In the middle of the 19th century the opening to a prehistoric souterrain used to be in evidence on the north-side of the single track road running past old Skerray Mains house. It was mentioned in Hew Morrison’s (1883) historical guide, albeit briefly and without ambiguity:
“Below the house of Skerra Mains is an artificial cave that enters from below the road and extends 40 or 50 yards in length. Two urns were found it when it was discovered but they soon crumbled away on being exposed to the air.”
More than thirty years later, the Royal Commission (1911) lads ventured to check it out, only to find that it had just recently been covered up:
“At the farm of Skerray Mains is an earth-house, the mouth or entrance to which was recently exposed by the farmer. It is situated about 15 feet distant from the northeast window of the dwelling-house, and is now entirely covered over again.”
Of the old locals I met here, only one of them remembers hearing of it, but the precise location of its entrance had been forgotten. Surely it aint gonna be toooo difficult to find it again?
Difficult to reach, this large protruding rock on the west side of Thorrisdail Hill, was known as the Thorrisdail Stone in the old boundary records. It’s a bittova giveaway when you find it, as its name is inscribed on the lower face of the stone – etched a century or two ago by the look of it.
It’s a difficult rock to climb upon if you aren’t used to such things – and you need to do this if you want to see the cupmarks; although they’re hardly worth seeing unless you’re a petroglyph freak! If you go to the trouble so see them, make sure to squat down carefully, being even more careful not to fall off (you’re screwed if y’ do). Once in position, you’ll see between three and five very faint shallow cups etched onto its flat surface. You can just make one of them out in the photo here. The more impressive thing to see here is the small standing stone that seems to artificially crown the top of the rounded hill to which the Thorrisdail Stone is attached.
Acknowledgements: Huge thanks to Sarah MacLean for her company and landscape knowledge in visiting this and other nearby antiquarian remains. And to Aisha Domleo, for getting me into this neck o’ the woods.
There’s no simple way to reach here – but the landscape alone makes the journey worthwhile. Roughly halfway along the A836 between Bettyhill and Tongue, take the minor road up to Borgie, past the recently revamped Borgie Hotel for half-a-mile (0.8 km) where, on your left, is Deepburn Cottage. On the other side of the road, on your left, go through the gate and follow the path uphill. It curves up and to the right where you hit some overgrown walling. Walk up and along this wall for nearly half-a-mile (it’ll feel like twice that!) and as you approach the crystal blue waters of Lochan a’ Chaorruin, veer right and start walking up the small Torrisdale Burn. Less than 200 yards along, you’ll see the large isolated rock on your left.
Archaeology & History
Previously unrecorded, this large boulder sitting above the edge of Torrisdale Burn was rediscovered by Sarah MacLean—hence its name—and has between five and nine cup-marks etched, primarily, on the topmost ridge of the rock. Its eastern steep-sloping face also has a cup-mark near the middle top-half of the stone. Apart from three of them (visible in the photos), the other cups aren’t very distinct and unless the lighting is right, you won’t see much here. This one is probably gonna be of little interest unless you’re a real hardcore petroglyph freak.
Further up this tiny winding glen we reach the faint cup-marked Thorrisdail Stone and a little further on is the impressive ritual site of Allt Thorrisdail.
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 between Tongue and Bettyhill, turning down at Borgie Bridge for 1.8 miles (2.87km) until you reach the little information sign at the roadside. Walk downhill and cross the little bridge and wander onto the west side of the beach. You’re likely to end up daydreaming… so once you’ve re-focussed, head into the middle of the beach and walk up the steep-ish sand-banks to your right (south). Once at the top, you’ll see a gigantic rock—the Ringstone—bigger than a house. Walk up the hill above this until your reach the rocky plateau where things roughly level out. Look around!
Archaeology & History
This previously unrecognised carving on the edge of the rocky promontory that drops down to the stunning Torrisdale Bay—above the gigantic and legendary Ringstone boulder—is very much like the curious ‘C’-shaped motif on the Fyfield Down petroglyph, a couple of miles east of Avebury, literally 499 miles (803km) to the south. Indeed, that’s all I kept thinking about when I found it!
The carving’s nowt special—apart from the fact that it’s seemingly isolated and has no apparent companions nearby. It’s an incomplete circle, perhaps more like a bell-shape than a circle, about six inches across and seems to have no inner cup-mark. Its general appearance on the rock surface seems to indicate it was carved by a metal tool, instead of being ‘pecked’—but it’s still very old. Initially, I wondered whether it was an ichnological fossil or stromatolite—but it isn’t.
(Note that the OS-grid-ref is just a 6-figure one. I was ambling about and didn’t make an exact note of the place, but it won’t take much finding on the rocky levels above the giant Ringstone if you zigzag about. Apologies for the poor photos too, but She was cloudy most of the day.)
Acknowledgments: Huge thanks to Donna Murray, for putting me up in this part of Paradise. Cheers Donna.