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

Long Cairn

Long Cairn


Wanting a photo of a cliff on Shap at the junction before Work farm I took the LH turn towards the waterworks. The beach you see between here and the start of the Carness headland is the result of man's works. Earl George of Caithness in 1614 made first landing at Carness in the campaign against our Earl Patrick. Until modern times all cattle headed for the Scottish mainland were ferried from Carness past Shapinsay, but the ferry point is unknown AFAIK.

At the turn-off for Water Board property the wartime road continues up to the headland. You need to go through two fieldgates, the first of which is chained against vehicles, then along the north coastline keeping to the coast edge. It wasn't truly damp - there are numerous small drainage deltas, however they all have a smattering of what amount to stepping stones.

As you come to The Castle geo (not quite a rock stack yet) you see Long Cairn across the moss to your right. The long horned cairn [Yarrows type] is 47m long by 12-17m wide, on which is a 15-17m oval mound (Davidson and Henshall report that the ruined chamber was dug before 1928, in which case when RCAMS in 1946 give the mound's height as 11'9" this must have been prior to that as later authorities give a total height of 2-2.1m and the RCAMS Inventory side elevation shows nothing above this chamber) an Orkney-Cromarty cairn. It is generally accepted with a site such as this that the chambered cairn was completed long before its incorporation by the horned cairn. This site, the Helliar Holm cairn (above the lighthouse to the north of here), and that at Haco's Ness (on Shapinsay away to the east as you look there), are all intervisible - from which some intended guardianship of Shapinsay Sound has been inferred.

Along the higher ground on this northern side of the headland as well as the various purple orchids I was delighted to see Grass of Parnassus. What most struck me, though, was a darker form of eyebright mingling with the usual form - it appeared that they both grew on the same plant, the same coloured throat but violet instead of white elsewhere on the flower. I expected The Castle, a geological feature, to be difficult to recognise. Plain as a pikestaff really, a future stack with a short modern cairn (possibly hollow) of brown stones on top. I could have climbed down up the narrow neck... coming back might have been trickier. In the neck's 'valley' there is an angled wall, of the same material and equally modern looking, at the eastern side. Beside this what resembles a solid cartwheel is apparently covering a well or something. The other side of the wall a large slump of water-worn rocks goes to the rocky beach far below (only after seein a picture I took have I seen steps on the southern side of the wall that go down to this [or I would have myself !]). By the cifftop the other end of the narrow beach is a bank of soil where the earth has been scraped up fairly recently.

After passing The Castle I crossed over mushy ground to the long cairn, soft-going but I did avoid damper patches. On this side of the mound I could see middling-size stones, presumably from the small late structures referred to by Davidson & Henshall others perhaps connected with the reported rectangular hollow (west of the chambered mound) they also believe prehistoric but not original. In my initial approach from The Castle circling clockwise the south horn of the western hornworks was very visible as a long broad grassy strip with a rounded top, looking like a pseudopod or starfish arm.

Coming to the western end the inside of the eastern hornworks my first impression was a sharper, less obtuse angle than shown on plan. I wonder if they have eroded back where these 'end' as this appeared higher than the reported height to me (however the O.S. earlier did report this end of the mound as of greater height).

Up on the mound not much more than a step from the back of the hornworks I found a feature [my A] surely not previously noted, as D&H state that turf covers all except the high mound. It takes the form of an oval, 4.8m wide by 3.8m front to back, on which lie many slabs. These are in a slight depression but as I looked back from its eastern edge a very low bank was visible. Perhaps it is a chamber of the later long cairn, but if instead this is from a second original mound it would help explain why the later cairn has appeared too long hitherto (the Roseness cairn also has an apparent satellite, even lower than this).

Next along I saw a slab projecting a little, distinct from the glimpsed 'wall-faces', then further on again the base of the main mound. The latter is about 12m across. Continuing to the back there is a 0.68 long angle topped slab projecting 0.3m , and a little distance on at the high point a hollow [my B1] filled with stones and slabs that is is 3.1m wide. At 1.4m from the western edge by the back end of the hollow (2.1m front to back in D&H) is 0.6m of an orthostat 1.1m wide was plain to see - I think this is in D&H as 1.5 by 0.65, wary of getting too closeI may have missed a bit. It is unfortunate that though the RCAMS Inventory shows this chamber on side elevation it is not indicated on the plan view, because half-a-metre to the right of B1 is another slab- & stone-filled circular hollow [my B2]. This is 1.7m across and fractionally lower on the hill (there are orthostats in B1 whose level is given as 0.65m below that of the rear slab). A second stall or possibly another chamber I would imagine (I suppose it might be that the turf between the two is simply the result of archaeological methodology). Then, just behind this, the other side of an imaginary line from B1's largest orthostat is a depression [my B3] 2.3m wide and 2.2-2.6m from front to back. Despite there being not much stonework poking through B3 I would hazard that this represents a robbed stall/chamber (hence its apparently more downslope position) resulting from digging prior to the 1920's period in which B1 is likely to have been excavated.

At the eastern end of the long cairn the S horn survives over twice the height of its NE counterpart making the latter less eviden on first viewing. At the moment the forecourt is very clearly defined by a singular display of a bed of reeds. Full distances and dimensions, as far as I could measure on my own, are givn under miscellaneous.

Though the ground about the site is mostly damp and springy this is boggiest on the southern side where it slopes down to the cliffs. I tried to get back this way but it was way 'boggy'. When I kept to the drier portions this brought me to a 'mound' which is presumably the western end of the ridge, and less than a metre in front of this a bank or dyke, both apparently composed of earth with a few stones. The latter is rather bulky and would seem to emphasise control over the approach to the cairns, as along most of the Head of Work what some call rough pasture most would think of as approaching shallow bog (Roseness is similar though heathery). This must be the route Moth and Jane took through Work farm, once site of a broch and perhaps a souterrain.

After heading down across to the cliffs I went along the clifftop under the watchful eyes of two seals, but came to stop where the drystane fieldwall reaches the cliff. At this spot there's a girt big pile of slabs 3-5' long and maybe 4-6" thick, like a fallen stack of dominoes. Followed the wall back up to a gate, but with the field having kie in it I left well alone. This would seem to be the normal route to the headland. Further up another gate had a sloped top 'standing stone' over five feet tall as one of the gateposts. Then I was back at the military road again.
wideford Posted by wideford
26th July 2007ce
Edited 26th July 2007ce

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