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


Chambered Cairn


Even with 1:25k map clasped in my perspiring palm, compass bearing duly set .... this excellent chambered long cairn proved a real bugger to get to. However - if such an assumption can be based upon the presence of several 'walking man' directional posts and a picnic table placed more-or-less adjacent to the monument - it wasn't always thus. Indeed, guess it must've been a mere stroll in the woods once upon a time. Ah, trees; herein lies the fundamental problem when it comes to route finding... to paraphrase Dylan somewhat, time's constantly a'changing beneath the dark coniferous mantle of Scotland's forestry plantations.

For identification purposes the chambered cairn assumes the name of a ruined (or so it appeared in passing) dwelling beside a small loch about a click to the south-west; although to be honest it could also have appropriated that of 'Black Loch' a similar distance to the north-west. For what it's worth I prefer the latter title. Anyway, a few miles after leaving Campbeltown heading (east then) north upon the B842 coastal road the farmhouse of Low Smerby is passed (on the right), that is about a mile short of Peninver. Shortly afterward I park up at the entrance to the long access drive of High Smerby upon my left. The arrangement is not ideal, but in my opinion not a problem.

So... advancing along the track, a diversion to the left conveniently bypassing the farm, I enter the forestry and, upon encountering the Smerby Burn, the root source of the nomenclature of numerous local farms suddenly becomes all too apparent. As, incidentally, is the presence of numerous gentlemen engaged in what a rather alarmist sign - think Arnie Schwarzenegger doing the 'talk to the hand' scene in Terminator 2 - terms 'forestry operations'. I decide to force the issue and finding myself completely ignored (what's new?) carry on my way. Beyond a small quarry the track veers uphill to the right, climbing above the aforementioned Greenland ruin and its water feature before forking to the right in approx a further half mile. The monument stands a similar distance to the east. Seems simple enough? Needless to say it's not, primarily since it is difficult to see the continuation of the route through the wood for the fallen trees.

Nearing the track's terminus a grassy path veers to the right, one of the aforementioned directional posts suggesting I'm (finally) nearly there.... only for a further, seemingly impenetrable mass of twisted timber to bar the way. Furthermore, as I try to outflank my wooden nemesis I find myself in real danger of losing my bearings completely unless I retrace my steps best as I can and regroup. Although, to be fair, regrouping with myself is not that onerous an undertaking. Reckoning that I've more-or-less fixed my location once more I set about slipping and sliding up and down various muddy inclines in torrential rain until the proverbial 'one last look' highlights an improbable picnic table - of all things - set at the edge of a clearing. A hint of stone protrudes from a nearby mound and... sure enough... there it is. Finally. What took us so long to find each other?

Now the miscellaneous post gives the technical info... however the long cairn is so overgrown, wondrously so in terms of vibe, that most of the detail is superfluous this afternoon. Suffice to say that the monument appears to recall that of the excellent, not too distant Blasthill with an axial chamber - albeit a far better one with cap stone eased to one side - and lateral chamber opening upon the western flank. Hey, there's even tentative evidence for a fa├žade at the northern end. Which brings us to the primary difference betwixt the two long cairns... orientation, Greenland being aligned approx north/south to Blasthill's east/west. Hmm. Unfortunately forestry clearings are not condusive to sussing out possible reasons for alignments. As noted, however, they can furnish a site with a superlative atmosphere, one such given a nitrous-oxide boost today by fast moving weather fronts of ridiculously violent intensity. Not so much 'changeable' as 'buckle up for a rollercoaster ride'.

As I sit and drink my coffee steam rises from the cairn following one full on assault, the rain front motoring away toward the coast as the sun takes its turn to flood the clearing with golden light, as opposed to precipitation. It is a surreal experience, but, for me, sums up the appeal of this site. A couple of miles - that's all - from the road... but the walker's signpost might as well have been pointing to the heavens and stated 'to the moon'.
11th August 2015ce
Edited 22nd August 2015ce

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