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Knowe of Lairo

Chambered Cairn


Access unless you're fully mobile I'm afraid you're not likely to get much out of this one! We parked by the farm at about HY397280 and walked a few yards uphill along the the lane.

Here the lane bears left away from the cairn, but it's a handy place to cross the stream. Once across the stream, we turned to the right and crossed the rather overgrown fields to where the cairn stands. It's pretty easily visible, so we just followed our noses. Torch ESSENTIAL and 1:25,000 map handy!!!!

Wednesday 23 June 2004
The mound is fairly impressive approaching from the 'back', but having not researched it or read the fear's fieldnote, we didn't know what to expect. Partly because it's fairly overgrown and overlooked, we were very much expecting it to 'just' be a mound, and so it seemed once we arrived.

Having looked around the mound and walked up on top of it Jane decided to head back to the car, rather than to climb the extremely steep and rather craggy escarpment up to where the Knowe of Ramsay appears on the map. I decided to press on and found its remains (lowish mound only remaining).

Having taken a few shots of the Knowe of Ramsay, I considered just walking along the hillside and rejoining the lane back to the car at a higher point than we'd left it, in order to avoid the incredibly steep decent back down towards Lairo and the thrash through the 'overgrowth'.

I decided to go back the way I came, as at least I knew exactly where I was going, and was extremely glad I did. Firstly because the view down onto Lairo and its place in the landscape are worth seeing, but more importantly, because I could see a glimmer of white at ground level between the 'horns' (evident from above) of the cairn's mound.

I descended, still not expecting to be able to get inside the cairn, as I took the whiteness to be perhaps a notice or a barrier of some kind. But at least I'd be able to see where the entrance had been. Once I reached it however, the whiteness proved to be lichen on the lintel of the entrance, reflecting the bright sun!

I set to work ripping away vegetation to reveal a downsloping entrance only around 18" high. The entrance to the passage was a little muddy (no problem) but had a good covering of rubble that looked is if it might've fallen from the passage itself (potential problem!). I decided that as long as I was careful and bore the possibility of instability in mind, I should be OK and that it wouldn't take Jane and the boys long to work out where I was should the worst happen.

Gripping torch between my teeth, I crawled in. The passage is around 15-20ft long and although it is slightly higher than its entrance, it stays pretty damn low! As I reached the inside end of the passage, I sensed more space, though hadn't realised that I'd reached the chamber as it is hardly wider than the passage. But as I shone my torch upwards, my breath was taken away by the height of what was in fact the (very narrow) chamber!!! Stunning!!!

'The fear' is right. It actually seems taller than the mound - a mixture of optical illusion and psychological illusion caused by the narrowness and the surprise! That said, I'd be amazed if it's less than around 18ft from floor to ceiling!

Edit: according to Rodney Casterton in 'The Stonehenge People', it's 4 metres high, but may even appear more due to entasis - that visual effect where the builders use narrowing to distort perspective.

Inside and upright, I found it difficult to work out what was 'going on' in the chamber*. It certainly didn't seem to be a stalled cairn, unless a severely mucked about with or damaged 'double-decker', originally like Taversoe Tuick. But equally, the lack of side chambers seemed to say it wasn't a Maes Howe type either. It also has a number of 'cross-bracing' lintels across the upper part of the chamber to add to the confusion. I wonder whether these are 'original' or a later addition.

Edit: Rodney Casterton (see above) says they are original and similar cross beams may also have figured at Midhowe.

I spent as long as I reasonably could (with the others waiting back at the car) wondering open-mouthed at the place and trying to get decent photos. As I wriggled back out of the tiny entrance I just thanked my lucky stars to have been there and to have 'stumbled across' the entrance in such a fortuitous manner!!!

(Oh, and 'the fear', if you're still around here - you had the right place - the one to the NE is the Knowe of Ramsay and is much less impressive!)

*I've since read that it is in fact a modified tripartite chamber, with the 2 side chambers walled-off. I guess this may also kind of explain the chamber's extreme narrowness. No wonder I couldn't work it out!
Moth Posted by Moth
3rd July 2004ce
Edited 3rd May 2005ce

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