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Fieldnotes by GLADMAN

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Pen y Foel Goch (Cairn(s))

Should the somewhat more adventurous visitors to Ceredigion happen - whether by chance or design - to arrive at the hamlet of Ponterwyd, astride the A44, with a desire to head north... I dare say that, upon pondering awhile (as you do) they may well be tempted to emulate the locals and take the single track 'short cut' across Pumlumon in lieu of the looping, coastal route via Aberystwyth. And why not, since, although by no means endless, the possibilities that will present themselves are nonetheless multiplex, albeit at the mercy of the not infrequently inclement weather? Particularly for a traveller with a megalithically calibrated mind and/or an eye for an inspiring landscape: one, even today, still infused with legend; that subliminal, pseudo-metaphysical condiment forever seasoning the human story. For this is the land of Glyndwr and Taliesin, where almost every summit is crowned by a Bronze Age cairn, as if echoes of mighty deeds literally turned to stone upon the Medusa's searing gaze. Ah, if only these mountains could talk, what tales would they tell, eh? Well, perhaps all is not lost in the mists of time, for listen carefully and Pumlumon really does speak for itself: the 'piping' call of the soaring Red Kite; the cacophony of the nascent Hafren (Severn, Britain's longest river), Wye and Rheidol as they cascade from their lofty sources upon the main ridge following heavy rain; the wind audible in ubiquitous long grass concealing wetlands which once ensured Henry II's knights floundered to their doom...

But what of the green foothills which sweep northward toward Dyffryn Dyfi from Nant-y-Moch, fleetingly glimpsed upon traversing our aforementioned minor road? Surely but a minor diversion before entering the domain of Idris and, on.. er.. somewhat firmer historical ground, Vortigen, Owain Gwynedd and Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, not to mention Edward Longshanks himself? The answer to that is, in every respect, a resounding 'NO'. Firstly, access to the area is far from straightforward, it being necessary to negotiate the descent of Cwm Ceulan to Tal-y-Bont and approach via very minor roads exiting the A487 to the north; secondly, there is simply so much to see... from one of Wales' premier waterfalls (Pistyll y Llyn), Moel y Llyn (with it's very own 'lady of the lake' tale, to Cwm Einion. Ah exquisite Cwm Einion, perhaps better known to the occasional tourist as 'Artist's Valley' owing to formative visits from one JMW Turner and, much more recently, home to a certain Mr Plant who (apparently) was inspired to write 'Stairway to Heaven' here with some other bloke amongst the ancient tilio-acerion native woodland. Furthermore, with almost every hill top once again crowned by a Bronze Age cairn, stone circle or chambered cairn, the Citizen Cairn'd must really take notice...

Which brings me, eventually, to Foel Goch, a seemingly minor coastal hill overlooking the Afon Dyfi as it nears the end of its short journey to the sea from Creiglyn Dyfi, the latter cradled beneath the mighty crags of Aran Fawddwy. I say 'eventually' because I make a farce of the initial approach by car... losing my nerve as I pass Bedd Taliesin and backtracking to the A487 to finally park up, rather sheepishly (appropriately enough in these parts) in a farmyard east of Tre'r-ddol, at Llety-lwydin, Cwm Cletwr, to my mind the only feasible option. Now on foot, the road descends very sharply from here to a T-junction, the right hand selection arriving in due course at a habitation on the left overflowing with free range chickens and other creatures pleasing to the senses. A public footpath sets off to the east ranging above the northern bank of the Afon Clettwr, the initial lush, green pasture giving way to a more coarse, upland domain. That'll be Foel Goch, then.

As usual I haven't done my homework - note to self: don't... it's far more interesting this way - so, having found the 'Cairns' depicted upon my map here, upon the southern flank of the hill/mini mountain, to be less than convincing, I head for the obvious, large cairn crowning the skyline to the north-east. Clearly this must be Pen y Foel Goch. Except, of course, it's nothing of the sort, being in actual fact Carn Wen, a little below and to the west of the summit monument at SN68979274. According to RCAHMW (Dave Leighton, 30/7/12) this, one of numerous 'White Cairns' to be found in Wales measures "13m (N-S) by 17m (E-W), its shape distorted by slippage of material down steep west side of the summit; height 1m-2m." Yeah, it's a pretty substantial cairn... but the compelling reason to come here is the location which, to these eyes, is extraordinary for the relative low altitude. It really is. The stunning Dyffryn Dyfi, its river meandering to its all-inclusive conclusion, takes centre stage... but there is much more: the brooding, central ridge of Pumlumon surmounting the horizon to the south-east, Cadair Idris - with the seriously be-cairned, tautological Tarren Hills to its left - soaring sentinel to the approx north. Things (arguably) get even more interesting nearer to hand, initially just across the Afon Clettwr at Caer Arglwyddes, 'The Lady's Field', where there are a number of cairns, one with impressive cist still in situ visited back in 2012. But why 'The Lady's Field'? Well, according to Dr Gwilym Morus ( "All became clear when I had a conversation with an old lady who’s father had been born at Cae’r Arglwyddes, and according to her the name of the farm refers to a ‘lady of the lake’ folktale about the small lake up on Moel-y-llyn". Things begin to fall into place... since Moel y Llyn, rising due south-east of Carn Wen, possesses a quartet of cairns in addition to its legendary feminine bathing facility.

A short, yet sweet scramble brings me finally to Pen y Foel Goch, featuring a further substantial cairn at SN69519285, that is a little to the approx north-west of the actual summit. Again according to Dave Leighton, this "measures some 10m across, allowing for distortion caused by slippage of material down the steeper west side. Robbing has left the eastern perimeter of the cairn as a grassy ring, its height 0.3m". If anything, the vista to be enjoyed from this monument is even more impressive/expansive than from its neighbour below to the west. The fundamental difference, I guess, is the sight of yet another cairn, upon Cerrig Blaencletwr-Fawr (aka Esgair Foel-ddu) just under a mile distant to the east, beckoning the footsore modern antiquarian onward with its silent siren call. Nevertheless, what with a significant height loss to contend with - all too often the tired hill walker's nemesis - I immediately give up any notion of an attempt today as falling within the 'so near, yet so far' category... only to find my impetuosity, if not curiosity, has decided otherwise and launched me half way down the slope before counter-revolutionary reason can react. Ha! Emotion over reason? Right on!

The intervening terrain is rough, trackless, featuring areas of severe bog. Standard practice for Pumlumon, to be fair. However the cairn is worth the not inconsiderable effort and is again exquisitely sited, this time gazing down into the equally compelling Cwm Einion at SN70779256. Now I've no idea whether Mr Turner made a foray up here - to this very spot - to be similarly entranced by the ever-changing light playing upon the legendary Moel y Llyn to immediate south-east. I doubt it. Hey, perhaps Timothy Spall might know? But if he did, it would explain a lot, methinks... for his work invokes, nay encapsulates the vibe I feel at places such as this. Mr Leighton reckons the much more mundane technical specifics are "11m NE-SW by 9.0m & 0.9m high". Unlike both Foel Goch's cairns Cerrig Blaencletwr-Fawr's monument has unfortunately been defaced, given a hollow centre. The reasoning behind this is even more obscure than the usual 'built by ignorant muppets' since, clearly, no such fool has taken shelter here in a very, very long time, to judge by the presence of a tenacious tree of indeterminate (to me) type occupying the space. Now that, together with the other 'Plant' life formerly found within The Artist's Valley, I can live with. Way to go, my woody stemmed friend! As if to mark the moment.. a rainbow arcs across the valley. Time to leave. Since it is a long way back... and who knows what other legendary idiosyncrasies these unassuming northern 'foot hills' of Pumlumon have up their collective 'sleeves' to bestow upon unsuspecting punters after dark? Hey, perhaps some of the more artistic people associated with this magical area were brave enough to find out? Perhaps.

Carnau, Cwmdeuddwr (Cairn(s))

Now it might be considered paradoxical - in the extreme - to talk of a 'Green Desert of Wales'. Particularly when an already saturated ground simply can not absorb any more of the seemingly incessant torrent of water issuing forth from looming nimbostratus. Nevertheless I understand where that celebrated Welsh raconteur and walker, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, was coming from when he employed the epithet to determine the wild, upland region of Mid Wales between the military domain of Mynydd Eppynt and Pumlumon, doyen of Welsh rivers. Yeah, despite only breeching the 2,000ft criterion in a handful of places, these deceptively brutal hills demand the utmost respect. Paths, where they exist at all, possess the disconcerting habit of luring both the wary and unwary alike into lugubrious bog, the 'industrial strength' grass the very antithesis of terrain suitable for ageing knees and ankles. Tell me about it.

So why do I return again and again to submit myself to such privations? Well, aside from subscribing to the teachings of Marx - Groucho, that is... not the dialectical German, nor his modern far left 'disciples' - and not wishing to belong to a club that would willingly have me as a member, I guess it is because the implied feeling of 'wilderness' here is - arguably - without parallel in all Wales. Even the UK, perhaps? And nowhere is the aura more apparent, for me, than at the highest point of Cwmdeuddwr, the summit ridge of Drygarn Fawr itself, crowned by the remnants of two ancient cairns in turn surmounted by massive, idiosyncratic beehives worthy of association with the soulful jazz canon of Amy Winehouse. Yeah, it was whilst chilling out here last year that I noticed a small cairn below to the east... Carnau... with another a mile or so further north. Duly noted for future reference. Intrigued, it seemed to me there is no end to the Bronze Age sorcery of Mid Wales?

The great reservoirs of Cwm Elan have their southern terminus at Llanerch y Cawr where a restored medieval long house still affords a glimpse of times past... right here in the present. However to briefly shine a light upon an aspect of the human story a little more obscured by the mists of time - and, usually, the aforementioned nimbostratus - it is necessary to don walking boots and follow a track westwards above the access road for Rhiwnant farm, subsequently veering south to head for the exquisite Nant Paradwys. After approx a mile the cascading river is my cue to scramble up the flanks of Esgair Ceiliog to the left (east) in order to visit a fine cairn at SN897599. To be honest this is a more than adequate prime destination; however my curiosity gets the better of me and... well, you know how it is?.... I find myself continuing along the bank of the river toward Bwlch-y-Ddau-Faen upon a path that is, in reality, more stream than anything else.

Bwlch-y-Ddau-Faen - the 'Two Stone Pass' - is an enigmatic place. Assuming wild, windswept moorland a couple of miles from the nearest road is your thang? Firstly there is a natural spring here amongst the peat hags; secondly, a number of standing stones protrude from said peat to varying degrees forming an irregular 'ring', as opposed to 'circle. So why the colloquial reference to 'Two Stones' when there are substantially more than a pair of stones here? As I said, enigmatic place, augmented by a fine, sweeping view toward the Great Escarpment of South Wales dominating the southern horizon. Reassuring to find everything in its right place, so to speak. For what it's worth, I'm tempted to think what we have here is a typical, if disrupted upland Welsh ring. With numerous diminutive orthostats barely breeching the current surface it just feels 'right', you know? It is difficult to hypothesise a satisfactory reason why these tiny stones should otherwise be here. But there you are. All is silent now, almost overwhelmingly so; however the location is significant, the past cacophony of untold drover's agitated cattle seemingly hanging in the wind just out of human audible frequency.

Carnau rises a little further on, the route, somewhat ironically perhaps, marked by a couple of boundary stones clearly of relatively modern genesis. Although not in the same league as its neighbour overlooking the cascades to the north, the cairn, although dishevelled, is substantial enough and, unexpectedly, features an arc of kerbing still in situ. Although, in retrospect, its very isolation is probably to thank for such welcome preservation. With Drygarn Fawr looming to the west and Gorllwyn to the east it soon becomes apparent that, far from being in the middle of 'nowhere' as the map, not to mention my preconceptions suggested, Carnau is in fact an integral piece of the Cwmdeuddwr Bronze Age jigsaw situated close to a main thoroughfare across this landscape. Furthermore, what a wonderful, invigoratingly wild vibe this place possesses! A rarefied, somewhat esoteric atmosphere further amplified by a succession of progressively more brutal weather fronts sweeping along Nant Paradwys. Not everyone's cup of tea, but there you are. Needless to say this contrary Englishman duly satiates his thirst with coffee.

Time marches on toward inexorable darkness ensuring I must all too soon leave and retrace my soggy steps to Llanerch y Cawr, boots long since succumbed to the sheer volume of surface water. Yeah, The Green Desert of Wales is no place to be benighted without shelter. As Vaughan-Thomas would've known only too well.

Trewortha Cairn and Cist

This wondrous site reminded me a lot of the not-too-distant Grim's Grave upon Dartmoor and, although not possessing the latter's exquisitely isolated location, may well top it in terms of sheer aesthetic appeal. You know, I reckon it does.

Looking for a reasonably easy time to recuperate aching limbs pushed to their limit during the previous day's 10 hour walkabout around Brown Willy, Twelve Men's Moor, sexist nomenclature notwithstanding, appears to tick all the boxes. So, in accordance with my 'path of least resistance' game plan, I take the very minor road climbing steeply away to the north-west from the B3254 at Berriowbridge. Having safely negotiated Mr Hamhead's far from inconsequential tarmacadam 'bumps', I park at its terminus and set off on foot, heading very approx west along a bridleway (actually a surfaced track accessing Trewortha Farm). With the serrated skyline of Kilmar Tor rising to the left and Hawk's Tor to my right the scenery is appropriately 'rugged'... 'Cornwall-esque', if you like... as if to compensate for any intrinsic lack of significant height above ordnance datum in the area.

Simply put, there is an awful lot going on here upon Twelve Men's Moor - a plethora it might be said - should one possess a penchant for grassy stone piles, enigmatic, roughly circular arrangements of stone erupting from the earth as if discarded dragon's dentures (should've used fixodent)... and, first up upon my progressive linear agenda today, the utilitarian, yet immeasurably evocative little stone coffin: the cist. Far enough removed from our present time to sever any potentially uncomfortable, lingering connection with the macabre, there is something so inherently, demonstrably 'human' about these structures, their fabric seemingly impervious to the inclement weather of passing millennia... yet their former organic content anything but. As everyone of us knows only too well. This example - at SX252755, a little to the left (south) of the track - is a worthy specimen to represent the genre. Although lacking capstone, it stands exposed within its former cairn and, with settlements and associated field system in close proximity, it is easy - I find - to transcend the notion of a simple 'stone box' and contemplate what might have formed the basis of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of those that lived, farmed and died here at the dawn of our time.

Moving on a little further to the west and, again, to the left of the track, I encounter a small group of cairns (SX250752), one of which is a pretty substantial, grassy mound, another what appears to be a long cairn. Whatever the truth of its origin, the latter is certainly a 'long cairn'; however, as is the case with many cairns, I guess the definitive yes/no regarding prehistoric ancestry will only be attained by way of that excavation which will probably never be scheduled, let alone executed. Incidentally, grave goods including a disintegrating BWM 'key' fob are either indicative of the hitherto unknown exceptional technical prowess of the locals back in the day... or one very pissed off motorist in somewhat more recent times.

So, finally, the pièce de résistance is reached following a short walk across the moor to the approx south-west, passing what is, apparently (well, according to the map) a 'mound'. Albeit a not-very-clear-one obscured with summer vegetation. I'm compelled to say upfront that, in my opinion, this obscure 'Cairn and Cist' is one of the most sublimely pleasing monuments I've had the pleasure to encounter in a long while. Yeah, some sites are so joyous, invoke such a feeling of wellbeing in this traveller as to render categorisation superfluous. And this is such a site. Kerbed-cairn, cairn-circle, cairn and cist? Irrelevant. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say... and every wondrously wobbly orthostat surrounding the cist bears mute testimony to such an assertion today. Assuming one concedes 'mute' to solely relate to audible sound; there are other, non-empirical methods of communication. The combination of cist, cairn, uprights and landscape just 'works', you know? As if the constructors of this monument had an epiphany moment comparable with Da Vinci realising he was onto a winner with this Lisa Gherardini and her wicked smile. Why, even the farmer loudly strimming away like a demented Alan Tichmarsh in the field beyond the track doesn't affect the vibe.

Kilmar Tor rises to the south-east. And, as I relax, drink my coffee and think of 'stuff', it becomes all too clear that in order to complete.. to realise the coda... as Ralf Hütter would insist I should... I must return to the car via that shattered skyline of wonky rock. The main tor is riven with cracks as to threaten immediate, catastrophic collapse. The wind batters my person and prompts a fleeting self diagnostic. Why willingly choose to do this upon a supposed 'rest day'? All I can offer by way of explanation is the invitation to come and walk Kilmar Tor if you are able. Like the superb cairn and other monuments clustered below to the north, Kilmar Tor has what it takes. For me.

Buttern Hill (Cairn(s))

I approach from Bray Down:

Having not undertaken any homework back in Essex - well, in mitigation I had expected to push on to Land's End following a few days upon Dartmoor, so had no expectation whatsoever of still being upon Bodmin Moor on the penultimate day of the fortnight - I'm not anticipating much from Buttern Hill. Aside from some sweeping views to Rough Tor under very welcome clear conditions... and the chance to 'reverse engineer' the vista enjoyed from Brown Willy three days earlier. Yeah, I do like different perspectives, me.

As usual things don't go to plan; mainly, I guess, because I like to bring along, as it were, a rough artist's sketch in my mind and fill in the detail as circumstances dictate. Either that, or I've an appalling short term memory. One of the two. Anyway, upon leaving the summit of Bray Down I encounter (presumably) the same herd of brooding bovines I met on the way up. None shall pass. Consequently I detour around and forget all about the settlement apparently sited below, instead fording the river - or is it now a stream? - rather more elegantly than earlier in the day. From here, after hanging out with some wild ponies for a short while, 'up' is the only required direction. As I recall Yazz pointed this out, rather emphatically it has to be said, during the late 80's? I think. But then again the longer term memory isn't what it was either nowadays. Anyhow, whatever the correct timeline, her long, 'stompy' legs would've no doubt made far easier work of the grassy pull to the summit of Buttern Hill than mine. But there you are. One must work with what one has got.

As I approach the summit the first of a linear grouping of reasonably well defined cairns comes into view. Not bad at all. What I'm not prepared for is the 'contents' of the primary cairn... a damn well near perfectly preserved example of a cist, complete with fine cap stone slipped back to reveal the interior. Wow! Incoherent thoughts flash into my brain, which, sort of summarised, I guess relate to the wonder of finding something such as this standing more-or-less intact after all these millennia. Or something like that. OK, the location, the topography, isn't quite as fine - in my opinion - as that occupied by the western cairn upon Bray Down from whence I've just come... but you simply can't argue with archaeological quality such as this, even with the associated cairn being reduced to a grassy ring delineating the monument.

Er, except it seems that you can. It is therefore with a high degree of irony that I have to endure a pair of ramblers, suddenly appearing like the shopkeeper in Mr Benn, do just that, loudly 'debating' over my head what this could possibly be? A kennel, a sheep shelter, perhaps? Thankfully they are soon gone. Now whether the catalyst for accelerating the action was the pungent odour of sheep hanging in the air... or me apparently not going anywhere soon - odd man that I am - is probably a moot point. Anyhow, the trade mark Bodmin Moor 'utter silence' is resumed and Buttern Hill lives again in the imagination, if only for a short while. What price a couple of Bronze Age people somehow turning up in lieu of the now departed ramblers? Ha, dream on. So I do until advancing time dictates I must leave and return to the car.

Yeah, both Bray Down and Buttern Hill are fine objectives for the TMA'er in their own right. However a walk combining the two, in my opinion, might just well be one of Bodmin Moor's unexpected gems.

Bray Down (Cairn(s))

Now, since I'm not in the habit of adding to the physical burden that is my already way-too-heavy rucksack with a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary - nor, I have to admit, Apple's apparently 'wondrous' device, so subjecting my movements to the scrutiny of GHQ - I'm not privy to the official definition of 'idyllic'. Not even sure I've spelt it correctly, to be honest. But no matter, since, whatever the selection made by Dr Johnson's scholarly successors, I'd suggest the following would suffice nicely: "Where the Penpont Water is forded by the Bothwick-West Carne road, Bodmin Moor". Yeah, this is quite some spot to begin my last day in Cornwall. Not so much 'chocolate box', as, upon having eaten both layers of Terry's All Gold, finding a third beneath within a TARDIS-like confectionary dispensary.

A track heads southward, well sort of, following the right hand (western) bank of the water course, Bray Down, a perceived hint of cairn at the apparent summit, rising to my left. The route becomes progressively more boggy in short order, prompting thoughts of crossing sooner rather than later... or perhaps more to the point, why didn't I set off along the left hand bank, muppet? Sure enough, the terrain soon degenerates into a quagmire and it takes all my not-very-copious reserves of ingenuity to find a way across dryshod. Giggity, indeed. Nevertheless, once across, a short, rough ascent brings me to the summit, much to the apparent bemusement of some cows. Well, it is hard to tell. Might have simply been bovine indifference.

The summit of Bray Down is crowned by - in my opinion anyway - a trio of cairns. OK, only the western-most is particularly upstanding nowadays... but the survival of an arc of large kerb stones is more than enough supplementary detail to compensate for the assumed robbing of its near neighbours. As Mr Hamhead notes, exposed natural outcropping can be seen within the cairn, prompting deliberations as to whether this was intentional, symbolic, or utilitarian in nature. Or just plain lazy. Or damn clever. Whatever the truth, a truth now forever lost in the ever receding depths of time, this is a great cairn with excellent views across Bodmin Moor and, nearer to hand, within sight of a nice little logan stone. As for the other two monuments.. the middle, bearing an OS trig pillar, is ravaged but clearly rather substantial back in the day... whilst the eastern is substantially overgrown, of no great height, but nonetheless displaying a not inconsiderable footprint.

Furthermore, a triumvirate of upland cairns, unlike people, doesn't make a crowd; rather an appropriate environment generating a vibe imploring the visitor to plonk oneself down and partake of possibly upland Cornwall's greatest resource: utter silence. A revolutionary act, perhaps, in an era of information overload arguably reaching critical mass. Yeah, Robespierre and the other Jacobin nutters might not have approved, but there you are. Of more concern is the abundance of aerial insects in the immediate vicinity of the western cairn. Or, more specifically, their identity. Well, seeing as ancient cairns are, in my experience (not to mention the Mam C's) prime locations for bees to establish a hive, one has to take these things seriously. Fortunately the creatures are particularly noisy flies. Annoying, but without a sting in the tail, so to speak.

Lazing in the sun upon Bray Down (don't you just love the inconsistencies of the English language?) - particularly following the flash floods experienced earlier in the week - is a great way to spend a few hours. However eventually Buttern Hill calls from across the valley. Time to complete the walk:

Cox Tor (Cairn(s))

The concluding afternoon of a fortnight's deliberations in the far west country duly arrives... and with it, that curious, emotional juxtaposition of muted acceptance of the party's imminent end with the warm, still glowing embers of time well spent. Such ambiguous, inconclusive moods perhaps should not be conducive to rousing finales, even accepting that sitting around upon hill tops doing, frankly, not a lot, could be considered 'rousing' by most. However, as chance would have it, Cox Tor plays host to just such an event today. For me. Well, it's a personal thing.

The portents are not good when, following a memorable morning at the isolated Ingra Tor my megalithic antennae, fine tuned by a fortnight in the field, duly overload upon arrival at what can only be described as a massive, and furthermore full car park below and to the south of the tor; that is, at the point where the B3357 begins a steep descent toward Tavistock. What is this all about, then? Bemused, I watch punters of all shapes and sizes, seemingly attired for the pleasantries of the beach, disgorge from vehicles to head northwards across the gently undulating hillside toward the unseen summit above and beyond. Subconsciously looking for a reason to opt out, not to join the merry throng, I check the map once more, only to reaffirm that, according to the wondrous OS people anyway, Cox Tor is indeed crowned by several 'Cairns' depicted in that beguiling, 'antiquarian' typeface. Guess it would be rude not to, then.

To call the ascent short and straightforward is pretty much like saying, "come to think of it, the bloke with the moustache and hat in Frankie didn't do a lot, did he?" Consequently it's positively affirming to find that, upon arrival, the summit of Cox Tor is a wild, rock strewn, uncompromisingly brutal place. With extra wind and cold to send my poorly clad fellow punters heading back to their cars in short order. Dartmoor-esque, you might call it. In fact there is so much loose rock surrounding the summit outcrop that, at first, the penny doesn't drop that here we have another fine example of perhaps that most enigmatic of West Country prehistoric monuments... the tor cairn. OK, I know the stone row is Dartmoor's signature feature; but, for me, there is just something SO primeval about (apparently) venerating the living rock itself.

As it is, however, the sight of a fine, round cairn a little way to the immediate north has me hurrying away to take a look and, concurrently, take in the wider views. It is a pretty hefty stone pile, perched upon the northern edge of another, lesser outcrop and with expansive views to all point of the compass save the south, that being reserved, as you would expect, for the ever more intriguing summit. Looking north-east the landscape is vintage Dartmoor, seemingly desolate, featureless moor... but in reality packed with prehistoric treasures, tangible reminders of the people who once called Langstone Moor and its environs 'home': a stone circle, numerous cairns, cists, monoliths... hey, even a hill fort crowning White Tor. Looking west the visitor has no need to attempt to reconcile such apparent ambiguities, a series of patchwork fields leading the eye toward Cornwall and the mysterious, rolling hills of Bodmin Moor. But that's another, wondrous story.

After sitting out a brief, yet violent weather front, I check out another, apparently less well defined cairn a little further to the approx north to find it appears to be a pretty substantial ring cairn - as opposed to robbed round cairn? Perhaps not. An extended walkabout highlights at least one additional small cairn before, gazing across to White Tor and its tor cairns, I - finally - make the connection. Returning to the summit crags, now in brilliant sunshine, the surrounding girdle of shattered rock is obvious, in retrospect. Duh! The summit area is way, way too small to have been a habitable defended enclosure, so I have no doubt that something rather splendidly incomprehensible to my modern thinking - for better or worse - was going on back in the day.

Yeah, clearly Cox Tor was a significant member of the canon of Dartmoor's upland sites back then. What is also certain is that it is the perfect locale to end a fortnight in the west. When something promising so little ends up delivering so much one can only shrug one's shoulders and go with the flow...

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.
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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'.

My TMA Content: