Having once again found myself powerless to resist the bleak, idiosyncratic allure of Caithness, however that may be defined - the call of the wild perhaps.. a primeval meme roused sleepily from the subconscious as if by a sudden jolt to the roosting song birds' tree? - dawn sees me studiously studying my vintage map beneath the sweeping façade of Ben Uarie standing sentinel overlooking Glen Loth. The intention is to plan my onward route to Glen Naver, to ensure stony opportunities are taken; however, like the child frantically attempting to avoid the waiting teacher's censure, the outcome is rather haphazard, with only 'Carn Glas', depicted in that wondrous 'antiquarian script' of old, suggesting a worthwhile break near Loch Badanloch. Yeah, there's nothing like last minute homework; particularly when 'home' is currently such a fluid concept.
Newcomers to the area, in my experience one of the most densely populated - in terms of sheer volume of chambered cairns, brochs etc - in all Scotland, will find a myriad of options to the south, east and west of the small hamlet of Kinbrace. As it is, my decision making faculties are not held to account. Yeah, having sampled these megalithic delights a few years previously I'm more-or-less just passing through, heading west upon the B871 beneath the mighty stone pile of Carn Richard, following the sinuous River Helmsdale back to its source, Loch Badanloch. The landscape possesses - in my opinion - a paradoxical grandeur. A distant skyline featuring Ben Hope (Scotland's most northerly Munro) and the wondrous Ben Loyal notwithstanding, the hills, generally speaking, do not attain any significant elevation. Consequently it is the vastness of the sky, complemented by a notable body of surface water, which affirms the perception that these are, indeed, The Highlands. However I sense a certain aura of melancholia here, a feeling inherent within that perhaps here is somewhere non-locals such as myself will never be able to truly comprehend, regardless of return visits.... to always be 'passing through'?
Needless to say other factors can influence vibe, impact upon the vagaries of human psychology, affect the mood of a man stripped of the familiar reference points of the city, albeit voluntarily. Such catalysts are in evidence at the first site of the day, the great kerbed cairn of Carn Glas. Extolling the benefits of doing a little homework - assuming hanging out upon bleak Sutherland hills for a while is your idea of fun - the monument does not announce its presence from the B871, at least to the casual glance. There is no substantial stone pile looming enigmatically above here. Rather it is a feature as mundane as a cattle grid, set within the tarmac, which alerts me to what lies incognito to the left of the elevated tree line. As I make the short ascent I pass a wooden hut, the hill side beyond liberally coated with colourful inorganic material. Sadly, I reckon I know what it is.
Little remains of the cairn itself, set at a slight downward facing angle as if - somewhat ironically now - designed to present its interior to the former settlement below... however the retaining kerb is very much in evidence, seemingly almost intact. Indeed the impression is more that of a proto-stone circle (such as to found at Carrowmore across The Irish Sea) than mere demarcation of a now more-or-less lost cairn. According to the Ordnance Survey, way back on 18th February 1977:
"It is 12.8m N-S by 13.4m and is extensively robbed, remaining more or less only in a fairly complete retaining kerb of contiguous boulder-slabs 0.4m high; the little left of body infill has been added to by later stone debris. OS (J M)"
The monument's positioning, set upon Badanloch Hill overlooking the eponymous loch, is expansive to the west and, particularly this morning with some nice cloud definition pleasing the eye, to the north-west whence the traveller's gaze is drawn toward Cnoc Molach's (apparent) stone rows and extensive settlement. Clearly what initially appeared to me such an empty, spartan landscape is - or at least was - anything but. A landscape formerly supporting a full on community. My itinerary, such as it is, is quickly assigned to history, shot to pieces, you might say?
The term is unfortunately prescient, the causation the appearance of a herd of deer approaching to check me out from the summit of the hill. The function of the little hut below me becomes clear, supposition subsequently confirmed upon further investigation. Yeah, Badanloch Hill is where intrepid individuals come to shoot. Some to blast defenceless creatures with guns prior to returning to the comfortable environs of Badanloch Lodge. A once thriving prehistoric community now substituted for, well. I believe the term is devolution? Needless to say I couldn't think of anything worse than to slaughter for fun, for sport... not for food. But there you are. Should you wish to avoid the company of such individuals it would appear, at least according to the Badanloch Lodge web page, that 'the hind stalking season' dates from October the 21st to February the 15th. Just so you know.
However don't let this detract from the worth of this fabulously obscure site. Well worth stopping off when driving cross-country to the coast... and resulting from probably one of the most useful bits of homework I've undertaken.