Strath Brora is not a name that had featured in my somewhat limited vocabulary prior to Cnoc an Lliath-bhaid appearing upon the TMA database recently. To be fair there are no valid excuses for this oversight; the stone circle is listed in Burl's ubiquitous guide to these Isles, favourably, too. However awareness of a site... and actually getting to see it first hand are two entirely different concepts. Tell me about it. Firstly I had to get out the map to determine where it actually was. Ah, the middle of nowhere. That'll be Sutherland, then?
It's not, of course. In the middle of nowhere, I mean, the hamlets of Dalreavoch and Rhilochan lying not that far to the approx south east, the farm of Braegrudie less than a mile to the west. However, despite being more or less at home within the wild, inhospitable landscapes of the UK over the years, I guess it's true to say that, for me, the north of Scotland epitomises that perhaps indefinable sense of 'untamed wilderness' better than anywhere else I know. Maybe that perception is coloured by the realisation that I'm a very long way from home? Yeah, sometimes I feel like a motherless child...
The most straight forward option for a visit to Cnoc an Lliath-bhaid centres upon the aforementioned Braegrudie, lying upon the northern bank of the River Brora at the terminus of a gated, rough, single track road from Rhilochan... even more 'single track' that seems to be the norm in these parts. Crossing the impressive water course by a foot bridge (marked upon the map) I arrive at the house to find no-one at home, stark windows glaring at the unsolicited visitor to, in turn, solicit unfounded notions of being watched by unseen eyes. Oo-er. Just a' passing through, gates duly tied shut after me. The hinterland is rough, a large sheepfold some distance to the approx east a convenient 'staging-post' en-route to the stone circle, the monument standing above, obscured by the rising flank of the hillside eulogised by Burl as 'wrinkled like chilled skin'. Marvellous. Just make sure he's never let loose near an ageing supermodel or there'll be hell to pay, I tell you now. Anyway, the correct way forward is to continue in the same line as from farm to sheepfold, but, needless to say, I deviate somewhat and have to double-back from above. This is not such a drag as there is copious evidence for ancient settlement up here. Look at the map.
Then there it is, a disrupted ring .... circle is perhaps too 'tidy' a description... standing glorious, mute sentinel overlooking the river valley, the winding course of the River Brora highlighted by rays from the evening sun breaking through the cloud mantle. Truly it is a classic location for a stone circle (sorry, ring); nay, one of the best. Surely? Aubrey cites five stones still remaining erect, the tallest (6ft 6in) a 'gaunt, grey column' to the WSW, plus three fallen. Unbeknown to me at the time, the disturbed interior features the trashed, overgrown remnants of a cairn. However I'm more intrigued by the radial setting of the orthostats upon the circumference (that is at right angles), seemingly a local eccentricity if a similar arrangement at Achinduich is anything to go by. And of course there is the wondrous deployment of the technique at Achanvanich's great 'U' further north. Cnoc an Lliath-bhaid, however, beats both sites hands down in terms of placement within its landscape. The vibe here this evening is simply too evocative for words - or at least my words. Hauntingly ethereal, overwhelming in its silent intensity, overpoweringly 'real' without a hint of false pretension... stripped down to the bone... and any other adjectives I can't think of. Truly one of Scotland's hidden jewels.
The inexorable passing of time finally forces me to leave and descend back to the road.... only to find that my plan to sleep here in the car tonight is a non-starter. It's those staring windows, see? Truly they give me the creeps. But no matter.
Posted by GLADMAN
25th June 2013ce
Edited 27th June 2013ce