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

Lamington Park Long Cairn

Long Cairn


"A radio plays 'White Christmas'; it's been doing that for years"... so noted a young Gary Numan way back in 1979, the seemingly innocuous statement some years later conjuring up images of the dystopian nightmare within the mind of this (then) young listener wondering whether anyone would get out of the 80's alive: a world dominated by programmed machines with (presumably, if only to allow for the narrative) a residue underclass of human survivors from some unspecified holocaust; and the horror of the communist commune force-feeding the subjected population 'what's good for them'... whether they like it, or not; and, as I recall, Jello Biafra's 'suede-denim Secret Police' secreting 'uncool' people away to the gas chambers with always - but always - a smiling face. In retrospect, Mr Webb's choice of song was second to none for it's unrivalled, sugar-coated familiarity. I mean, who doesn't feel a warm and cosy glow at the instantly recognisable sound of old Bing wishing us only the best within the perennial yuletide classic? Only for that sentiment to be ripped away upon the realisation that in this context no-one could - or would? - end that maddening loop. The disturbing implication that even our most revered, favourite things can be party to a journey to the dark side of the human psyche.... if we don't keep our wits about us. Or, to put it another way: that we should question everything we're told.... the very essence of punk, as emphasised by Mr Webb's choice of the distorted guitar in lieu of the rich synthetics of the Minimoog. Are we sure the anodyne are not wolves in sheep's clothing?

Such as one of my favourite things: the tree. C'mon, what is there to not like about trees? Aside from giving us vertebrates a hefty helping hand through their penchant for photosynthesis, very little is guaranteed to elevate my mood with more alacrity than to witness sunlight streaming through a summer woodland canopy, unleashing endless variations of highlight and shade from their overcast dormancy. To experience this is to perhaps access some ancient hunter-gatherer spiritual meme filed deep within the subconscious, to have an all-too-brief epiphany concerning what we once were... and to some extent still remain. Maybe this is why my sensibilities are jarred no end whenever I see a prostrate, lifeless tree - let alone one actually being felled. Suffice to say, if I was a lumberjack, I wouldn't be alright. There is, I think, a sense of reassuring, if somewhat illusory, 'permanence' associated with a plant evolved to devote so much energy to producing a wooden trunk to reach the light... to then display the very anthropomorphic idiocy of engaging in an 'arms race' with its brethren. And yet still we have to endure 'intelligent design' nonsense from the likes of that Meyer and other myopic religious apologists. Yeah, far from being part of a divine plan.... it seems to me that trees, with their often gnarled, twisted, improvised ethic, add yet more potency to Mr Darwin's wondrous theory embracing the perfection of imperfection.

So, consider: how the hell can trees also appear so malevolent to some, such as I? A perceived sense, perhaps, of an organism living within a fragile, complex, interactive society - where, ultimately, it's a case of 'every tree for itself' - suggesting an all too human analog? Maybe tapping into another of those ancient memes whereby a solitary human can easily become prey to unseen eyes watching from the cover of... well, trees. The hunter becomes the hunted. The guardian trees no longer an ally but in league with the darker corners of the psyche, where the light of reason can not penetrate. Where the senses play tricks, previously benign branches and roots seemingly grasping for a firm, permanent hold. For assimilation. The ultimate realisation of becoming 'one' with Nature, of 'going green'. Robert Smith's nightmare scenario echoing that of Numan's: the ultimate betrayal since the most unexpected, unforeseen - when friend becomes foe.

Now, despite not having a fondness for badly applied cosmetics - and not nearly enough hair - I do nevertheless share something in common with The Cure frontman: I've always had an issue with losing myself within the forest. Well, ever since getting lost during Air Training Corps overnight manoeuvres as a kid. Fearful of that moment when the exquisite ambience of the woodland clearing is torn asunder by the realisation that I don't know my way back to the 'outside world'. Consequently, following an overnighter at Strath Rory, I approach Lamington Park having - for once - done my homework. Yeah, apprehensive of losing my way within the trees cloaking the great long cairn depicted upon the map at NH74737800, I am taking this very seriously. So, I've my route all worked out... down to the specific forestry 'rides' that will lead me to the monument. What could possibly go wrong?

Pretty much everything, as it happens. Having parked up at the foresty entrance point a little north-east of the Maybank junction, I set off with the intention of following the track heading more-or-less north, a track that will, if my 'megalithic radar' is functioning correctly, bring me within 'striking distance' of the long cairn, a little to its west. Suffice to say my systems are not functioning to optimal specifications, the anticipated turnings overgrown, camouflaged... not forthcoming, the main track consequently luring me too far to the west before - after what seems like an age - finally swinging north. I should know better, I know... but it is so hard to resist the forlorn hope inherent within 'let's just look around the next corner' which, it has to be said, has served me so well in the past. But not today. Eventually, I call time and return to the car in low spirits. Beaten by the trees?

Not yet. I regroup and consult the map. The hastily improvised Plan B is to approach via the 'waterworks' just before the junction with the road to Kildary a little further to the east. The southern of two tracks, blocked in places by vegetation, bypasses the reservoir enclosure to its west before accessing a ride to the (very) approx north-west, this, in turn, joining another heading to the south-west. Sure enough, a large clearing materialises to my right after a short interval, this occupied by a central, pronounced grassy rise. Clambering to the top, the tell-tale spread of loose rock peeking from beneath the verdure confirms that my mighty quest is at an end! I have to say I'm in agreement with Strathspey, having immediately formed the impression that the majority of material en situ represents the remains of a very substantial monument owing to the consistent, uniform nature of profile. Hey, finding this beauty was not so difficult after all, eh? At least the navigation, that is... since the inclement conditions, aided by the surrounding forest line ensuring wind is kept to a minimum, couldn't be any more conducive to swarming midges this afternoon. Merciless swine that they are. Nevertheless, armed with a compass bearing upon my exit point and a head net to negate the worst excesses of the wee beasties, I settle down to enjoy this fabulous long cairn. For wondrous it is, seemingly almost intact beneath its mostly green mantle... and of significant length.

I wander around the perimeter of the clearing to observe the scene from differing viewpoints, revelling in a vibe of such overwhelming intensity, such complete tranquillity that this traveller may as well be on the moon, not under a mile from civilisation. No wonder Michel Faber saw fit to base the superb 'Under the Skin' around these parts. One almost expects Isserley to turn up in search of vodsels.... such is the other-worldly atmosphere here in this clearing. I wonder whether it was always such: an oasis of light and space within the woodland? As it is, my watch all too quickly records "The swiftest hours observed as they flew", although I doubt even the Bard himself could've evoked the ethereal feeling of belonging, being meant to be here... "Like a door thrown open on a life I've lived before", as Midge Ure noted in 1984 following, or so I understand, a visit to Lewis's great Tursachan (incidentally it was the glossy image of said wondrous stones upon the 'Lament' album cover which first implanted this antiquarian notion in my head... thanks lads).

So, all too soon it's time to leave. However, upon leaving the clearing and heading to the left for some distance.... I find can't locate my 'cleverly placed' wooden directional markers... for the trees. Damn. However, mindful of this morning's farcical failure, I decide not to arse around and to instead return to the clearing, fix my position and take a true compass bearing upon the car. Except, circling around, I can't find the clearing again. Small problem, which perseverance only exacerbates. The forest, a mere quarter of an hour earlier the most magical of environments, is suddenly fast becoming my nemesis, the rain deteriorating - as if on cue - into a downpour. Trees loom in my path this way and that and I find my disorientation begins to escalate, the mind begins to swim. Lost in The Forest. All alone. And I had planned to reach Glen Loth before nightfall.

OK, having a map and compass is all very well... but, just as when caught within hill fog upon a summit, they are of little use when the traveller can not fix his (or her) position upon said map. I, therefore, decide to cut my losses and 'guesstimate' my whereabouts prior to taking a bearing for the road, henceforth attempting to follow it as literally as the trees - with their seemingly grasping branches and roots - will allow. Never has half a mile seemed so far, the water-laden foliage proving way too powerful a foe for my light-weight waterproofs. However, I eventually stumble out upon the road, free from the forest's soaking embrace.... only to find myself nowhere near where I should be. I conclude I've been forced too far to the west and set about remedying this. Back within the sanctuary of the car, I dry off and attempt a quick post-mortem before starting off for the planned night's stop within Glen Loth. In retrospect, it all looks so easy. However, just like repeating 'White Christmas' ad-infinitum can suggest dark, dystopian thoughts, the wondrous tree - when multiplied and set in serried rank - can also seriously mess with the brain. Or at least mine.
15th February 2020ce
Edited 17th February 2020ce

Comments (3)

Excellently written Gladman! The cairn certainly sits within a very strange section of forestry...... strathspey Posted by strathspey
15th February 2020ce
Thanks. Felt I had to get something down for this one since, as you say, there is a very unusual vibe about the area GLADMAN Posted by GLADMAN
16th February 2020ce
"Suffice to say, if I was a lumberjack, I wouldn't be alright."

Best line ever.
postman Posted by postman
16th February 2020ce
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