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Fieldnotes by GLADMAN

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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.

Kildonan Point (Round Cairn)

Guess I need to come clean and admit I had no intention of visiting Kildonan Point during this latest - well, second - sojourn upon Kintyre. Strange as that may seem in retrospect, given the excellence of the monuments to be found here. Suffice to say there was no master plan. There never is. Yeah, not even a night spent upon the Mull itself was sufficient to fire the relevant synapse in a brain not engaged with the appreciation of copious tea and muesli... and bring a well subsumed recollection of antiquarian typeface upon an OS map bubbling into consciousness.

Not surprisingly, given the site's obvious architectural and aesthetic quality, the sublimely positioned dun lying immediately across Kildonan Bay was the sole focus of my attention upon finally vacating the equally enthralling Balnabraid kerbed cairn. However as I recline upon the ancient wall top gazing contentedly across to Arran - as you do - something that looks suspiciously like a large stone pile catches my eye to the south, that is a little 'inland' from the promontory's terminal point. Now, given my well documented fondness for such features upon the landscape, annoyance generated by the subsequent confirmation of supposition by memory may seem somewhat paradoxical. Nevertheless I dig deep, drag myself to my feet and set off along water's edge to go have a look. The going is pretty rough, the grassy shoreline, riven by the infinitely repetitive actions of high tide, eventually merging with rock and, finally, beach enlivened by the skeletal spars of a boat long since past its sell by date.

From here it is but a short meander up a shallow rise to determine that my eyes - not to mention dormant memory - did not deceive me. Yeah this cairn is really something special.... arguably second only to the great Correchrevie should you happen to be contemplating the round cairns of Kintyre. OK the monument has been significantly damaged upon its eastern arc, a threatening mass of industrial strength gorse seemingly determined to mitigate against further loss with a show of unbridled ferocity... however enough stone remains in situ to give a more than convincing impression of overwhelming solidity. The RCAHMS (1971) gave the cairn's dimensions as "23m in diameter and 3m in height".... however... "a short stretch of a heavy boulder kerb, still visible on the SW, suggests that it originally had a diameter of about 18.5m".

As mentioned Nature has now initiated the process of reclaiming this great stone pile, perhaps with a little artificial assistance, if the presence of some delicate white flowers upon the summit is indicative of such? The Mam C would know. In fact the cairn could be said to resemble a rock garden executed in true 'no-holds-barred' Scottish style. Fine by me. What's more the view looking across Kildonan Bay and beyond to the high ground of Arran, the latter now periodically semi-obscured by an advancing cloud base, is excellent, if by definition somewhat muted of colour.

Eventually my attention is drawn to what appears to be a second, shattered cairn located very oddly upon the northern flank of promontory's end. Investigation duly resolves the apparent conundrum. Hey, it's not a cairn at all but part of a substantial, dry stone rampart demarcating what was once clearly a pretty powerful promontory fort gracing the apex of Kildonan Point.

It would appear there is to be no rest for the inquisitive.... yeah, no sleep 'til Kilmartin.

Balnabraid (Kerbed Cairn)

Located a couple of miles south of Kildalloig Bay upon Kintyre's eastern flank and, incidentally, not far from New Orleans (hey check the map, it's true) the current denuded nature of this (apparently once very substantial) cairn belies a monument with a far, far more significant pedigree. In fact - seeing as its multi-faceted internal arrangements were found to feature no fewer than ELEVEN (count 'em) cists - I'd go as far as to say that, in my experience, I reckon this to be a truly unprecedented site. Sadly none of that ridiculously copious funerary detail can now be seen due to protective post excavation backfilling... one assumes upon the conclusion of the 1966 dig, the other excavations having taken place in 1910 and 1913. Sometimes it's enough to be aware what lies beneath, you know? No need to touch.

Not to mention what previously lay interned within those little stone-slabbed boxes. Yeah, the grave goods... artefacts which Bronze Age locals deemed suitably precious and noteworthy enough to accompany their loved ones (or at the very least, respected ones) into whatever afterlife loomed large in their collective consciousness at the time. According to Canmore these included "a beaker with jet disc-beads and a flint knife, three food-vessels and a cinerary urn." In addition, as if that fine assemblage of objects infused with inherently intimate human association wasn't enough, "a bronze razor, probably dating from 1400 to 1000 BC, was found on the site in 1966." Hmm. Suffice to say the prehistoric providence of this particular stone pile is not in any doubt. As is its ability to transcend millennia.

Furthermore, despite being located at little more than sea level, the placement of the monument within its landscape is excellent. Yeah, set overlooking the Balnabraid Water as it flows down Balnabraid Glen to merge with the southern approach to Kilbrannan Sound, the focus is, and no doubt was always intended to be, seaward.... a grandstand view of fresh water returning back whence it came to the saline, courtesy of the planet's natural weather cycles. With the enigmatic profile of Ailsa Craig looming upon the south-eastern horizon for good measure. It could be said that the monument's connection with the Balnabraid Water is definitive since it was erosion caused by the action of the latter that "revealed a cinerary urn in the exposed face of the cairn" in 1910. Well, there you are.

Whether the visitor approaches the site from the north or south a fine aerial view will be obtained from the coastal road as it descends to Corphin Bridge. Parking is available at roadside, a field gate allowing access to the cairn.

Although apparently a shadow of its former self... the funerary cairn at Balnabraid nevertheless casts a long shadow indeed.

Lochorodale 1 (Chambered Cairn)

Although there are actually less standing stones here than at the not too distant Lochorodale 2... this monument - in my opinion - fully justifies its numerical primacy on account of its wondrous location overlooking the eponymous loch. And, to be fair, a substantial volume of cairn material remains in situ, together with four heavy slabs forming a chamber to the north-west. OK, a façade would have been nice (assuming one existed as an original feature?); but with a view like that.....

It is possible to park at the entrance to the stony track just south-west of the house at Lochorodale, that is just before the road begins the steep climb to the summit of the glen and Lochorodale 2. Following the track northwards a grassy diversion to the left is soon encountered which will take the inquisitive visitor straight to where he or she wants to be in short order. I, however, conscious of my dodgy route finding in forestry with old OS maps, elect to stick with the primary route. I would recommend this option since the views are better, the track subsequently veering to the left (west) to meet its neighbour below the southern face of a rocky crag.

The track peters out servicing a holiday home - or so it would appear (certainly a good place to rent out for a week or two if you fancy staying somewhere off the beaten track, I'd have thought?) - it being possible to circle around the left hand (western) flank of the crag to reach the monument. This is the approach I take but, in retrospect, I would suggest that ascending the crag directly northwards is the preferred option since this accords a grandstand, sweeping vista of the chambered cairn set in its landscape below.

The Clyde-type chambered long cairn sits to the left of a forestry plantation which partially obscures the onward view across the loch to the north-west; nevertheless I really think the setting is something special. As mentioned the monument appears pretty well defined, according to JG Scott (1952) and - as expected - AS Henshall (1972) the NW-SE facing cairn rising to approx "5ft to 6ft high near the centre". The chunky chamber stones project "1ft 3ins to 2ft" from the surface of the cairn forming the perfect spot to lie back, take in the glorious view and eat lunch. Yeah, this really is a superb place to simply sit and do nothing for a couple of hours, particularly if the weather is kind. Hey, I even had a bit of a stiff breeze to keep the midges at bay. A very welcome bonus indeed.

So in summary: not an overwhelmingly great chambered cairn, if relative merit is determined solely upon the criterion of quality of archaeology... but, of course, there are many other aspects to take into consideration, are there not? Consequently I reckon this is a classically located site worthy of seeking out for an extended visit.

And that, I guess, is that except to mention that the 1:25K map depicts a cup marked stone nearby at NR656161. The RCAHMS [1971] reckon this is "A cup-marked boulder, 1.7m by 1.1m by 0.5m high, bearing at least fourteen cups." Didn't visit myself since the lure of Blasthill was too great. But there you are.

Lochorodale 2 (Chambered Cairn)

Arriving at the summit of the very minor road ascending Achnabrand Glen (from the B842 to approx north-east) following an afternoon of - it has to be said - sensory overload at Greenland I readily admit to being more than pleasantly surprised at the substantial nature of the chambered cairn located here, a little south of this very steep section of tarmacadam. Just the thing to round off an excellent day upon Kintyre, an opportunity to watch the last rays of the sun sink below the coniferous tree line embraced by the calming presence of this most ancient stone pile, prior to parking up for the night.

OK, Greywether didn't rate the remains of this Clyde-type chambered long cairn... but then, with cairn material still rising to approx (my) head height, together with several large façade orthostats and a couple of chamber slabs still remaining in situ... I beg to differ. Quite understandably, having searched for many a vague, grassy undulation in southern England, my megalithic standards are somewhat less exacting.

Even during my late May visit the monument is very overgrown with ubiquitous fern obscuring much of the body of the long cairn; nevertheless the remaining southern half of the west-facing façade stands proud of the vegetation according the site a memorable profile... particularly when looking eastwards across the monument down the glen. Ditto the remains of the axial chamber, which, I would assume, was entered from the west through the façade. I'm afraid I could find no trace of the anticipated lateral chamber. Whether this inability was due to the obvious past disruption, the overgrown nature of the monument... or simply the fact that it doesn't exist... is I guess a moot point.

Having subsequently read Carl's notes I would say that, bearing in mind the minor nature of the road, a winter visit is probably not recommended unless you have a 4x4... and know how to use it. I could be wrong, but assumption is this route will not be gritted? Hence if, upon struggling up the road, no long cairn is forthcoming, I suggest visitors look for a small rise to the left (south), climb that and the site will (surely?) be seen to be located exactly where it should be.

Furthermore, if time permits, a visit to the excellent companion chambered cairn at Lochorodale 1 is highly recommended.

Greenland (Chambered Cairn)

Even with 1:25k map clasped in my perspiring palm, compass bearing duly set .... this excellent chambered long cairn proved a real bugger to get to. However - if such an assumption can be based upon the presence of several 'walking man' directional posts and a picnic table placed more-or-less adjacent to the monument - it wasn't always thus. Indeed, guess it must've been a mere stroll in the woods once upon a time. Ah, trees; herein lies the fundamental problem when it comes to route finding... to paraphrase Dylan somewhat, time's constantly a'changing beneath the dark coniferous mantle of Scotland's forestry plantations.

For identification purposes the chambered cairn assumes the name of a ruined (or so it appeared in passing) dwelling beside a small loch about a click to the south-west; although to be honest it could also have appropriated that of 'Black Loch' a similar distance to the north-west. For what it's worth I prefer the latter title. Anyway, a few miles after leaving Campbeltown heading (east then) north upon the B842 coastal road the farmhouse of Low Smerby is passed (on the right), that is about a mile short of Peninver. Shortly afterward I park up at the entrance to the long access drive of High Smerby upon my left. The arrangement is not ideal, but in my opinion not a problem.

So... advancing along the track, a diversion to the left conveniently bypassing the farm, I enter the forestry and, upon encountering the Smerby Burn, the root source of the nomenclature of numerous local farms suddenly becomes all too apparent. As, incidentally, is the presence of numerous gentlemen engaged in what a rather alarmist sign - think Arnie Schwarzenegger doing the 'talk to the hand' scene in Terminator 2 - terms 'forestry operations'. I decide to force the issue and finding myself completely ignored (what's new?) carry on my way. Beyond a small quarry the track veers uphill to the right, climbing above the aforementioned Greenland ruin and its water feature before forking to the right in approx a further half mile. The monument stands a similar distance to the east. Seems simple enough? Needless to say it's not, primarily since it is difficult to see the continuation of the route through the wood for the fallen trees.

Nearing the track's terminus a grassy path veers to the right, one of the aforementioned directional posts suggesting I'm (finally) nearly there.... only for a further, seemingly impenetrable mass of twisted timber to bar the way. Furthermore, as I try to outflank my wooden nemesis I find myself in real danger of losing my bearings completely unless I retrace my steps best as I can and regroup. Although, to be fair, regrouping with myself is not that onerous an undertaking. Reckoning that I've more-or-less fixed my location once more I set about slipping and sliding up and down various muddy inclines in torrential rain until the proverbial 'one last look' highlights an improbable picnic table - of all things - set at the edge of a clearing. A hint of stone protrudes from a nearby mound and... sure enough... there it is. Finally. What took us so long to find each other?

Now the miscellaneous post gives the technical info... however the long cairn is so overgrown, wondrously so in terms of vibe, that most of the detail is superfluous this afternoon. Suffice to say that the monument appears to recall that of the excellent, not too distant Blasthill with an axial chamber - albeit a far better one with cap stone eased to one side - and lateral chamber opening upon the western flank. Hey, there's even tentative evidence for a façade at the northern end. Which brings us to the primary difference betwixt the two long cairns... orientation, Greenland being aligned approx north/south to Blasthill's east/west. Hmm. Unfortunately forestry clearings are not condusive to sussing out possible reasons for alignments. As noted, however, they can furnish a site with a superlative atmosphere, one such given a nitrous-oxide boost today by fast moving weather fronts of ridiculously violent intensity. Not so much 'changeable' as 'buckle up for a rollercoaster ride'.

As I sit and drink my coffee steam rises from the cairn following one full on assault, the rain front motoring away toward the coast as the sun takes its turn to flood the clearing with golden light, as opposed to precipitation. It is a surreal experience, but, for me, sums up the appeal of this site. A couple of miles - that's all - from the road... but the walker's signpost might as well have been pointing to the heavens and stated 'to the moon'.

Creagach Leac (Round Cairn)

The deceptively large round cairn surmounting the 413ft summit of Creagach Leac is well worth a look when visiting the superb Blasthill chambered cairn, located below to the north-west... if only to enjoy the 'aerial' view, to take the opportunity to observe how the latter was placed within the landscape. To attempt to grasp the 'bigger picture', if you like. And I do. Make the attempt, that is.

Despite the relative lack of elevation, the coastal location of this small, craggy hill (apparently the 5,398th tallest peak in Scotland, no less) ensures the canvas painted by Nature - and subsequently adapted, with varying degrees of aesthetic aptitude, by succeeding generations of humankind - is a fine, expansive work of vibrant colours balanced with subtle tonal nuances. Or something like that. Yeah, the sweeping vista looking westward toward The Mull of Kintyre is really quite something to behold, the azure sky of early afternoon now supplanted by the advancing vanguard of the next sequential weather front, a billowing mass of low cloud smothering the horizon. The thought occurs: how ironic is it that most visitors - myself included - probably first became aware of the existence of this sublime little corner of lowland Scotland through something so utterly devoid of beauty and artistic merit as McCartney's dire ditty? Besides, I understand this was always MacDonald territory...

With such an outlook is it easy to become consumed with speculative 'stuff' and forget that this grassy hill top is actually a Bronze Age cairn. Quite a big one, too, the RCAHMS (visiting way back in 1965, admittedly) recording that it "measures 13.5m in diameter by 0.84m in maximum height". In mitigation, however, the monument is so grassed over that it is necessary for me to wander around a bit, checking out the differing profiles, before I'm satisfied that the commission people weren't pulling a fast one back then. Needless to say they were not.

I guess the final thing to note - OK, penultimate, since there are a couple of suspiciously artificial looking mounds upon the western flank of Creagach Leac encountered on the way back to the car - is the shimmering, seemingly other-worldly presence of Ailsa Craig looming upon the southern-eastern horizon to the left of Sanda Island and the diminutive Sheep Island .... a vision conjuring up images of La Morte d'Arthur... with himself being conveyed across misty waters toward the Isle of Avalon.

Yeah, this is a good spot alright. If a little windy. I decide to seek out a wild camp upon the Mull itself tonight. Hopefully said wind will ensure there is no 'mist rolling in from the sea'....

Blasthill (Chambered Cairn)

Located below and to the north west of the summit of Creagach Leac - the almost entirely grassed-over Bronze Age cairn rather contradicting the 'craggy, slabby' references inherent in the name - this excellent chambered cairn is, to my mind, the finest of Kintyre's ancient monuments... although I guess another chambered cairn hidden away in forestry a little to the north at Greenland runs it damn close. Hey, even the sardonic Greywether rated what is still to be found here gracing the rough pasture separating the farms of Blasthill and Macharioch.

I approach from the village of Southend, the hill rising above to the north bearing the tell-tale contours of Iron Age earthworks to off-set the fact that the later settlement is not, in actual fact, the 'south end' of anything, let alone Kintyre... yeah, that accolade, of course, belongs to the (in)famous Mull a little to the approx south-west. Chances are you might have heard of it referenced by another of the area's ancient relics? Anyway, crossing the Conieglen Water at Mill Park I ignore the immediate left hand turn to follow the minor road past Blasthill Farm (on the left) and, in the interests of symmetry, Kilbride (on the right). It is currently just about possible to park - without causing offence - in the entrance to the driveway of an unidentified house a little beyond 'Suilven'. Needless to say that's not the celebrated mountain... or else I'd suggest you dispose of that Satnav in the nearest litter bin forthwith. Hey, do it anyway. Before it becomes self aware.

As Greywether notes the track opposite the aforementioned Kilbride is key here with a field gate, fastened with nothing but ubiquitous rope, encouraging even the somewhat reticent Englishman to enter. I head for the far (northern) shoulder of Creagach Leac, encountering a pretty worthy area of bog upon abandoning the sanctuary of the track, wetland enlivened by the vibrant hues of the occupying gorse. This formidable natural barrier duly breeched, the way lies open to the fabulous chambered cairn located, unseen, beyond.

To be fair there isn't an excessive volume of 'cairn' material to be found here. No soaring, enigmatic vertical profile; rather the well preserved/restored (?) orthostats and internal features of a Clyde-type chambered long cairn. Arguably the most impressive component is the crescent façade at the eastern end of the monument emphasising the entrance to the axial chamber. As you'd expect with such a cairn there is also a lateral chamber, this within the southern flank and possibly sited to focus upon the summit of Creagach Leac since the northern flank, overlooking the fertile fields bordering the Corachan Burn, would've otherwise seemed a more natural choice to me? In addition, more-or-less the entire footprint of the cairn is defined by the remains of a peristalith. OK, none of the stones are that large, but substantiality has numerous measures, so to speak. According to Audrey Henshall (1972) this long cairn is "about 72ft overall, with cairn material remaining to a depth of only about 3ft... The stones are irregular in shape and pointed, the tallest, 3ft high above the turf being the north portal."

Blasthill is orientated approx east/west which, given the nature of the landscape, would appear very deliberate policy on behalf of its erectors. Let's just say that otherwise it wouldn't make much sense.... not with a glorious vista in the general direction of the Mull of Kintyre there for the taking to the west and the aforementioned aerial view - looking across Corachan Burn to distant hills - to the north. OK, the low mass of Creagach Leac (413ft) obscures any far-reaching outlook to the south, but east still wouldn't have been my choice upon aesthetic grounds. My assumption is therefore that other factors held sway back then.

Whatever the reasoning, the monument is a fine place to hang out for a few hours in the sun before finally moving on to the Bronze Age summit looming insistently above.

Correchrevie (Cairn(s))

By some distance the most impressive round cairn to grace Kintyre (I reckon the next in line is that at Kildonan Point), the great stone pile at Correchrevie nevertheless duly serves up a double-whammy by occupying a quite stunning coastal location. Yeah, the sweeping seascape looking across the Sound of Gigha to the Isle of Gigha and its diminutive companion Cara Island is, more-or-less, the same celebrated outlook to be found at the wondrous Ballochroy alignment a little up the road.

As indicated above this is a substantial monument. But no need to take my word for it since the RCAHMS visited, albeit way back in 1961, determining that the cairn measured "27.5m in diameter and 5.0m in height", which is pretty hefty, it has to be said. Furthermore, despite a number of 'excavations' being apparent within the structure, such is the volume of stone still remaining in situ that I'd agree with the observation that the damage wrought by stone seekers of yesteryear appears to be "...superficial, and the main body of cairn material and any internal features are probably undisturbed." Yeah, here we have another sleeping behemoth.

My mid-morning visit coincides with, and needless to say greatly benefits from, a somewhat boisterous weather front propelling vast slabs of cloud across a brilliant cobalt-blue canvas, this mass of grey-white vapour towering above my stony perch and occupying a vertical plane of a scale quite beyond this human's comprehension. Hey, what are the works of humankind, relatively speaking, when considered within the context of the biggest of all pictures?

Despite Correchrevie's impressive bulk travellers approaching along the coastal road to the north - as no doubt many do - may be forgiven not even clocking its existence, such is the nature of the topography. However stop for a while a little way past Ronachan Bay (at the second lay-by, the one with emergency 'phone) and wander down to water's edge to taste the salt air at the limit of the crashing breakers... where, upon turning to face inland once more the superb positioning of the monument is instantly apparent.

Access, it would seem, is either via a stony track beside (currently) unemployed farm buildings or directly up the hill through woodland. A barbed-wire fence encloses the relevant field upon the crest; however I found I was able to step over this without damaging either it or my nether regions... or else would've ventured a little further north toward a gate.

Carn Liath, Strath of Kildonan (Cairn(s))

Let's face it.... an area would have to be pretty special - from an archaeological perspective, at least - for this particular 'Grey Cairn' (needless to say Scotland has numerous others) to feature as nothing out of the ordinary.... par for the course, so to speak. In retrospect I guess that tells me all I need to know about the relative merits of Strath of Kildonan, a veritable megalithic cornucopia, if ever I did experience one?

Situated upon the lower, south-western slopes of Craig Halligarry (this mini-height featuring rock art and hut circles, no less) the cairn is consequently denied the sweeping, elevated views accorded a significant number of the other dramatis personae in the extended vicinity. Nevertheless the location, overlooking the northern bank of the River Helmsdale with Ben Uarie looming upon the skyline, whilst not breath taking is certainly aesthetically pleasing, albeit in a somewhat archetypal, uncompromising northern Scottish manner.

The monument, although damaged upon the north-eastern arc - one assumes by quarrying - is substantial. According to an Ordnance Survey estimation back in 1976 it "would have been about 17.0m diameter, and, at present, is 1.5m high." [JM]. Yeah, anywhere else but here Carn Liath would surely be a headline act? As it is.. it represents an understated perch upon which to pause and review; to take stock of the frankly overwhelming volume of treasures to be experienced travelling the A897. To once again see the cairns for the stones.

Is it chambered? The OS didn't believe so, back in the day. However a couple of stones rising through and above the summit of the cairn suggest otherwise. Let's say it is, in my opinion, certainly a 'possible'. There are further uprights standing a little distance to the north-west, perhaps related to what I assume to be a field boundary? Then again could they be associated with the monument? Whatever the truth of the matter Carn Liath is certainly worthy of a stop-over on the way to more spectacularly positioned sites.

Creag Nan Caorach, Kinbrace (Chambered Cairn)

The pair of chambered cairns gracing the south-western flank of Creag nan Caorach, the hill rising rather 'sheepishly' (assuming my limited gaelic is not even more so) to the east of the small hamlet of Kinbrace, are not among the largest monuments of the genre I've had the privilege of visiting over the past decade or so; nevertheless they form yet another vibrant entry in the wondrous canon of prehistoric cairns seemingly tasked by our forebears with escorting the River Helmsdale to the sea. Well, wouldn't want the river spirits to get lost now, would we? Causes all sorts of problems. I imagine.

As mentioned... the chambered cairns do not crown the near-on 1,000ft summit of Creag nan Caorach, as might have been expected if collective, vainglorious self-aggrandisement had been the motive of their erectors. Oh no. Instead the monuments appear to have been carefully placed to observe the landscape... rather than be observed attempting to subjugate it. That is literally a much more classy outlook upon life and what it means to be human, don't you think? Inherently so. To be fair it's not that difficult to hypothesize what 'event' might have been the focus of attention here, the gaze of the visitor drawn to the south-west toward the confluence of the River Helmsdale with the Bannock Burn flowing down from the approx north; the perennial meeting and merging of waters.

Anyway, advancing uphill from the unfenced A897 a little south of Kinbrace (note that there is a railway station here should the train be your preferred mode of transport) the traveller must first negotiate a group of hut circles and an associated field system, the former presumably representing the residual footprints of the homes of the people who chose - or perhaps felt compelled - to bury their dead a little above and beyond to the east. So, onward and upward to these former homes of the ancestors of the ancestors, so to speak. All is quiet now upon the bare - dare I say inhospitable? - flank of Creag nan Caorach, where once upon a time voices, mingling with the coarser utterances of other animals, would've drifted on the breeze.... or remained inaudible upon the inevitable days of inclemency.

I dare say one such voice, albeit in much more recent times, was that of the ubiquitous A S Henshall who came to see and describe these cairns back in 1963. The western cairn [NC86903094], the best preserved of the pair, is an "Orkney-Cromarty type short, horned cairn with a Camster type chamber".. rising about "4ft 6 inches above the heather.... It measures 43ft E-W by 46ft N-S and the horns project about 10ft". The cairn is certainly chambered, part of which is exposed and is in my estimation a fine monument.

A little to the approx east stands its companion [at NC87073094]. Significantly robbed and overgrown with heather it "appears to have had a diameter of about 47ft. Three upright stones, two of them set at right angles, occur near the centre and suggest that the cairn has been chambered." To be honest I'd go further than Audrey's tentative notes and concur with the Ordnance Survey people who commented that these orthostats "leave little doubt that it is chambered, though no identifiable pattern is evident" [JM, 1977 and EGC, 1961].

There is more here, firstly in the form of another cairn set further to the approx south-east at NC87263056. Once again it is a substantial stone pile, according to the aforementioned OS people "...8.0m diameter by 0.7m high". Unfortunately I could not discern any trace of a former chamber. The final monument of the quartet is a grassy cairn at NC86863099. I neglected to take an image of this, for whatever reason... however it apparently measures "15m by 14m by 1.3m high", again with no visible chamber or cist.

So there you have it. Clearly Creag nan Caorach was deemed to be a very special place back in the day. Although, to keep things in context, it is in very good company with the fabulous (now deforested) Kinbrace Hill cairns a little to the south and the fine Carn Richard chambered cairn to the west. And that's just for starters...

Eventually it is time to shift attention away from the prehistoric cairns adorning this windswept hill and focus upon the imperceptible abrasive action of water upon rock below. A vision of a landscape that is simultaneously impossibly ancient and absolutely contemporary. I find such a concept difficult to process so, as with the water, perhaps it is best to do as I do and let it just flow over you?

Kilphedir (Chambered Cairn)

Two ancient cairns grace the hillside that sweeps down to the River Helmsdale to the south-east of the fine broch at Kilphedir. Not that anyone, save the curious Citizen Cairn'd in possession of OS map, would be aware of this arresting fact .... since they are so obscure and reclusive as to render Howard Hughes a real live wire in comparison. Yeah, Nature has now more-or-less completely embraced her artificial charges, peerlessly camouflaged them within heather to such an extent as to ensure I wander past, oblivious, before retrospectively realising my error.

To be fair it is the sense of location... hard won experience, if you like... which gives the game away and not excellent map work (that'll be the day), an area of relatively level ground proffering a truly superb panorama of Strath of Kildonan to the approx east, one I accept utterly and without reservation. Hey, the cairns should be here... this is where I'd have put them. And indeed they are.

The better preserved (NC99581867) is - according to field notes of the inevitable Audrey Henshall (1963) - "roughly circular... measuring about 56ft NW-SE by 51ft transversely and 4 or 5ft high". Several large orthostats strongly suggest the monument was chambered and "orientated NW-SE and entered from the SE." Not bad at all.

The internal detail of the larger, companion monument located at NC99551870 is less clear, but nonetheless also indicative to me of a chambered cairn. Again according to Audrey it is "about 70ft by 55ft and 3ft high. Parts of a boulder kerb or possibly two concentric kerbs together with several large earthfast slabs, are visible".

Needless to say visitors should take the opportunity to visit the fine broch looming above to the north-west, not to mention numerous hut circles. My suggestion, nay recommendation, would be to ascend directly to the ancient fortification from the south and subsequently drop in on the cairns on the way back down to the road, emerging near the lodge. However since I had already visited the broch several years previously I instead simply hang out for a while and enjoy the view. There is really only the one owing to the nature of the topography. But suffice to say it is enough.

Torrish Burn (Kerbed Cairn)

This large, round cairn has sadly had to suffer the indignity of having a large portion of its western arc removed at some time or other.... leaving it with a footprint perhaps reminiscent of a giant 'Pac Man' frozen mid gulp upon this uncompromising hillside. Needless to say the true effect would only be apparent from the air. A Nasca-style monument for the jilted 80's Atari generation.....

Such damage notwithstanding, the cairn remains architecturally impressive measuring - according to those intrepid Ordnance Survey people (WDJ, 1960 and J M, 1976) - "about 19.5m NW-SE by 18.5m". What's more, there is the remains of an arc of kerbing to the east.

As is often the case, however, it is the placement of the monument which impresses this traveller the most. Located upon a low spur above the western bank of the Torrish Burn, the cairn was clearly orientated to overlook the River Helmsdale, the site possessing a wondrous view eastwards and westwards along the strath. Incidentally the river deviates sharply southward at the point where the Torrish Burn adds itself to its seemingly inexorable flow... the thought momentarily occurs that perhaps the tributary is more than capable of - quite literally - punching well above its weight when flash floods visit these hills? Whatever, best not to be around to test the theory when such deluges sweep across the landscape.

Despite the relative proximity to what is, after all, an A-road (honest, it's the A897) there is a great 'upland' vibe here enhanced by distant Ben Uarie keeping an eye on proceedings upon the south-western skyline. That such impressive, yet unassuming stone piles can be found in such easily accessible locations is, for me, truly one of the joys of northern Scotland.

Caen Burn, Strath of Kildonan (Long Cairn)

Although there is nothing here - where the Caen Burn flows down from the rolling hills to subsume itself within the voluminous River Helmsdale's procession to the sea - in the same jaw-dropping league as the Kinbrace Hill monuments, this quartet of differing long cairns (count 'em) nevertheless accord my final day exploring the wondrous environs of Strath of Kildonan a fitting climax. Indeed, the view of the more-or-less intact southern monument from high ground to the north-west is way beyond all expectations. And to be fair I can imagine an awful lot... as Han Solo once said in that somewhat obscure film.

My arrival is significantly delayed, the small matter of checking out preceding cairns at Carn Liath, Torrish Burn, Kilphedir and Salscraggie, in linear progression from the west, ensuring it is late afternoon before I finally park opposite an islet within the aforementioned River Helmsdale, a short distance prior to where the water course veers sharply to the south. The first of the long cairns (the western at ND00781783) lies upon a terrace to the immediate north. Sadly this is very much a case of what might have been.... or rather what once was, the monument clearly having been used as a quarry for building stone with nothing, save a trace outline of stone, defining what must have been a truly massive monument. Audrey Henshall [1963] has it at about "135 feet long, 27 feet broad at the W end widening to 50 feet in the E...oriented ESE-WNW". Still the positioning, overlooking the river, is excellent.

I head approx north-east following a rough path across the flank of the hill, pausing to gawp at the spectacle of the superb southern long cairn lying below. I decide to leave what would appear to be the best to last and carry on to overlook the Caen Burn itself, the northern cairn (ND01251802) clearly visible above its western bank. Although disturbed, there remains a significant volume of curiously reddish/orange stone in situ, albeit with no discernible chamber visible to these eyes. According to Audrey "It lies ENE and WSW and measures about 100ft in length, some 35ft in breadth at the E end and 27ft at the W." In my opinion the view looking north along the Caen Burn into the hills is excellent - there are apparently numerous hut circles and a souterrain up there - whilst the eastern long cairn can be seen to the north-east upon the lower, near flank of Caen Hill rising above the burn. Guess I'll have to haul my aching body up there, then? Afraid so. Let's call it a labour of love.

The Caen Burn is easily forded - or at least was at the time of my visit in late May - whereupon a (thankfully) short climb alongside a dry stone wall brings me to an unlocked gate accessing the long cairn at ND01481815. Like its lower neighbour, the monument hasn't survived into our age unscathed. Nevertheless it remains a substantial stone pile "oriented NE-SW measuring about 166 feet in length and 25 feet broad at the SW end, widening to about 26 feet in the NE". Speaking of orientation, both the northern and southern long cairns are visible from here, the angles of attack of the surrounding hills suggestive of riding upon a billowing green seascape. Or at least that might be the case if not for the luxuriant carpet of blue bells.

So... finally... I descend for an audience with the southern long cairn at ND01231776. As mentioned the monument appears almost intact and "orientated E-W appears to be 168ft long, 27ft wide at the W end and 46ft at the E." The profile is not uniform, the cairn rising gradually from the west to "a height of 7ft" at the eastern extremity. Here some large displaced stones suggest the presence/former presence of a chamber. Well, Audrey Henshall certainly thought so way back in 1963. Hey, to think that was before I was born? A true pioneer lady. The cairn is covered in a thick mantle of moss, this a little puzzling since there is no indication of recent forestry here? Whatever, the happy effect only serves to heighten the sense of a location being somehow frozen in time. Someone call Stephen Hawking. He'll know what's what. Top man. Sadly my watch refuses to co-operate with my 'theory of everything' (in retrospect perhaps 'everything' was a little too ambitious) and I have to move on to once again find somewhere to crash out for the night. But not before determining that a nearby 'hump' is actually a Bronze Age round cairn. What a place......

Kinbrace Hill (Chambered Cairn)

Ha! What new sorcery is this? Surely even a myopic Citizen Cairn'd such as I couldn't have 'overlooked' monuments of this magnitude during my previous visits to the Strath of Kildonan, lamentably few though those have been. Surely not? Luckily, not least for the preservation of any lingering notion of personal sanity there is a pretty straightforward reason for the oversight, this given immediate credence by the carnage of devastated timber covering the hillside. Yeah, concealing something in plain sight would be a pretty Machiavellian concept if premeditated; needless to say conspiracy theorists need not linger. Forestry comes and goes in these parts.

Moving on from the arresting Creag Nan Caorach - itself a sequel to the excellent Carn Richard - it becomes apparent that there are simply an overwhelming number of sites lining the flanks of this valley. A linear progression requiring at least 48 hours. Clearly my itinerary is (once again) shot to pieces and I will have to stay another day. Hey, shame it's not Christmas since that reminds me of a certain song. With bells on. Anyway... suddenly a massive circular stone pile looms above the road to my left. I check the map - in confusion since I should not be able to see the cairn for the trees - and, to be honest, don't know where I am. Whatever. It's not as if it's the first time....

The cairn (NC86882935) appears circular, of impressive stature and apparently 'unopened'. It is almost certainly chambered, two uprights upon the approx south-eastern arc surely representing the entrance to a passage, albeit one now inaccessible? Audrey Henshall [1963] reckoned the monument measures "87ft E-W by 83ft, and the height at least 9ft". What a fine, unexpected way to end the day. But wait, there's more. Much more. And it's even more special.... iconic, even.

A further mass of grey stone visible crowning the rise of the hillside to the approx south-east sees me stumbling, with great difficulty - and I have to say many expletives - across the chaotic residual detritus of those forestry operations in order to take a look. It is worth the effort (a bit of an understatement, that), the apparently damaged profile revealed to be formed of two distinct, very large cairns as I draw near. That to the north-east is the higher of the two and (apparently) the earlier, by all accounts seemingly another, even more massive round cairn. However the sheer scale ensures first appearances are most certainly deceptive for (once again according to Audrey Henshall) it is actually "almost square with rounded corners and rises steeply to a height of 14ft.... about 100ft along its main axis". Furthermore it possesses "a low horn projecting about 7ft on the north". OK.... not your standard cairn, then? Very idiosyncratic indeed. Its companion, set immediately to the south-west, is similarly unusual. Somewhat lower at "10ft high" its horizontal dimensions (at least in 1963) are "102ft long, 62ft wide at the SW end and 36ft wide at the NE end". Make of that what you will?

Blimey. So what the hell was all this about, then? Just what was going on in the minds of those people who toiled to erect these monuments millennia ago? Was this a long cairn subsequently 'decapitated' by separating the north-eastern head from the body. Or were these two cairns always set apart, albeit associated. A prototype for the genre of monument that would, by combining the two, eventually become the 'long cairn'? Perhaps Kinbrace Hill's outstanding monuments are analogic of Caithness's celebrated Grey Cairns of Camster? Only far, far more obscure, at least nowadays? The mind boggles to find such extraordinary stone piles still standing here, apparently intact. Truly, it does.

I return to the chambered cairn near the A897. All is quiet.... there is no traffic... and watch the light slowly fade to dusk following a last brilliant sunburst, the final hurrah of a previously subdued sun now illuminating the landscape with a golden glow. A metaphorical brass fanfare to what I've just witnessed, perhaps? Marvellous. Now for somewhere to sleep.
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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: