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Fieldnotes by drewbhoy

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Lover's Stone (Natural Rock Feature)

With the fairies being very shy we followed the road to the west climbing steeply as we went. You could only marvel at the views to the east especially the stunning setting of Bioda Mor, home to the fort.

At the top the road splits heading north and south, we continued west on top of an old wall/path. From this point you can see the equally stunning Loch a' Ghlinne (Glen Bay). The path is a mixture of well trodden and bog. Also in some parts there are little bits of rock climbing which all added to the adventure except when, not for the first time, I used my knees as brakes.

Eventually the path evens itself out and leads straight to another of the islands famous sites - The Lover's Stone. Resembling the highest diving board I've ever seen its an impressive site. It also reminded me of the Reporting Scotland (news program) logo. Stories of how the St Kildan men did their balancing acts are well known. As this link shows they were brave men.

https://scotlandonscreen.org.uk/browse-films/007-000-000-153-c

I, of course, did exactly the same thing with an excellent result.

Despite the wonderful scenery, and there is a tremendous sense of well being and sadness here, it is a dangerous place. The weather can change in an instant with high winds and squally showers at any moment. For those with problems with heights I wouldn't look over the edge it is a helluva drop.

Probably one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Visited 2/9/2017.

The Milking Stone (Natural Rock Feature)

The House Of Fairies was minus its inhabitants so we decided to follow them to their other hiding place The Milking Stone. We headed slightly south west, to the tarred road and followed it as it went steeply uphill. The stone is situated near the first large corner on the road.

After hearing no rattling spoons we reckoned it was safe to approach as the fairies had obviously moved on. There are glorious views of the villages of Hirta, prehistoric and the more modern, Hirta Bay, island of Levenish (a stac) and the magnificent cliffs of Bioda Mor, home to a fort. A stunning scene with the weather to match.

Resembling a recumbent stone it is about 4m long, 1.5m wide and 1.5 tall.

As we continued up hill I'm sure I heard the clinking of cutlery behind me. When I looked around there was an army vehicle just about to overtake us.

Visited 2/8/2017.

House Of The Fairies (Souterrain)

Walk north west from the burnt mound, past the houses and graveyard. Look carefully for a hole in the ground. This might seem easy but it isn't. Behind the village, indeed the whole of the natural amphitheatre, is covered in rocks all of which are the same colour.

The House Of The Fairies is one of St Kilda's most famous sites. Its north end is covered in grass whilst the southern end has its lintels exposed. Sadly the hole which can be seen is a hole in the roof which is half way along the original structure. Agriculture and dyke building has seen the other stones removed and the former southern end filled in. To get into the 9m remnants is easy enough and their is enough room for taller people to get to the end hunched down. About 5m from the entrance there is a small passage heading north east. Even at the entrance there seems to have been passages going in both directions, these might have been a wall that has been long since removed.

The fairies must have been nervous and decided to hide from view. Perhaps they'd gone to The Milking Stone, which we were going to next. It was a privilege to see and enter this site. A real taste of the prehistoric times and a good chance to appreciate their building skills.

Visited 2/8/2017.

Village Bay (Burnt Mound / Fulacht Fia)

Just a few metres to the west of the cist is a wall and on the other side of this can be found the remnants of a burnt mound. The oval shaped site is 20m by 10m and set in what appears to be waste ground, for much later settlers, near a consumption dyke. At its highest it is no more than 0.4m.

If you look closely in the walls burnt and broken pebbles can be seen and I agree with Canmore that there must have been several of these mounds, as there must have been cists whose stones probably provided lintels for the village houses.

Once again it is an indicator that the prehistoric people had a better time of it than later settlers. It certainly proves that they had a wider food choice.

After this we had to visit the faeries and their house.

Visited 2/8/2017.

Village Bay (Cist)

When walking along Hirta Main Street keep a count of the houses and look for houses 7 and 8. Follow the wall that marks their plot border towards Hirta Bay until it stops, a few yards in front is the remnants of the cist. That is the easy way, I on the other hand decided that almost every neuk and crannie had to be explored.

Not much remains except for some stones set on edge, the loose lintels have probably been placed in one of the nearby walls.

When you look up and all round from this location you can see what a huge amphitheatre this place is, just how high the hills are and just how good the prehistoric folks nautical skills were. Then a helicopter interrupts, look slightly to the east and the view is of large tanks of the fuel variety. Prehistory and modern life in the space of a second.

Visited 2/8/2017.

Aoismheal (Oiseval) (Souterrain)

Our first stop, on a gloriously warm day on St Kilda, was the probable remains of a souterrain built into a wall in an enclosure. It has been also described as a subterranean feature or a cist. If a cist whoever was interred must have been huge. During the 1800's land had been cleared for agricultural purposes so it was dug up and built into a wall. The remains of the underground feature are only a few metres from were they once had been place.

From the pier walk east and find the track which leads to the Main Street of Hirta. Once on the track heading west, the army base is nearby, go into the second enclosure. Being a dry stane dyker myself I appreciate that the one thing the later peoples were good at - building walls. The site is in the north east corner of the enclosure.

D. MacGregor in the 1960's said this site was Neolithic which, for us, meant an excellent start to the St Kildan trek.

Visited 2/8/2017.

H141 - Horgabost (Stone Setting)

This is the furthest north of the stone settings and it looks directly north into the bay at Nisabost, the wondrous sands of Luskentyre and the mountains beyond. Also it looks down on to the camp site and the chippy van.

Spread over an area over 12m the stone setting is on top of large green mound. The furthest north part of the site resembles the outer edge/arc of a hut circle.

The underfoot conditions are quite good as the grass is reasonably short thanks to the army of local greenkeepers i.e. the sheep who do a fine job. Some parts are sandy thanks to the dunes.

A great place to spend an hour or two. Nobody bothers you at these barely known about sites, so a great chance to try and emulate these folks from a long time ago.

Visited 1/8/2017.

Horgabost - H10 (Stone Setting)

From the standing stone at Horgabost walk about 100 meters to the north west. Yet another unusual site, for me, a stone setting appearing to look north to the Nisabost Bay and the mountains beyond.

The setting is on top of a small grassy hillock being spread over an area of 3m by 2.5m. There also appears to be some very small and pointy standing stones. Yet another site that makes me wonder what is underneath all of these dunes, could be the Forvie of the west.

Visited 1/8/2017.

Horgabost (Standing Stone / Menhir)

I parked at the cattle grid just to the west of Nisabost or Coire Na Feinne (chamber cairn) on the A859. From the grid it is a short walk over the dunes to the unusual, to me, site.

The actual standing stone is a rock placed on plate rock propped up by chokes. Other stones lay fallen nearby and possibly formed a stone circle. Some of the circle might have consisted of the natural outcrops. To the south is the bay of Traigh Lar and from there McLeod stone can be seen. This area is 'hoaching' (good doric word meaning there are lots of) with small sites an indication of much prehistoric inhabitation. One day the dunes will blow away and I'm sure much more will be discovered.

Just enough time to look for a couple of more sites before going to the Borve Burial Cairn. The McLeod Stone would be visited later in the week.

Visited 1/8/2017.

Borve Burial Cairn (Cairn(s))

The burial cairn at Borve is a truly beautiful place with spectacular views out to the Atlantic and the stunning Harris scenery in every other direction. Further down the coast, to the south, is Borve's chamber cairn. The warmth encouraged this visitor to take time to locate almost all of the west coast sites.

The other thing that makes this site impressive, in my opinion, is the fact that it is gradually eroding back into the sea as if nature was reclaiming its own. I'd imagine this coastline takes an almighty battering during a storm.

I parked just south of Loch Cisteabhat, on the A859, and headed west. No difficulties on this short walk, the grass was very short and a lot of rock plate covered the distance. The cairn itself is perched on top of a small cliff and is gradually falling away down on to the beach and sea. However it still remains at nearly 10m wide with north side being about 1.5m tall and the south side nearly 3m tall being built with small pebbles. As usual a certain amount of houking has taken place.

A great place to sit and watch the sea which is exactly what I did whilst thinking about all the places visited during the day. Then it was back to the chalet to try some the Isle Of Harris gin.

Visited 1/8/2017.

Clach Na Greine (Standing Stone / Menhir)

To the north of the Scalpay road on the eastern outskirts of Tarbert stands the Clach Na Greine standing stone. It has superb views of Loch Tarbert and the mountains especially to the west.

How this stands is something of a miracle in itself as most of Harris is rock, except for the strip of land in the south west and surprisingly a lot of Scalpay. Peter May's The Coffin Road was inspired by this as coffins (and their inhabitant) had to carried from the east to the west to be buried.

The stone stands at about 1.75m high, coming to a pointy end, and at it's base is 1.5m. Choke stones can be spotted propping the stone up which sits on a rocky platform.

I parked at a butchers yard and walked about 100 meters back east beyond some blasted rock, then headed north jumping a ditch and followed a fence. Worthwhile if only to see the views of the Loch Tarbert and beyond into The Minch.

Our next stop was the distillery at Tarbert to visit our whisky barrel which had just had it's first birthday. (Their gin is superb as well, much needed after a long evening walk.)

Visited 1/8/2017.

Loch an Duin (Scalpay) (Stone Fort / Dun)

Tarbert is the capital of Harris, home to an excellent distillery, home of Harris Tweed and the main ferry port. It is also the starting point to the island of Scalpay which is connected to the mainland by a fantastic bridge, stunning in design and appearance. From Tarbert go east following the signpost to Kyles and Scalpay. One of the reasons for the visit was obviously the dun, another reason was Gandalf's scarf and other clothing made for The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit. Unbelievably this shop, situated in the islands village (former school), was closed so it was onwards to the dun.

Once over the bridge turn first left and follow the road until the second corner near some houses, the first corner leads to the old ferry. If you look closely there is a wee sign saying heritage trail which goes all the way round the island. This trail is a beautiful walk, if somewhat marshy, following the northern shore of Loch An Duin, home to the dun.

The dun, possibly two islands, is located in the western part of the loch and has a causeway coming from the western shore. Canmore has some wonderful photos of the causeway in the link below. Parts of the wall can still be seen from the shore. Sadly no walking this causeway as it was to narrow and after looking at Canmore's photos it seemed to come to an abrupt stop.

Another magical place and enjoyable walk, the dog enjoyed the loch. With that it was back to Tarbert via a standing stone.

Visited 1/8/2017.

Dun Boraigeo (Stone Fort / Dun)

After surviving the mud spreads of Dun Innisgall we travelled further along the coastal road to the township of Strond. We parked at the first cattle and looked towards the Atlantic. A and B headed to Borrisdale (a good move) whilst I headed west.

This dun is the smallest I've seen and I believe that nobody could have lived here, this was the place were the last stand would have taken place. From the cattle grid head west and downhill until a fence. The mysterious mounds associated with the area are much in evidence. Jump the fence, cross a grassy section (boggy in bits), head slightly south and a small cliff face is reached. Opposite this cliff is the dun.

I climbed down and crossed the slippery rocks, reached the other side and climbed up into the dun. Finding a safe path up is difficult so take care.

Not much of the dun remains as erosion has washed a lot of it away. As mentioned before this wouldn't have been very big anyway as I discovered when I made it to westernmost point of the dun. What is left of the defensive wall is on the east side of the dun. Other parts of the wall can be spotted in the sea and on the slippery rocks used to reach the dun.

Truly brilliant site, truly brilliant scenery and truly scary as the tide was rushing in and started to cover my exit route.

As with all of these places that we think of isolated nowadays back in the Iron Age (and before) maybe more people lived here. There are a lot of sites in this area and near to this dun some cup marks have been found, indeed this coast line has evidence of several rock art sites. Certainly in prehistoric times this small part of Harris seems to have been well populated.

Visited 30/7/2017.

Dun Innisgall (Stone Fort / Dun)

From Leverburgh take the coastal road signposted Carminish, The Strond and Borrisdale. Three beautiful sites are on or near this road and on this afternoon two would be visited.

The first was Dun Innisgall and we parked just before the hamlet of Carminish. For a change luck was on my side and the tide was out which meant I could jump across mud spreads normally covered in sea water. This didn't please A but it was perfectly safe, as I approached from the south and clambered onto the island of Eilean Nam Stiubhartach to walk northwards until I was just to the west of the dun. The reason for all this chancy stuff was to walk across the 2m wide causeway, I'd never walked on a sea causeway before.

Perched on top of a rock the dun is over 16m wide and must have had huge walls, at least 3m wide, going by the amount of rocks fallen on top of the mud. A lot of these rocks have also been used to built walls on the tidal island across the causeway. The dun's walls are at their best on the south side. On the north some of the island has been washed away thanks to erosion.

My imagination often runs wild at these places and this wasn't helped when the ferry appeared on its way to nearby Leverburgh. imagining they were nasty Vikings I scrambled back to the island to the west and then retraced my steps across the mud spreads to the shore. Looking back the tide had started to turn, somehow my timing had been flukily perfect.

Visited 30/7/2017.

Rodel R141 (Promontory Fort)

After drying the old legs at Loch Bhalariop we climbed to the south west to overlook more magical scenery this time to the promontory fort and islands to the south. The terrain here is very good thanks to very warm weather. One or two streams to jump and field systems to cross are the only problems on the short journey south.

One striking thing about the fort is the amount of loose stones lying about everywhere. Some of these have been used to make various walls, shelters, enclosures, defences and graves (a Canmore suggestion). Inside the fort is mostly flat rock which resembles a couple of nearby duns, Rodelpark and Dun Boraigeo.

Only a couple of photos as I'd ran the camera dry and had left the rucksack at the church to pick up on the way back to our chalet. I'll take more when I get back.

Visited 30/7/2017.

Loch Bhalairiop (Crannog)

On a beautiful early and sunny morning we headed east then north on the road beyond Rodel Church. (I drove on this road later in week which leads to The Golden Road, absolutely brilliant!!) When the dun is immediately to your west, a ruined croft next to the road almost marks the spot, head straight east. This will lead over a small boggy part at first then on to undulating heathery ground. Field systems are easy to spot here, they are everywhere. Cross the valley and climb the hill in front. This will lead to lovely views of the beautiful Loch Bhalairiop, home to the crannog.

The climb down gradually leads to a small promontory on the west of the loch. Today the water is a wonderful colour highlighting the 10m wide crannog. A beautiful unspoilt place completely quiet until I started to splash across the water in an attempt to get to the crannog. There probably is a causeway of sorts but it was elusive so back I splashed to the shore much to the amusement of the two onlookers and several bemused birds.

Visited 30/7/2017.

Rodelpark (Stone Fort / Dun)

The first night in Rodel (Roghadal) provided an excellent opportunity to visit both the famous church and the nearby dun at Rodelpark. As you see the Rodel signpost, look up, the first thing that grabs your attention is the dun to the south, turn the corner then the church comes into view.

Walking up from the church is the easiest route, or use the path indicated for the church handily placed opposite the wooden chalet were we were living about a mile north, handy for Leverburgh as well on the A859. This path winds itself through some beautiful countryside on the shores of Loch Thorsagearraidh and past some artificial mounds. As the path, along with A and B, headed south towards St Clement's Church I headed east towards the badly ruined dun.

The entrance to the dun is on the north amongst the stones of ruined walls. Stones also cover the floor of the 13m wide dun. Various types of enclosure, mural and sheilings have all existed here at some point. In the middle of the dun is one these small mounds, of which there are several in the area. It would interesting to know how old these are.

The views are stunning, to the east The Minch, to the south North Uist and hundreds of small islands, to the west Rodel Church, the magical promontory Dun Stuiadh and the Atlantic and to the north the A859 as it heads up the moody Gleann Shranndabhal. Looking down into valley below I can see A and B leaving the church, just as I leave the sun comes out, lighting up the sea making every island clear. The reason for the dun being built in the first place.

Even the most ruinous sites are magical, this is one of them!

Visited 29/7/2017.

Preas Mairi (Chambered Cairn)

We parked in the same place as GW and walked up the hill to the walled graveyard. Sadly since his visit the place has somewhat fallen apart.

Make and ask permission from the people living cottage to visit the site. Even before the graveyard you can see that it is really a shambles. The entrance arch is impressive enough but sadly it is overrun with the biggest bramble branches I have ever seen, hundreds of them. The gate was open so we walked carefully in and picked our way though various horrible looking plants.

As for the chamber it obviously still remains in the same place but also is grown over. It is a pity as this could and should be a wonderful place as is shown in the Canmore photo. Makes me wonder why Historic Scotland or some local heritage group haven't cleaned the place up.

A sad but worthwhile place to visit.

Visited 28/7/2017.

Burghead (Promontory Fort)

Burghead Promontory Fort is a very easy place to find. As you come into the small town either from the B9013 or 9089 keep going until the roads end. If you don't stop you'll knock over the sign saying you have arrived.

With glorious views of the Moray Firth and the Black Isle it was built in the ideal position, near a natural harbour. Sadly most of the ramparts have gone, the north rampart near were the road ends is the best preserved part of the fort.

Various excavations have proved that this Late Iron Age fort was a centre of power for the Picts. A walk through various parts of the town also will show that this was some place as parts of rampart, wells and various finds have been found. One persons garden was completely dug up!

The best thing to do is visit the coastal town and imagine for yourself what it must have been like.

Visited 28/7/2017.

Castle Kitchie (Hillfort)

After visiting the fine site at Torness I headed further north on the B862 until the next minor road heading south west. At the beginning it is a road, by the time the fort is reached it's a shambles, round the corner it's a joke and on the approach down to Loch Ness the twists and turns are more akin to a sheep's track. Still it has glorious views.

After passing Balchraggan Farm pull in at Balchuirn, a cottage that seems to have lots of wee sheds and buildings plus the usual rusting farm machinery.

Walk south west through a mini rubbish dump into the trees following a sort of track. This leads straight to the flat top of the hill. Most of the way round the defensive walls have fallen but in the North East they seem to have been removed altogether. The fallen stones can be seen most clearly to the south east. Although there is no entrance, as such, there is a clear break in the east. The oval shaped fort is 35m by 29m.

With plenty daylight left two nearby forts, very difficult to reach, were going to be the next walk. However my legs had other things to say as they had had enough so another day for the twin forts.

Visited 7/7/2017.
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Still doing the music, following that team, drinking far to much and getting lost in the hills! (Some Simple Minds, Glasvegas, Athlete, George Harrison, Empire Of The Sun, Nazareth on the headphones, good boots and sticks, away I go!)

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