Talmine (west), Melness, Tongue, Sutherland

Settlement:  OS Grid Reference – NC 5764 6248 

Getting Here

Large arc of low walling, across upper-centre

Along the A836 road between Durness and Tongue, take the minor road north to Melness and Talmine. 400 yards or so past Talmine Stores shop, walk left up the track onto the moor. Half a mile on, walk straight uphill on yer right for about 150 yards until it levels out.  Look all around you!

Archaeology & History

This is a fascinating new find, explored under the guidance of Sarah MacLean of Borgie.  After looking at the nearby cairnfield and hut circles to the southeast, our noses took us onto the hilltop, where an extravaganza of curved and straight walling, hut circles, denuded cairns, cists, possible chambered cairn remnants and even unrecorded stone rows had us almost bemused at the extent of the remains.  A lot of it has been severely damaged and robbed – but in the low vegetation scattering the hilltop, it became clear that a lot of activity had been going on in the ancient and perhaps not-too-ancient past, with a social and/or tribal continuity stretching way way back (as found at Baile Mhargaite near Bettyhill).

Straight line of low walling

As we walked up the unnamed hill (well, to be honest, we zigged and zagged, or bimbled, until we got to the top), above a line of prehistoric cairns on the slopes below, small lines of walling barely above ground-level stretched out before us.  Structurally akin to the neolithic and Bronze Age features found from northern England to this far northern region, they are low and deeply embedded in the peat, but are quite unmistakable.

In following the first real line of walling near the eastern edge of the hill, a flat panorama eventually opened up as we reached the top and there, in front of us, appeared arcs and lines of more walled structures, thankfully unobstructed by vegetation.  A few expletives came out of my mouth (for a change!) at the remains we could see right in front of us—and then we set walking in different directions and began to explore the remains beneath our respective feet.

The first main element on the southeastern top of the hill was a wide curvaceous arc of walling, undoubtedly prehistoric – in my opinion either Bronze Age or neolithic in origin.  As I was looking at this section, Sarah walked only a short distance to the northwest and, with some excitement in her tone called out, “there’s some here too!” And so we continued, back and forth to each other as we zigzagged across the tops.

Stone row or denuded walling?

Intersecting lines of walling

Much of what we found (as the photos show) were low lines of settlement walling—some dead straight, others curving to form denuded hut circles and larger domestic forms. A lot of the walls had been knocked down and scattered on the hilltop, making it troublesome at times ascertaining precisely what we were looking at: but a settlement or large enclosure it certainly is!

The south and western edges of the hill itself seemed to be marked by low sections of walling, again deeply embedded into the peat; and on the same two sides are what appear to be remnants of stone rows leading up onto the top.  As with other stone rows in this region, they are defined by low upright monoliths.  The one that runs north-south runs into a low section of walling that cuts right across the top of the hill and away into the deep peat, roughly NNE, where we lost sight of it (where some old peat-cutting is evident).  The stone row running up the western face of the hill seems to begin near the bottom of the slope and is defined by a leaning standing stone that Sarah found.  Looking uphill from this there’s a gap of roughly fifty yards, where a small stone sits on the near-horizon; and from this small stone is a clear line of small stones, ending (it seems) at a stone less than three feet tall.  Just past this is the denuded remains of what seems to be a cist and a small robbed cairn, clearly defined by a curious rectangle of base-stones, barely 5 feet by 3 feet wide.

Intersecting arc & line of walling

Outline of robbed cairn?

My personal favourite of all the things on top of this hill has to be the small sections of interconnecting walling that we found on the more northern portion of the settlement.  At first glance, it seemed that we were just looking at a small hut circle; but then we realised this initial ‘hut circle’ was linked to a slightly larger ‘hut circle’, which was linked to another, all in a linear east-west direction (roughly).  As I saw looked at it from the western-side (looking east), Sarah was on its east looking west.  This difference in visual perspective gave us a wider view of what we were both looking at.  The easternmost section comprised of an arc of walling that joined into another ‘hut circle’, neither of which had axes any greater than 3 yards.  As we stepped further and further back from this, it seemed that other walled sections ran into it, expanding it into a form which I can only describe as a ‘stripped long cairn’, down to its initial architectural basis, upon which you’d construct the larger monument—but it was only 10 yards long at the most.  Most odd…  Sarah pointed out what may have been a stoned-lined trackway running parallel to this neolithic curiosum.  It still puzzles me as to what it may have been.

This short description doesn’t really do this site justice and, in truth, it needs a more competent survey than I could give it in just one short visit.  It’s very probable that a lot more is still to be found on these hills, from prehistoric all through to post-medieval (pre-Clearance) times.  So if you live in this part of Sutherland, get yer twitching noses and boots on and bimble with intent to find!  There’s still plenty of stuff hiding away…

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Donna Murray of Borgie for putting me up (or should that be, putting up with me?!) and equally massive thanks to Sarah Maclean—also of Borgie—for guiding me up here and being an integral part of rediscovering this site. Without them both, this place would still be unrecognised. And thanks to Miles Newman too. 😉

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.526901, -4.446172 Talmine (west), Melness

Manse Bridge, Melness, Tongue, Sutherland

Cairns:  OS Grid Reference – NC 5784 6229

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 5385

Getting Here

2 cairns in line of 3, Manse Bridge (photo Sarah Maclean)

Along the A836 road between Durness and Tongue, take the minor road north to Melness and Talmine. 400 yards or so past Talmine Stores shop, walk left up the track onto the moor. Follow the track along as if you’re visiting the Talmine West settlement, but walk uphill onto the moor a hundred yards or so after the sheep-folds on your right.  Before the top of the hill, keep your eyes peeled for the heather-covered rocky mounds in the moorland scattered about. You’ll find them!

Archaeology & History

A cluster of prehistoric cairns—or a cairnfield as it’s known— is found on the moorland scattering the south and eastern edges of the unnamed hill immediately west of Talmine.  They can be pretty difficult to see when buried in heather, but they’re there!  When Sarah Maclean took us up to see them, three in particular stood out: seemingly along a deliberate line, perhaps parallel with either an old trackway or old walling on the south slope of the hill.

Central cairn in line of 3 (photo by Sarah Maclean)

Central cairn hollowed out (photo by Sarah Maclean)

The main three that we visited were pretty easy to locate, with many loose stones comprising the respective piles, standing about 3 feet high and some 3-4 yards across.  One of them (left) had been dug into, leaving a deep hollow in its centre, leaving it more exposed and visible than the others. There are other cairns on the slopes to the east, but none seemed to be as well-defined as the three here described.

In the same area are also a number of hut circles, much overgrown but still visible amongst the heather.

References:

  1. Welsh, T.C., ‘Manse Bridge – Small Cairns, Hut Circles’, in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1973.

Acknowledgements:  Huge thanks to Donna Murray of Borgie for putting me up (or should that be, putting up with me?!) and equally massive thanks to Sarah Maclean—also of Borgie—for guiding me up here and allowing us use of her photos to illustrate this site profile.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  58.525451, -4.442844 Manse Bridge cairns

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

West Strathan Carving, Melness, Sutherland

 

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  58.540984, -4.468238 West Strathan Carving

Cup-and-Ring Stone: OS Grid Reference – NC 56428 64084  –  NEW FIND

Getting Here

West Strathan Petroglyph

Along the A836 road between Durness and Tongue, take the minor road north to Melness. Keeping to the right all the way along, drive almost to the very end, shortly before which is a double right-hand bend uphill. Park here and walk back along the road, north, past the cottage of Dun Bhuidhe for about 100 yards until you see the large sloping rock face with the telegraph post sticking out of it. That’s the place!

Archaeology & History

Not previously recorded, this cup-and-ring stone is right by the roadside up the far, lonely but beautiful glen west of Melness, which runs to a dead-end and into the heart of the silent moors high up in Sutherland’s remote landscape — and it’s a damn good one!  It’s also the most northern example known of a Neolithic or Bronze Age petroglyph on the British mainland.   The carving has been etched onto a large easterly sloping rock, fractured into several sections, with the decayed broch of Dun Bhuidhe rising to its immediate southwest. The setting alone is outstanding!

Sketch of the carving
3 cups on the lower-east side

It was rediscovered on 25 August, 2015, after Prof Hornby and I had analysed the chambered tomb south of Dalvaid about half-a-mile away. In walking back to explore the aforementioned broch, I cut across the bottom of a nearby rock and found three distinct cup-markings etched near the bottom of its sloping face. Calling out to Prof Hornby, he retreated in his direction to the broch and came back to look at the top of this very large rock surface.

“There are some more cups on this section of the stone!” he called – and began to count them. “At least ten in this little section,” he said. There were indeed!

Carving, looking west

Carving, looking west

Carving, looking south

Carving, looking south

By the time we’d finished counting, drawing and assessing the design etched onto the rock surface, amongst at least two cup-and-ring elements we found at least 67 cup-markings, mainly carved onto the northwest portion of the stone. The first three that I’d seen were on the much lower eastern part and were etched in deliberate isolation from the primary design.  However, of these three isolated cups, it looks as if one of them may have a spiral element curving out of it. This needs assessing in much better lighting conditions, because when we found it the skies were very grey and overcast, making an accurate survey very difficult (cup-marks on rocks can be hard to see unless daylight conditions are just right) – and, after a short while, the legendary Scottish midges appeared and began to feast on us, which stopped us in our work. The little buggers!

On a subsequent visit here with Sarah MacLean of Borgie in the summer of 2018, she found several more cup-marks beneath the lower arc shown in the above drawing (which I need to update, obviously).

Central features of the carving

Central features of the carving

Scatter of central cups

Scatter of central cups

The most notable feature to this carving is the arrangement of the great majority of the cup markings. They were quite deliberately carved along the very top of the stone, close to its edge, in two contiguous lines of nine with a small gap separating them. At the northwestern end of this, a very notable feature occurs: a natural crack in the rock runs down the stone and, almost all the way down, we find a line of cups have been pecked onto the stone along the natural crack, with some of them near the top that are unfinished. These cup-marks are more elongated in form than the usual circular status; but this is due to them being etched into the cleft itself. From top to bottom there are 13 such cups. At the bottom of this line, another linear stretch of cups change direction and move back onto the main rock surface, just above another large long natural crack cutting across the rock.  This gentle arc of cups (with two other possible cups beneath these) ends at a cup-and-ring, above which are two extra cups next to each other. Above these are a number of other cups of roughly similar size and depth, with a notably large one that gives the impression that the smaller cups around its edges are satellites to its larger parent body.

Line of cups on western edge

Line of cups on western edge

Row of cups etched into natural crack

Row of cups etched into natural crack

Without any doubt there are other faint features that have been carved onto the stone, but due to the poor visibility factor at the time of its discovery we could not see anything other than the elements highlighted in the rough sketch.  In looking through the many photos we took of this carving, there seem to be other faint lines, rings and cups within the overall design, but until we revisit the site (or someone else does!) such further features cannot be added to the drawing.

As the images of this petroglyph clearly shows, the primary feature defining it is the extensive line of continuous cup-markings running along the edges and enclosing a smaller number of internal cups. It’s an unusual element. Sequential line features such as these, defined by cups, are not common. My impression of this feature is that it was a pictorial representation of the horizons, inside which is played the story of….. something… But horizons they seem. Of course, this is a simplistic interpretation and is open to criticisms of any form. I care not!  Much more importantly as far as I’m concerned is the fact that we’ve uncovered yet another unrecorded carving – and according to the official records, no such carvings exist here; but where one such carving exists, others are close by!

Watch this space…..

Acknowledgements: Considerable thanks must be given to Prof Paul Hornby, for use of his photos and without whose help this carving might never have been located. Cheers dood!

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian