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

Carn Liath, Kilmuir

Chambered Cairn


By my reckoning this is the most northerly of the twelve - or so I understand - chambered cairns to grace the Isle of Skye... although, to be fair, the margin between the Carn Liath and Cadha Riach upon the eastern coast is pretty minimal. Indeed, a statistic of perhaps far greater interest is that this is the last of the celebrated dozen to feature upon TMA. Another mini-milestone upon the Cope-inspired quest for megalithic enlightenment? Whatever, my assumption is there's not a lot left? Well, there's only one way to find out... assuming the traveller doesn't possess a laptop or dodgy smart phone and didn't do any Canmore-based homework before leaving Essex? Time to put on the boots, then. Do this exploring the old fashioned way....

The A855 climbs steeply away from the ferry terminal of Uig heading northward along the western coastline of Trotternish. Passing an (official) viewpoint - from where there is an intriguing (and duly noted) sight of Dun Skudiburgh perched above the water - the road then bypasses the small hamlet of Totscore to seaward before reaching the similarly sized Linicro. Here the map depicts a 'surfaced' road accessing a small group of dwellings at Monkstadt, that is due west, upon the crest of the coastal ridge. OK, I admit lethargy raises its arm, in the manner of a primary school child requesting leave to take a wee, but, for the sake of my car's nether regions, I resist the easy option and set off on foot. In retrospect the road is 'driveable', although the options to park at the other end debatable. Sometimes you've just gotta walk, you know?

At Monkstadt the road veers to the approx north-west, becoming a concrete track for a short distance before giving up the ghost and leaving me to my own devices, striding across a grassy ridge with the sea to my left. In short order several rocky outcrops suggest - to me at least - what might have been interpreted as trashed chambered cairns in another context. Well, sort of. However I'm having none of it and press onward. Sure enough after about a further half mile a massive dry stone wall impedes progress. As I draw nearer a large block of stone can be seen lying against its near face upon the highest point of the ridge. A displaced cap stone? You know, I think it most probably is?

The supposition is given further credence by what lies behind the wall.... the disturbed, yet still massive remains of a major cairn, by the looks of it, chambered. Audrey Henshall [1972] reckoned Carn Liath is of Hebridean type - as you might perhaps expect? - rising to a height of 14' and "probably measured about 60' N-S along the axis of the chamber by 80' transversely expanding to 90' at the N end." Clearly I can't confirm those dimensions are current, but suffice to say they seem about right. He says. The monument is certainly very substantial and, furthermore, features an incomplete peristalith. Miss Henshall believed the chamber was entered from the SSE which I guess would account for the position of the assumed capstone beyond the wall. Last but not least the chambered cairn is accorded further complexity by the encroachment of a settlement upon its northern arc... judging by the differing styles of building footprint to be found here (round house, rectangular, er, house) my assumption is this is a multi-phase settlement? Hey, maybe the round houses were contemporary, or near contemporary with the monument? Or not, as the case may be.

So, the archaeology is excellent... but matched with ease by the coastal location, the site sandwiched between the sea and the green heights of the Trotternish Ridge to the east.... a curiously 'upland' terrain, despite being not that far above ordnance datum. Yeah in my opinion Skye is not pretty, a little bleak, even? Yet nonetheless I reckon it forms a beautiful, beguiling landscape demanding regular emotional updates from whatever it is that we call 'the soul'. Anyway, as I sit and 'do lunch' my attention is drawn to the far north-western point of the ridge, approx a mile distant. The map reckons this is Cairidh nan Ob featuring, significantly, a dun Dun Liath a little to its right.

Hey, two miles sounds a lot when you're already knackered. But sometimes you've just gotta walk.
31st August 2015ce
Edited 31st August 2015ce

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