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


Chambered Cairn


The Forest of Borgie is not perhaps the best place in Scotland for an exhausted antiquarian to spend the night, its dark, 'moist' interior seemingly offering the optimum breeding environment for that most annoying of Highland creatures.... the fisherman. Why they can't keep themselves to themselves I simply do not know. Having said that the trees also provide pretty ideal conditions for midges, too, although the driving rain which greets me at dawn at least mitigates against their adverse impact somewhat. Scanning the map I decide to head toward Bettyhill upon the A836 to check out some cairns I've circled - well, highlighted with a rather poor scrawl of indecorous form - on the map a little east of the village. Might be of interest..... er, perhaps.

Now visitors new to the area might well wish to make a diversion to see some of the excellent monuments of Strath Naver (e.g Skelpick and Coille na Borgie). I, however, park a short distance beyond the Farr road (the Swordly turning is too far) and walk up the obvious track to the North east. Although the weather conditions are absolutely shocking my initial displeasure is short lived, soon rendered more-or-less irrelevant by the realisation that here, at Fiscary, we have another of the northern coast's prehistoric gems just sitting upon the hill side above the road as naturally as you like. As if it has always done so.... which, from our modern perspective, is not that far from the truth, when you think about it?

The first of the trio of cairns I have the distinct pleasure of encountering [NC73226248] is a massive example of the round genre, according to RCAHMS "27m in diameter and 3.5m high, which has been disturbed but does not appear to have been excavated". An unusual feature - in my experience possibly unique - is the presence of a retaining, circular wall of rubble defining the base of the cairn in lieu of a kerb, this, by all accounts, an original feature. A large flat stone "1.6m by 0.7m" lying upon the monument's south-western nether regions is perhaps suggestive of a chamber subsumed within. It certainly doesn't appear to be field clearance, so I reckon this is a pretty good bet. All in all a very impressive monument, then. But wait, there's more....

Looming above through swirling mist to the approx NNW stand another two large cairns. Again, however, there is an unexpected twist to proceedings... the full-on Chubby Checker experience with The Fat Boys thrown in for good measure, in fact. Something I simply wouldn't have expected. I mean, I'd never heard of this little, craggy coastal hill top before, so it just goes to show what is literally lying around the Scottish landscape. Yeah, as I reach the summit it is soon apparent that the pair of cairns are connected by a 'platform of stones', the uniform, consolidated nature of which prompted Audrey Henshall (1972) to surmise that here we might well have a 'waisted long cairn of two distinct periods'... as at the infinitely more famous Camster. Blimey! The first cairn [NC73116260] is another massive round stone pile, once again apparently intact and '20.0m in diameter and 2.7m high.' A little way beyond [at NC73106263] - and linked by that umbilical platform - is an Orkney-Cromarty chambered cairn with a 'Camster type tripartite chamber.. 16.0m in diameter and 1.5m high' (Henshall 1963), this still defined by the remains of a number of internal orthostats. Double blimey! Hey, perhaps if it hadn't been excavated by Kerr in 1891 it would also be more-or-less intact. Perhaps.

The hilltop possesses a fine view across Farr Bay and the coast, in better weather (not that difficult a concept to grasp today, to be fair) no doubt proving to be an idyllic spot for a picnic. As it is I receive a full-on, merciless pounding from the inclement conditions, low cloud advancing menacingly across the mountains rising to landward and bringing yet further driving rain. But, regardless, how great is it that such an intriguingly unusual prehistoric complex can survive in such a substantial state of preservation upon the tourist trail? A rhetorical question for a Citizen Cairn'd, naturally.
6th January 2015ce
Edited 6th January 2015ce

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