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

Long Cairn

Long Cairn


Visited 17th May 2015

The earlier rain has blown over now, but the brisk wind remains (well what did I expect, this is Orkney!) Now that the sun’s out I decide on a walk to the Long Cairn from the centre of Kirkwall. Taking the East road out of town you’re soon in the countryside, with the town spread out behind you as you head along the coast towards the Head of Work.

Once past the sewage works and a couple of gates negotiated, a vague path follows the shoreline to avoid the soggy moorland which comprises the rest of the headland. The walk grants superb views of the island of Shapinsay, seemingly only a stone’s throw away across the Sound, and allows me to get a good view of the chambered cairn atop Helliar Holm, the uninhabited island which practically connects to the south of Shapinsay, probably as close as I’ll get to it without a boat!

Skuas wheel around me as I walk along the headland and on arriving at the cairn I’m dive bombed by a tern, which obviously must be nesting nearby. The outline of the Long Cairn looks suitably chunky on the O.S map, and it’s just as substantial in real life. The large mound is visible on the headland from some distance as you approach. Some of the cairn stones are still visible amongst the grassy tumulus, particularly atop the mound where a small dip in the top has been accentuated by the piling up of stones around the depression by someone to create a partial windbreak.

I hunker in the dip to write my fieldnotes and marvel at the site. Another fine promontory location for a monument, and looking out to the west the dark heather clad slopes of Wideford hill draw the eye. The Long Cairn seems to be one in a chain of great burial structures, Wideford and Cuween atop the high ground and the Long Cairn sitting at the edge of the land, perhaps once a large landmark cairn on the coast like Midhowe was on Rousay.

The length of the Long Cairn can still be made out, as can the vestigial remains of the horned enclosure at the front of the cairn. I love the solitude here, so near to Kirkwall but seemingly so remote, one of the places I love to walk to in order to escape the hustle and bustle of Kirkwall when a cruise ship is in harbour!
Ravenfeather Posted by Ravenfeather
4th June 2015ce

Comments (1)

Helliar Holm can be reached walking at some low tides - I was gutted last year to find that the Orkney Science Festival's trip to Shapinsay included one such visit wideford Posted by wideford
4th June 2015ce
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