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Fieldnotes by GLADMAN

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Carn Wen (Gwastedyn) (Cairn(s))

Travellers heading south upon the A470 - or at least those with a tendency to, perchance, lift their eyes above the horizontal plane - will note, upon leaving the limits of the busy town of Rhayader, a substantial ridge dominating the skyline. This is Gwastedyn Hill, and, although rising to no more than c1,565ft, the 'summit' is conspicuously crowned by a neat 'beehive' cairn of the type so beloved by visitors to the erstwhile 'wilder', more inaccessible heights of Cwmdeuddw feeding the famously nearby Elan Valley Reservoirs with their not inconsiderable watery excess. However, appearances, as are often the case, are deceptive here, for no Bronze Age VIP was interred upon that rocky spine. Indeed, a rusting iron lattice-work 'beacon', set upon a post beside the cairn, commemorates a much more recent event... that of Queen Elizabeth II's 1977 Jubilee. An event which this then proto-Modern Antiquarian spent dressed as a pirate... well, as the wondrous Mr Ant said, 'ridicule is nothing to be scared of'... attending the local street party, whilst Mr Rotten and his dodgy cohorts had their collars 'felt' by the Thames river police. And Rod Stewart apparently got to No.1. Apparently. Don't get me wrong; The Pistols were just stupid kids.... but out of the mouths of babes, as they say. Curious how 'criminality' is sometimes defined, isn't it?

Nevertheless should one decide to park up just beyond the sewage works (on the right) and follow the (unsigned) public bridleway, steeply up through trees beside a tumbling stream in the general direction of Bwlch-y-llys, an equally taxing pull up the bare north-west flank of the hill will bring ample reward in a fantastic panorama to all points of the compass. Here the Royalist can drink his/her fill... the prehistorian, however, must head to the true summit of the hill some way to the approx south-east, where.... well, to be honest I don't think anyone's been able to define just what the hell is going on.

Two things, however, are apparent to me today: the remains of a substantial cairn still stand at SN98686614... the Carn Wen (White Cairn), one of a number so named in the extended locality; and secondly, the inclement weather, the peripheral effects of Hurricane Irma no doubt, is certainly in no hurry to leave. But what can you do? Except offer heartfelt 'thanks' to the wondrous institutions of Berghaus and Karrimor for the blessings of their waterproof garments. Not so much in physical genuflection, you understand?.... but such a posture does have much to recommend it when faced with rain seemingly not in obeyance of the laws of physics.

In my opinion Carn Wen is worthy of the honour of such personalised nomenclature. As Coflein duly notes, it features "...the remains of a substantial bouldered kerb and a possible cist". Always welcome features to find associated with one's upland cairn. Furthermore, to seal the authenticity deal, as it were, "A battle-axe, a bracelet and some other relics' were recovered in 1844 and a large erect stone was noted at the centre of the monument". So, clearly, what we have here is but the shattered remnants of what once was. But it is enough. Large, erect stones notwithstanding. However there is more... apparently much more, for immediately to the approx north-west stands the circular 'Druid's Circle' feature, currently interpreted as "a roundhouse and enclosure" (at SN98676615), whilst to the north-east, three further cairns have been recorded by CPAT. None of this detail was obvious to me, I have to confess. Although, in mitigation, lashing, freezing rain and swirling hill fog do tend to adversely affect observation. If not authentic upland vibe.

After a couple of hours the weather's onslaught finally triumphs over my resolve and I descend back to the car... ironically in brilliant sunshine. Yeah, Gwastedyn Hill is a curious place. Just what an apparently prehistoric 'enclosure' is doing immediately adjoining a bone fide summit burial cairn is, of course, open to much debate. If Iron Age, perhaps it was indeed - for once - actually associated with those enigmatic Druid priests, holding ceremonies with meaning now lost in the mists of time, if no longer, thanks to penetrating sun, opaque mists of H20?

Cnoc na Moine (Chambered Cairn)

Popularity is relative; however it's nevertheless probably fair to say that the environs of The Kyle of Durness feature pretty highly upon the itineraries of most visitors to far north-western Scotland. And not without good reason: the coastal scenery is exquisite, particularly striking when a low, late Spring sun blurs demarcation between hillside, sandbank and water with washes of golden light bordering upon sheer ostentation.

What might not be so obvious to passing motorists restricted to widescreen panoramas is the fact that such scenic splendour was (or so it would appear to me) specifically chosen as the necessary backdrop to a myriad funerary cairns erected by the first peoples to call the locale 'home', monuments which still remain, in varying degrees of preservation, clustered either side of the A838 coastal road. Unlike assemblages of similar cairns - cemeteries, if you will - to be found in many other areas of these Isles, gaunt stone piles standing in enigmatic profile against the skyline... those to the south-west of Durness are seemingly shy to the point of reclusion. Even when in plain sight. Some, I like to think, offer a sublime, harmonious juxtaposition of monument and landscape, a glorious summation of just why I do what I do.

One such was only discovered... or rather 're-discovered'... by those wondrous OS people during field investigations as recently as 1960, obscured by peat upon the low rise of Cnoc na Moine. Following a 1972 visit, the indefatigable Audrey Henshall classified the monument as "The heavily robbed remains of an Orkney-Cromarty round cairn with a polygonal chamber". The description is succinct since not a great deal of cairn material remains in situ, it being the substantial orthostats of the surviving chamber which impress, their squat solidity evoking a notion of timelessness, a reference point, perhaps, in a world seemingly accelerating uncontrollably toward cyber information overload. (Although no doubt some pioneers of The Industrial Revolution had similar concerns about their own 'Great Leap Forward'). I was expecting a lot less 'chamber' and more 'cairn', to be honest; but happily settle for the inverse. Happily.

The chambered cairn doesn't sit at the modest outcropping summit of Cnoc na Moine, rather a little way below to the approx west. The summit itself is crowned by a ring - perhaps 'stone arrangement' is a more apt descriptor - not depicted upon the map, but clearly of human agency (Canmore cites this as a 'Kerbed Cairn'). The splendid profiling as seen from the chambered cairn is perhaps instructive? Furthermore another Kerbed Cairn is located beside the southern shore of Loch Caladail to the east, this furnished with a similar aspect of the summit. The assumption that both monuments were in some way subsidiary to - or at least associated with - the summit is arguably pretty cohesive.

So... the archaeology to be found secreted away upon and around Cnoc na Moine is somewhat extensive, not to mention impressive. The same can be said about the fabulous, contrasting views. The brutally rugged heights of Beinn Ceannabeinne and Meall Meadhonach dominate the near eastern horizon, despite relatively modest elevations, but it is the aforementioned, magnificent seaward vista - particularly when viewed from the chambered cairn - which, for me, is the crowning glory here, the gaze irrevocably drawn across the shining waters of the Kyle of Durness... toward Cape Wrath itself. A timeless view worthy of a timeless viewpoint.

I don't believe the chambered cairn of Cnoc na Moine can be readily seen from roadside. Consequently travellers willing to ascend the short distance for a personal audience should pretty much be guaranteed just that. A spot to hang out in solitude for a while without, as George Eliot memorably said "feeling obligated to look serious".

Loch Eriboll (Round Cairn)

Like most visitors to the far north-west of mainland Scotland, I guess, the great Loch Eriboll - arguably one of Scotland's most enigmatic sea lochs - has erstwhile featured as a rather extensive (c10 mile long) watery backdrop to the approach to Durness, the town (in season at least) a bustling focal point for those enjoying the superb coastal scenery this exquisite corner of Sutherland has to offer. In abundance.

This year, however, I manage to infuse a degree of structure to my wide-eyed wanderings, somehow finding myself in the position to allocate a full day to traverse the A838 between Tongue and the southern extremity of The Kyle of Durness... the proviso that I camp at the latter notwithstanding. Furthermore, in stark contrast to my last venture two years back, the generally inclement Scottish weather is anything but, a golden glow announcing a more-or-less cloudless dawn at my camp near Loch Hakel, what vapour there is smothering Ben Loyal, the mountain appearing as if immersed in whipped cream. So, following a glorious diversion along the eastern shore of Loch Hope, an almost impossibly blue Loch Eriboll beckons beyond Ard Neackie as the A838 swings south. Hey, it would be rude not to stop this time, particularly seeing as the chances of encountering such conditions again are pretty slim, it has to be said.

Passing Eilean Choraidh - apparently used by the Norse of yore as a burial ground (it appears 'Loch Eriboll' is derived from the Norse meaning “home on a gravely beach”) - I park beneath the imposingly rocky flank of Creag na Faoilinn overlooking the loch to the south. Unlike eagle-eyed TMA-er Carl, I can't positively identify the cairn from roadside, so head for the eastern side of Lochan Havurn, before veering to the right. The going is rough - very much so - with intermittent bog to make things more, er, interesting. In retrospect it's no doubt easier to approach via the house at Foulin (there's a souterrain to see nearby as well, if that's your bag). But there you are... whatever route is taken the cairn, upon arrival, will be found to be a beauty of the type.

Small, but perfectly formed... and, as far I could tell, apparently inviolate (?)... this is an excellent, unassuming monument. The setting is exquisite for a lowland cairn (let's face it, it can't really get any lower), the vast expanse of Loch Eriboll, stretching away to the northern horizon, contrasting vividly with the towering crags of Creag na Faoilinn to landward. Hey, if visiting punters can manage to vacate their Bronze Age perch there's even a personal beach close at hand. As it is I prefer the former, an ideal spot to relax, drink coffee and chuckle at the antics of the numerous 'themed tourer groups' (Porsches, Harley Davidsons, brand new, shiny 4x4s etc) passing by in convoy upon the A838, the relative proximity of the road somewhat paradoxically accentuating the splendid isolation of the monument. Such is the idyllic perfection of the scene it almost beggars belief to recall that Eilean Choraidh was used as a target practice proxy for the infamous German battleship Tirpitz during the war... and that Loch Eriboll has been a surrogate home for Royal Navy - as well as Merchant Navy - groups on numerous occasions, thanks to the deepness of its water.

Such is the vibe I could've stayed all day... but there is so much more to see beyond Durness. Yeah, tell me about it.

Clach an Righ (Stone Circle)

Following a day spent wandering the (arguably) somewhat bleak, intimidatory (at least under massive leaden skies), indubitably wet landscape of Badanloch, an evening sojourn within Clach an Righ's forestry clearing appeared to offer an appropriate, conciliatory contrast before settling down for the night... or at least what passes for 'night' in these far northern outlands in late May. Now although I'm aware that "To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect"... or at least according to the splendidly caustic brain of Mr Wilde... I'd contest a somewhat pragmatic disposition based upon practical experience - I'd hesitate to call it cynicism - is probably nearer the mark in my case.

Whatever the source of this personal stoicism - damn it to blazes when all I want is an easy life - it is once again soon put to practical use. Yeah, upon arriving at the expected footbridge shown crossing the River Naver (immediately opposite the stone circle) on the current 1:25K map... said bridge is nowhere to be seen. No sign of debris, nothing. Troll hunters please take note. Nothing to see here.... move along please. Which is what stone circle seekers must also do, heading north on the B873 to Ceann-na-coille where successive wooden suspension bridges - for, please note, 'the exclusive use of local fishermen' - afford access to the far bank of the river, via an islet. Making the - perhaps unfounded - assumption that said 'sportsmen' would not begrudge my passage, my relief at remaining dry-shod is immediately tempered by the realisation that an unclimbable deer fence comprehensively bars access to the forestry track beyond. So, no early evening stroll, then, but a rough, soggy trek along the river bank in the face of a sustained cacophony from the bloody dog across the water. After almost a mile (I think, maybe less) a stile is finally forthcoming, and, eventually, the forestry clearing bearing stone circle. Not before time, too.

Despite just the two stones remaining upright, Clach an Righ proves well worth the effort. For me this is, in no small way, due to the manner in which the now fallen stones preserve the integrity of the ring, maintaining its circumference, its inherent symmetry. Furthermore they - erect and prostrate monoliths alike - are beautiful specimens, still surrounding a low, grassy cairn of some former VIP; presumably not 'our Harald', as old man Steptoe might have said, but someone laid to rest (in whatever form) at a much earlier date. In fact the impression I have is that Clach an Righ more resembles an Irish site than Scottish... something akin to Ardgroom, perhaps?.. which is certainly a favourable comparison, indeed.

An information board provides visitors - should any happen to pass this way following the removal, by natural causes or otherwise, of the former bridge - with a precis of the events responsible for generating such stirring local legend... the towering treeline, shifting audibly in the breeze, somehow synonymous with the last resting place of great warriors of yore; if not stricken, dying men crying out for their mothers with last gasps of humanity. Whether those apparently nearby 'clearance cairns' did, in fact, once protect such battlefield casualties from the opportunistic attentions of wild animals is perhaps a moot point. For the shattered, yet still haunting monument of Clach na Righ continues to mark the passing of one enigmatic local millennia ago.

Conditions upon the ground may not be at all favourable nowadays and, owing to the unforeseen trek, I reach the car exhausted, nearing dusk, thus necessitating a wild camp overlooking Loch Naver. However there was something about Clagh an Righ I really liked. Couldn't quite define what it was, to be honest. Which is no doubt part of the appeal.

Cnoc Molach, Badanloch Forest (Stone Row / Alignment)

As with the excellent kerbed cairn of Carn Glas standing, unseen upon its hillside, a half mile or so to the south-east, the motorist traversing the B871 would be unlikely, in the extreme - even if he/she also happened to have assumed membership of that rather idiosyncratic club of Modern Antiquarians - to halt and explore the low ridge of Cnoc Molach... if it wasn't for the extraordinary actions of those, past and present, responsible for annotating our maps with references to 'burnt mounds', 'hut circles', 'field systems' 'cairns' and, perhaps most intriguing of all, 'stone rows'. So thank you Ordnance Survey for helping me to assuage, temporarily at least, this almost amaranthine state of curiosity I appear to possess.

I pull off the road a little north of the Badanloch Burn and, overcoming a momentary hesitation - courtesy of my spiritual guardian John le Mesurier's customary 'Do you think this is wise' admonition (much better than an angel, I find) - I advance westward across the very wet, rough moorland to the low summit of Cnoc Molach, the ubiquitous, tussocky grass here giving way to outcropping rock. The outlook is expansive, the watery aspect maintained, albeit in a much purer, infinitely more attractive form than the soggy, eastern flanks, the extensive contents of Loch Badanloch leading the eye toward a horizon diffused by distant hill tops.. not to mention the occasional mountain summit, too. However stone rows are very much conspicuous by their absence.

Descending to the south-west(ish) I'm still none the wiser until, suddenly, protruding through the peaty surface like (thankfully) misfiring versions of Cadmus's dragon's teeth, there they are. A couple of reasonably sized stones notwithstanding, these monuments - or is it a single monument? - are distinctly underwhelming in physical stature, the layout not at all clear... four, maybe five rows?; indeed one wonders how many more diminutive orthostats still stand subsumed within the moor. If buried stuff can be said to 'stand', that is? I'm left with the impression that this was very much a 'no frills' working landscape, tailored to the specific ritualistic needs of the community which called Cnoc Molach home back in the day. The people who, I assume, lived within the hut circles which still stand overlooking the loch... and tended the surviving field system, buried their VIP(s) within the nearby cairn? Anyhow, according to those wondrous OS people:

[Upon the] "SW-facing moorland slopes of Cnoc Molach within an area of hut circles and field system is a group of at least five incomplete stone rows. They are aligned from NNE to SSW, converging slightly towards the uphill NNE side. A total of twenty eight stones can be identified Visited by OS (N K B) 26 April 1977"

I go walkabout upon Cnoc Molach, noting numerous examples of the aforementioned hut circles and cairns, clearance or otherwise. As I do so, pausing at one particularly large hut circle to reflect - a hall circle, perhaps? - I become acutely aware of the all pervading, almost eerie silence, an overwhelming sense, perhaps, of 'what went before' irresistibly seeping into the present? Hey, maybe this isn't as daft as it sounds... is it possible that placing yourself in such positions may retrieve or trigger memes (for want of a better word) buried deep within the shared human consciousness? Guess Richard Dawkins might have a view on that.

The former community of Cnoc Molach, therefore, is not somewhere to come to be blown away by awesome feats of human constructive endurance, to see exquisitely shaped monoliths defining a pioneering culture. In my opinion it transcends all that, great as all that may be, instead perhaps offering an opportunity to be a little more self-indulgent. A suitable environment, the 'space' to ponder who we are vis-à-vis who we used to be?

Plas Curig (Cairn(s))

Dismissed by the only previous poster, I hereby suggest this idiosyncratic cairn is in need of reappraisal by Citizens Cairn'd travelling to the Snowdonian heartlands...

Yeah, despite having been the unfortunate recipient of several, large rogue boulders - presumably field clearance from times unspecified (let's face it, Wales has a lot of those to choose from) - and featuring the criminal presence of embedded industrial polythene, this monument confounded my expectations, such as they were nearing dusk on a seriously overcast evening of gale force winds.

The cairn is reached by a short, yet splendid ascent through woodland above the old school house of Capel Curig. In fact the public footpath is seemingly served by a handy car-park... unfortunately this is not actually the case, a sign stating rather pedantically that said enclosure is a private facility for the exclusive (get that) use of visitors to the Community Hall, or such like. Presumably so fine, upstanding members of the 'community' can discuss how the community is manifestly - not to mention disgracefully - failing to protect Capel Curig's ancient heritage from damage by local inhabitants? Hmm. Needless to say they probably have far more important items upon the agenda. I wonder what they could be?

Nevertheless the rugged Snowdonian landscape transcends all, particularly when, in a state of agitated turmoil, its Turner-esque attributes never fail to overwhelm my senses. Such is the case as I break the forestry line and, veering to the immediate left, realise an hour is not going to be anywhere near enough. The setting is exquisite, Moel Siabod towering above to the south-west, Crimpiau presaging the rise to the Creigiau Gleision and the high Carneddau to the north; and the lights of Plas y Brenin twinkling away in the ever growing gloom. Wind violently agitates the foliage, likewise the captivated traveller, rendering photography more a matter of luck than judgement. And then - a point worth mentioning, I'd have thought? - there's the more-or-less intact cist still in situ amongst significant cairn material, the latter arranged to incorporate natural outcropping to a degree I don't think I've witnessed before. In fact such is its regularity I have to admit I'm not sure whether some of this initially assumed naturally occurring rock is not artificially placed? Either that, or the architects of this tomb possessed an appreciation of the landscape far in advance of supposed enlightened moderns such as myself. Mmm. Maybe I'll go with the latter? Yeah... as the lovely Marsheaux girls said... 'Figure it out'.

So, what's not to like? Ah, yes... the embedded industrial polythene waste. Can't blame tourists here, my friends. The fault lies much closer to home. Remove this and - in my opinion - Capel Curig will once again possess an absolutely first class prehistoric monument. Set the record straight. Hey, perhaps the local community might wish to decease biting the hand that feeds and do something of worth to future generations? Just a thought....

Carn Glas, Badanloch Hill (Kerbed Cairn)

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.

Ardnadam (Chambered Cairn)

Standing overlooking Holy Loch, an aesthetically pleasing north-westerly protuberance of The Firth of Clyde, I've been wanting to visit this particular Adam's Grave for some years now. Hey, seems bits of the poor, fabled sucker must have been interned all over the place back in the day. But there you are; that's what you get for crossing Yahweh. Or rather parasitical priests making a living out of superstition and ignorance. However the site has hitherto proved difficult to fit into a practical Gladman route heading north to The Highlands... until I find myself on the way to Bute this year.

The weather conditions are not ideal. I understand the small craft pootling up and down the loch below were, once upon a time - up until 1992, anyway - subject to accompaniment by the menacing presence of nuclear submarines of the US Navy, no doubt with Denzil Washington or, if you were really unlucky, Gene Hackman at the helm? Guess we've Mr Gorbachev to thank for that no longer being the case... although the way Putin's going, who knows what the future might bring? Anyway, such is the torrential downpour this afternoon that a megalithically-inclined traveller may be forgiven for casting envious glances at occupants of distant marine craft. At least of the surface variety. However since I'm finally here it would be pretty dumb not to grasp the opportunity, taking the minor right hand turn (heading south on the main A885) just before the school to park up near a (signposted) picnic site.

Lacking boat, I set off on foot following the road north westwards past some waterworks (yeah, very funny) whilst noting the monument, beyond to the right, standing proud upon a hillside seemingly devoted to matters of an exclusively equine nature. The field gate is unfastened, fences 'step over-able'.... the Clyde cairn (how could it be anything else sitting here?) sublime, well worth both the effort and the protracted wait. The cap stone, worn at a jaunty angle like all the best chambers, is a weighty slab of rock complemented by a pair of equally substantial portals. The overall impression is that of reassuring solidity, of being built to last which, needless to say, it has. The outlook toward the aforementioned Holy Loch is, for me, an integral part of an ethereal, multi-faceted vibe which seemingly hangs in the atmosphere like the mist threatening to subsume nearby woodland. Hey, even in a teeming downpour. I also think it is a stony sculpture of the highest merit.

Interestingly, as the Misc post states, the chamber was apparently the location of matrimonial rites in times gone by, thereby emphasising the significance attached to the site in local lore. Whatever other-worldly, metaphysical 'authority' was thought to reside here - whether or not Saint Munn had a say in matters is probably a moot point - clearly it was something not to be countermanded lightly.

Succinctly put, the monument that still resides here above the Holy Loch is - and always has been - a commanding presence within this landscape. A great place to be.

Park Knowe (Enclosure)

In my opinion the sentinel feature of the South Lanarkshire landscape is the great Bronze Age cairn surmounting the sprawling, elephantine bulk of Tinto. Now I'm assuming this is not an overly contentious assertion, the monument visible for miles around... well, at least when not subsumed within an all too frequent mantle of low cloud, that is. My choice of the most enigmatic site in the locality - Park Knowe - is, however, far more subjective... not least since, I guess, the very meaning of 'enigmatic' is itself equivocal and subjective.

Crowning a low, seemingly insignificant hill to the north-east of the aforementioned, dominating Tinto, a designation of 'Enclosure' upon the relevant OS map does little to promote a visit here. Why indeed, what with the fine Iron Age earthworks of Fallburn perfectly placed below (to the approx west) to detour any travellers still retaining a little residual energy not expended during the ascent to the massive cairn? In fact, arising from an overnight camp to a vividly bright dawn, it is only a chance reference to a 'ring of standing stones at Park Knowe' (or words to that effect) upon the Fallburn car park noticeboard that raises my curiosity. Whatever could it mean?

So... standing upon the ancient ramparts of Fallburn a short time later I find myself intrigued as to why this impressive hill fort was not itself erected upon Park Knowe, obviously a far more naturally defensible location... assuming the latter's enclosure is indeed less structurally significant? Hey, suffice to say a visit is now not only required, but essential. However, upon arrival, close proximity nevertheless does little to resolve the conundrum. Yeah, the summit of the hill is indeed girdled by two, roughly concentric banks; however these are so diminutive in stature - a thin rubble core held in position by a line of contiguous stones on each face - as to suggest their function was to merely delineate the enclosure? For this was surely no hill fort, the pragmatic RCAHMS classification justified:

"In view of the slightness of the banks, the monument cannot be classed as a fort... in the 18th century the interior is reported (OSA 1791) to have contained "a large mound of earth". There is no indication of this mound at the present time, and if it ever existed it was presumably levelled when ploughing encroached upon the site. (RCAHMS 1978).."

So what do these remains upon Park Knowe represent? If the enclosure did, in fact, once feature a 'large mound of earth' I'd suggest it's not unreasonable to hypothesise a low level companion to Tinto's incomparable monument rising to the south-west, standing within an enclosure devoid of any defensive characteristics or intention. For me the fact that the Iron Age locals chose to build their great fortified home below Park Knowe - rather than take advantage of its clear defensive worth - is indicative that something of very significant (non-military) importance already occupied the summit, something that had to be left inviolate. Or suffer the consequences.

That this mysterious structure still exists, still accords wondrous views across the surrounding landscape this golden morning... still has the capacity to confound, to send thoughts cascading around this human brain in a futile quest for immediate comprehension... is truly something to behold in a age where 'everything' can seemingly be answered in an instant at the activation of an on line app. Ha! Not everything, or so it would appear!

I find it difficult to define, let alone relate, what characteristics a prehistoric site must possess to be considered 'enigmatic'. However I have to say Park Knowe is probably as close to a physical representation of this nebulous term as I've yet encountered in these Isles.

Cairn Table (Cairn(s))

Suffice to say that the long, long drive from South-east Essex to Scotland is not an event I anticipate with any degree of relish.... despite this year marking the ninth, consecutive such undertaking. Yeah, a glutton for punishment, me. Consequently it's always a boon to my sense of well being to finally cross the border and feel enabled to switch off the mental auto pilot, to engage with the landscape. Furthermore, my arrival at Junction 12 of the M74 this time around coincides with the usual heavy precipitation seen in this parts being rendered conspicuous by its absence. So, a wee jaunt up the Cairn Table - postponed from last year by the aforementioned rain - it is, then. The mountain... well, at 1,945ft I'm going with that ... overlooks the town of Muirkirk, itself astride the A70. 'Furnace Road', no doubt a linguistic reference to the locality's former industrial heritage, heads past a caravan park to a specially-designated car park at Kames. Upon arrival, a local elderly man duly takes great delight in informing me that the recent fortnight of fine weather is set to end. Rhetorical question.. but why do that, swine that you are?

Miserable git dispatched upon his way, I follow a track roughly south-east toward the distant summit, negotiating my way between numerous derelict quarries and areas of bog... not altogether successfully in respect of the latter. Incidentally should one (for any reason) happen to contemplate inspection of such excavations signs warn, in no uncertain terms, that this really is not a good idea. Veering to the left away from Linky Burn I ascend The Steel, a small cairn situated across the boundary fence residing upon a suggestively grassy footprint. Nothing however upon the map... or Canmore. As I gain height the summit cairns crown the horizon beneath a towering cloudscape. Nearly there, then.

The summit of Cairn Table is a not overly appealing place, thanks to the rusting remnants of a former enclosing wire fence and the sadly anticipated accumulation of rubbish. However this is how things are nowadays, a Scotland the soldiers commemorated by the massively conical War Memorial would no doubt not altogether approve of. Having said that, it's a fine viewpoint, such an assertion supported by the presence of a topographical indicator confirming that, yes, that is indeed Tinto resplendent to the approx north-east. The memorial is a mighty construction sourced from what must clearly have been an even more substantial Bronze Age monument, now sadly, by definition, a mere fragment of its former self. I have mixed emotions... is it better for ancient heritage to be destroyed to facilitate an act of latter-day respectful rememberence than to erect a storm shelter? Could what occurred here upon the Cairn Table in 1920 be regarded as simply moving a cairn from one point of the summit plateau to another? I'll have to give that conundrum further thought.

Thankfully Cairn Table possesses a second, more-or-less intact cairn a little to the east. Yeah, this is more like it, truly a fine upland cairn... probably not as massive as its neighbour once was, but easily substantial enough to compensate. Canmore reckons the monument "measures 16m in diameter and 3.5m in height.... A bronze armlet and ring, found together under a boulder on its E margin, were donated to the NMAS in 1933" (Acc Nos: FA 90, 91). As I sit and take in the horizons, wondering what the next two weeks will bring - I have no real plan, to be fair - the wondrous Tinto begins to exude a 'presence', an attraction far in excess of it's relatively limited height.

Needless to say I end up spending the night beneath it.

Druim Dubh (Cairn(s))

Ah, Sleat .... at last. Yeah, this is the first occasion I've ventured forth upon Skye's southern-most, less mountainous peninsula. A sorry state of affairs that reflects more upon my 'upland' prejudices than any lack of intrinsic beauty to be enjoyed here. A fact that can be categorically verified by anyone taking the time to visit the small coastal hamlet of Isleornsay, overlooking an idyllic harbour sheltering small boats from the more extreme vagaries of The Sound of Sleat.

Hmm... it might therefore seem a little obtuse, perhaps, to abandon this wondrous coastline shortly afterward, following Gleann Meadal across Sleat's rocky spine to the peninsula's opposite flank. But rest assured it's not, the River Ord's sinuous course guiding the traveller unerringly to the eponymous township (An t-Ord in Gaelic) and a beach with quite wondrously stunning views across Loch Eishort to The Cuillin. The single track road climbs steeply away from such sedimentary grandeur before reaching a small parking area, this just before a cattle grid upon the southern flank of Sron Daraich. Light woodland screens the panorama so - boots on - I head north to pick up the line of a fence crossing (more-or-less) the summit of the hill, this veering to the left to make a rough, heathery descent toward the merging of the Allt an Leth-bheinn and Loch Eishort at Inbhir Amlabhaig. Whoah... quite an odd experience, this. Clearly I'm not used to descending to see cairns. Or most other prehistoric monuments, now I come to mention it. But there you are.

Now if I had a 1:25K OS map finding the monuments would, maybe, have been a doddle. Needless to say I've just an old 1:50K edition lovingly procured from Oxfam in Chelmsford in my possession. Consequently I head for what are obviously the cairns.... to find that 'they', just as obviously, are not. Anyway to cut a long story short - as Tony Hadley once crooned - prospective visitors should head directly for the near bank of the river, not far from loch side, where two very forlorn-looking cairns stand most unimpressively behind the foundations of later dry stone structures. Both are choked with the ubiquitous heather virtually to the point of not resembling cairns at all... or at least to any noticeable degree.

However it is what lies within their hollow, albeit obscured interiors that makes the soggy downhill stomp more than worthwhile... the clear remains of cists. TSC's misc post has the technical detail; however I have to say that here - more than ever - it is the sensational landscape context that defines the sublime nature of the site. Proclaims it as if a loudspeaker fed through a Marshall amp turned all the way to eleven! Yeah, the silence is so overwhelming it is almost too loud to process. If that makes any sense? Archaeology and vibe in perfect harmony. Having said that the visuals are pretty good, too. Now I've often heard it said that perhaps the finest mountain view in Scotland is that of the Black Cuillin from Elgol? The place where Midge Ure and friends take a boat ride in Ultravox's 'Lament' video. If so the vista of the same serrated peaks, Bla Bheinn to the fore, rising across Loch Eishort from these cairns takes that celebrated scene to the wire. No really. I reckon it does.

But wait, the best is yet to come. As I lay back and proceed to not do an awful lot (now there's a contradiction in terms) - except ride out the periodic storm fronts and bask in the light of the interludes - I recall that, according to Canmore at least, there is a further cairn overlooking the far (western) bank of the Allt an Leth-bheinn, apparently placed upon the crag looming above another, more substantial dry stone ruin.... the shell of an old school house? Now elsewhere reaching said far bank might well be an issue. Here, however, as luck (or rather resourceful locals) would have it, the river is crossed by stepping stones a little upstream. Yeah, functional and aesthetically pleasing... everyone's a winner. I therefore wander across dryshod to take a quick shufti and duly discover a very well preserved cist with capstone slipped to one side. OK, like its neighbours to the east the cairn is pretty nondescript as a stone pile... but so what with such marvellous internal attributes? What's more a pretty persuasive case could be given for this cairn to actually have contained multiple cists in its time. What a haunting, ethereal location this is. Why, one of the cist's substantial orthostats even possesses an enigmatic circular marking. Whether this is natural or artificial I'm not competent enough to determine. But it sure wouldn't surprise me if it was the real thing.

The Black Cuillin, taking matters very literally indeed, glower across the water beneath a positively Wagnerian sky... as the progressively more vigorous movement of a couple of trees, their small stature clearly at odds with herculean survival tendencies, pre-empts the arrival of yet another storm front.

Sure enough the downpour catches me midway across the stepping stones. But I am dry before reaching the car.

Carn Liath, Kilmuir (Chambered Cairn)

By my reckoning this is the most northerly of the twelve - or so I understand - chambered cairns to grace the Isle of Skye... although, to be fair, the margin between the Carn Liath and Cadha Riach upon the eastern coast is pretty minimal. Indeed, a statistic of perhaps far greater interest is that this is the last of the celebrated dozen to feature upon TMA. Another mini-milestone upon the Cope-inspired quest for megalithic enlightenment? Whatever, my assumption is there's not a lot left? Well, there's only one way to find out... assuming the traveller doesn't possess a laptop or dodgy smart phone and didn't do any Canmore-based homework before leaving Essex? Time to put on the boots, then. Do this exploring the old fashioned way....

The A855 climbs steeply away from the ferry terminal of Uig heading northward along the western coastline of Trotternish. Passing an (official) viewpoint - from where there is an intriguing (and duly noted) sight of Dun Skudiburgh perched above the water - the road then bypasses the small hamlet of Totscore to seaward before reaching the similarly sized Linicro. Here the map depicts a 'surfaced' road accessing a small group of dwellings at Monkstadt, that is due west, upon the crest of the coastal ridge. OK, I admit lethargy raises its arm, in the manner of a primary school child requesting leave to take a wee, but, for the sake of my car's nether regions, I resist the easy option and set off on foot. In retrospect the road is 'driveable', although the options to park at the other end debatable. Sometimes you've just gotta walk, you know?

At Monkstadt the road veers to the approx north-west, becoming a concrete track for a short distance before giving up the ghost and leaving me to my own devices, striding across a grassy ridge with the sea to my left. In short order several rocky outcrops suggest - to me at least - what might have been interpreted as trashed chambered cairns in another context. Well, sort of. However I'm having none of it and press onward. Sure enough after about a further half mile a massive dry stone wall impedes progress. As I draw nearer a large block of stone can be seen lying against its near face upon the highest point of the ridge. A displaced cap stone? You know, I think it most probably is?

The supposition is given further credence by what lies behind the wall.... the disturbed, yet still massive remains of a major cairn, by the looks of it, chambered. Audrey Henshall [1972] reckoned Carn Liath is of Hebridean type - as you might perhaps expect? - rising to a height of 14' and "probably measured about 60' N-S along the axis of the chamber by 80' transversely expanding to 90' at the N end." Clearly I can't confirm those dimensions are current, but suffice to say they seem about right. He says. The monument is certainly very substantial and, furthermore, features an incomplete peristalith. Miss Henshall believed the chamber was entered from the SSE which I guess would account for the position of the assumed capstone beyond the wall. Last but not least the chambered cairn is accorded further complexity by the encroachment of a settlement upon its northern arc... judging by the differing styles of building footprint to be found here (round house, rectangular, er, house) my assumption is this is a multi-phase settlement? Hey, maybe the round houses were contemporary, or near contemporary with the monument? Or not, as the case may be.

So, the archaeology is excellent... but matched with ease by the coastal location, the site sandwiched between the sea and the green heights of the Trotternish Ridge to the east.... a curiously 'upland' terrain, despite being not that far above ordnance datum. Yeah in my opinion Skye is not pretty, a little bleak, even? Yet nonetheless I reckon it forms a beautiful, beguiling landscape demanding regular emotional updates from whatever it is that we call 'the soul'. Anyway, as I sit and 'do lunch' my attention is drawn to the far north-western point of the ridge, approx a mile distant. The map reckons this is Cairidh nan Ob featuring, significantly, a dun Dun Liath a little to its right.

Hey, two miles sounds a lot when you're already knackered. But sometimes you've just gotta walk.

Beinn Na Caillich (Chambered Cairn)

With the benefit of hindsight - ah, a wondrous thing - perhaps a sojourn at this pair of monuments beneath the soaring, eastern profile of Beinn na Caillich wasn't exactly conducive to a nice, relaxing evening following on from pretty intense visits to Shiel Bridge and nearby Achadh a'Chuirn?

Now this is not to insinuate that such an obscure location, one lying well out of sight of prying eyes within forestry - in fact only actually visible from upon the dominating mountain itself - doesn't possess all the necessary constituents for the optimum vibe. Quite the contrary, in fact. To clarify, let's just say that when even an authority such as Audrey Henshall [1972] was confused by the form of these monuments, to the point of even questioning their assumed funerary function, this Citizen Cairn'd's brain wasn't exactly going to be able to simply chill out. It wants answers! Now! Which, needless to say, were not forthcoming... I'd like to attribute this failure to the overgrown nature of the site, but perhaps that's mere wishful thinking?

Thankfully I'm on much firmer ground - metaphorically speaking, since the physical terrain is very waterlogged indeed - as I attempt to 'walk the talk' (as our erstwhile revolutionaries across the Atlantic might well say) and follow my own previously posted directions. Yeah, parking opposite the electricity sub station the gaunt lattice work of a power pylon highlights the entrance to a wide forest break, this allowing the passage of its cable-slung companions through trees to the approx south-east. A lateral wire fence needs to be negotiated before, upon passing two further pylons, a gap in the trees will be discerned to the right leading unerringly to the relevant clearing. Pretty simple, to be honest. However interpreting the archaeology located within the clearing is anything but.

Initial observations are pretty standard, assuming any inspection incorporating the imposing mass of Beinn na Caillich filling the available skyline can be described as such, suggesting the presence of two disturbed chambered cairns subsumed within the long grass and aligned upon a roughly north-south axis. Closer examination, however, reveals not only what appears to be the welcome remains of a substantial kerb encircling the larger, northern monument... but also a distinct lack of 'cairn'. The latter, of course, is easily explained away since many an ancient stone pile has been severely reduced - or destroyed - by locals pilfering building material for dry stone walls and such-like. And Nature has been pretty thorough reclaiming the stones for herself, possibly obscuring a lingering residue in the process.

What is not so easily explained is the apparent 'horse shoe' ground plan of the internal grouping of orthostats, the assumed 'chamber'. Yeah, what was that all about? Why just pinch the cairn and chamber door... and leave the rest. Unless there was never a 'door' in the first place and the stones formed a free-standing arrangement within a kerb, or proto-circle? Supposition, naturally, but one can appreciate why Miss Henshall had her doubts back in 1962, perhaps? The southern monument is much less substantial but (tentatively) seems to follow the same pattern.

Somewhat perplexed, I decide to lie back in my self-imposed, albeit temporary obscurity and enjoy the moment under the watchful gaze of whoever - if anyone... 'Saucy Sue', perhaps? - still resides within Beinn na Caillich's great cairn looming overhead. I'm hoping the subliminal workings of my subconscious will bring enlightenment. However they do not. Aside from the realisation that, for more or less the first time this trip, conditions are ideal for the midges which are now making their presence felt. Little bastards! Time to retrieve the head net from the rucksack and give them the proverbial 'two fingers', allowing me to drift off for a while. OK, I might not be enlightened... but I'm nevertheless illuminated by a sun seemingly intent upon doing its thang before finally dropping below the razor-sharp skyline. So, time to go, having decided to spend the night below An Sithean.

So who's correct about the nature of what is to be found here in this wondrously quiet spot? The post WW1 RCAHMS... or Audrey Henshall visiting at the beginning of the swinging 60's? For what it's worth I would suggest both authorities have a point and perhaps these are idiosyncratic monuments. Not classic chambered cairns, but maybe incorporating hybrid elements? Guess the best course of action for those who might be intrigued is to come and have a look for themselves.

Achaoh A'Chuirn (Chambered Cairn)

Funnily enough it's more-or-less 200 years since that little preening, gobshite Corsican, Napoleon Bonaparte, came to a field near another Waterloo and saw his imperial power base sink forever in Belgian mud stained red with blood. Not surprisingly I've no plans to build an empire of my own; instead finding myself rather more interested in furthering my ongoing stony destiny at this Inner Hebridean Waterloo - or Achadh a'Chuirn, should you prefer the vernacular... which I do.

The linear hamlet occupies the western base of the Ardnish peninsular forming the eastern flank of Broadford Bay... albeit a bit of a gloriously wonky one. The dwellings of its inhabitants stand to the landward of a single road skirting water's edge, this terminating at Rubh' Achadh a'Chuirn and proferring a magnificently iconic view of Beinn na Caillich rising above Broadford.. as well as the site of another, massive chambered cairn immediately across the water at Liveras. It is possible to leave a car or two in strategically placed laybys here without inconveniencing the locals. I leave my vehicle in one such before heading approx north to, quite literally, the end of the road. My plan is to head to the right and subsequently double back southwards behind the settlement to (hopefully) locate the chambered cairn in its own, enclosed crofter's strip field.

Needless to say the execution of said plan was not supposed to feature stepping knee deep into bog on two separate occasions (like a prize muppet), my reward for such privations to eventually locate the monument behind serious barbed wire... not to mention in full view of the gauntly staring windows of the adjacent house. Now I've never actually been diagnosed with Scopophobia - assuming that is a possibility? - but nevertheless decide to retrace my steps (further encouraged to do so by the cacophony made by nearby horrible hounds) and - unlike the emperor with the dodgy hat - retreat to fight another day. In a manner of speaking.

Anyway, in one of those bizarre coincidences that occasionally manifest themselves I discover that I have actually parked immediately in front of the required house, identified by a name plate as 'Geol na Maira'. I duly knock... only to find classical music emanating from an upstairs room repeatedly masking my exertions. That would be Brahms Third Racket, I believe? Boiling over with frustration, the proverbial 'one last try' thankfully alerts Fiona, the occupant, to my skulking presence. She's only too happy to grant me access to her 'back garden'.

The ground is churned to mud by livestock, which would be a problem if the monument was of earthen construction. However since it's a stone pile - and a bloody big one at that - I guess this is not an issue. Yeah, it has to be said that rather a lot of cairn still remains in situ, albeit somewhat imperfectly camouflaged with turf (see Carl's Misc entry for details). Furthermore, as surmised by the pros back in 1972, I can confirm that the monument most certainly possesses a chamber, as evidenced by a couple of small orthostats still in position. There are hints of more detail lying beneath the surface....

I sit and munch - a very belated - lunch as the watery sun plays hide 'n' seek with the fast moving cloudbase, so allowing washes of light to flood the monument and its immediate landscape whilst rain falls from darker skies above the bay. That'll be 'changeable' weather, then? Once again the curvaceous - or as Aldous Huxley would have perhaps said, 'pneumatic' - profile of Beinn na Caillich dominates the western skyline. I guess I'm probably biased, not least since the peak is blessed by the apparent tomb of "Saucy Sue"... to use the local moniker, as kindly volunteered by Fiona. However I really think the outlook from this monument is something special. Wonder satiated - well, at least for now - my thoughts are drawn to the dark patch of forestry visible below, and to the left, of the enigmatic mountain. That'll be where the Old Corry chambered cairns are located, then? Needless to say the itinerary for the rest of the day is sorted.

So, in the end I have my audience with Achadh a'Chuirn's great cairn. There is no Lion's Mound here as at that other Waterloo burned indelibly into European consciousness. But then, considering what I've found tucked away in this obscure croft strip of this small hamlet... I reckon Skye has got the better deal.

Shiel Bridge (Henge)

Emerging from a rain-lashed overnight stop upon Mam Ratagan.... I decide to rectify an omission dating from my previous visit to the environs of Loch Duich before finally - and not before time - crossing once again to the wondrously misty Isle of Skye. Yeah, reckon the time is nigh to determine what - if anything - remains of the henge said to stand near Shiel Bridge. Well, as it happens there is quite a lot....

Now to say, with any conviction, that the prevailing weather conditions have improved depends, I suppose, upon your definition of 'improved'. Suffice to say that the introduction of periodic intervals between hitherto incessant downpours, such respites enlivened by bursts of golden light slanting through cracks in the clouds, constitutes a welcome progression to this traveller. Nevertheless conditions are still pretty shite, it has to be said.

The 'hengiform enclosure' stands within very soggy pasture due west of Glenshiel Lodge. In fact the enclosed field is so wet as to almost require a sub-aqua visit... so what the local herbivores make of it is anybody's guess. Anyway, I park up by the cattle grid sunk within the minor Ratagan road and kit myself out in waterproofs, having neglected to pack any diving stuff. Gingerly entering the pasture it soon becomes apparent that here, standing in almost complete obscurity at the south-eastern end of a glowering Loch Duich, we do indeed have a pretty well defined, albeit diminutive henge. Marvellous. And what a location, too!

According to the Ordnance Survey [JM 1974] - who, rather paradoxically, do not feature the monument upon either the current 1:50 or 1:25k maps - the monument consists of a "level central area, 7.8m in diameter" with a "surrounding bank, c. 3.4m wide x 0.2m high", this best preserved upon the eastern arc. There would appear some doubt as to whether the henge possesses two causeways, one to east and west; in the OS report it is alleged that only the western is original, the eastern merely a "mutilation". I couldn't form a clear opinion owing to ongoing erosion being caused, judging by the footprints, by grazing livestock. This really is not on. I understand - from a passer by - that the landowner is a Scottish patriot? If so I would suggest an active appreciation of the cultures of the peoples that lived here before the Scots arrived would be a good base line?

The weather fronts arrive, unleash their contents and subsequently move away in timely procession. I receive a bit of a pasting.... but it is worth the effort before the pull of Skye becomes too much.

Glen Etive (Round Cairn)

Well, this is a challenge. How to describe the small, round cairn which stands here in more-or-less total obscurity - in sublime isolation - beside the fast flowing River Etive as it prepares to enter its loch and, henceforth, the sea? How to adequately convey why I reckon the intense vibe, allied to preservation, makes this is one of the finest sites of its genre in all Alba? Hmm. How indeed... since, as Thom Yorke said, "Just 'cos you feel it, doesn't mean it's there". All I have is personal opinion.

Having said that - and running with the assumption that these monuments' raison d'etre was to manipulate human behaviour through the generation of emotions above and beyond what we homo sapiens have the cerebral capacity to process in a rational manner - this modest example furnishes everything I look for when out and about in the field. Whether that 'everything' can actually be defined in a rational manner or not. In short, I reckon this monument absolutely nails it.

I approach in somewhat low spirits following a necessarily truncated visit to the indefensibly maltreated cairn at Gualachulain, located a little further south-west at the head of Loch Etive. Unfortunately that's one of the penalties of actually giving a damn, but there you are. Passing Loch Druimachoish (on my left) and subsequently crossing the Allt nan Gaoirean, two dirt tracks are soon encountered in quick succession. The right hand of the pair leads to the 'Forester's House', the cairn standing in pasture bordering the river beyond. The fenced field is accessed by an unlocked gate, my low expectations immediately blown asunder by both the sheer serenity of the spot and the apparently intact condition of the monument slumbering beneath a mossy carapace. Truly, the rotting, apparently unsafe remains of a walkers' bridge crossing the river notwithstanding, time appears to have been upon an extended hiatus here.

The cairn is small, yet perfectly formed... "Bowl shaped in profile it measures 8.25 metres in diameter by 1.6 metres in height.. constructed with a kerb of boulders on which a second retaining course of stones has been carefully set." RCAHMS [1975]. The archaeology is more than matched by the quality of the surrounding landscape, most notably the dramatic profile of Beinn Ceitlein soaring above the far bank of the River Etive to the north-east. Then again the snow-streaked, mountainous skyline to the approx south-west is pretty dramatic, too, it has to be said. However the former is particularly arresting owing to the deep 'V'-shaped chasm carved by the Garbh Allt to the right of Stob Dubh. Now clearly the question as to whether this scenic idiosyncrasy influenced the placement of the cairn or not is rhetorical... and, in any event, likely to raise the ire of tiresome pseudo-feminists should I comment further (don't you so prefer the real thing?) Whatever, shielded from the road by a blanket of forestry and but a short distance from the wondrous, fast flowing river, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that the person compiling the Oxford English Dictionary had this location in his/her mind's eye when finalising the entry for 'idyllic'. Really, I wouldn't.

So, the anticipated 'quick visit' instead morphs into a protracted chill out, any notion of getting to Skye today (once again) shelved until tomorrow. Yeah, it appears Glen Etive is actually a pretty good place for a Citizen Cairn'd to spend a few hours or so after all?

As it transpires I actually make Loch Duich before nightfall, the pristine blue sky of the morning comprehensively swept into oblivion by an overwhelming front of driving rain. Nevertheless a short visit to the enigmatic Dunan Diarmid rounds off the day before retiring to Mam Ratagan.

Gualachulain, Loch Etive (Round Cairn)

This should be a beauty. Standing at the head of Loch Etive, almost at the terminus of the sinuous road traversing the length of Glen Etive, surely one of Scotland's premier glens? Sadly, it's not... the anticipation that had been steadily building during the long drive from the A82 to the north-east dissipating in something not unlike a damp squib upon arrival. A fanfare with brass instruments dunked, bell first, into the cold waters of the loch.

OK, in my opinion the natural scenery can not be faulted. At least not the towering, mountainous skyline of Ben Starav and Glas Bheinn Mhor rearing up beyond the loch's northern extremity... however the cairn - or more accurately, perhaps, what remains of the monument - suffers greatly from lying within devastated terrain that is so characteristic, archetypal even, of harvested forestry. Even worse is the sundry refuse and jagged detritus scattered around the site, this presumably originating from the occupants of nearby Gualachulain, assuming the blackened footprint of a fire scorched into the tortured soil immediately adjacent to the cairn is indicative? If so, the sheer lack of awareness of heritage - the sheer lack of any class - is contemptible.

Furthermore loch side is a busy place to be this morning, what with numerous, almost comically stereotypical motorbikers - German, I think - noisily breaking camp... not to mention many other visitors crowding the car park. Clearly the vibe is keeping well away and consequently this is not a place to linger today. Nevertheless the ancient cairn can still - thankfully and not a little surprisingly - be discerned, albeit with the dimensions of "7.7 metres in diameter and...1.6 metres high" cited by the RCAHMS (following a 1971 visit) appearing to bear no relation to the current position. Well, certainly not in respect of height. The horizontal plane is perhaps open to debate owing to the disturbed nature of the environs.

So... is it worth the effort of the long diversion away from the tourist route... only to find a myriad tourists where you expected none? Thankfully the answer is actually a resounding 'Yes!' Yeah, I know. I was surprised, too. To clarify the apparent contradiction, not only is Glen Etive's rugged scenery superlative... so is the superb, apparently intact round cairn a little north at Invercharnan. Chalk to the Gualachulain monument's cheese.

Or to put it another way... what most certainly is the real deal can be found there. As opposed to what might have been, here at Gualachulain. What might have been, eh? Better than nothing at all.

Dun Chonallaich (Hillfort)

Together with its larger neighbour Creag a' Chapuill - also well worth a visit... but better appreciated from the B840 at Loch Ederline - the copiously craggy Dun Chonallaich comprehensively controls the northern approach to Kilmartin Glen. Indeed, standing dramatic sentinel above the A816, the sheer perpendicularity of the site is a little off-putting to the prospective visitor. Well, at least this one, fresh from a contemplative - OK, lazy - morning at the Baroile chambered cairn. However with said morning's very low cloud base having dissipated, albeit reluctantly, I decide that today might as well be the day to finally determine what actually resides upon that fearsome rocky little height. Curiosity, eh? To be honest I can't imagine any characteristically lethargic member of the family Felidae venturing up Dun Chonallaich, so cat lovers needn't concern themselves.

Dun Chonallaich overlooks the Abhainn Airidhcheoduin (sort of) shadowing the A816, the water course suddenly thrown into spasm, executing an abrupt series of looping convulsions immediately to the south-east of the fort... as if reluctant to flow onward through Kilmartin Glen to the sea. Whatever the geological reason for this apparent disinclination to yield to the force of gravity the outcome was no doubt handy for the former occupiers, the linear water obstacle and associated marshland further enhancing the apparent impregnability of the site to an assault back in the day. This idiosyncrasy also ensures a modern day visit is no easy skate either, albeit thankfully without rocks, arrows and - no doubt - insults aimed at one's person.

No off-road parking is available beneath the site... so I elect to stop in the entrance to a forestry track a little to the south and walk back to the bridge across the river. Incidentally this is as good a spot as any from which to approach Creag a' Chapuill along the northern edge of the forestry. But I digress... once across the bridge a very rough scramble steeply upwards to the east through scrubby woodland brings me to an area of significant scree which, due to its apparent regularity, I take to be the collapsed remains of defensive outworks? From here trending to the left (north) appears the path of least resistance to the summit, although Christison (1889) cites an entrance to the south-east. Unfortunately I neglect to check this out upon my descent getting carried away in the moment.

Whatever the original approach... mine, to the approx north, is certainly covered by the remnants of dry stone walling, my not inconsiderable exertions encouraged by glimpses of more of the same perched above my head. Anyway... and not before time... I finally clamber up to emerge upon the summit into a fierce wind, finding most of the top occupied by a rocky ridge, this in turn encircled by a pretty substantial wall enclosing an area "about 37m by 16m" [RCAHMS 1988]. A couple of dry stone structures are notable, the most obvious of which is a modern looking circular enclosure which was apparently erected to serve as a film set a little before the RCAHMS's visit. Such a 'who gives a damn?' mentality might well have encouraged significant vandalism of the summit wall soon afterward. I would say 'you couldn't make it up', but there you are. Clearly - very sadly - there is no need to make this kind of disgraceful act up. Nevertheless, to focus upon positivity as one must try to do in such circumstances, far more ancient walling remains in situ than I ever imagined, with further stretches covering the eastern approach to the summit area. Yeah, this is a pretty damn fine Iron Age fort regardless of the actions of morons/film directors.

And then there are the sublime views to be enjoyed from this isolated little peak. Southward the course of the aforementioned Abhainn Airidhcheoduin leads the gaze between (and beyond) Creag a' Chapuill and the great cairn of Carn Ban to Kilmartin itself and the distant coast; the northern arc (apparently) features another dun crowning the similarly rocky height of Dun Dubh to the right. However it is that to the east which, for me, takes the plaudits with ease... a fantastic vista looking along Loch Awe to distant Ben Cruachan, with Loch Ederline winning 'best supporting water feature' to the right, incidentally complete with crannog and nearby standing stones. Yeah, it really is something. In fact such is the vibe up here upon this miniature mountain that I decide to linger and forgo plans to venture to Skye today... and subsequently even Glen Etive... to settle for a camp within Glen Orchy. Not a hardship, to be fair.

Particularly with a short visit to the chambered cairn at Cladich (at the north-eastern end of Loch Awe) to be enjoyed en route. A fine way to round off the day.

Baroile (Chambered Cairn)

Dawn arrives a little way south-east of Kintraw ushering in one of those mornings where it is resolutely NOT a joy to wild camp in Scotland - or any other place for that matter. Yeah, one where the very atmosphere appears to be contracting in upon itself toward apparent claustrophobic myopia, a swirling mass of grey/white vapour unleashing a hitherto retained, most unwelcome cargo of driving rain. But there you are. Scotland is as Scotland does. Echoing, perhaps, the actions of pioneer English antiquarians of bygone times, a couple of pints of tea duly revive a flagging spirit, fortify the resolution to make every moment spent in such wondrous locations count. So, Baroile chambered cairn it is, then? Hell yeah! To be honest the bravado is not overly convincing, so I hurry to commit to actions before I can change my mind....

Despite the appalling weather Kilmartin Glen is alive this morning with sundry locals and tourists going about their business, the latter betraying their (presumably) more pleasurable vocation through either inappropriately slight or excessive protection from the elements. I like Kilmartin, the grey stone piles lying marooned within lush pasture so matter-of-factly as to suggest the intervening millennia since their inception are but a figment of our modern imagination. Having said that there is also something a little too 'manicured' about the monuments for my taste nowadays; guess for me they possess the archaeology, but lack the intensity of vibe. Elitist bastard.

Anyway, following the A816 past the great Ballymeanoch alignments upon the right, with Dunadd rearing enigmatically upon the near horizon, a minor road (severely potholed) heads left toward 'Rhudle Mill'. The 'road' - for want of a better term - eventually peters out at Kilbride farm, but it is possible to park within an old quarry now utilised as an apparently terminal resting place for sundry units of farm machinery etc. Here a footbridge crosses the swollen Rhudil Burn (not a typo, that) whereby a short, soggy, shallow ascent trending to the left brings me within sight of the monument I've come to see in surprisingly short order. 'Surprisingly' since I was unable to locate the chambered cairn upon my previous visit to the nearby Rhudil Cairn. In retrospect I have no explanation for such a failure except to cite navigational error. Hey, it happens. And 'amen' to that since I'll always wish to retain the imperfect human element in finding these places. Suffice to say I'm not a fan of GPS.

A barbed wire fence blocks progress, although a field gate is available. The monument, located upon a little grassy knoll (thankfully without picket fence...) affording excellent views upon and down the Rhudil valley is, in my opinion, impressive. Roughly oval, the cairn (according to RCAHMS 1988) "measures about 26m by 24m" with four (and a bit) upright stones ranging from "1.1m high" at the eastern end to "1.25m" in the west forming a substantial façade facing north-north-east. The axial chamber, accessed through the remains of a double portal "measures about 3.5m in length by 0.8m in breadth and up to 0.85m in height internally..." and is subdivided into two compartments upon a slightly wonky alignment. Or so it would seem. Unfortunately an 1929 excavation by Craw did not return any grave goods.

As I sit and take it all in - the experience, as is often the case, much more that the sum of its parts - revelling in the knowledge that such an unobtrusive, well preserved and - above all - atmospheric monument can be found so close to the Kilmartin honey pot, the inclemental weather of morning begins to falter and finally move away to terrorise some other poor buggers. The sun duly takes the opportunity to break through the cloud mantle and quite literally display Baroile chambered cairn in something approaching its best light. Yeah, the silence may well be golden here this late morning... but so is the intensity of late Spring colour. A perfect combination.

Kildonan Point (Promontory Fort)

Guess it may well be an aphorism to state that the fort occupying the eastern-most extremity of Kildonan Point is well sited. 'With reference to what', the traveller might well ask, with some justification? Nevertheless it is difficult to counter that there is indeed an authentically ethereal atmosphere to be enjoyed here upon this rocky crag, the remains of an ancient settlement still encircled - at least for a good part of its enceinte - by the remains of a dry stone wall up to 4m thick (according to the RCAHMS - 1971).

Add some majestic, sweeping coastal views across Kildonan Bay to Ugadale Point to the north, Black Bay (south-west) and, last but certainly not least, eastward across Kilbrannan Sound to the Isle of Arran.... and it will be seen that visually aesthetic gold dust has been sprinkled around here, too.

The promontory fort stands above and a little to the approx east of the great round cairn at Kildonan Point, the substantial stonework protecting the apparent original entrance within the north-eastern flank initially misinterpreted by myself (in mitigation at a distance) as a companion funerary monument. Again according to the RCAHMS the settlement measures "internally 55m from NE to SW by about 64m transversely." As noted above the defences - at least those resulting from human agency - are not traceable around the full circumference of the fort, the south-eastern arc noticeably lacking in this respect. However since this sector features substantial rocky outcrops falling away directly to the sea, I reckon it's reasonable to assume that none were ever erected? Yeah, when Nature answers a potential problem so emphatically why elaborate. Why, indeed?

Having said that... the concrete Ordnance Survey trig pillar standing at the summit of the crag resides upon "a low stony mound 4.3m in diameter." Whether this cartographical aid now surmounts something far older is a rhetorical question pending an unlikely excavation. But it is nonetheless an intriguing thought.

As the afternoon drifts inexorably toward evening I must eventually retrace my steps across the foreshore back to the fabulous dun lying across Kildonan Bay and, subsequently, Kilmartin. Now it's fair to say Kilmartin Glen receives its fair share of architectural plaudits... and rightly so. However I've got my beady eye upon a much lesser known subsidiary site tomorrow... the chambered cairn at Baroile.
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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.

I make no claims for my contributions except to state that I've done my best to relate what I've seen. Yeah, enjoying the moment has always taken precedent. If you like what you see why thank you. But please do your own thing. Think for yourself.

So cheers... to Mr Cope for being his inspirational, annoying, confrontational self, showing that field archaeology can be FUN! - hey, who'd have thought it? ...to my sister (the wondrous Mam Cymru) for using her female 'micro' vision to help me see the detail throughout an ongoing re-exploration of the South Walian uplands, albeit upon dodgy ankles, knees etc... to my own mam for insisting 'young men should have adventures' (that was a while back, now).... and my Dad for unwittingly inspiring a profound love of high places. Oh, and to Aubrey Burl for those pioneering guides BC.... 'Before Cope'.

For what it's worth some of my other inspirational people are:

Charles Darwin (for his humanity... amongst, er, 'other things');

And then, in no particular order:

George Orwell; Michael Collins (things are not often black and white...); Winston Churchill (for all his many profound faults... since without him I would not be here now); Martin L. Gore; Big Steve Chamberlain (sorely missed); Mr Beethoven; Giorgio Moroder; Richard Dawkins; The Pogues (for my North Walian soundtrack); Sophie Scholl (words fail me); W A Mozart (ditto); Michel Faber; Manic Street Preachers (the true spirit and voice of South Wales); Alan Pearlman; Nigel Kennedy; Will Shakespeare; Kraftwerk; Harry Hill; Claudia Brucken; Marc Almond; Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy; Christopher Hitchens; Mulder and Scully; John Le Mesurier .... and anyone who has ever asked 'Why?' - the true legacy of punk. Thank you Mr Lydon.

Oh, last but not least, Gaelic beauty Karen Matheson... the Scottish trips wouldn't have been the same without that voice. 'The call is unspoken, never unheard'.

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

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

W E Gladstone - 'Men are apt to mistake the strength of their feeling for the strength of their argument. The heated mind resents the chill touch and relentless scrutiny of logic'.

William Blake - 'A truth that's told with bad intent; Beats all the lies you can invent'

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

Christopher Hitchens - 'Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.'

Margaret Thatcher - 'It pays to know the enemy – not least because at some time you may have the opportunity to turn him into a friend.'

Jo Cox - 'We have far more in common than that which divides us'.

Sarah Cracknell - 'I walk the side streets home; even when I'm on my own...'

Winston Churchill - 'KBO'.

My TMA Content: