Modern antiquarians visiting north-eastern Scotland for the first time may, quite possibly, grasp within sweaty palms an itinerary featuring little more than the 'show sites' highlighted - or rather, celebrated - within Mr Cope's multi-coloured, dayglo tome. Nothing wrong with that. They are rather good, are they not? However if our friends' cerebral functions happen to resemble my own to any meaningful degree (sorry about that)... monuments such as Grey Cairns of Camster and Achavanich will sow a priceless, insidious seed of curiosity ensuring they must return again some day to experience that which lies just below the horizon of popular perception in these parts. No choice in the matter.
Take the great chambered cairn which overlooks the Loth Burn as it exits the wondrous Glen Loth, little more than half a mile from the North Sea. Although the monument is seen to great advantage from the (very) minor road traversing the glen, our theoretical itinerant motorists heading up the A9 for the first time will need to possess exceptionally myopic vision to have any awareness of what they are passing immediately beneath. There are apparently the remains of two cairns upon this coastal crag... however such was the overwhelming dominance of vegetation at the time of my (late May) visit that the chambered example had to suffice. This wasn't a hardship, to be fair. And besides, I had no wish to stumble upon a lost family unit of T-Rexs before they'd had the chance to partake of breakfast.
Parking is to be had upon a service road beside Lothbeg Farm, that is west of the bridge. Traversing said bridge, a wooden gate beckons across the A9, to the right of a driveway accessing further habitation, the name of which I failed to ascertain. Or at least remember. Whatever, a short, steep scramble uphill through Grade A 'industrial strength' fern brings me into the presence of the substantial remains of a long cairn. Although clearly having suffered at the hands of 'excavators' and/or locals in search of building materials, for me this is a significant monument to find slumbering unobtrusively above one of Scotland's major tourist routes.
According to the Ordnance Survey people [EGC Jun '61; JM Feb '76] the monument's dimensions at the time of survey - admittedly some time ago now - were "about 20.0m NW-SE by 18.0m and 2.0m high" whilst "round the south periphery there are some earthfast slabs, which may be of a perimeter kerb." Of primary interest for me, however, was the discovery of the remains of a chamber still in situ, this featuring one particularly substantial orthostat apparently representing the back-slab. Nice.
It has to be said that the vibe here, relaxing upon the ancient stone pile looking to the nearby coast, is very different from that of sublime peace encountered at numerous other similar monuments populating the not too distant - and, from an archaeological perspective, utterly mind blowing - Strath of Kildonan. Yeah, somehow I detect a rather unusual juxtaposition of 'ancient' and 'modern' mindsets jostling for position here, neither actually achieving overall supremacy. I don't quite know what to make of it, to be honest. Perhaps it is because - ironically, since it was here first! - the vision of this great long cairn does not sit comfortably with that of the numerous caravans and camper vans rushing by below? The former the epitome of timeless permanence, at least from a human perspective; the latter representing a fleeting instant in a life such as mine. The comparative incremental passing of time jars, the two scenarios too mutually exclusive for both to be of the same world. And yet they are. Or something like that. But then again I'd suggest TMA'ers do not do what we do in order to be 'comfortable'.... but to experience, to have our perceptions of this world challenged.
And the great chambered long cairn, thankfully still sitting at the entrance to Glen Loth after all these years, does just that.