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

Gualachulain, Loch Etive

Round Cairn


This should be a beauty. Standing at the head of Loch Etive, almost at the terminus of the sinuous road traversing the length of Glen Etive, surely one of Scotland's premier glens? Sadly, it's not... the anticipation that had been steadily building during the long drive from the A82 to the north-east dissipating in something not unlike a damp squib upon arrival. A fanfare with brass instruments dunked, bell first, into the cold waters of the loch.

OK, in my opinion the natural scenery can not be faulted. At least not the towering, mountainous skyline of Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn Mhor rearing up beyond the loch's northern extremity... however the cairn - or more accurately, perhaps, what remains of the monument - suffers greatly from lying within devastated terrain that is so characteristic, archetypal even, of harvested forestry. Even worse is the sundry refuse and jagged detritus scattered around the site, this presumably originating from the occupants of nearby Gualachulain, assuming the blackened footprint of a fire scorched into the tortured soil immediately adjacent to the cairn is indicative? If so, the sheer lack of awareness of heritage - the sheer lack of any class - is contemptible.

Furthermore loch side is a busy place to be this morning, what with numerous, almost comically stereotypical motorbikers - German, I think - noisily breaking camp... not to mention many other visitors crowding the car park. Clearly the vibe is keeping well away and consequently this is not a place to linger today. Nevertheless the ancient cairn can still - thankfully and not a little surprisingly - be discerned, albeit with the dimensions of "7.7 metres in diameter and...1.6 metres high" cited by the RCAHMS (following a 1971 visit) appearing to bear no relation to the current position. Well, certainly not in respect of height. The horizontal plane is perhaps open to debate owing to the disturbed nature of the environs.

So... is it worth the effort of the long diversion away from the tourist route... only to find a myriad tourists where you expected none? Thankfully the answer is actually a resounding 'Yes!' Yeah, I know. I was surprised, too. To clarify the apparent contradiction, not only is Glen Etive's rugged scenery superlative... so is the superb, apparently intact round cairn a little north at Invercharnan. Chalk to the Gualachulain monument's cheese.

Or to put it another way... what most certainly is the real deal can be found there. As opposed to what might have been, here at Gualachulain. What might have been, eh? Better than nothing at all.
27th August 2015ce
Edited 28th August 2015ce

Comments (4)

Thanks for this Mr G. I drove part-way down this road a couple of years ago and, as you say, the scenery is jaw-dropping. This is where they filmed the 'Scottish scene' in Skyfall - the James Bond film. I plan to follow the road all the way to the loch next time I am in the area. I will, of course, check out the cairns whilst I am there. Posted by CARL
28th August 2015ce
I've camped in the upper part of the glen numerous times but never ventured to the loch before. It is rather long! Expect notes next year, then? Poor you. Glen Etive? What a drag... GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
28th August 2015ce
I have been to worse places! :) Posted by CARL
30th August 2015ce
Glen Etive is a very popular place in Scotland. The various Biker communities across Europe particulaly appreciate the area. Indeed there is some specialist accomodation tailored to their biking needs (I am thinking of one just South of Oban). The entire A82, A85 and their lovely coastal link the A828 are like the TT or the NorthWest 200 in Summer. Howburn Digger Posted by Howburn Digger
30th August 2015ce
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