned into this giant cairn.  This covering stone rests precariously on a collection of many small well-placed rocks, themselves held up on two rigid solid standing stones, deeply embedded god-knows-how-deep in the solid Earth. They stand about 3 feet high in their present position above the ground.

Central stone in chamber

Central stone in chamber

Gordon gives idea of its size

Gordon gives idea of its size

The well-preserved ‘tomb’ section at the northern end of the cairn was opened sometime in the middle of the 19th century by James Horsburgh (1870)—although its description as a ‘tomb’ could be questionable here, as no funerary remains have ever been found inside it.  Horsburgh described the site as a,

“long cairn, 80 or 90 yards in length, which I opened and came upon a polygonal-shaped chamber, 11 feet in diameter, the sides consisting of large stones 6 feet high, one of them 7 feet by 4 and 1½ feet thick, placed at a distance from each other of 3 or 4 feet, the intervals being built up with long square stones.  The roof had been formed with very large flags overlaying each other.  The chamber had been opened from the top and the whole inside was filled with stones and rubbish, so that I only cleared it out.  Before I commenced operations, however, there was no appearance of it having been meddled with, and I dug it by chance where the cairn appeared to be highest.  Nothing whatever was found in it.”

This lack of funerary remains may simply be due to the collapse of stones destroying any evidences at the time Horsburgh dug into the cairn—or it may have had other functions instead.  Shortly after Horburgh’s analysis, John Stuart (1870) came to visit the site in his grand tour of the megaliths of the region, telling that,

“on the waterside is a long cairn with a chamber at its north end, of about 12 feet across, formed of six slabs, with the space between them carefully filled up with masonry.  Some of the slabs are of great size.  A passage leading to another chamber is blocked up.  The walls of the chamber begin to converge at a height of 6 feet, and were probably covered by flags.”

Stuart's 1874 ground plan

Stuart’s 1874 ground plan

Skelpick Long on 1878 map

Long Skelpick on 1878 map

Highlighted on the first Ordnance Survey map in 1878, it was Mr Stuart (1874) who gave us our earliest ground-plan of Long Skelpick, as illustrated here.  But since then the site has been described by a number of antiquarians and archaeologists.  However, the most detailed account is given in the legendary Audrey Henshall’s (1995) updated site profile.  I make no apologies for reproducing her lengthy account of this cairn almost in its entirety, as it is an astonishing megalithic monument.  She wrote:

“…The cairn is 72m long overall, including the horns which define a forecourt at each end… The cairn is about 20m wide across the chamber, narrowing to 14m wide at a little south of centre, and expanding slightly to about 16m wide at the south end.  At the north end the forecourt is difficult to define, though the ends of the horn are clear.  Between them there is loose rubble which rises steeply to merge with the cairn material covering the passage, and which northwards merges into the downward slope of the ground.  The passage entrance is hidden beneath this stony material; presumably there is deliberate blocking immediately in front of the entrance…but this has been covered by cairn material removed from the chamber area when it was investigated. The forecourt is about 13.5m wide by about 7m deep.  The chamber is exposed in a deep hollow in the cairn, but south of it the cairn remains to a height of 3.4m (measured from the chamber floor), and from here to near the south end it continues as a ridge of bare irregular stones.  Except for a few superficial hollows, it appears to be undisturbed, neither robbed nor substantially distorted, and it retains the steep pitch of its long sides.  The cairn gradually diminishes in height southwards to about 2.8m high at about 12m north of the south forecourt.  At this point there is a transverse hollow across the cairn 2.7m wide and about 0.7m deep, which may be an original feature (though in this area a relatively recent deep hollow has been made into the cairn from the east side reaching almost to the median line).  The cairn has clearly been robbed from the south end to within 1.7m of the transverse hollow, presumably to build the square enclosure just to the south.  The southeast horn is clear and the southwest horn can just be traced though it has probably been truncated.  Between them, the edge of the forecourt is rather vague except for two laid slabs near the centre which appears to be part of an edging wall-face.  The south forecourt has been about 10m wide and probably about 3.5m deep.  The west edge of the cairn is clear though overgrown with heather, except for 20m at the north end where it is overlaid with bare stones evidently thrown down when the chamber was opened, and north of this the cairn merges into the natural slope.  All along the east side the cairn merges with the slope of the ridge and has deep heather growing almost to the crest, so that the cairn edge is difficult to trace.

“The axis of the passage and chamber is nearly NNW to SSE, skew by about 13° by the axis of the cairn.  The entrance can only be seen from the roofed passage.  A pair of transverse stones set 0.56m apart forms the portal at the outer end of the passage. They are over 0.7m and 0.4m long, 0.25m and 0.18m thick, and 0.7m and 0.65m high.  The original blocking, a neat stack of six horizontal slabs reaching to within 0.2m of the roof, is in place between them, with the south edges of the stones flush with the south faces of the portal stones.  To the north of the slabs there can just be seen loose stones, smaller than those of the cairn material.

“The passage os 1.8m long and 1.15m wide at the outer end increasing to 1.3m wide at the inner end.  A slab forms most of each wall.  The slabs are 1.36m and 1.31m long by 0.5m and 0.45m high with two or three courses of walling above them, though this is displaced inwards and in a precarious state.  Walling fills the short gaps at the ends of the stones, though missing from the NE corner.  At the inner end of the passage a pair of portal stones forms the entry into the ante-chamber.  They are 0.94m and 0.78m long by 0.26m and 0.44m thick, and 0.86m and 0.77m high, set 0.8m apart.  At the outer end of the passage a lintel rests on the east portal stone and passes a little above the west portal stone, and the north edge of the lintel projects a little north of their outer faces.  The lintel is 0.8m wide by 0.3m thick, 0.7m above the floor, tilted slightly down to the south.  The next tow lintels rise in inverted steps, each overlapping the upper surface of that to the north with the third lintel 1m above floor level.  The fourth lintel is missing and a gap of 0.5m is spanned by rubble; it is likely that a substantial stone at the top of each side wall is an end portion of this lintel, the centre part of which has broken away.  The innermost lintel is lower, 0.86m above the floor, resting directly on the east portal stone and on a corbel stone over the shorter west portal stone at the chamber entrance.  The lintel is over 2m long, 0.65m wide and 0.75m thick in the centre, and the face to the chamber is triangular.

“The chamber walls are constructed of spaced orthostats linked by panels of walling.  All the orthostats are intact.  The walling is of quite large quarried rectangular slabs, in general 0.07m to 0.02m thick, and where well-preserved can be seen to have been carefully built.  At a height of about 0.7m the walling changes to courses of large corbel stones, often 0.23m to 0.4m thick, up to 0.9m wide, and 1m or so long.  They are laid with their long axes running back into the cairn and their inner ends generally slightly oversailing; their appearance is rougher and heavier than the walling below.  There is a considerable amount of displaced stone on the chamber floor, but all vertical measurements are taken from approximately floor level.

“The ante-chamber is about 2.5m long by 2.5m wide at the south end.  The east wall consists of an orthostat 1.3m long by 0.36m thick, and 1.1m high, with a horizontal upper surface.  The spaces between it and the outer and inner east portal stones of the chamber are filled with walling about 1.15m high, and above this and the orthostat are two courses of corbel stones giving a total height of 1.7m with a considerable overhang, at the southeast corner as much as 0.5m though possibly there has been some displacement.  Only a short length at the south end of the west wall is visible.  An orthostat set close to the west outer portal stone was visible in the 19th century…but this is hidden by rubble.

“The entrance between the ante-chamber and main chamber has been spacious, 1.06m wide and probably about 1.4m high.  The portal stones are 0.85m and over 1.06m long, 0.42m and 0.25m to 0.4m wide, and 1.1m and 0.9m high, and their upper edges slope down into the cairn.  The lintel above them is somewhat displaced with its wider face tilted down from south to north.  Its east end rests on a corbel stone supported by displaced walling to the southeast of the portal stone, and its west end rests on displaced walling on the shoulder of the west portal stone and on the panel of walling to the southwest.  The lintel is about 3m long by 1m wide and 0.35m thick.

“The main chamber is 3.5m long by about 3.25m wide.  There are five orthostats in the wall.  That on the axis has a horizontal upper surface and the others are rounded and rather irregular in shape.  From the northeast, clockwise, they are 0.7m, 0.77m and 0.84m (at maximum 1.14m), over 1.3m and 0.86m long and, as far as can be seen, they vary from 0.1m to 0.4m thick.  They are all of similar height, between 1 and 1.22m; the tallest is the northwest orthostat.  Most of the linking walling remains.  Between the east portal stone and the east orthostat only the upper courses are visible; between the east and southeast orthostats there are six neat courses of walling and above them three courses of corbel stones oversailing by 0.3m at a height of 1.7m (though the lowest courses of walling at the north end have been pulled away and the upper part of the wall is in danger of collapse).  The walling between the southeast and the south orthostats has fallen away, but was intact in 1955… Between the south and southwest orthostats walling remains almost level with their tops and butts against the face of the latter, the south end of which is hidden.  The last two panels of walling on the west side of the chamber survive to half the height of the adjacent orthostats.

“Part of the chamber was evidently visible in 1800 (Cardonnel …) and subsequently it must have been filled in.  Horsburgh investigated the main chamber in 1866… His descriptions and measurements are fairly accurate except that he gave the height of the orthostats as 6ft and one as 7ft (1.8m and 2.1m); this seems to be an exaggeration as the present floor level, also extending down the passage, appears to be at approximately at the original level.  He estimated that the roof height of the main chamber had been 10ft (3m)…

Old lichen upon the cairn-stones

Old lichen upon the cairn-stones

Of mosses and lichens hereon...

Of mosses and lichens hereon…

Much of the length of the cairn is very overgrown in a living repertoire of medicinal mosses and lichens which, of themselves, are centuries old in places.  Their profusion is a great indicator, not only of the cleanliness of the air betrayed in the cities of homo-profanus, but also a telling sign that visitors to this distant realm are few and far between.  Tis a beautiful site in a spectacular ancient arena…

…to be continued…

Folklore

There is great superstition amongst some locals even today that this immense cairn should not be tampered with and it is said to be haunted.

References:

  1. Gourley, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
  2. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 1, Edinburgh University Press 1963.
  3. Henshall, Audrey S., “The Distant Past,” in The Sutherland Book (edited by Donald Omand), Northern Times: Golspie 1991.
  4. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 1995.
  5. Horsburgh, James, Notes of Cromlechs, Duns, Hut-circles, Chambered Cairns and other Remains, in the County of Sutherland“, in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870
  6. Lelong, Olivia C., “Writing People into the Landscape: Approaches to the Archaeology of Badenoch and Strathnaver,” University of Glasgow 2002.
  7. Mackie, Euan W., Scotland: An Archaeological Guide, Faber: London 1975.
  8. o’ Reilly, Kevin & Crockford, Ashley, What to See Around Bettyhill, privately printed 2009.
  9. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.
  10. Stuart, John, “Report to the Committee of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Appointed to Arrange for the Application of a Fund Left by the Late Mr A. Henry Rhind, for Excavating Early Remains,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 7, 1870
  11. Stuart, John, “Notice of Excavations in Cairns in Strathnaver, Sutherlandshire,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 10, 1874.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to the beautiful Aisha Domleo for not only getting me up here, but also for the use of photos in this site profile.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.480084, -4.192504 Long Skelpick

Achadh Thaibstil, Bettyhill, Farr, Sutherland

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 7398 5899

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 6228
  2. Clachan Burn

Getting Here

Achadh Thaibstil cairn12

Achadh Thaibstil cairn, looking W

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, past a small quarry on your left, and a hundred yards or so along, to the right of the track, you’ll notice a rounded hillock covered in stones and rock on the top (aswell as bracken in the summer and autumn).  That’s the spot!

Archaeology & History

Achadh Thaibstil cairn

Achadh Thaibstil cairn

This little-known cairn, close to the prehistoric hut circles on the other side of the track, is a medium-sized Neolithic or Bronze Age monument.  Not included in Audrey Henshall’s (1995) survey of the region, the tomb was built upon a small natural rise with the usual thousands of small and medium-sized stones rising up 4-5 feet high.   Near its crown we find an exposed chamber, typical of chambered tombs, measuring more than a yard across and two yards long, with flat slabs defining its sides.  It appears that the inner ‘chamber’ may have been split into two sections, as an oblong slab of stone runs parallel down the central ‘chamber’ a third of the way across.  The Canmore account simply tells how the cairn is on low knoll and

“measures about 10.5m in diameter and 1.0m high. It has been opened and a centrally placed slab lined cist revealed, the southern side of which is missing. The cist measures 1.4m east-west, with the east and west slabs 1.2m long and 0.6m high.”

Looking down into the chamber

Looking down into the chamber

From the chamber, looking N

From the chamber, looking N

On the horizon to the far north, the peak of the giant tomb known as Fiscary 2 rises up, indicating the cardinal direction.  This may have had geomantic significance, as ‘north’ signifies Death and darkness: the symbolic point where light never emerges; the point linked to the North Star, Alpha Draconis in the neolithic era, or Polaris in our present Age: the point to and from which shamans travel into the Land of the Gods.  These elements may or may not have been relevant here.

References:

  1. Henshall, Audrey S. & Ritchie, J.N.G., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 2005.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  58.500839, -4.164057 Achadh Thaibstil, Bettyhill