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Duchary Rock (Hillfort) — Miscellaneous

The ancient fortifications delimiting the c984ft by c361ft 'lost world' plateau of Duchary Rock present the visitor with fabulous vistas across Loch Brora and the surrounding landscape... in addition to some pretty substantial archaeological remains at the north-western and south-eastern extremities. Steep natural defences - particularly to the east - more-or-less negate the need for artificial defences elsewhere.

Although inevitably damaged by shepherds in search of shelter for their flocks across the ages, these collapsed dry stone walls were once apparently nearly some 13ft wide (according to "Exploring Scotland's Heritage - The Highlands' [1995]) the more impressive northern possessing an entrance lined with upright stone slabs. Incidentally there is a similar arrangement at the great Brigantes stronghold surmounting Ingleborough, way down south in The Yorkshire Dales. There would appear to be some debate regarding the ancestry of the narrow entrance currently to be seen to the south.... perhaps a proto-postern gate for light foot traffic only?

My assumption is that Duchary Rock is most easily attained by way of a rough track ascending the hillside from the south-east. However I arrived from the fabulous Carrol broch to the north; it would be a pity not to take a look at both sites whilst in the area, methinks?

Carrol (Broch) — Fieldnotes

I'm aware that most generalisations proffered are, by their very nature, likely to be sent packing back to whence they came in short order. That being said, however, I reckon it's fair to suggest that many areas of these British Isles feature what might be termed a 'signature' type of prehistoric monument. Consider: Cornwall has its quoits; Wessex has its overwhelming multi-vallate hill forts; Dartmoor has its interminable stone rows; Wales its seemingly boundless supply of upland cairns, to all intents and purposes forming one huge Bronze Age cemetery in the (all too frequent) clouds; Ireland... spoilt for choice... but I'll go with its raths. Yeah, but what of Scotland? OK, Aberdeenshire is famed for its RSCs, granted. But, upon reflection, I think it has to be the broch. Those idiosyncratic, double-skinned, dry stone 'cooling towers' of yore erected with such sublime skill the mind boggles. It would seem we have a consensus that some 500-odd brochs may still be seen gracing the landscape today. Not that I've undertaken the arithmetic myself, you understand.

Of all the brochs I've had the pleasure of spending some time at over the years arguably few (Allt a’Bhurg, perhaps?) offer a better appreciation of the archetypal ground plan, the inherent component parts, than that overlooking Loch Brora above Carrol farm. Now fellow Essex man Martin Gore may well caution against employing a strict 'policy of truth'... however I must confess to not having a Scooby about the existence of the monument prior to some hasty, last minute research a few days before my visit. But there you are. That, after all, is what TMA is for and, following a short drive south along the A9 from my overnight stop within the wondrous Glen Loth, I park up before the (rather fine) suspension bridge spanning the River Brora. A notice informs the curious traveller that said bridge was erected to assist local children travelling to/from school. Tsk... soft, mollycoddled kids of today. What are they like? Commuting in a Ford not good enough, eh?

Anyway, the plod along the estate track following the river back toward its inception is, well, quite a plod, albeit one enlivened by anticipated watery views to the right upon breaking free from forestry above Leadoch. To the left tower the deceptively impressive crags of Duchary Rock harbouring a (so it transpires) rather fine hill fort. My 'plod' morphs into more of a purposeful 'stride' as the way ahead becomes more focussed, an islet within the loch (Eilean nam Faoileag) apparently bearing the remains of a castle (what price replacing an earlier structure?), the tall, wire fence defining my other flank ensuring no serpentine deviation from my route into the once again prevalent forestry. Len's stile, preceding the Allt Coire Aghaisgeig, is easily spotted, a brief, sweaty struggle - sorry, I don't wear deodorant when walking - earning an audience with the elevated broch. So, that's the water source sorted, then? Check.

From afar the broch resembles a rather impressive chambered cairn. That this is manifestly not the case becomes apparent, however, upon clambering up to the summit of the stone pile to find the structure hollow, albeit in a strictly 'structural' sense. For one thing, the circular central court is occupied by some industrial strength vegetation - forget the Weedol, we're talking flamethrowers, or the Gorgon breath of my appalling late Step-grandmother to make any impression whatsoever; furthermore there is nothing remotely 'empty' about the vibe here, the silence, punctuated now and again by the rhythmic call of the cuckoo, pervading an atmosphere seemingly pregnant with implied meaning. If only one had the 'key' to facilitate the delivery of such knowledge, such insight. Hey, just what is the landscape trying to say? After 30 years doing this I actually think I'm beginning to get it, to understand. However trying to communicate it is another matter entirely. Tell me about it.

The broch itself is, frankly, quite superb, the entrance passage arguably the most well preserved I've seen to date, complete with door jambs and draw bar slot, not to mention lintels still in situ. The attendant 'guard cell' - not sure about the veracity of such a classification since the draw bar didn't seem operable from within? - is intact, a crawl inside revealing the superb 'dry stone corbelling' construction technique illuminated by natural light streaming from above, the chamber an oasis of cool from the heat without. Even with me in it. Yes, really. Hey, are we sure this is Scotland? Above, the wall head exhibits intra-mural passages and steps; in fact all the 'brochy things' one would anticipate, but not always get. Hey, there's also a low, surrounding wall and what appears to be a proto-'barbican' protecting the entrance... although whether these are original elements of the design or remnants of later settlement I guess might well be open to debate within musty academic circles.

The sweeping vista across Loch Brora is very much in order, too, complementing the archaeological excellence. To be honest I could've sat here all day watching cars trundle along the minor road traversing the far side of the loch, content in the knowledge that no muppet was likely to venture up here to shatter the idyll, this perfect symmetry of past and present. However the hill rising more-or-less immediately south above Coire Aghaisgeig draws the eye. Not for itself - although it's hard to believe it's only c856ft high - but for what lies beyond: Duchary Rock and its hill fort. I decide to forego an easy return, put myself out a little and go have a look.

Auchoish (Chambered Cairn) — Fieldnotes

I'm sure Stephen Hawking - now of course occupying his rightful niche between Mr Newton and Mr Darwin in eternity (although why we have the remains of two exceptional atheists within Westminster Abbey is, er, rather puzzling) - would've been able to forward a convincing theory as to where the time goes... however it's 17 years since I first ventured forth into the verdant Kilmartin Glen, a more-or-less megalithic illiterate seduced into undertaking the nightmare-inducing drive from Essex by the siren call of Mr Cope's garishly coloured tome. A lot of water has flowed under both the allegorical bridge and that which connects my home island to the mainland in the interim; however one aspect of my life that has proved pretty constant is the compulsion to seek out new places associated with those pioneers responsible for laying the foundations of the - admittedly 'wobbly' - edifice we call civilisation.

So yes, while the great linear grouping of monuments gracing the glen will rightly take precedent for newcomers, the periphery exerts a far greater attraction for me nowadays. I mean, with time so limited why repeat oneself when there is so much more to discover? Such as the Auchoish chambered cairn where all but Greywethers fear to tread. It is therefore with a fair degree of irony that, following an overnighter beside the mighty Loch Awe, I note, upon perusing the map, that an approach to said chambered cairn will mean passing the tourist honeypot that constitutes the Achnabreck rock art panels. Hey, but while I'm here.... guess it would be pedantic, if not downright rude not to have a look. What can you do?

Furthermore it is doubly - nay, trebly - ironic that, despite consciously avoiding the goddam place for all these years, I duly find myself captivated by the beguiling, swirling, circular motifs and depressions carved into the naked rock. Touch, arguably that most sensual of senses, confirms the growing feeling that executing such designs must've been a very time consuming process indeed. And then some. A serious undertaking surely only justifiable by a correspondingly high accepted 'worth' of the finished 'product'. Hell, this art must've really meant something. OK, no doubt the (almost) complete absence of other punters this overcast, drizzly morning lent a positive cadence to the silent symphony playing out within my head... but even so, isn't it great to have such specific preconceptions proven so emphatically wrong in such an overwhelmingly affirmative manner? Yeah, I can handle that.

So.… moving on I pick up the forestry track heading east. Now stomping along such tracks - while not my favourite of pastimes - does have compensations, such as the clean scent of pine pervading the muggy, moist atmosphere; appealing enough in lieu of a fragrance of a more deciduous origin. Or Chanel No.5 in the nape of a woman's neck. Sadly the compensations do not extend to a chat with Keith Flint... well, seeing as a notice informs the traveller this is also the 'Twisted Fire Starter' mountain bike trail. But there you are. To be fair the unusually coiffured gentleman did appear rather athletic performing within the video back in the day; but then again we are all inexorably advancing in years, are we not? And 'Breathe' was by far a better tune. The route duly swings abruptly south before veering north (thankfully conflagrations are not in evidence), passing an old quarry prior to crossing the Auchoish Burn where one should select the left hand fork.

Unfortunately things now get a bit complicated (I won't say 'interesting' upon the assumption that disciples of Donatien Alphonse François tend not to favour seeking out Neolithic chambered cairns upon Scottish hillsides) the monument being located 'somewhere' upon the thickly afforested rise to the right. According to the 1:25K OS map matters should be straightforward enough; however the trees are so dense that an attempt to head straight to the tomb on a compass bearing is a non-starter. Consequently I head further along the track before making a very rough ascent to the highest ground in the locale and taking a bearing from there. This allows me to pick up the heavily overgrown run depicted upon the map and, knee deep in mud, systematically force my way through to the monument within its clearing. Brute force is not something to be admired. However sometimes needs must.

It is immediately apparent that all this effort is so, so worthwhile: the elongated 'Clyde' cairn is aligned on a SW/NE axis with the significant remains of a façade/forecourt to north-east... a number of the orthostats still standing before the hollow ghost of a chamber, albeit with traces of stone work also to be seen within the latter. For me, however, it is the relatively well preserved lateral chamber subsumed within the lower, south-western section of the substantial cairn that represents the structural pièce de résistance. Greywether reckons there could even be a rare 'porthole' stone in situ. Didn't realise at the time, but in retrospect I'm not going to disagree with the suggestion since there are definitely two segments here with curiously shaped dividing stones.

However at a fundamental level the primary motivation to visit sites such as Auchoish is surely the response to the question 'how does it make me feel to be here?' Hence the discerning Citizen Cairn'd will surely wish to make the effort to come for the - in my opinion - truly exceptional vibe further enhanced by the site's isolation from the general (relative) hubbub of the area. Yeah, unlike the arguably over manicured monuments within Kilmartin Glen itself the silence here is absolute, a serenity so total the atmosphere is electric. If you excuse the oxymoron.

Despite the drizzle-laden cloud sweeping, quite literally, through the treeline according optimum conditions for the midge - that wee awful woman aside - Scotland's most appalling inhabitant, I stay for approx three hours before retracing my steps. A diversion to the enigmatic, moss-clad remains of Dun Na Maraig ensures I reach the car in no fit state to do anything but sleep. To be fair a man can ask for no further reward from a day pottering around in the damp forest: obscure chambered cairn, hill fort and.... well …. how does one begin to describe, to attempt to decipher the meaning inherent in those symbols? Then again, perhaps it is best that we never do so. That we simply allow them to inspire that symphony in the head?

Altnacealgach Hotel (Cairn(s)) — Images (click to view fullsize)

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Clach Oscar (Standing Stone / Menhir) — Images

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Loch Borralan Crannog — Images

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Altnacealgach (Chambered Cairn) — Images

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Loch Leum Na Luirginn (Stone Fort / Dun) — Images

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Dun Beag (Loch Slapin) (Stone Fort / Dun) — Images

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Dun Kearstach (Stone Fort / Dun) — Images

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Dun Mor (Stone Fort / Dun) — Images

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Beinn na Cailleach (Cairn(s)) — Images

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Dun Beag, Balmeanach (Hillfort) — Images

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Tote (Skeabost) (Chambered Cairn) — Images

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Cuidrach Stone Setting (Stone Circle) — Images

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Hi, I'm Robert ... aka Citizen Cairn'd. I've a passion for attempting to understand the lives of the pioneering prehistoric inhabitants of these British Isles, seeking out the remains they left behind in order to ask myself "why here ... why did it matter so... why such commitment?". Needless to say I'm still pondering such intangibles. Just as an empty house appears to retain echoes of past humanity... so does the stone circle, the chambered cairn, the long barrow and the mountain top funerary cairn. Visiting them, I think, helps engender a certain 'connection' with this land of ours, with ourselves - our past, our present and our future; a reference point for those of us perhaps struggling to make sense of this so-called 'computer world' Kraftwerk warned us was a'coming in 1981.... danke, mein herren.

George Orwell - '...during times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act'....

Martin Gore - 'Like a pawn
On the eternal board
Who’s never quite sure
What he’s moved towards
I walk blindly on'

Truman Capote - 'Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavour'.

John Lydon - 'It is a reward to be chastised by the ignorant'.

Winston Churchill - 'KBO'.

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