The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

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A Sutherland Cycle Tour and the £380 Stone Circle

For the last fifteen months my friend Jeremy and I have been out cycling in the evening once a week. It sort of combines our mutual obsessions; his cycling long distances and breathing in the natural world around him and mine visiting local prehistoric sites. Of course it doesn’t work so well in the Winter as all the cycling is done in the dark and, needless to say, freezing conditions. However, the long term aim was to go on a cycle tour for a week to somewhere wild and rugged, where we could express ourselves. Along with another old friend of Jeremy’s, Martin, we’d settled on travelling to Cape Wrath in the extreme North West of Scotland, cycling around 150 miles, wild camping or staying in bothies and living on nuts and berries. Real boys own adventure stuff! About a month before we were due to set off we discovered that the military ranges there were to be used for a major NATO exercise. Apparently they would be using live ammunition so despite our ‘devil may care’ attitude we sensibly switched our attention to an AirB&B caravan just outside Lairg overlooking Loch Shin (almost).

The weather forecast for our weeks adventure had started off quite favourably, but as we got nearer time-wise and geographically, it had begun to deteriorate with the tail end of an Atlantic hurricane sweeping across the Highlands and we soon realised how sensible we’d been to put our trust in AirB&B. On the Monday morning we bravely got into the most waterproof clothing we had and pedalled off into 40mph winds gusting to 60mph with stinging horizontal rain. After a couple of hours of this I was soaked to the skin and not a happy bunny. With all the strenuous effort it took just to stay upright and keeping my head down, the thought of spying out ancient sites just went completely out the window. It just became a fight for survival as far as I was concerned although the others didn’t seem too put out about it. After four hours we’d almost reached the top of Loch Shin and stopped off to look at a small dam and hydro-electric power station, one of several in the Lairg district, before beginning our descent to the loch itself. Even this proved cumbersome as I couldn’t remember many occasions when I’d had to pedal downhill as the wind was so fierce! Rounding the top of the loch suddenly everything seemed so different. The wind that had been our enemy was now our friend, not a ‘best’ friend obviously, more like a charming acquaintance and we hardly had to put any effort into heading home down the North Eastern side of the loch. Bliss. Having arrived back at the caravan physically and mentally fatigued I began to wonder if I’d even be brave enough to get back on my bike tomorrow, and the weather forecast was still bloody awful. I also wondered how practical it would be trying to photograph any sites we came across. I had one big heavy, but weatherproof camera and another smaller, lighter, but non-weatherproof camera. Decisions, decisions.

The next day the conditions were no better, but the proposed route towards Altnaharra and then some off-roading over a mountain track weighed in at a whopping 50+ miles compared with the previous days 40 miles. Again we set off into the biting wind and rain and by the time we’d gone 11 miles to the Crask Inn I’d decided that for me the war was over. After a warming coffee around a log burning stove we separated and I was blown all the way back to the caravan. After lunch I made a plan to seek out the more interesting sites nearby and started with a ruined broch no more than 200m from the caravan. I’d spotted it earlier that morning but realised that it was impossible to actually get to it without climbing a high wire fence so I had to be satisfied with a view across the Strath Tirry which was perhaps better as it gave it some context. A sizeable mound still stands but any traces of the stonework on top are barely visible now, most of it having been either carried off for local houses or maybe collapsed into the river. Getting back on my bike I cycled the 4 miles into Lairg and made my way to The Ord, easy to find as there’s a telecoms mast on top of it (unfortunately). It’s quite exciting to visit large cairns as it’s something I don’t do very often, as there just aren’t any in my neck of the woods. Plenty of grassy barrows, but no cairns. As you approach the top there are small information boards handily scattered about telling you what the various lumps or bumps are and the first one pointed out a ‘burnt mound’, a pile of burnt stones which may, or may not, have been associated with a prehistoric sauna. I have no problem with this but why keep using new stones to heat up each time, unless they always fractured when they were flung in the water, and so gradually became unusable? Next up were some small cairns on the way up to the big one, Ord South, a grass covered monster with five small standing stones at it’s summit. Momentarily the sun was shining and the view back up Loch Shin would have been fantastic if it hadn’t been marred by some aesthetically challenged numpty from a telecoms company! Westwards you also get a great view down on Ord North, not quite as old as Ord South and much less grassy in appearance. You could also see two very large stones which are part of the entrance to the tomb, but climbing down and getting a closer look, it was obvious that the interior of the cairn must have collapsed a long time ago and the entrance blocked by debris. It’s still a handsome pile though. After my second perambulation around the cairn I noticed that the threatening rain clouds were doing their thing and it was probably wise to get off the hill or face a second soaking of the day. Jeremy and Martin got back about an hour after I did and were pretty tired and told me that the ‘mountain track’ was mostly unridable even for the fattest of tyres and I felt vindicated in my decision to cut the journey short earlier.

Wednesday offered a slight respite from the ongoing rainfall and the wind had dropped slightly as well. We decided that we’d have a non-cycling day today (possibly we were all slightly relieved though being English couldn’t easily admit it). We set off to find Achinduich stone circle which according to the OS map was just off the A836 south of Lairg. Parking in a handy lay-by we walked up the hill scanning the horizon for stones eventually found a slightly disappointing arc of five reasonable sized stones and three smaller inner-arc stones. It looked to me like it must once have been a quite a sweet diminutive concentric circle with a possible out-lier a little way back down the hill. As with The Ord, the view across the Strath Shin valley would have been splendid if a huge pylon hadn’t been placed behind it. Do they do this sort of thing on purpose? Was there some disgruntled Scottish Power person who really hated the countryside and had been thwarted in their efforts to study archaeology earlier in life who deliberately placed unbecoming masts and pylons next to ancient monuments in beautiful environments? Well at least there was more than one viewpoint. Stumbling back down to the car we decided to make a visit to Cnoc An Liath-Bhaid stone circle further North East, stopping off at Achnagarron standing stones on the way. Achnagarron turned out to be a shambolic farm, though we couldn’t blame the disgruntled Scottish Power employee for that, with a couple of nice standing stones nearby (maybe that’s what achnagarron means, ‘delightful standing stones and crappy farm’). Their placement on a slight, flat-topped knoll, along with a lot of recumbent stones, suggested that it may have been a ruined circle.
A few minutes later we were slowly making our way down a steep, highly cambered track about a mile and a half from Cnoc An Liath-Bhaid when we heard a slight scraping noise beneath the car. We got out to check that everything was alright beneath only to find oil leaking from the sump. Bad news. In trying to turn the car around on the narrow track Jeremy then knocked off a sizeable piece of the bumper, but he succeeded in getting the car to roll almost five miles back to Rogart where luckily there was a garage. A quick inspection at the garage revealed that there was no further damage and that the sump part would have to be ordered from Inverness, 50 miles South from there and would be about £120, hopefully ready by Friday. A young lad from the garage kindly drove us back to our caravan in Lairg where the atmosphere was a little dampened by the days events, and to think we’d been so close.

Thursday bought a change in the weather and the wind and rain had abated with just a slight chance of showers later. Things were looking up! It would be a day of further stoney exploration around the Southern bank of Loch Naver some 20 miles North of Lairg. We set off into a light wind with occasional bursts of sunshine which brought forth multitudes of Scots revelling in the unexpectedness of very bright light and after a couple of hours arrived in Altnaharra. According to the map there were numerous hut circles just a bit further East along the edge of the loch with standing stones and cup-marked stones. We got as close as possible on our cycles and then I pushed mine through squelching bogs for 20 minutes as I was the only one wearing waterproof boots and the others wanted to eat their sandwiches. I found the hut circles which turned out to be rectangular, so possibly they weren’t quite as old as I’d led myself to believe, maybe just the remains of crofts after the Highland Clearances from 250 years ago or less. Certainly a nice aspect though with the loch below and the formidable Ben Klibreck behind. Arriving at a river the map indicated that the standing stones were just the other side and that there was a ford. Unfortunately the rains had swollen the river and had made the ford unfordable, besides which the stones couldn’t have been very large as I could see nothing across the way. It was at that moment I noticed, almost literally beneath my feet, what might be cup marks in the large rock I was using as a vantage point. Well I’ll be. Of course this is unsubstantiated and in the wrong place, but who knows, maybe I’m the first person to notice them in thousands of years. After basking in my personal reverie of glory for a few minutes I remember that Jeremy and Martin are probably wondering where I’d got to, or were bemoaning the insubstantial supply of sandwiches, so I began to make my way back. Rejoining them we decided to start our journey back to Lairg as the threat of rain was with us again and the sunshine that had been raking the hillsides had decided to go off and rake elsewhere. On the pleasant wind-driven journey South we stopped off once more at the Crask Inn, this time for our first and only drop of whiskey and had a very nice chat with the lady who, with her husband, used to run the Inn, but now lived across the road and was just looking after it while the new owners were away on holiday.

Friday was going to have to be a shortish cycle as we were expecting a call from the garage to say when the car would be ready to pick up. Around lunchtime the call came through only to say that the wrong part had been delivered and that the garage owner would personally drive down to Inverness on Saturday morning, exchange the part, drive back, fit it and have the car ready around 2.00ish. Oh dear. That changed everything. We were originally going to start home at 6.00am on the Saturday, dropping Martin off in Warwick. Martin, in a slight panic, decided that he needed to leave straight away and would take his chances by taking any form of transport from Inverness as he had to return to Vietnam early next week. We waved goodbye as he disappeared up the Shin Valley back to Lairg to gather his possessions while we contemplated marrying into the local community and growing old in the Highlands. We were never going to leave. We arrived at the Falls of Shin Visitor Centre, a swanky bit of modern architecture with a waterfall attached and consoled ourselves with coffee and cake. We decided that we’d just have to hope the car was ready Saturday afternoon, drive like maniacs and get back down to the South Coast in the early hours of Sunday morning. In the meantime we could call in at the Achany chambered cairn a few miles further up Strath Shin on the way to Lairg. This turned out to be the most accessible monument hereabouts as it stands right next to the road. It’s quite a substantial thing with a sort of facade of large stones about halfway along and a cist set into the top. At the other end is a smaller sub-cairn (I think) possibly for their dog or some slightly less prominent relative. We set off again and decided to investigate the Ferry Wood Broch which is located at the foot of Loch Shin and just below The Ord. This however proves to be disappointing as, like the Tirryside Broch near the caravan, there was just a mound, a few lumps of stone and a slew of freshly slaughtered pine trees providing a slightly Somme-like appearance. Again we consulted the map and worked out that Sallachy Broch was about ten minutes away around Loch Shin as the crow flies and about an hour away as the cycle pedals. Surely there had to be one broch worth visiting in the area and an hour later we weren’t disappointed as we slipped and slided down the hill of the South West loch side. There’s a lot to see here with a good sized mound overlooking the water, stonework in excess of two metres in places and that old double skin thing quite evident still. A reasonably well defined entrance was still there with a Westward view over the loch, but no lintel and most of the interior choked with fallen stones from the walls and a couple of small trees growing in their midst. Peaceful, quietly forgotten, faded majesty with a slight melancholy air and overtones of moss and lichen. A good rounding off to our weeks stay.

Saturday lunchtime brings a helpful call from the garage to say the car was now ready and the young lad came to pick us up about two o’clock. The bill for the repairs came in at just under £380 as you always forget that it’s about £60/hour labour charges, a full oil change and the iniquitous VAT on top of all that. Cnoc An Liath-Bhaid had proved to be a very expensive stone circle and, worse still, we hadn’t even got to see it in the end, though I’d still like to.

Tirryside Broch — Images

15.11.17ce
<b>Tirryside Broch</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Tirryside Broch</b>Posted by A R Cane

Ord South — Images

15.11.17ce
<b>Ord South</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Ord South</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Ord South</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Ord South</b>Posted by A R Cane

Ord North — Images

15.11.17ce
<b>Ord North</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Ord North</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Ord North</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Ord North</b>Posted by A R Cane

Achinduich — Images

15.11.17ce
<b>Achinduich</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Achinduich</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Achinduich</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Achinduich</b>Posted by A R Cane

Achnagarron — Images

16.11.17ce
<b>Achnagarron</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Achnagarron</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Achnagarron</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Achnagarron</b>Posted by A R Cane

Klibreck — Images

17.11.17ce
<b>Klibreck</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Klibreck</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Klibreck</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Klibreck</b>Posted by A R Cane

Achany — Images

20.11.17ce
<b>Achany</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Achany</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Achany</b>Posted by A R Cane<b>Achany</b>Posted by A R Cane
A R Cane Posted by A R Cane
15th November 2017ce

Round and round in circles.

It's that time of year again, the most over-rated season of all, Autumn.
The last vestiges of my stone hugging obsession still demand that I be at some stones on the solstices and equinox's, though in recent years it has become less important to be there on the exact day, a couple of days out is now acceptable when before it wasn't.
I decide upon a Cumbrian excursion, the plan such as it was, was to be at Brat's Hill stone circle and neighbours for sunrise, then go to Sampson's Bratfull cairn but I overslept and got up fifty minutes late, given how much sleep I usually get, an easy thing to do when trying to get up at 3am.
Swearing at the world in general I make my way up the M6 motorway, realising that I have no chance of getting to Boot in time I tweak the plan slightly and head instead for Castlerigg, then onto Boot.
But the second disappointment of the day was about rear it's ugly and unwelcome head, just getting over the Thelwall viaduct when my car started to heavily overheat. I had to now dissuade myself from throwing in the towel, turning round and going home. Instead I stopped at Charnock Richard services filled up with water, bought a bottle of the stuff and carried on calmly up the M6. All was well, I made it to the big Cumbrian ring with time to spare and without the red dashboard light coming back on.
Many years ago when I decided that solsticing and equinoxing should be something that I should be doing (What do we call someone who goes out to stones on these quarterly points of the year) the first place I went to was Castlerigg, I was all alone at the stones, but it was pretty foggy and wet. So being back here for another equinox, on my own, just as my obsession wains, seems to be very fitting, a full circle kind of thing. But, for now, everything is as it always has been.

Castlerigg — Images

26.09.17ce
<b>Castlerigg</b>Posted by postman<b>Castlerigg</b>Posted by postman

There are three other people here, a couple with a camera on a tripod, and a single chap similarly tripoding, they've secured their seats for the sunrise and I slot myself in between the two, further back, lest anyone try to speak to me.
The sky is behaving itself for a change, there are clouds but they're shapely, impressive, enhancing clouds. After three equinox's here I have determined that you may never be able to see the moment of sunrise from Castlerigg, because it is blocked by the north end of Low Rigg, but then there has always been horizon hugging cloud obscuring the rising, it could be that the sun rises out of the joining point of ground and hill, I doubt the skies will ever be perfect enough to determine such an assertion. I wonder if the sun does a similar thing at the solstice with Blencathra, there's only one way to tell, look at Fitzcoraldo's picture of the solstice sunrise, it seems to bare me out.
The sun has risen, and I have said good day to it, taken 150 photos, and i'm ready to try and nurse my car through the mountains, the couple that was here have gone and a late comer is now talking to the other chap and looking at me, will he try and talk to me too? No, cause i'm going, now. Bye stones.

As a postman, I've been delivering to Thirlmere Rd for nearly nineteen years, so it was with some satisfaction that I drove down the A591 alongside that very Mere, then I realised I was thinking about work whilst out stoning, punishable by death in some places, I put my foot down and leave Thirlmere behind.

Reaching Ambleside (we've got one of them too) I think refilling the radiator before trying to nurse my car over Wrynose and Hardknot pass would be a good idea, it would have been to if the thing hadn't erupted boiling water straight into my face, propelling the water cap fifteeen yards away, the woman refueling her car asked If I was OK, I nodded, so, with still bubbling flesh hanging off me, I refill the radiator, buy another bottle, so I don't get caught short in Eskdale, wipe myself down, I thought boiling water was supposed to be, well, boiling, or at least quite hot, not at all, shrugged it off and kept going.
Have you ever heard of the Death road in Bolivia, where someone dies every week, sometimes by the bus load, well that's what Hardknot pass is like, not really, but it's as close as England gets.
Reaching Eskdale and the village of Boot, I see there's no where else but the railway carpark at Dalegarth to park, £3.50 for the day was I thought quite reasonable. The walk begins.
Boot is a nice little place, with, I think, three pubs, that's a lot of alcohol for such a little place. Crossing the river and passing the 16th century mill the walk goes seriously up hill, it is steep, wet and very uneven, I remember my ex wife came up here with me last time, pre digital camera, pre children, looking at it now I must congratulate her for getting as far as she did, which was the group of mining homes that cluster near another cairn like structure that I forgot to photograph on the way back down. That time, I was left to go on alone see the stones and then come back for her, but because of the waiting woman I didn't have enough time to find the Low Longrigg stone circles. No such restrictions this time, just me, the mountains, the weather and some stones.

The ground has levelled out and I'm heading for a slight mound, from on top of which I hope to be able to see the stones, brilliantly the circle is just the other side of the mound, and just a bit further on I can see the stones of White Moss, no sign of Low Longrigg though.

Brat's Hill — Images

28.09.17ce
<b>Brat's Hill</b>Posted by postman<b>Brat's Hill</b>Posted by postman

Brats Hill stone circle is the largest of the five circles up here, some stones are large and prominent, whilst others are lying down and barely seen over the grass. There is what seems to be a central standing stone, well, its definitely a stone and it's around the central area, but there are also five cairns within the circle, the stone is on the circumference of one of the round cairns, so perhaps its to do with that. The cairns are a nice addition too, perfect little round mounds with occasional kerbing visible. I stroll over to the alter, a rock outcrop that is thee place to look down upon the circle and get a good view of the area. There is one big dark mountain away to the back, a quick look at my map magically informs me that it is Scafell, our biggest mountain, been up there twice, been in whiteout twice, a most uncooperative mountain.

A pair of walkers have encroached upon my musings so I push on to the White Moss stone circles. They are about 30 yards from one and other, the south west circle occupies one end of a very low ridge the stones being about the sizes of a toaster to a large microwave, one for the kitcheny types there. There's two cairns here, one is just outside the circle and the other is well inside it and may even have a cist lid still in situ. The north east circle, for me the best one up here, if it were alone it would still draw me in. All the stones are stood nice and up straight in a restored kind of way, a cairn inhabits the inside of the circle. Together with a view of Scafell this is one of the best stone circles I've ever been to, if it's not on your list of places to visit, you should stop visiting places.

White Moss — Images

28.09.17ce
<b>White Moss</b>Posted by postman<b>White Moss</b>Posted by postman<b>White Moss</b>Posted by postman

More people are coming, taking the obligatory photo, look I'm in a stone circle and my arms are out wide, click, move on.
I get out of their way by marching off in what I hope is the direction of Low Longrigg, I have a map and a compass, but in the end, walking round and round in circles getting ever higher is what found me the stones. Something I've become accustomed to.

Nobodies going to be coming over here in a hurry, map only says there's cairns here, they're really off the path, hiding in long grass, I have the place to myself.

Low Longrigg — Images

28.09.17ce
<b>Low Longrigg</b>Posted by postman<b>Low Longrigg</b>Posted by postman

If anything the view from Low Longrigg is even better that that seen from White Moss, solely because Great Gable has now come into the picture, perhaps my favourite Cumbrian mountain.
Both of these stone circles are ruinous, the stones low, the south west circle has a central cairn in it, the north east circle has two.
I stay here at these two circle the longest, the view is spectacular, the way Great Gable forms a valley with Kirk Fell, is possibly reflected in one of the stones in the north east circle, if memory serves it is the closest stone to Great Gable.
I don't like walking, a walk has to have a destination, anything will do really, but five stone circles is a pretty good destination, and if the long walk keeps the people away then so much the better
In the end I'd been up there for four hours, and in the very end I managed to get the car back home without much palava.
postman Posted by postman
1st October 2017ce

A circular tour of Denmark

'I'm thinking of going to Denmark on Friday, 'Stones'?
'Yeah', 'You've only just come back from Ireland' 'I knows, its the weather see, its settled all week' 'Driving'?, 'Yeah' 'I'll get the shopping in while you get your van ready', 'OK that's kind' and that was it, permission slip in back pocket and off to Puttgarden to catch the ferry across to Lolland. Despite a lot of earlier preparation I decided to follow the route Julian took in his book and trust in his research. The first problem I encountered was that a lot of the places have different names to the ones Julian uses which doesn't help and secondly Denmark is a big country and the sites are many miles apart, all made up for by his choices, particularly the passage graves, twin entrance passage graves, passage graves you have to climb steps to get to the entrance, twin passage graves with entrances at 90 degrees to each other and all open for exploration. I'll post pictures rather than going into a lot of detail, however, in summary, I started on Lolland at the might Kong Svends Hoj the first of the many passage graves and then down into the Frejlev forest which hosts numerous sites including Siddenious Jaettestue and Kong Grons Hoj. This is a magical forest with upteen monuments scattered throughout, ra ta ta tat, ra ta ta tat, unfortunately the biting insects were out in force and coming at me in waves, eventually I had no choice other than to beat a retreat leaving many more places left undiscovered. On to Mons in particular to see the twin entrance Klekkende Hoj and the close by Kong Asgers Hoj. Next up into Zealand to explore, of particular mention is the Jaettestue at Lumas. A unimpressive looking mound at the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, however, as I crawled through the passage I must of triggered a photo switch as the inner chamber suddenly burst into light, the shock made me raise my head and BANG!, crashed onto my stomach stars everywhere, head swimming and within minutes a lump the size of an egg protruding from the top of my head. For the next five days everyone stared but no one commented, aren't people polite. A quick visit to the Viking stronghold of Trelleborg and across the Storebaelt bridge to Fyn, more passage graves at Marhoj and the triple dolmens of Lindeskov. Finding my way back onto the mainland of Jutland it was North to visit the Viking graveyard of Lindholm Hoje, nothing can prepare you for the sight as you look down the hill, stone ships, circles, individual stones spread right across the hillside, not our era I know, still very impressive. The Troldkirkevej is close by and worth the walk up to it. Many sites on Jutland, however, the complex of sites at Trustup is particularly impressive, set deep in the forest, a circular walk takes you past the many monuments and the natural habitat of the area. Finally I dropped down into Jelling to see the Stones and now understand the Bluetooth symbol on my phone, a quick flick of the sat nav and I was heading for Germany and the road home. 'You know we are busy for the next three months don't you'? 'Yeah' 'OK then'
Posted by costaexpress
4th June 2017ce

Kilmartin Glen - the land of mist and cuckoos

May 20th – 27th 2017: we stayed in a comfortable small house by the Crinan Canal village of Cairnbaan which, as it turned out, was within walking distance of two amazing rock art sites. The archaeology of Kilmartin spans the period from Neolithic to early Christian, although it is thought that people have lived in the area since the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods. It includes cairns and cists (the earliest being Neolithic), standing stones, one henge, a small stone circle, an ancient hillfort, mysterious rock engraving sites. And, more recently, ancient remote chapels where engraved tombstones can be seen (also to be seen in Kilmartin churchyard). To mention briefly in passing, we visited two of these, namely the Keills Chapel beyond the small sailing village of Tayvallich and the equally remote Kilvaree Chapel beyond Ardfern.

Firstly I will talk about the rock art/engraving and this was my primary reason for going to Argyll and definitely on my ‘bucket-list’. I am not exaggerating if I say they blew me away; there they were in front me, engraved stones I had only seen photos of before. Our first site visit was Achnabreck quite close to where we were staying. It was pouring with rain so we drove up a stony track in the forest to a car park. There were interpretation/information boards at every site which was extremely helpful. Achnabreck 1 and Achnabreck 2 consist of numerous cup and ring marks, both are protected by a fenced enclosure. Both astonishing! (we understood there is a third one but we did not find it on that occasion in the rain). By evening the weather had cleared and, having earlier seen a sign for cup & ring marked stones by the Cairnbaan Hotel we set off again on foot. This was a wonderful surprise. The footpath starts on the corner by the hotel and rises steeply into pine wood (bluebells still out along the way). Two separate sites close together both inside protective railings but a metal stool provided to enable closer inspection, amazing views over the Crinan Canal. Other sites visited later in the week include Kilmichael Glassary – wonderful rock carving just behind the local primary school. Access easy. Ormaig – quite the most satisfying visit which included a longish walk from Carnassarie Castle. Standing stones and hill top cairns along the way. These panels would have been quite hidden until relatively recently as were situated on a forested hill-side. The forest has now been felled (commercial forestry is an important industry in Argyll) making the panels much easier to find; they include the quite rare rosette motifs. We also saw the cup and ring engravings on the Baluachraig panel which is very close to the Dunchraigaig cist and the Ballymeanoch standing stones.
Standing stones and cairns. Visited Ballymeanoch and Dunchraigaig also on our first day, still sort of raining. The field containing the Ballymeanoch standing stones consists of one fallen holed stone (moved from its original site), a kerbed cairn, a 4 stone row, a 2 stone row (which once included the holed stone) and amazingly a henge – the only surviving henge in Scotland. Then onto the Nether Largie standing stones or Great X and the Templewood stone circle. We visited Nether Largie South chambered tomb separately to the other linear cairns so the full significance of this amazing site didn’t sink in until later in the week. Neolithic and chambered it is the oldest cairn in the linear cemetery. As well as the Great X Stones nearby there is also a solitary standing stone a dozen or so metres away in the next field. Later in the week, on a warm and sunny day we visited Kintraw standing stone and Clach an t-Sagairt Cairn on a hillside overlooking Ardfern and loch Criagnish. Stunning site and views – Kintraw standing stone is one of the tallest I’ve ever seen and must be related to the cairn. Lots of other standing stones - the two on the hillside near Carnassie Castle pleased me immensely, visually they seem to be aligned with the hilltop cairns of Carnassie and Cairn Baan.

And then there was Dunadd sacred hill fort with its ceremonial ‘footstep’ stone and wild boar carving at almost the top. I did manage to get to the top though came down somewhat tentatively as the boulders slippery in the drizzly misty conditions. Would loved to have gone back up there on one of the two hot days we had later in the week but a week just wasn’t long enough.
I mustn’t forget to mention the wonderful Kilmartin Museum with its great café. Or the superb information boards at every site. The week was also about nature walks through the ancient oak wood Taynish National Nature Reserve (I can still hear the cuckoos). Exploring coastal areas and small villages such as Tayvallich and Ardfern. Looking for water falls on the hillsides and visiting the beaver trials loch near to where we were staying (here I unknowingly picked up a tick but Friend spotted it later that evening and operated with a tweezers).

An amazing week, Saturday morning on our return journey we called in at the Crarae Garden described as Britain’s Himalayan Glen. Very peaceful at 10am in the morning and containing the remains of a Neolithic burial cairn. Also broke the journey back to the crowded south by visiting a good friend from Wiltshire currently based in Carlisle – a different sort of history around there as she lives in Brough by Sands in a 16 century longhouse built on Hadrian’s Wall.
I must thank my good friend and companion M for facilitating all of this by doing the driving and map reading.
Thanks too to all the people who responded to my forum post – it is so difficult to imagine Kilmartin Glen until you visit. It lived up to and surpassed all expectations.
And finally I must mention the lovely, very helpful book “In The Footsteps Of Kings” by Sharon Webb (with acknowledgements to many others). Contains 25 walks in the area, all with details of archaeology and maps.
tjj Posted by tjj
29th May 2017ce
Edited 12th August 2017ce

White Light

We travelled to St Margarets Hope spending the hour or so on deck. I was very moved by the abandoned houses on Stroma, the island looked so strange. A fellow passenger was also strangely moved after sliding across deck cos the idiot Paddy ( our friend) was hollering about spotting a whale..needless to say no such creature was visible. We saw plenty of puffins though.
We were lodged at Birsay with good views of the Brough. I thought I'd miss the trees but I didn't; I missed their shelter though. We were blessed with bright days on the whole & the wind cut through like knives; the old woman whose cottage we stayed in said she didn't notice it anymore.
Straight out to Stenness, Barnhouse, the Ring of Brodgar & Scara Brae. I've seen these places so often on the telly & in photos but what can't be properly captured is the wild, wild surroundings. The water everywhere is wonderful. The big big sky. I cried at Stenness cos it didn't feel real; they're like a modern sculpture reaching for the heavens. The settlements ground me with their beds, hearths, alcoves & cupboards..layouts that feel so familiar.
(What's with the trapezoid like stones? There's one at Stenness, one at Brodgar & one at the Clava Cairns.)
The Ring of Brodgar has some preservation work going on so we couldn't full circle. It's surrounded by mounds; one of which is overrun with rabbits. There's really well chiselled graffiti on some of the stones; also at Stenness & Unstan burial chamber. There were lots of folk about; coachloads of Americans.. I do admire their enthusiasm, but boy can they yatter, mind you Paddy saw a few of em off spouting his usual half baked bollocks. I loved the lonely Comet stone & the huge witchy stone as I saw it; I couldn't get near to kiss it though cos of aforementioned works. We walked round & round, sheltering behind the mounds. We gazed at Maes Howe across the landscape. It was glorious.
At Scara Brae the guide/ guard showed us the drains..drains! He explained that the rectangular boxes were watertight; that the beach had been a fresh water loch untill the sea encroached. He was a good lad but looked slightly blue; it was freezing in that wind.
The Maes Howe tour was ok. A lovely guide called Sharon. The carved out platforms are larger than I'd realised & so exact. The chamber itself is smaller than I'd thought. I impressed the Yanks by declaring that the Vikings came through the roof. Paddy waffled on about about blocking stones shielding us from the underworld much to their bemusement; our embarrassment & Sharon's irritation.
Next we visited Unstan; these chambers are set out like stalls in a stable, with little hidey holes. Paddy sought to frighten me by crawling in first but I could see his feet sticking out; still he was quiet for a bit as he waited to strike out. Small mercies.
The situation of Cuween is spectacular; the views from here & Wideford Hill are spectacular. We only drove to the top of Wideford Hill; not visiting the chamber. When we stepped out to explore I was literally blown sideways & some driving rain set in. There was a chap arriving back to his car from the direction of said chamber with various digging implements who looked like he'd been to hell & back. I didn't ask him what he was up to cos I couldn't move my lips. We resloved to go back but didn't. A regret.
Off topic but I found a sea glass beach at Stromness & spent a happy couple of hours adding to my collection. Sea glass to me is precious.
Next to the Broch of Gurness where the fog set in & swirled about. We spent a happy hour discussing all things past with the brilliant guardian here. The enthusiasm of most officials encountered on Orkney is great. The brochs are marvellous, they shout out solidity, safety & status to me. We saw two seals here out to sea, their heads bobbing up & down.
Next to South Ronaldsey of course; the Tomb of the Eagles.I have some splendid photos of Nick & Paddys arses as they crawled in & out. I chose to slide in on the trolley lying on my back. Much hilarity on my part ensued as Paddy "assisted" Nick out of the tomb. What a pathetic display.
Anyway the tomb itself is grand, with the "stalls" & it's situation. The talks prior to the actual visit were informative but perhaps a little overdone? I don't know, I just got a bit impatient. Two young girls who spoke to us were very impressive though. There was a chap who kept asking questions about craniotomy & tethering poles who grated somewhat. His wife was allergic to milk & various other foodstuffs we discovered later when they plonked themselves at the table behind us at Skerries Bistro. What a waitress! The grub was scrummy.
Here we met Hamish who told us the full saga 're the Tomb of the Otters. He's awaiting DNA results from the bones of the inhabitants. He said we would be able to boast about having visited the tomb on the verge of game changing discoveries. This is a dark wet place but amazing inside. It was stated that Ronnie ( the finder of tomb of the eagles) wasn't called Fox for nothing! Hmm!
So, Orkney my lasting impression, wild, bright, beautiful & haunting.
Stopping briefly at Inverness we got to see the Clava Cairns which are magical. Lots of cupmarks. The lovely little round cairn with its pink quartz. The stone pathways to the middle cairn. A trapezoid stone again. Some trees..yeah. Up the road another standing stone & cairn. Some suspicious stone jumbles in surrounding gardens & the ubiquitous Paddy informing some Outlander trail Americans that our ancestors on Orkney lived with & amidst sea otters in blissful harmony.
Posted by carol27
17th May 2017ce
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