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Fieldnotes by drewbhoy

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Gellaig Hill (Cairn(s))

After visiting a few more ruinous hut circles at the Strone I headed back to were I had parked at Braenaloin. Nearby there is a gate and track heading south east. It is a decent track with only one or two steepish bits but on the whole nothing difficult. It also helped that I had a cracking day.

To the north Glen Gairn and to the north east stunning views of Morven which would get even better at the end of the climb. The cairn is on a flat plateau as the track takes a sharp turn east. From here the views and colours of Aberdeenshire are beautiful. As well as the late summer colours Morven, Bennachie, Kerloch, Clachnaben and Lochnagar can all be seen. At the bottom of the valley the River Dee glistens as it heads from Braemar to the North Sea at Aberdeen.

The cairn itself is massive like the cairns at Pittenderrich, Deecastle, Kerloch, Pressendye etc and had been missed by Canmore until Thelonius came across the site and Neil K (a keen hillwalker) wondered what it was. So I decided to have a look as well.

It sits at well over 20m wide, stones that are visible, on top of a heather covered footprint a further 1 to 2m wide all round. Sitting at 2m high a windbreak has been made (this adds another 1.5m in height to the sites appearance) which surrounds the trig point. This has been built on top of a concrete base. However this has been built on top the cairn rather than on to the ground. Also interestingly kerbs appear at regular intervals round the site.

A stunning place with stunning views, totally worthwhile and a must visit if in the area. Best of all, a team effort :-)

(A DES report has been sent to Canmore)

Visited 10/8/2017.

The Strone (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

The Strone has magnificent views of Morven and Geallaig Hill and is home to many hut circles most of which have taken a fair battering and difficult to photograph. However one still survives in reasonably good condition thanks to the use of large rocks and later construction (according to Canmore). It is 6m wide and has its 2m wide front door to the east. Water would have been supplied by the Braenaloin and Coulachan Burns, both of which run into the River Gairn to the north.

From the A93 take the B976 north, an old military road. I parked at Braenaloin and walked back up the hill to the hut circles. Handy place to park as the track that leads up to Geallaig Hill starts here as well.

Visited 10/8/2017.

Borve Chamber Cairn (Chambered Cairn)

After splashing down the hill I arrived at the road near the Sgarasta standing Stone (plus friends) and proceeded to walk north east along the A859 following the same route I'd taken to the find the track to Dun Borve. Spectacular scenery all round as the sun blinked between the clouds which created different types of atmosphere and colours to hillside, sea and sand.

There is a hard way and easy way to reach the cairn. To get there I found the hard way. The chamber cairn can be seen from the road and I immediately jumped the first fence just north of a small burn, the Allt Sta. Sadly, for me, not the best idea I've ever had as this was a boggy mess. However I made it to firmer stuff as I headed west. As the burn headed downhill I climbed a small hill to see that the cairn was only about 100 meters away.

Sadly the cairn has seen much damage but I think its still impressive. The capstone rests in front of some of the stones it probably sat on. It appeared that the standing stones were teeth and the massive capstone a tongue, prehistory sticking its tongue out to modernity. The surrounding cairn is 20m wide and it still has surviving kerbs. It is best preserved on the western side at just over 1m tall. Like a few sites nearby I wonder if erosion will finally win the day.

As I picked up my rucksack the sun once again appeared and several sites came into view. Dun Borve to the east is easily spotted with others to the north and south. To the west Taransay and much further to the west St Kilda. When you see all of these sites, its the same everywhere, you realise just how good the prehistoric peoples were at navigation. They simply used the sea and stars/landmarks as a road. That same road will take me back to St Kilda in the reasonably near future.

With that I took the simple way back to the A859 via a track which had appeared from nowhere. Another type of road which led to the ferry and road home.

Visited 5/8/2017.

S64, Scarista (Burial Chamber)

From S70 I headed north jumping several recently made streams, a couple of older and wider streams plus a few fences. All the time to the west it remained cloudy but to the north west the sun was breaking through to light up Luskentyre and its famous beaches. Gradually I was also heading downhill as I approached the remnants of another burial cairn.

The cairn at S64 is also built on a platform about 10m wide and resembles its neighbour at S70. At certain angles the site looks like a complete wreck but closer up the kerb survives quite well and the chamber inside would have been around 4m by 3m. At its tallest it is 0.4m. Down below the stone and its friends at Sgarasta can be seen which made me wonder if the two burial cairns on the hillside were connected to what many consider to be Harris's most important site.

As I made my way back down to the road the wind picked up, the sun finally came out and Borve beach could be seen. Just to the north was Borve Chamber Cairn, the final site for this trip.

Visited 5/8/2017.

S70, Scarista (Burial Chamber)

The final morning and the final three sites for this visit starting at the Scarista S70 cairn. Heading north from Leverburgh we parked near the Isle Of Harris golf course to climb up to the first of two cairns to the east of the road. Underfoot conditions were soggy as there had been a lot of rain through the night. Small streams had become torrents. However, at least the rain had stopped by the time I reached S70.

From the golf course I headed almost straight east crossing the Sgarasta Mhor. As soon as you see a fence in distance keep a look out for a green patch. This is the remnants of the cairn which at one time must have been impressive. Still impressive are the views in every direction.

Built on top of an almost 12 meter wide platform the cairn has what looks like a central cist and a ring of kerbs. Rectangular in shape it measures at 5m by 4m. Parts of the cairn reach 0.4m at their highest. As usual a fair bit of houking has occurred. It would be unfair to describe any site as my favourite but these sites looking into the Atlantic and the nearby islands are hard to beat. The weather certainly adds to the atmosphere. As I walked away to the next site the sun started to appear causing the sea to change colour and the beaches of Luskentyre to shine.

With the scenery in full morning mode I splashed my way to the next site.

Visited 5/8/2017.

Scarista - S56 (Stone Row / Alignment)

There seems to be stone rows aplenty in these West Harris shorelines. Scarista has three, but I only found one and like I've said a few times before when I get back I'll look again.

This stone row is made up of three small boulders, a fourth stone could well be missing but could also be covered in turf. Horgabost has similar sites.

It was time to head back to Rodel after an exhausting day, the next day would be the last day of the trip.

Visited 4/8/2017.

Scarista S-51 (Platform Cairn)

Situated very close, about 50-60 meters north, to the standing stone and mound is a wee platform cairn. It is about 15m wide and no more than 0.2m tall. Only the west side of the platform can be seen, the rest being turf covered.

Visited 4/8/2017.

Sgarasta (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Heading back from Hashinish we stopped to have a look at what many say is Harris's most important prehistoric site. It certainly has the views and a lot of other sites can be seen from here, some very close indeed. The stone might be lonely but it certainly is by itself as hard to spot sites are in the same field.

It is a tremendous site, surrounded by burial cairns high above to the east and the Borve Chamber cairn. Just to the coast side of the stone there is mound that is almost 12m wide and up to 1m tall. It is made up of earth and small stones and what appear to be a couple of buried kerbs.

I was told to look in the field and I'm glad I did as I found a couple of other sites. Reporting back to my informant I was told I should have looked harder. As Tjj says 'it is a place full of wonderful surprises'. Next time!

Visited 4/8/2017.

Dun Borve (Stone Fort / Dun)

Toe Head certainly left an impression on me and I'll definitely be back but Dun Borve was calling so I retraced my steps back to Northton and the A859. I also retraced my steps back to Croft 36, obviously I needed sustenance.

Once back on the A859 I walked north following the road past Scarista, which I'd visit later in the day, the golf course and the still clouded Sound Of Taransay. Just to the north east of the sites at Scarista there is a handily placed sign post indicating the track to Dun Borve, very handy indeed.

This track isn't in very good condition, however marker poles lead to the dun which is easily spotted as a prominent rocky landmark.

Walls surrounding the site are measured at over 14m and some of it remains built, a testament to their, the Iron Age peoples, building skills. The entrance to the dun is in the east leading to a circular turf patch indicating some type of building, enclosure or forecourt. Various buildings have been attached to the walls i.e. sheiling huts, wind breaks. Like Canmore I think it is also a dun as it is a small area for a complicated and larger structure such as a broch. A superb place for a look out as it looks to the Sound Of Taransay to the north, the Atlantic to the west and the mountains of South Harris to the east. It is also, more importantly, looks over the largest expanse of fertile land in South Harris. This explains the prehistory, all the graveyards and The Coffin Road.

Also in the area are cup marked rocks. Tiompan has kindly posted some these to this site page.

Another wonderful place, is there no end of them here? I missed the south direction earlier, as there is another dun and possibly cairns to the south, a considerable walk which I'll do next time. Time to walk back south to Rodel avoiding the camper vans whilst admiring the landscape. Later on it was up to Hashinish, now that is a road!

Visited 4/8/2017.

Toe Head (Broch)

From Croft 36, Northton, keep heading north until the road and village end at a gate. Beyond is a track which has lots of farm machinery old and new abandoned at the track side. Keep following the track taking the second track going west. Should be said that the track from Northton to Toe Head is very good and fairly flat. This will lead straight to the broch on the western edge of Ceapabhal. The scenery is of course stunning, the first part of the walk looks onto the Sound of Taransay, the second part has the rugged coastline and the Atlantic. All the time Ceapabhal watches over the comings and goings.

All the prehistoric ages are represented here with evidence of Mesolithic through to the Iron Age. Traces of these can be found nearby as settlements, rock art etc have been found along the coast to the south. My next trip to Harris will involve a walk looking for them, todays main aim was the broch at Toe Head.

A lot of the broch still stands. Sadly for it, it stands as part of the ruined chapel Rubh’ an Teampuill, point of the temple. Other parts of the broch can be seen on this lonely promontory. The site is built on the highest part of the promontory with traces of wall to the north. In fact traces of the wall can be seen all round the church suggesting it must have been huge, some of the walls must have almost 1.5 wide. As well as being used for the church, stonework had been used to build a dry stane dyke on Ceapabhal. To the west end erosion has taken place, the cause of this being easy to see. Weather changes here quickly and wind had grown very strong, the sea very rough. After a decent look round it was time to get the feet moving again.

Wonderful place and a place to let the imagination run wild, or in my case run riot. Next stop, the long hike to the stunning Dun Borve.

Visited 4/8/2017.

Carn An MacAskill (Cairn(s))

About a mile up the road, on the A859 heading north from Kyle's Lodge, is Carn An MacAskill. The morning was still very moody but it didn't rain which ensured truly fantastic views towards the Sound Of Taransay, Ceapabhal (home to Toehead Broch) and the village of Northton could all be seen. Cloudy weather seems to add to the atmosphere especially when it starts to clear so different countryside colours can be seen, including the colour of the sea.

About 200 meters (south) before the road to Northton jump the fence and head to the top of the wee hill to the east. A small walkers cairn will led me to the site.

Some kerbs can be seen in the 6m wide cairn which has a height of about 0.5m. As usual there appears to be some houking damage. An impressive and scenic site.

Time to head to Croft 36 for a tremendous hot pie, a small diversion on the way to Toehead :-)

Visited 4/8/2017.

Kyle's Cairn (Cairn(s))

Another early start on a dampish morning started at the Kyle's Lodge Cairn just to the north west of Leverburgh. There is a tarred road heading south west from the A859 and I walked until the corner just before the roads end.

The cairn is situated just above the road on a small platform and has several kerbs still standing. It is about 6m wide and 0.6m tall with impressive views over to Ensay, whose standing stone can be seen in the distance.

A fine place to watch various wildlife and ships/boats in the bay. Soon, maybe to soon, I was in full flow heading towards Northton.

Visited 4/8/2017.

The Macleod Stone (Standing Stone / Menhir)

Walking further westwards on the A859 from the Coire Na Feinne Chamber Cairn we jumped the fence at the next cattle grid to head north over the dunes towards the MacLeod Stone. A few days before I'd been looking at several sites in the area but ran out of time but not today. Although we were all tired, even B, we plodded on to be re-invigorated when crossing the ridge to see the massive standing stone.

Not many people mention the possible wee cairn that surrounds the stone. There are at least two kerbs still earthfast in an area that has a scatter of stones almost 6m wide. Canmore says there isn't enough evidence but ever the optimist I'd like to think there had been a cairn at some point. One thing for sure is the fact that the stone can be seen for miles away coming in from the Atlantic.

Fantastic stone, fantastic scenery, fantastic day and some sun burnt legs!

Visited 3/8/2017.

Coire na Feinne (Chambered Cairn)

We came to this site after a day at the beaches of Luskentyre with its fantastic colour schemes and the reverse walking of the Coffin Road. Normally coffins would come from the east to the west so we walked in the opposite direction to come back via the northern following the old main road, quarries and Laxdale. We spotted no coffins.

The best place to park is near the chippy van at the Horgabost Camp Site and walk west up the A859 until its junction with the minor road heading east to the Horgabost township. With the road passing nearby, indeed one of the stones looks like it is trying to escape, the chamber cairn is situated in a garden looking west into the beautiful bay. Only the capstone and six slabs remain in the well tended garden. At least the cairn is being looked after. All the smaller cairn material was removed long before the house was built.

After asking permission I was allowed to wander about and have a look. Great wee place, very easy to find.

Visited 3/8/2017.

Dun Stuaidh (Promontory Fort)

After the stunning day at St Kilda and, for me, life changing events a next day early morning walk was required. The walk to Dun Stuaidh was perfect for the job, so I set of in the drizzle which soon turned into a beautiful Harris morning.

From our chalet I walked south towards St Clements Church taking the first tarred road heading south west. This crosses over a causeway/reservoir with beautiful views looking back north up the Abhainn Thorro Burn and the Rodel Valley.

As the road reaches the west end of the reservoir go onto the track which heads uphill to give glorious early morning views of Loch Roghadail, St Clements Church, Rodelpark Dun and the islands to the south. The track follows the coastline looking down onto the fort. Follow this until a dry stane dyke heads south, follow this downhill to the shore. All sorts of very old fishing boat material, long deserted houses and enclosures can be seen. In the bay can be seen several very expensive yachts.

The fort and its front door is straight south. A short climb through ancient walls leads to the northern end of this spectacular site. Erosion has played a big part in the forts history but there is plenty left to admire. Walls, especially on the eastern side, surround the fort. The western side is greatly eroded whilst to the south the fort is almost completely gone. Only a small finger of land, no more than a foot wide remains, with no one watching it is much easier to take chances so I walked to the end to get pictures looking back north. The northern defences still survive if somewhat crumbled. Near the entrance are a couple of enclosures. It appears to me that the sea doesn't seem to be affecting this area quite so much as grass and weeds appear to be fighting back on the low lying area just to the north of the fort.

A beautiful start to another wonderful day which would include Luskentyre Bay and the walking of 'The Coffin Road'.

Visited 3/8/2017.

Bioda Mor (Stone Fort / Dun)

The final prehistoric sight and site of this St Kilda visit would be the fort at Bioda Mor. This is a truly spectacular place, rugged cliffs, natural archways and thousands upon thousands of seabirds including, our favourites, the puffins. To make sure nobody would get lost this island is aptly named Dun.

From our vantage point at The Lovers Rock we could see where the fort was situated on the western side. Nearer The Milking stone we could see the fort from the bay/eastern side. It is a truly remarkable site. Earlier I had asked if I could scramble across to Dun but was given a polite but stern answer of no. However it can be arranged, possibly the next visit.

We sailed from the small pier at Hirta, glimpsing the quarries at Clash Na Bearnaich on the way. Nothing can really prepare you for the scenery about to appear. Nothing can stop the feelings of immense respect for the builders as they have literally built on sheer cliff face. Defensive walls can clearly be seen built various places. Nearer the centre of the island this wall is over 2m wide and 1.5m high. Fallen walls can be seen clinging to the cliffs on the bay side way above us and the sea.

This was stunning enough but even more stunning are the views around Stacc Lee, Stacc An Armin and the island of Boreray, another place I need to find a way onto. Each of them nave their sad and inspiring stories to tell. Then we set sail to the east on the amazingly calm Atlantic Ocean back to Leverburgh. As we neared the ferry port the standing stones at Borvemore, Nisabost and on the island of Ensay could just about be seen, Ensay being clearly visible. Had the ancient peoples built a type of light house? I don't know but they certainly told us that land and safety was near.

Viewed 2/9/2017.

Clash Na Bearnaich (Ancient Mine / Quarry)

One of the main places I wanted to visit on St Kilda was the quarry at Clash Na Bearnaich aka The Chimney. Sadly we'd ran out of time but not out of scenery. The extremely knowledgeable crew pointed out the quarries as we sailed towards the fort at Bioda Mor.

As the photos show the quarry faces are quite high up the face of the hill. Walking due south of The Milking will be the route I'll take to get a closer look during our next visit. On the way I'll be able to look at the quarry at Gearraidh Ard. It all points to there being a sizeable pre Iron Age population.

Viewed 2/9/2017.

Tobar Childa (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

After the life changing events at the Lover's Stone it was time to make our way via the wall/path to the tarred road. It was either head further uphill heading north east or head downhill and east towards the village, not Hirta but the Iron Age hut circles of Tobar Childa. We headed towards Tobar Childa as time was running out as we needed to be back at the pier.

So downhill we headed which enabled us to see the absolutely stunning views again. The weather had started to get even warmer, unbelievable considering the tales of bad weather we'd been told about. Just to the south of the Abhainn Mhor burn we headed straight east to the hut circles. These are hard to find because of the sheer amount of gray rock lying about, they certainly had no shortage of building material. I remained to look for the ancient village whilst A headed to the pier.


This appeared to be a group of 4 hut circles the best of which I photographed. The hut had large stones surrounding its edge and is about 4m in diameter. Harsh place to live during winter possibly, however a lot of people told us that the climate wasn't so remote and the islands weren't so isolated as they were to become.


This group seemed to have the best built hut circle making use of a depression, perhaps man made, on which to build their wall. Almost all the hut circles in these groups are about 4m in diameter and this was no exception.


This was to be last stop on mainland St Kilda as A was shouting (probably louder than that) from the Main Street that people were assembling at the pier. NF10099948 had the largest of the surrounding walls. These were almost 1.5m wide and almost 0.75 tall.

Sadly two hut circle groups missed but I'll visit them the next time we're here. With that it was a mad dash through various cleits, enclosures, houses (ancient and more modern) and walls to the eastern end of Main Street.

Visited 2/9/2017.

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.

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.
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