Back over on Arran and back in the old cottage at Merkland.
Left the OH and the Young Digger knocking balls around Bilsland's Crazy Golf on the front at Brodick. I coaxed Old Piney into fourth gear and trundled out past Cladach and the stinky old harbour below Brodick Castle. Two seals were basking out on the rocks at Merkland Point. Piney reversed into the the layby/ boat ramp almost by herself and even thoughtfully stalled as soon as she was tucked in position.
I'd had a fair old struggle locating this cist until a few years back and I've still never seen any sign of anyone else having visited the place. It is incredibly close to the road and I decided to time myself getting to the cist from closing the car door.
The old Merkland cart track which also serves as a part-time burn was even more overgrown than last year (and the year before). Long trailing Brambles and sprouting Hogweed conspired with ankle deep slimy mud and curtains of Willow to obstruct my progress. But only 2 minutes and 45 seconds after slamming the car door shut and setting out, I was gazing down at the mossy old cist of Merkland Wood. I heard two cyclists on the road chatting as they pedalled by (this site is THAT close to the road).
The moss looked deeper than before, with little seedlings of the Willow and Rhododendron sprouting on the thick, moist green carpet on the capstone. The erosion below the cist (just above the burn) has slightly worsened but the earth and bank immediately around the cist seem fairly well consolidated.
The deep undergrowth does mean a very high midge count even during the hottest and sunniest of days. After a few minutes taking in the quiet of this site I'd fired off enough photos and lost enough blood to the skeeters - I fled and staggered back down through the mud and thorns.
Old Piney grumbled into fourth gear and trundled the couple of miles back into Brodick. Young Digger and his mum were only on the 10th hole. I'd been away for a bit less than 30 minutes - but they weren't your regular minutes I don't think.
It was my OH who picked this summer's Arran holiday cottage deep in the heart of the Merkland Wood. My preliminary researches confirmed my suspicions - the cist I had unsuccessfully sought in previous years lay somewhere within the cottage's grounds. Last July I had spent a frustrating couple of hours getting eaten alive by midges and cut and scratched by bracken and rhododendron as I tried to find the cist said by the antiquarians to be "situated on a small eminence" above a burn and described by the OS to be "poorly preserved".
I parked in the small tarmacked boat ramp and crossed the road to the trackway leading up to 2 cottages at Maol Don. Do not go up this track, instead enter the rhododendron jungle to the left of the cottage track but to the right of the roadside stone wall.
I found a vestigal path which sort of becomes a burn. To the left rises the "small eminence". This "small eminence" turns out to be a thirty foot cliff whose top is swathed in head-high bracken and rampant rhododendron. As I clambered up the steep crumbling bank I found myself gazing into a dark hole surrounded by mossy stones. I knew I was right on the money. Badger activity six feet below this cist has left it in a bit of a precarious position. This cist is not poorly preserved - indeed it is in great nick - and sits jutting out of the sloping bank above the burn just just below the flat top of the "eminence". In previous attempts to find this cist I'd been stumbling around on the eminence's "summit top" among the tick-laden, midge-ridden ferns and shrubs.The landowner's attempts to hack back the invasive rhododendron has left many ankle breakers and stumps which are real trip hazards in the deep undergrowth. But you don't need to go there & if you find yourself up there amongst the bracken you have passed the cist.
The cist is complete, the mossed-over capstone is in place, the four side slabs sit vertical and in position. This cist's dimensions are a bit larger than those described on Canmore, so a part of me wonders if this is the same cist. There are no photographs or sketches of the Merkland cist described on Canmore (or in Balfour's Book of Arran Vol 1)) to work from, but I am presuming it has to be the same one. This is a very quiet, deep woodland setting for a cist in a fine state of preservation. I stood brushing off midges with the slanting bars of evening sun transforming the wood into a tropical rainforest of rhododendron blooms, green ferns and deep moss with tall natural Scots Pines forming a scented canopy. I got the impression that no-one had visited in a very long time. A very cool resting place.