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The Great U of Stemster

Standing Stones


Achavanich Circle damaged by lay-by

John O'Groat Journal

A BUNGLING roads boss unwittingly ordered the destruction of part of a 4000-year-old ancient monument near Lybster.
Highland Council workers were preparing to tarmac over historic ruins to create a lay-by for visitors to the standing stones at Achavanich before a concerned local historian pointed out the gaffe to embarrassed council chiefs.
Work ground to a halt last week while Historic Scotland assessed the damage and the local authority employed an archaeologist to ensure work can continue without further damage to the site.
The £10,000 project was funded by the Highland Council's recent Scottish Executive windfall under a quality of life and environment initiative. It was hoped the lay-by would provide "safe and convenient" access for the public to reach the ancient monument.
Ian Hargrave, acting Caithness area manager, claims the blunder was "largely a technicality".
He revealed that the Highland Council believed the scheduled monumental site stopped at the fence, in off the roadside, when in fact it extends to the edge of the road.
"That's why people got a wee bit excited about it," he said. "Historic Scotland has examined the site and an archaeologist consultant has been engaged to ensure the project can be completed."
The council did not need planning permission for the project because it falls under the auspices of the roads authority. However, Richard Guest, the area transport, environmental and community services manager, admitted it would have been wise to consult Historic Scotland over the plans.
Mr Guest added that an initial report by the archaeologist employed by the council suggested that the area dug up by the council to lay the foundations for the lay-by did not hold anything of archaeological importance.
However, an Historic Scotland spokeswoman yesterday said she believes the site destroyed by the council is part of the unusual horseshoe-shaped arrangement of small standing stones at Achavanich. She added: "Fortunately the damage was minimal."
The standing stones are believed to date back to the Bronze Age and have held ritual importance in the county for centuries, although their precise purpose and date is unknown. The tallest is two metres high. Some stones may have been taller, but weathering has caused them to crack and split.
Only 36 stones remain in the setting, although there may have been about 54 originally.
Achavanich is in Councillor Billy Mowat's Caithness South-East ward. He declined to comment on the council's gaffe because he said he was sure the situation would be resolved.
Mr Mowat welcomes the lay-by which he hopes will encourage more visitors to the area.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
28th March 2003ce
Edited 30th June 2004ce

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