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<b>Cairnpapple</b>Posted by follow that cowImage © FTC
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  • Cairnapple

Nearest Town:Bathgate (3km SSW)
OS Ref (GB):   NS987717 / Sheet: 65
Latitude:55° 55' 39.32" N
Longitude:   3° 37' 17.2" W

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Cairnpapple Exhibition at Broxburn

Historic artefacts, August 4th 2003

A NEW exhibition is showcasing historic artefacts that have not been seen in public in West Lothian for over 5000 years... continues...
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
4th August 2003ce
Edited 4th August 2003ce

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Cairnpapple. One of those places I knew I really should go to, but... well, other sites always seemed to get the nod instead. Mainly, I think in retrospect, because of that bloody concrete dome. It's not the only site to possess one, of course, but a dimly lit passage grave can, more often than not, carry it off with no discernable loss in vibe. In fact a discrete, modern roof can add to the experience, recreating something of how it may have felt to enter the original monument. Herein lies the problem, however: Cairnpapple is not a passage grave, yet visitors are invited to assume it is such. Having said that, it's all too easy to be wise after the event, and Piggott's post war excavation has nevertheless revealed to us a fascinating monument, indeed. Thank you sir, you did what you thought was right for the benefit of generations to follow, adding immeasurably to our knowledge of henges and whatnot. Hey, that's what your generation fought the Nazi tyranny for, was it not?

The hilltop location is spectacular, with a far reaching vista encompassing green hills, industrial areas, The Firth of Forth and the distant high peaks of Tayside etc. Sure, the telecom antennae's out of place, but I can live with that. The custodian's pretty special, too; the tourist spiel is, for once, delivered with conviction and... dare I say it.... a clear love of her charge. I pay her the attention it deserves and learn a thing or two in the process. Such as what a complex monument Cairnpapple really is, linear phases of activity emphasising that man really considered this to be a seriously important spot. These phases have been left 'exposed' to be viewed concurrently, sort of like looking at one of those cutaway drawings of an aircraft.... that's not how it actually looked, but isn't it good to see how it works? In summary - according to the latest thinking - Cairnpapple began life as a two entrance henge, the ditch still well defined to the north and east, with a circle of 24 massive posts placed somewhat off-centre. Within, an alignment of much larger diameter holes may well have held some sort of timber equivalent of a long cairn's facade related to the major burial upon this hilltop, known as North Grave. To view this tomb, punters must climb steps to the summit of the grassed dome and descend by ladder inside.

The significant infiltration of light from a large skylight helps to dispel the passage grave misconception, since the rock cut grave was in fact only covered by a small cairn. The surrounding kerb stones remind me of teeth set within a lower jaw, the whole dominated by a large, leaning monolith immediately reminding me of a similar arrangement at Dunruchan. Close by sits a large cist with impressive capstone. I sit and ponder within the peculiar, clammy atmosphere of the dome. Apparently the cist, plus another, now lost, were later additions covered by a larger cairn taking in the North Grave, too. The modern dome follows the approx line of this cairn and preserves the retaining kerb. The silence is broken by the custodian.... 'Oh, you're still here... people normally don't stay this long...'. No doubt they don't.

Outside it begins to rain, but this is of no consequence... since I am now truly enthralled. Ah, the final phase, a massive diameter, low cairn covering a good proportion of the interior of the henge and possessing a fine kerb of large stones. Why do that. I mean cover all the preceding burials and insert your own? To instigate new traditions without actually destroying the old? Hmm. We could learn a lot from these people, me thinks. Finally, last but not least, four apparently christian graves inserted into the eastern bank of the henge. Old habits die hard, eh?

I leave Cairnpapple Hill somewhat dazed, but mighty glad I finally came. True, it is not a great 'hang' in my opinion - the dome sees to that - but it certainly exercises the grey matter.
22nd June 2010ce
Edited 22nd June 2010ce

Visited July 2009.
This is an excellent place to visit with easy access (although there is a bit of a steep walk) from the layby. It is a bit strange with the Second World War looking hut looking completely out of place and then the large concrete dome protecting the site from the elements. I loved the fact that you had to climb down a ladder top get inside - very Indiana Jones!! I have visited a number of Historic Scotland sites and I must say that I like the way they care for their sites and in particular how well sign posted most of them are - something CADW could learn from! The views are wonderful and I spent a very enjoyable hour or so here. Highly recommended.
Posted by CARL
27th May 2010ce

Parking is easy, room for a few cars and when we arrived there were about 10 cyclists all parked up too. Access is up a set of stone steps and then a walk up to the site so could be difficult for some. We headed straight for the Nissan hut, wanting to ask the guide whether Galabraes was linked to the site but she didn't know. However, she was incredibly friendly and more than happy to talk us through the site itself.

Upon entering the cairn, the first thing I noticed was the smell; it was boiling hot outside but as I started climbing down, the smell of damp, dank earth hit me and the coolness of the enclosed chamber was startling. The damp air obviously had it's effect on the stones, which were bright green in places; so green in fact, that I initially thought it had been painted on for effect!

It is hard to explain just how wonderful it is to see the stones in this way. Although you are surrounded by a fairly modern building, you can forget about that as you see the stones in the half-light and with the smell of the damp earth around you. Most burial chambers are now exposed (certainly the ones I've visited) and this just felt more real, somehow. Although the site was fairly busy, we were alone down there for a good 15 minutes. When we came back out, the heat and light was a bit of a shock. I took a 360 degree video from the top of the cairn, taking in the amazing landscape; as Vicky said, it felt like we in the middle of a bowl of hills, and the volcanic ridges to the east looked incredible. It's not hard to see why Cairnpapple was built in such a place.

The post holes which are exposed on the east side fo the site are huge. You have to wonder at the size of the trees which once filled them and the energy it would have taken to get them there.

The huge mast really didn't bother me too much, the whole place has such an amazing feel to it that it would take something really monumental to have a negative impace.
Vicster Posted by Vicster
16th July 2006ce
Edited 16th July 2006ce

Hmmm... - been a while since I came to this page, but it looks like CP is still rather neglected by megalithic enthusiasts. I guess one thing I forgot to mention 3 years ago last time I posted here (OK, I'm to blame, too, but I'm doing a whole website on the place, so can hardly be accused of neglect!) is that one of the upshots of my incumbency at CP in late 2003 was that I rediscovered the "lost" capstone of Cist B. However, although my re-find was authenticated by none other than Gordon Barclay, good ol' Historic Scotland still haven't flagged it up for visitors, so now totally fed up with that situation, I'm flagging it up here myself for any TMA readers thinking of visiting.

If you go inside the modern concrete flying-saucer that represents Cairn 2, you'll only see one of the two Bronze Age cists reconstructed there – the one Piggott called Cist A. The smaller Cist B was slightly to the east of Cist A (and square in shape). But why didn't the Ministry of Works reconstruct Cist B in the '50s? Many theories have been put forward, not least the erroneous auld saw currently being re-peddled by one of the 2003 Broxburn Library exhibition-boards currently being recycled in the visitor's centre: ie. the idea that Piggott's team somehow broke the Cist B capstone during excavation, and it was presumably subsequently secreted away under some conspiratorial carpet or something. This is complete tosh, of course – Piggott was far from incompetent!

The truth is that the Cist B capstone is now to be found dumped on the western side of the cairn area, curiously lined-into the kerb of Cairn 3. Stand to the west, and find the big, flat, square sandstone block that actually looks very obviously nothing like a kerbstone – in the kerb. That's the Cist B capstone, and it's been sitting there for 50 years and until I took a fag-break one afternoon in 2003, everyone had been walking past it - including the professionals...

One can only assume that when the MoW were doing the Disnae-Land reconstruction in the 50s, they did so without consultation of either Piggott or his plans. Look at his PSAS paper – there's no stone marked where this one is.

The pressing question now is – will Historic Scotland return it to its proper place inside the Cairn 2 flying saucer? So far, my nudges have come to naught, despite the weathering the stone is very clearly suffering in the open (unlike most stones onsite, this one's not igneous, but soft-ish local sandstone - just compare the photos from Piggott's original 1950 paper to its current condition) – "cost issues" is the best HS excuse I've heard so far (CP is a loss-making "property", most years) then "engineering issues" is clearly an excuse, but *institutional apathy* is more like it, I reckon. OK, if they ever bother to read this, I'll never work there again, obviously, but the fate of the Cist B capstone is more important than whether or not I ever get another part-time, slightly-above Minimal Wage job at Cairnpapple with these guys…

However, now you know where the second primary Bronze Age burial remnant is, and you know how to find it. Enjoy, and imagine it in back its rightful place, not far from Cist A inside Cairn 2. Maybe even say a prayer (faith not specified) for the poor guy who it used to belong to, before the MoW neglected to put it back where Piggott found it... :-)
Posted by suibhne
19th June 2006ce
Edited 19th June 2006ce

Visited on a glorious summer's day in August 04.
The view is awesome, the site curator gave me a loan of his fieldglasses with which I could clearly make out the Wallace monument in Stirling, almost 20 miles away, and see the coastline of Fife with the continuous stream of traffic snaking over the Forth road bridge 10 miles, or so, over to the east.

While I was there an 'alternative type' group turned up, armed with compass' and crystals. They sought out one of the large stones to the west of the cairn which was duly identified, by means of a compass, as a lodestone or magnetic stone. Once identified, they brought out their cargo of crystals and placed them on this stone to presumabley charge them with its power.
follow that cow Posted by follow that cow
19th January 2005ce

Having been priviledged enough to have spent the last 3 months of the 2003 season as the site custodian, could I encourage visitors to NOT put plastic flowers into the grave-pits? They soon blow into the adjacent cow-field. :-) Posted by suibhne
11th November 2003ce

Just to clear a common misnomer up, it's not the circle of uprights at Cairnpapple that had the solar alignments - it's the cove (was roughly around the West end of the North Grave) and semi-circle of pits (East side of the Cairn 2 reconstruction) that did this. This was possibly the earliest structure on the site yet identified. Standing in the centre of the cove and looking through the Northmost of the pits gives you the approximate horizon-point of sunrise on Summer Solstice, with the Southmost pit indicating sunrise on Winter Solstice, with both Equinoxes and the four Celtic festivals being indicated by the other pits. However, two pits indicate unknown festivals, suggesting that Cairnpapple has a fuller Neolithic Calendar than we currently fully know about. It's also worth noting that most Neolithic monuments with alignments indicate a small number of events - Cairnpapple, however, gives us the four Festivals, the two Soltices, the two Equinoxes, and four lost festivals. Impressively comprehensive! The other point worth noting is that the Ministry of Works reconstruction of the site in 1949 inexplicably only reconstructed six of the seven pits in the arc, the missing one indicating Beltain/Lunasdal - the location of this missing pit is just on the NW edge of a kerbstone in the NE perimeter of the Cairn 3 area which was damaged by a local taking it upon himself to build a Beltain fire on it in, if memory serves, 2001 (easily identifiable - the burn-marks are still there, and it's cracked - some locals refer to this kerbstone as "The Beltain Stone", although as a cairn kerbstone, it never functioned as such). Posted by suibhne
11th November 2003ce
Edited 11th November 2003ce

My favourite site of those near my home in Edinburgh, a wee beauty that you can often enjoy alone if you visit outside of summer. The eerily friendly cows can be intimidating, but clap and they'll let you pass through to the site.

An almost conical hill a few miles inland from the Firth of Forth, and the highest point for miles around. Your ears pop as you ascend from low-lying Linlithgow village. At the top, panoramic views of Lothian and the Kingdom of Fife in fair weather, and usually a biting wind and thick fog in foul. Best shelter in the latter is within the enclosed central burial shaft with its stone kist. Feels like entering a submarine. A site of worship from neolithic to modern times, as evidenced by the TV mast! We and our ancestors share cultural attachments to high places, closer to the ether.
Posted by elliptic
15th August 2002ce

On a clear day you can see forever!!!!!!

Unrivalled Views and nosey cows - See Julio Geordio's pic for proof.

gotta go back.
moey Posted by moey
5th February 2002ce

Wednesday 21/11/01
The Mother Henge. She watches over all- and what a view. I climb down inside the chamber and sit down, whilst outside, the wind howls and the sun sets. I plug in and listen to 'Odin' and for the first time all day I feel warm throughout sitting on the edge of the north grave. I emerge back into the wind and a beautiful sky with a half moon hanging over the Pentland Hills to the south. I walk round and round the grass covered dome looking at the sunset, the moon, the Pentlands, Edinburgh, Fife- it's all just a bit overwhelming. I liked the piece in the guide book which says that it's no coincidence that the radio mast is sited here because of the reception area it serves- the same reception area that Carinpapple has been serving for 5500 years. I go back to the small Historic Scotland hut and chat for ages to the manny (whose name I did not catch)- we talk about theories re henges, cup and ring marks, souterrains, landscapes, the Modern Antiquarian, Ancient Lothian. But, alas, it's 4:30 pm and time to close for the night. The sun has set, the moon is high above me and I leave Cairnpapple totally enchanted.
Posted by Martin
27th November 2001ce

I visited this site with a friend in late 1999 on a cold, damp, very overcast Saturday late afternoon, when we were both hungover. I want to say something about the panoramic nature of this place, but I can't. I want to say something of the inside of the cairn, but we visited out of season and it was locked up.
When I've visited Cairnpapple under better conditions I'll replace this posting.
Sometimes these sites can be so uplifting, and then sometimes so crushing. The mood, the mud, the heavy clouds in the sky, and in my head, all conspired to send us home.
Posted by winterjc
23rd November 2001ce

The highest point in Central Scotland provides a viewpoint to Arran in the West and the Bass Rock in the East. The logic of the landscape provides much of the atmosphere at this place. 1940s reconstructions and 1990s communications towers cannot remove the sense of place. Historic Scotland provide an overview of the confusing, crowded and much used hilltop. Everyone has buried someone here at some point - Neolithic to Christian - when I go, this is where I want to be! Posted by Michael
30th May 2001ce

Don't worry about the reconstruction or the horrific communications mast, this site is well worth the visit. The view is fantastic (well about 340 degrees anyway) and only Arbor Low is windier. The site is in the care of Historic Scotland, but the custodian on the day of our visit, Harry, was brilliant. He knows all thats going about the place, and and his 15 minute chat is well worth listening to. The archaeoligical view of the sites history has changed since the publication of TMA, but apparently Harry has written to Julian, who may visit while in Scotland (He's got a copy of TMA on his shelf, and thought Julian was an eminent archeaologist until his son put him right!)
Anyway, get yourself up to Cairnpapple, you won't regret it.
Chris Posted by Chris
15th October 2000ce


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Wandering a little further to the north-east, you reach the top of Cairnpapple with its round Pictish fort - the place, as a not very intelligent workman whom we met on the hill told us, "where they aye met to burn witches."
By the oh so intelligent and conveniently anonymous contributor to p266 of 'Things New And Old in Religion, Science and Literature' (1857). Online at Google Books.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
26th April 2007ce

Stuart Piggot's paper, linked to below, mentions there were rich silver mines in the 17th century on the SE slope of Cairnpapple Hill. Martin's folklore about a 'silver man' on the SE slope is thus put in a different light? The location just seems a bit of a strange coincidence. Is the story a modern reworking of a different older story, the 'silver' element translated into something more space age? Or is it even a modern version of a subterranean mine fairy-type creature? Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
17th July 2006ce
Edited 17th July 2006ce

The country around Cairnpapple isn't only a UFO hot-spot, there has also been sightings of a strange being called 'The Silver Runner'. Here's the story taken from 'Haunted Scotland' by Norman Adams (1998, 5);

'Cairnpapple is steeped in ancient mystery and magic. Its bleak, rounded summit, three miles north of the Lothian town of Bathgate, was sacred to early man, and on clear day you can see why. The view from the hilltop is spectacular, extending from Goatfell on Arran in the west to the Firth of Forth in the east. On the summit Stone Age people erected a ring of upright stones, later used by Bronze and Iron Age man to construct tombs for the cremated bodies and funeral pottery. No wonder it has been described as one of Scotlands most important prehistoric sites. But the Bathgate Hills conceal a baffling modern mystery- 'The Strange Case of the Silver Man'. This being, entity or elemental, call it what you will, was encountered in the summer of 1988 on a forest road to the south-east of Cairnpapple by a family out for a let-night drive. At the wheel of the Fiesta was David Colman, father of three, and at the time a 33 year-old mature student. His front seat passenger was his wife Kathleen, while their two sons and a daughter, aged between six and 14, were in the back. The strange encounter took place on a starry night on a road running parallel to Ravencraig Wood, popularly known as the Knock Forest, less than a mile from their home in Bathgate. The jaunt was unplanned, the youngsters having persuaded their father to take them for a ride in the new car. As he headed for a small but steep incline topped with a dangerous right-hand bend, Davids attention was instantly drawn to his right side. In a split second he saw a glowing figure, in classical running posture, moving extremely fast, possibly between 50 and 70 miles an hour! The figure was bulky and well over six feet tall. 'As it ran in the opposite direction from the car it had its head turned back towards us and appeared to be scowling' David told me. Silence gripped the occupants of the car. Then Kathleen asked her husband: 'You did see that, didn't you?' David replied: 'See what?' The children shouted in unison: 'You saw the silver man, daddy!' Although the youngsters had unwittingly christened the bizarre creature, David said: 'The figure was white, not silver, but I suppose it appeared that way to the children. When I questioned them more closely they said the figure was crouched at the side of the road. As we approached, it took off through the forest.' Kathleen supported Davids account. 'There was complete silence until I asked David if he had seen the figure,' she said. 'The expression on his face told it all.' Kathleen, who saw the figure disappear into the forest, went on: 'It was a human shape, and I thought it was a male. I had a feeling it was not happy. It was not silver, more like a negative image. I remember the children were very excited.'

So- when visiting Cairnpapple in the evening, be sure not only to keep an eye on the skies above, but also watch out for beings on the roads.
Posted by Martin
1st December 2001ce

Cairnpapple is regularly used as a vantage point for skywatchers and is regarded as a UFO hotspot. Posted by winterjc
23rd November 2001ce


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Jings, just realised TMA also has discussion threads. However, since there's little traffic on this page, I'm diverting a 4-year-old query to the frontpage here. :-)

One user makes a query about the "Clinkin Stane", which apparently they've read you can hear the sound of from Cairnpapple.


Look to the SE and find the Drumcross Road (still signed by the modern council as such - road fae Bathgate through the Hills going east). SE of CP on the Drumcross Road, you'll find (cf. first edition OS maps) a row of cottages called Clinking Stone Cottages. The ruined foundations of these are still visible, on a rise before the dip before Puirwife's Brae, on the right-hand-side, going east (Bathgate-Uphall/Broxburn direction). The Clinkan Stane itself was removed by a (?Late) Victorian farmer and is no longer extant.

However, there are Victorian accounts of it, and even a bad local poem on the subject (cf. my -> "anthology").

We can only lament this stone's passing and presume it to have been of the order of the extant ringing-rock types found from Iona to Kilmartin Glen to Ilkley Moor.

Damn those Victorian farmers!!!
Posted by suibhne
19th June 2006ce
Edited 20th June 2006ce

Below Knock Hill there is a lovely little stone circle, just off the road on the right hand side, a hundred yards before the Cairnpapple pullover/parking.

This is of the postmodernolithic era and was constructed in 1998 as a birthday present to the farmer from his son.

I often see visitors earnestly pouring over maps and guide books trying to figure out just what and/or where this is.

Don't be duped... like I was.
follow that cow Posted by follow that cow
19th January 2005ce
Edited 19th January 2005ce


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Archaeology Data Service

Stuart Piggott's 1940s excavations at Cairnpapple - the document has some beautifully drawn plans.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
17th July 2006ce
Edited 17th July 2006ce

Ancient Stones

An entry from Ancient Stones, an online database that covers most of the standing stones, stone circles and other stones found in South East Scotland. Each entry includes details, directions, photograph, folklore, parking and field notes on each location.
Posted by GaryB
14th September 2005ce

Historic Scotland

The HS site that has phone number etc for opening times
Posted by Martin
27th November 2001ce
Edited 22nd March 2013ce

Stone Pages

Very basic info. but a great photo of the inside of the cairn.
Posted by winterjc
23rd November 2001ce