The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

The Cairnhead, Hunda



Visited 7th May 2014

Hunda is a small uninhabited island attached to the larger isle of Burray by a causeway. As well as being a great place to see birds, seals and apparently one of the best spots on Orkney for otter spotting, it also sports the remains of a hulking great cairn.

The weather today is as good a day as you could wish for, lovely blue skies, some genuine warmth to the sun, and the warm zephyr like breeze is most un-Orcadian. So after a nice lunch at the café of the Burray Rock & Fossil museum a walk was in order, and even better one that takes in a visit to an ancient site. A short drive south past the waters of Echna loch, brings you to a right turn signposted to Littlequoy, and following the lane to its end, near the farm of the same name, gave us a bit of verge on which we could park the car.

The sea sparkled blue below us, and we could see Hunda stretched out across the narrow sound, with the causeway of Hunda reef cutting through the water. A walk down the farm track allows you to access the foreshore without having to walk across the farmyard, and we walked along the pebbly beach to the causeway accompanied by the echoing cries of Oystercatchers.

The causeway is a permanent one, not cut off by tides, so no danger of stranding on a barren island today, although care must be taken on its slightly uneven surface, and I certainly wouldn’t attempt to cross in bad weather, as I’m sure it could be fairly easily overtopped by waves, so as ever on any visit a certain amount of caution is required.

The cairn at Cairnhead is clearly visible on the southern tip of the island as we cross the causeway, two modern cairns at either end of it sticking up like small ears. A clearly trodden path leads all around the coast of Hunda, and we follow it across a small stretch of heathland up to the cairn.

Up close its size is impressive, the top is now heavily denuded of stones, looking as if someone’s taken a giant scoop out of it, but it does uncover what might be the remains of a cist. The two modern cairns at either end delineate the width of the mound, and make it an unmistakable landmark. We sit at the cairn and relax for a while enjoying the lovely views out over Scapa Flow. The blues of sky and sea are almost surreal, and the bright pinprick of light from the Flotta flare at the oil terminal to the west marks the horizon. Due south the cairn of The Wart, atop Hoxa Hill on South Ronaldsay is directly in line, and I wonder if there is any significance in the alignment?

Canmore reckons The Cairnhead may have been a broch, but I just don’t see it myself, I can’t find any features that are vaguely ‘brochlike’, yet a cist chamber is visible? Hmm, well they’re the experts I suppose.

Whatever it may have been (and sometimes the uncertainty just adds to the mystery of the place) this is a lovely spot, made all the better by the solitude. Ellen and I are currently the only human beings on this island, and relaxing here, contemplating, and just watching and listening to the myriad of birds that make this place their home, pervaded by the atmosphere of this ancient place, the magic of Orkney has us captivated once again.
Ravenfeather Posted by Ravenfeather
8th May 2014ce

Comments (2)

Sounds great. Your fieldnotes make me we want to jump in the car and drive north immediately! Nice one Ravenfeather - I envy you ;) Posted by CARL
9th May 2014ce
Was here today, and it was lovely but very windy and wet underfoot. Didn't look much like a broch to me either! Posted by HelenC
30th November 2015ce
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