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


Chambered Cairn


Visited 12th May 2014

This was the highlight for me of our visits to Shetland ‘old stones’. After seeing some pictures of it in Charles Tait’s Shetland Guidebook (an excellent guide by the way, we found it indispensable on our trip) and reading that it was one of the best preserved examples of a heel shaped cairn on Mainland it was a place I really wanted to visit.

Our first attempt was two days ago, under grey clad skies, spitting rain, and the kind of incessant biting cold wind you only get at 60? north. We walked to Mavis Grind and looked around the headland to see if we could spot the cairn. It didn’t look far on the map but knowing from bitter experience that this can be deceiving, and lacking any visual point of reference we soon have to retreat to the car to thaw out.

What a difference a couple of days make though, today you couldn’t ask for better weather, the sun feels positively warm, and although a constant wind still blows it is light and lacking in any bite, so a return to Northmavine is on the agenda.

Parking at the large layby right next to Mavis Grind the deep azure of the North Sea and Atlantic, flank us to either side. I thought to bring the binoculars today, and standing next the remains of the dragons teeth tank traps left over from the war at the head of Minn bay I scan the headland, and spot the cairn.

We set off around the coast, at first the going is steep as you have to first climb and then descend the high headland, but as we came down the other side with the cairn in view and the sun sparkling on the beautiful waters of the bay I can’t think of a finer place to go for a walk.
A path is visible, with the occasional stile over a fence, and we encounter a sheep, which looks as if it has just given birth, its lamb still tottering on unsteady legs and being licked clean by its mother. Trying not to disturb the pair we detour slightly around, the cairn now tantalisingly close.

When we reach it I’m taken aback. Although a small heel shaped cairn its frontage remains, nine smallish stones forming a curved forecourt, which opens into a short entrance passage and chamber. The siting of the monument is exquisite, overlooking the Atlantic side of Mavis Grind and sheltered in its own bay you couldn’t wish for a nicer view to look out at over eternity.

I sit in the cairn, which turns out to be a right little suntrap, and completely sheltered, possibly one of the cosiest little cairns I’ve ever seen. Movement by the rocks next to the water below suggests the presence of otters, but today they are hiding from us. We find a bone talon amongst some rocks near the shore, and it leads me to wondering whether there was any similarity between burial rights and customs seen here with those such as at the Tomb of the Eagles on Orkney? I resolve to look up any information on excavations or finds made here to see what current theories are.

The chambered cairns and tombs found on Shetland tend to be much smaller and less complex than their Orcadian contemporaries, the forecourting and shape seemingly sharing more similarities with monuments found in Caithness, but something in the siting of these places, and how they fit in the landscape seems to resonate with the Orcadian monuments, perhaps because they are both island communities?

We spend quite some time here, and don’t see another living soul, it’s only a one mile walk from the car, although certainly steep in places, it only took us about twenty minutes, and yet we could be in the middle of nowhere. This is one of the nicest places I’ve ever been, perfect natural beauty and peace, combined with the fine remains of a lovely little chambered cairn. The only sounds are the calls of birds and the lap of the sea as it enters the bay via a narrow passage, and these are the perfect accompaniment to the absolute feelings of peace and restfulness you can experience here.

We leave Shetland today to return back to Orkney, and this has been a magical way to end our trip, if you ever make it this far north come here and see one of Shetlands lesser known megalithic gems.
Ravenfeather Posted by Ravenfeather
1st June 2014ce

Comments (2)

These are great notes and you were certainly blessed with the weather. Could be the Isles of Scilly in your lovely pictures. thesweetcheat Posted by thesweetcheat
1st June 2014ce
Great photos/notes Ravenfeather.
When I get the chance to go back to Shetland (I simply must one day) this is a site I will definitely visit. Mavis Grind is a wonderful place. I didn't ralise that this was 'just around the corner'. Thanks for the information. I loved my visit to Shetland.
Posted by CARL
2nd June 2014ce
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