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.
Park up and walk the long estate track up Glen Almond for nearly three miles until, on your left, you’ll see a small pond. From here, walk up the slope and, about 100 yards above you, note the large solitary boulder ahead, above the dyke of a small walled stream, where the land levels out. Just past the rock itself is the first of several remains.
Archaeology & History
First things first: the grid-reference cited here is centred upon the largest of several rings of stone found on this small grassy plateau, 150 yards north above the River Almond, just past the huge boulder. It’s an impressive site – and a previously unrecorded one.
The raised ring of Conichan
At least three large hut circles can be clearly seen on this small ridge, amidst a sea of prehistoric sites scattered all down this lonely Scottish glen. When Paul Hornby, Lara Domleo and I meandered up here the other day (to visit the Clach na Tiompan megaliths), extensive prehistoric walling called my nose up the slopes to see if anything was hiding away—and a large prehistoric ring, more reminiscent of the Derbyshire stone circles and ring cairns than any hut circle, appeared before me.
The first and largest that I came across is the one immediately north of the huge boulder (which may have slight traces of ancient walling running up to it). The large ring is clearly raised onto a flat level platform, with an entrance on its southern edge. The ring itself measures, from outer-wall to outer-wall some 12 yards wide (E-W) and 11 yards N-S. The northernmost section of the walling or stone embanked structure is built into the sloping hill to the rear, with the east and western walls constructed simply onto the flat land. The walling itself is typical of prehistoric structures, comprising the usual mass of small stones packed within a number of larger upright stones; although much of it is very overgrown with centuries of vegetation. The walling that constitutes the ring itself is between 1-2 yards across and about two-feet high above the present ground-level.
Second circular remains
…and from another angle
To the east of this is a smaller, roughly circular construction of similar form. The rocks that make up this site are much more visible and may have been robbed and used in the more extensive walling above and the dykes below. It is unclear whether the nature of this site is the same as that of the more defined circular enclosure we have just described.
The remains of a third structure was clearly evident a short distance to the east of this, but I didn’t have much time here and another visit is needed to make further assessments. Iron Age walling and other undocumented prehistoric remains were also found close by.
Acknowledgements: Many thanks to the noses of little Lara Domleo and Prof. Paul Hornby for their bimbling aid to relocate this site – and one or two others that have been off the radar for many-a-century.
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.
Take the A836 road west out of Bettyhill, down the road and cross the river on the tiny bridge. From here, go over the gate on the right-hand side of the road and follow the edge of the river towards the sea. Crossing the large extensive sands, you’ll reach a large sand and gravel rise ahead of you. Once on top of this natural feature, walk NNE for 550 yards (0.5km) until you reach one of many extensive sandy expanses in the grasses (and pass tons of archaeological remains as you walk!). You’ll get there!
Archaeology & History
Arc of south, west & north walling
On this naturally raised sand-and-gravel platform at the edge of this beautiful sandy coastline in the far north of Scotland, walking in search of this particular enclosure, you’ll meander past a whole host of prehistoric sites and remains – some of which are plain to see, others hiding almost just above ground level, barely visible. But if you’re an antiquarian or historian, this plateau is a minefield of forgotten history!
The site is shown on the 1878 Ordnance Survey map of the region as a “hut circle”, which it may well have been—but this is a large hut circle and was more probably a place where a large family would easily have lived. When I visited the place the other week, there were no internal features visible. It is a large ring of stones made up of thousands of small rocks whose walls are low and scattered, barely a foot above present ground-level in places, and barely two-feet at the very highest. It has been greatly ruined or robbed of other architectural elements and an excavation is in order. My initial evaluation is that this structure is at least Iron Age in origin. In Angus Mackay’s (1906) venture here in the early 1900s, he suggested that this and the other “circular rings” were “cattle folds.”
Aerial view, looking straight down
Looking down from the broch above
The enclosure measures, from outer-edge to outer-edge of the walling, 16.5 yards (15.1m) east-west by 18 yards (16.5m) north-south, and has a circumference of roughly 52.5 yards (4mm); although an accurate measure of its circumference is hampered by the scatter of spoilage from the collapsed walls stretching outwards. Only the western walled section remains in reasonably good condition.
Looking south, thru the enclosure
Close by are many cairns, some of which are prehistoric. A chambered cairn on the same ridge less than 200 yards away, with another enclosure of the same type yards away, clearly shows that people have lived and used this raised section of land for thousands of years. We know that people were still living here at the end of the 18th century which—for me at least—begs the question: what ancient traditions, customs and lore did these people know about, which may have dated back into truly ancient history? …And then the english Clearances destroyed them…
Get yourself to the Baile Mhargaite Enclosure 1 and walk less than 150 yards southeast. Keep your eyes keenly peeled on the ground as you can easily miss this one!
Archaeology & History
One of Baile Mhargaite’s cists
The only archaeological note I can find of this small singular prehistoric grave is in the Canmore entry, which is far from clear as to the position and situation of many sites hereby. They described this small sand-filled grave (which they describe as ‘Cist b’) as being “on a gravel ridge and is oriented N-S. It measures 0.8m by 0.6m.” That’s it!
Looking down on the tomb
But saying that, it is a small single little thing amidst a huge mass of material. It may well have been covered by a larger cairn at an earlier date, as there are many such monuments on this elevated sandy plain and the slight surround of smaller stones at, and just beneath the surface may validate this. It is also possible that this was the spot where “beaker fragments…found in a cist at Bettyhill” came from, but the archaeological records (Abercromby 1912; Mitchell 1934) are not accurate. Two other cists close by are the other potential candidates!
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.
The long country road running between Aysgarth and Kettlewell is the B6160. Whether you’re coming from the north (Aysgarth) or south (Kettlewell), when you reach either Buckden or Cray, take the minor road west to Hubberholme. Just over 1½ miles further on, you reach the tiny hamlet of Yockenthwaite itself. Cross the river bridge, then turn left and walk along the footpath parallel with the river. 600 yards or so along, keep your eyes peeled for the low small ring of stones in front of you.
Archaeology & History
Just above the well-trod path that runs parallel with the usually shallow River Wharfe, this small and silent ring of stones rests in the idyllic host of Langstrothdale, deep in olde Yorkshire. Tis a wonderful spot… Classed as a ‘stone circle’ for many a decade (even by the esteemed Aubrey Burl), this small but ancient ring shouldn’t really be held in the same category as our larger megalithic circles. In truth, it looks more like some of the larger hut circles I’ve seen and uncovered down the decades—and it may well be that. Indeed, even the archaeo’s aren’t in agreement as to what it is, with the general idea being that it is the remains of a ring cairn of some type, despite no human remains being found here.
Yockenthwaite itself was already know by this name in 1241 CE, when the monks of Fountains Abbey were given the land by one of the murderous invading Norman families of the period. This ingredient may be relevant to the history of the circle, for as the great northern antiquarian Harry Speight (1900) pointed out,
“in several places in the dales there are traces of what seems like ancient sheep or cattle enclosures, which are probably vestiges of this grant to the monks of Fountains in 1241.”
And Speight thought the circle had a similar origin to these remains. He continued:
“An enclosure of this kind, composed of a number of big stones on end, lies at the low end of the second pasture on the north side of the river between Yockenthwaite and Deepdale, and has been described as a Druid’s Circle. It is doubtless one of these monastic folds.”
And he may have a point. Although when Arthur Raistrick (1929) ventured here in the early 1920s, he had other ideas, pushing the date of the site way way back into the Bronze Age. “The circle,” Raistrick told,
“is slightly raised above the surrounding ground-level, and the stones, standing edge to edge, can be seen from a considerable distance on either fell side. The circle is 25 feet diameter, very nearly a true circle, there being only about 6 inches variation in diameter. The stones number 20, placed on edge to edge to edge…with only two small gaps, which would accommodate three or perhaps four more stones. These stones were probably removed some years ago to repair the stile in the neighbouring wall. Outside this circle of 20 stones, on the northwest side, there are four others placed concentrically, and very close to the circle, but there is no evidence that the circle was ever double, or that there were ever more than these extra four stones. There is a slight mound at the centre, and probing with a rod proved a small circle of stones, about 9 feet diameter at the centre, indicating probably a burial. Several large boulders lie on the level ground around the circle, but these are all rolled down from the fell-side above, and not placed in any connection with the circle. All the stones of the circle are of limestone…”
It was this designation that led to Burl (1976; 2000) to include it in his corpus of megalithic rings; although John Barnatt (1989) did question the validity of the site as a true ‘stone circle’ in his own gazetteer, saying:
“This unusual site comprises a contiguous ring of orthostats of c. 7.5m diameter, which are graded downslope to the SSW to allow for the gradient; their tops are all roughly horizontal. They range from 0.30 to 1.05m in height, 22-3 stones survive today and 3-4 appear to be missing. To the NNW there is a short outer arc of 4-5 stones placed immediately outside the main ring. 4 loose stones appear to have been added to the ring recently. Raistrick’s plan does not tally with the present remains, despite the sites undisturbed nature. The interior of the site is filled by a low horizontal platform, with virtually no height upslope to the north-east and a height of c. 0.5m to the south-west. The ring of stones stand well proud of this round the full circumference. This site appears to be a variant form of kerb-cairn rather than a true stone circle.”
The structure has been built onto a slight but notable platform, as has also been done with many hut circles—and the Yockenthwaite site may just be one of them. Only an excavation will tell us for sure. It’s isolated from other remains, but on the hills above, both north and south, denuded Iron Age and Bronze Age settlements look down on this solitary ring. Whatever it may be, it’s olde and in a beautiful setting. Well worth checking out if you like yer ancient sites!
Barnatt, John, Stone Circles of Britain (2 volumes), BAR: Oxford 1989.
Burl, Aubrey, A Guide to the Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, New Haven & London 1995.
Burl, Aubrey, The Stone Circles of Britain, Ireland and Brittany, Yale University Press 2000.
Elgee, Frank & Harriet, The Archaeology of Yorkshire, Methuen: London 1933.
Longworth, Ian H., Regional Archaeologies: Yorkshire, Cory, Adams & MacKay: London 1965.
Raistrick, Arthur, ‘The Bronze Age in West Yorkshire,’ in Yorkshire Archaeology Journal, volume 29, 1929.
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.