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

Kinbrace Hill

Chambered Cairn


Ha! What new sorcery is this? Surely even a myopic Citizen Cairn'd such as I couldn't have 'overlooked' monuments of this magnitude during my previous visits to the Strath of Kildonan, lamentably few though those have been. Surely not? Luckily, not least for the preservation of any lingering notion of personal sanity there is a pretty straightforward reason for the oversight, this given immediate credence by the carnage of devastated timber covering the hillside. Yeah, concealing something in plain sight would be a pretty Machiavellian concept if premeditated; needless to say conspiracy theorists need not linger. Forestry comes and goes in these parts.

Moving on from the arresting Creag Nan Caorach - itself a sequel to the excellent Carn Richard - it becomes apparent that there are simply an overwhelming number of sites lining the flanks of this valley. A linear progression requiring at least 48 hours. Clearly my itinerary is (once again) shot to pieces and I will have to stay another day. Hey, shame it's not Christmas since that reminds me of a certain song. With bells on. Anyway... suddenly a massive circular stone pile looms above the road to my left. I check the map - in confusion since I should not be able to see the cairn for the trees - and, to be honest, don't know where I am. Whatever. It's not as if it's the first time....

The cairn (NC86882935) appears circular, of impressive stature and apparently 'unopened'. It is almost certainly chambered, two uprights upon the approx south-eastern arc surely representing the entrance to a passage, albeit one now inaccessible? Audrey Henshall [1963] reckoned the monument measures "87ft E-W by 83ft, and the height at least 9ft". What a fine, unexpected way to end the day. But wait, there's more. Much more. And it's even more special.... iconic, even.

A further mass of grey stone visible crowning the rise of the hillside to the approx south-east sees me stumbling, with great difficulty - and I have to say many expletives - across the chaotic residual detritus of those forestry operations in order to take a look. It is worth the effort (a bit of an understatement, that), the apparently damaged profile revealed to be formed of two distinct, very large cairns as I draw near. That to the north-east is the higher of the two and (apparently) the earlier, by all accounts seemingly another, even more massive round cairn. However the sheer scale ensures first appearances are most certainly deceptive for (once again according to Audrey Henshall) it is actually "almost square with rounded corners and rises steeply to a height of 14ft.... about 100ft along its main axis". Furthermore it possesses "a low horn projecting about 7ft on the north". OK.... not your standard cairn, then? Very idiosyncratic indeed. Its companion, set immediately to the south-west, is similarly unusual. Somewhat lower at "10ft high" its horizontal dimensions (at least in 1963) are "102ft long, 62ft wide at the SW end and 36ft wide at the NE end". Make of that what you will?

Blimey. So what the hell was all this about, then? Just what was going on in the minds of those people who toiled to erect these monuments millennia ago? Was this a long cairn subsequently 'decapitated' by separating the north-eastern head from the body. Or were these two cairns always set apart, albeit associated. A prototype for the genre of monument that would, by combining the two, eventually become the 'long cairn'? Perhaps Kinbrace Hill's outstanding monuments are analogic of Caithness's celebrated Grey Cairns of Camster? Only far, far more obscure, at least nowadays? The mind boggles to find such extraordinary stone piles still standing here, apparently intact. Truly, it does.

I return to the chambered cairn near the A897. All is quiet.... there is no traffic... and watch the light slowly fade to dusk following a last brilliant sunburst, the final hurrah of a previously subdued sun now illuminating the landscape with a golden glow. A metaphorical brass fanfare to what I've just witnessed, perhaps? Marvellous. Now for somewhere to sleep.
4th July 2015ce
Edited 5th July 2015ce

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