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

Cnoc na Moine

Chambered Cairn


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

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

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

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

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

I don't believe the chambered cairn of Cnoc na Moine can be readily seen from roadside. Consequently travellers willing to ascend the short distance for a personal audience should pretty much be guaranteed just that. A spot to hang out in solitude for a while without, as George Eliot memorably said "feeling obligated to look serious".
22nd December 2016ce
Edited 23rd December 2016ce

Comments (3)

What very fine, lucid and informative fieldnotes, Robert. Well done for all your efforts in 2016, which are appreciated, and I hope that you and the other leading lights who 'go out there' have an equally or even more rewarding 2017, and that you can continue to be a stranger to an armchair apart from time of need and reward. Claudia Brucken be with you : ) spencer Posted by spencer
26th December 2016ce

It does seem there are massive, yawning gaps in the perception of sites around the UK.
27th December 2016ce
Yup...if I understand you correctly it does seem that for your and the other stalwarts efforts coverage/addition of new sites to TMA is lacking or infrequent for some parts of the UK, eg Tyne Valley/Northumbria which, I believe, Fitzcoraldo used to cover here, a bit of a black hole now. I found out about Standingstone Rigg stone row near Simonburn last night..bit of a good 'un, wish it was feasible for me..plenty else in the vicinity, apparently. I've recently found out my '17 may well not be that good, with knockon limitations on the archaeo front: couple of bonce ops praps, and domestically. Anyway, all power to your Ford Focus/whatever and its driver. spencer Posted by spencer
28th December 2016ce
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