We parked in the ‘themed’ car park – complete with large wooden ‘prehistoric stone axes!’ and ornate metal gates / picnic area. I quickly read the very good information boards and headed up the path which takes you directly to the cairn; which is easily visible from the car park. The walk only takes about 5 minutes.
The sky was clear dark blue and the sun was beating down. Not only that but I had the place to myself! As I walked up the hill I noticed a crescent moon directly above the cairn – a magical sight (I hope the photo comes out!) My pace quickened as I got closer.
The entrance to the cairn is at the back as you approach up the hill but my initial excitement ground to a halt as I saw the entrance had been blocked with a wire frame and a notice stating that due to a collapse in the chamber it was not safe to enter. This was a real blow as I was looking forward to seeing inside the cairn – as you can imagine.
I decided that the least I could do would be to shine my torch through the wire mesh and see what I could see. As I got closer to the entrance I then noticed that someone had forced part of the wire away from the frame and it could be easily moved to one side. I also noticed that the right hand side of the passage had collapsed. What to do?
If Dafydd had been with me I wouldn’t have entered in case of further collapse but as he was asleep in the car I decided I had come too far not to take the chance! I pulled the wire to one side and was just able to crawl through the gap on my side. I then had to continue to crawl on my side past the collapse of stones. I was relived that once past the collapse the chamber looked perfectly fine and I was able to have a look around as normal – whilst listening for the sound of any falling stones!
The thing that struck me most was the large slabs of stone which were used for the roof and the 5 large (1 massive) upright stones used to support the roof stones. The walls were made up of the usual dry stone walling.
After a while I carefully eased my way back out of the cairn and replaced the wire mesh. Hopefully it won’t be too long before repairs are put in place? I walked around the outside of the cairn and spotted a couple of large kerb stones remaining.
There are wonderful views from the cairn out across the lochs towards the distant hills.
So far this was the highlight of my holiday and I would heartily recommend a visit to the wonderful site if you are ever on Uist.
Visited 21/05/09ce. After waiting in the (newish?) car park / picnic area on the A867 for an hour or so until the Uist Monsoon passed over, myself and Hugo the Megalithic Dog headed up the (also newish?) gravelly path which leads up the hill and around the cairn.
We had the place to ourselves for a good 20 minutes, during which time I didn't pick up any unwelcoming vibes - maybe the presence of HtMD patrolling the perimeter kept any supernatural interference at bay. That said, I did only spend a brief amount of time actually inside the chamber, impressive though it is. Too much talk of potential for collapse playing on the mind, maybe…
As I sat on top of Barpa Langass wondering just what was the probability of it collapsing, after standing for countless millenia, onto poor old me, I was treated to the magnificent sight of a Hen harrier as it cruised low and silent over the moor, like a Great White Shark of the air, searching for it's unsuspecting prey.
Barpa (pronounced Varpa) Langass - Cairn on the long ridge
This was my first trip to the Outer Hebrides. We came off the morning ferry and straight to this site - the only Hebridean Passage Grave covered by a cairn which can be entered. Might as well get the best one in first.
It sits in a wonderful location, as others have said, but there is a mystery.
Why does it sit on the 50m contour, some 40m below the summit of the hill and why does the entrance face into the hillside? These are unusual features for passage graves but they occur in a number of Hebridean sites so it presumably is deliberate.
We stayed there for about one hour with me nipping back into the chamber in between the steady stream of visitors.
One of those visitors might appreciate Rhiannon's post. She entered the chamber not knowing I was in there until I spoke to her. Never seen anyone leave a chamber so quickly. " I thought you were the man from 2000 years ago" she said when she recovered her cool. I didn't correct her chronology.
This chambered tomb sits on a prominent position on the hillside and must be visible for miles around (weather permitting). On the day of our visit it was relatively clear and the view from a high level like this is probably the only place you can describe Uist as having any scenery!
I am sure I read somewhere that it was a little unsafe and indeed the entrance seems to show some signs of collapse. If you can get past your fears then once inside you'll find a relatively roomy and well constructed inner chamber.
If the dodgy stonework isn't enough to put you off entering the cairn, perhaps this story from Martin McCarthy's Ancient Scotland site will be.
There is a tale of a visitor to this tomb who squeezed his way in with great effort, and then exitted with much greater speed and skill after--so he says--something kicked him in the kidneys. Yes, it's a stupid superstitious story; but after visiting the tomb you can't help but wonder....
Wee_malky refers to the inside of the cairn possibly being unsafe. Certainly a consideration if you're sitting in there with the best part of 2m of cairn material above you!
There is also evidence of a repair job having been necessary during the building of the cairn or while it was still in use.
As you enter the cairn, you will see a 1.6m pillar with some cairn material to your right. The pillar supports the first lintel of the chamber (the one after the surviving passage lintel), the N end of which does not rest on a chamber stone in the way the other lintels do.
Presumably the lintel broke or (more likely) was threatening to and the pillar was put in to support it. The cairn material to its right could be further support or the blocking off of that area.
Erskine Beveridge in his 1911 North Uist , Its Archaeology and Topography (recently reprinted) says of this site,
We have been assured upon the best authority that Langass Barp contains a second chamber with its separate access from the north side, our informant having entered this within the past thirty years; while it is also stated that even a third chamber exists. Upon this subject we can add little, except that the east chamber already disclosed occupies but a small proportion of the whole structure, ample space remaining for at least two others.
No Hebridean Passage Grave has produced definite evidence of more than one chamber and, because many are ruined, the plans of most are known. Perhaps the locals were just having a little fun.
There are the remains of 20 chambered cairns on North Uist - that's about one per 15 square km (6 square miles). So it must have been an important place in Neolithic Scotland.
Nearly all are of the type known (not surprisingly) as Hebridean Passage Graves.
Typically, these will have a round cairn (averaging c 25m) with a small V-shaped forecourt leading to a short passage which opens into a round or oval chamber. The chamber walls are made of large contiguous orthostats and the capstones rest directly on these.
Cairns have a ring of impressive peristaliths averaging about 1.5 to 2m high.
The passages are orientated towards the E.
Distribution is: all of the Outer Hebrides; Skye; and a few on the mainland as far S as Achnacreebeag near Oban.