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Long Cairn

Long Cairn

<b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by widefordImage © wideford
Also known as:
  • Head of Work
  • Old Wife

Nearest Town:Kirkwall (4km SSW)
OS Ref (GB):   HY483138 / Sheet: 6
Latitude:59° 0' 30.17" N
Longitude:   2° 54' 0.72" W

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<b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by Ravenfeather <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by Ravenfeather <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by Ravenfeather <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by Ravenfeather <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by Ravenfeather <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by wideford <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by Moth <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by Moth <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by Moth <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by Moth <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by Moth <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by Moth <b>Long Cairn</b>Posted by Jane


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Visited 17th May 2015

The earlier rain has blown over now, but the brisk wind remains (well what did I expect, this is Orkney!) Now that the sun’s out I decide on a walk to the Long Cairn from the centre of Kirkwall. Taking the East road out of town you’re soon in the countryside, with the town spread out behind you as you head along the coast towards the Head of Work.

Once past the sewage works and a couple of gates negotiated, a vague path follows the shoreline to avoid the soggy moorland which comprises the rest of the headland. The walk grants superb views of the island of Shapinsay, seemingly only a stone’s throw away across the Sound, and allows me to get a good view of the chambered cairn atop Helliar Holm, the uninhabited island which practically connects to the south of Shapinsay, probably as close as I’ll get to it without a boat!

Skuas wheel around me as I walk along the headland and on arriving at the cairn I’m dive bombed by a tern, which obviously must be nesting nearby. The outline of the Long Cairn looks suitably chunky on the O.S map, and it’s just as substantial in real life. The large mound is visible on the headland from some distance as you approach. Some of the cairn stones are still visible amongst the grassy tumulus, particularly atop the mound where a small dip in the top has been accentuated by the piling up of stones around the depression by someone to create a partial windbreak.

I hunker in the dip to write my fieldnotes and marvel at the site. Another fine promontory location for a monument, and looking out to the west the dark heather clad slopes of Wideford hill draw the eye. The Long Cairn seems to be one in a chain of great burial structures, Wideford and Cuween atop the high ground and the Long Cairn sitting at the edge of the land, perhaps once a large landmark cairn on the coast like Midhowe was on Rousay.

The length of the Long Cairn can still be made out, as can the vestigial remains of the horned enclosure at the front of the cairn. I love the solitude here, so near to Kirkwall but seemingly so remote, one of the places I love to walk to in order to escape the hustle and bustle of Kirkwall when a cruise ship is in harbour!
Ravenfeather Posted by Ravenfeather
4th June 2015ce

Two videos from the weekend, the first a minute long and 11Mb, the second 11mns and just under 240Mb (like other fileshares the free download times look to be based on dial-up) : - basically the top of the round cairn, - the whole thing walked around
wideford Posted by wideford
12th April 2011ce

Several weeks ago taking the Work road I saw one or more folk [bobble-hatted] acting suspiciously over on the scheduled monument with some kind of structure on top with them. They were still there when I turned back, the light starting to fade. Last week I finally went to the headland and a new profile was very evident, the long cairn with the round cairn above that and then a new pimple.on top. Once there I could see that someone had been messing with the recorded chamber and the 'structure' was the pimple. This profile results from a rigid stacking of the stone slabs above the back of the chamber, though I cannot tell if this includes slabs that were within the chamber before. I know that snow causes damage but the north side may have been investigated too, to a lesser extent, as amongst other things there is an enlarged/new exposure. Hopefully the visitors were either here only a day or are following some official program. wideford Posted by wideford
31st January 2011ce

Finally time to take slides. Even without livestock it seems every time I go there is more detail to be seen. Now there are short lines of smallish stones all over the circular mound forming part of the long cairn. Evidence for an outer covering of staggared faces (like Wideford Hill only far finer) or a stone cairn where erosion has chanced to form the appearance of lines ? One edge of the slab I think marks the start of the chambered area is where the 'spine' noted before looks to terminate, there is a well-defined row of stones forming one side of a small flat area in front of the slab - a cist removed maybe, or the top of a stall or even another chamber ?

Further down on the northern face is a prostrate rectangular slab I don't recollect noticing before, which is strange as it has a distinctive notch, marked by white lichen, on one of the longer sides. For a moment I fancy it the result of illicit recent digging. One half has lichen, then there is some moss, then nothing - as if it had been an half-buried orthostat. Strange, though, that the notch isn't in the lichened half.

Running my fingers along the edges the notch proved the only smooth piece, and very nicely rounded at that. We do have re-usable cists in Orkney (such as Arion) like the Argyll type, and the comparatively small notch would be because the whole cist was smaller. So had it indeed formed part of a cist [I ruled out a Ness of Brodgar type oddity staight out when this occured to me later] or only been intended for one then rejected ?

Lifting it carefuly revealed it and another smaller to be resting on unconnected stones with only a narrow slot a few centimetres deep between them, probably nothing relevant again. The simplest assumption is that antiquarian investigators had left it here when done.[why ?].
wideford Posted by wideford
6th July 2008ce
Edited 7th July 2008ce

The stone across the circular area of the long cairn in front of where the chamber/s are looks to me to be the top of a stone that framed an entrance thereto and on the northern side there appears to be a rough line of stones coming down the mound from it - certainly the upper portions of the circular mound changes construction east and west of the distinctively aligned stone [unfortunately though the grass 'line' should indicate bilateral symmetry, in the third leading up to the proposed entrance there is much less material exposed on the south side (but the grassy 'line' is present again behind the chambers back wall for a short space) where the other half of the entrance should lie]. Found a couple more small holes in various places but my tape measures them as no more than 12-18" deep and most likely burrows. Going the same way as last time and only lifting my head as I come to the putative SE hornwork I find myself looking very much at the side of the long cairn, rather than towards the end as I should be doing if that were correct. My possible cairn is roughly south of Long Cairn where the c of cairn is on the 1:25,000. Disappointed to find the stone isn't kerb-like but only faces across the upper side. It is only 10" long by 12" high, and from the fact it moves slightly my guess is it doesn't go far down. Up close for a photo I try to remove a light brown root, maybe 3-4" long almost directly behind the northern end only to find it is the top of another stone (either a deep 'peg' or the very top of a stone buried deeper - you don't dig this close to a SAM so I only pull grass and loose earth which doesn't work). It feels very even, as if worked, so my thinking is 'box' rather than 'socket. Though the 'standing stone' is inside the grassy area I know think this is about 4m away from the edge of the possible mound, which is 8-10m diameter and either circular or oval. From the likely centre the edge is fairly certain but though it sits on a slope I don't observe a platform or other levelling feature. At this centre the soil has been ?recently exposed in a couple of adjacent spots. The most obvious is the top few inches of a stone, jagged like sharp mountain peaks, then alongside is the flat face of a light stone or maybe the top of another vertical (only a few square inches of this exposed). Going ovr to the 'modern' structure by The Castle there are only more stones under the wheel. Further west to the old boundary dyke (which terminates away from the coast on the north side - marshy from there). This abuts the west end of a circular rise that is either another mound or is a natural 'island' in the watery landscape. Size on the order of that of Long Cairn's circular section but not so high, probably marking the end of the Head of Work's central ridge though not apparently part of it (for all practical purposes dyke and rise are a single entity.. wideford Posted by wideford
22nd May 2008ce
Edited 23rd May 2008ce

Coming at the cairn from the west there is a possible round cairn showing as a low rise on the horizon at the edge of the southern ridge on the way to it. Inside the W/SW perimeter is a short orthostat. A rather more obvious mound resolves itself into the putative SE hornwork when I look up - were there satellite mounds ? I think that there has been further material exposed on the 'chamber' adjoining the east edge of the chamber of record. Going round to the north side of the much higher east end ther appears to be a ?new exposure of near basal material of about half a metre or so and perhaps a cavity at the right as you look at the photo. I am tempted to see The Castle and the possible mound as originally framing the long cairn but the ridge is in the way of land-based confirmation. wideford Posted by wideford
28th April 2008ce
Edited 28th April 2008ce

Wanting a photo of a cliff on Shap at the junction before Work farm I took the LH turn towards the waterworks. The beach you see between here and the start of the Carness headland is the result of man's works. Earl George of Caithness in 1614 made first landing at Carness in the campaign against our Earl Patrick. Until modern times all cattle headed for the Scottish mainland were ferried from Carness past Shapinsay, but the ferry point is unknown AFAIK.

At the turn-off for Water Board property the wartime road continues up to the headland. You need to go through two fieldgates, the first of which is chained against vehicles, then along the north coastline keeping to the coast edge. It wasn't truly damp - there are numerous small drainage deltas, however they all have a smattering of what amount to stepping stones.

As you come to The Castle geo (not quite a rock stack yet) you see Long Cairn across the moss to your right. The long horned cairn [Yarrows type] is 47m long by 12-17m wide, on which is a 15-17m oval mound (Davidson and Henshall report that the ruined chamber was dug before 1928, in which case when RCAMS in 1946 give the mound's height as 11'9" this must have been prior to that as later authorities give a total height of 2-2.1m and the RCAMS Inventory side elevation shows nothing above this chamber) an Orkney-Cromarty cairn. It is generally accepted with a site such as this that the chambered cairn was completed long before its incorporation by the horned cairn. This site, the Helliar Holm cairn (above the lighthouse to the north of here), and that at Haco's Ness (on Shapinsay away to the east as you look there), are all intervisible - from which some intended guardianship of Shapinsay Sound has been inferred.

Along the higher ground on this northern side of the headland as well as the various purple orchids I was delighted to see Grass of Parnassus. What most struck me, though, was a darker form of eyebright mingling with the usual form - it appeared that they both grew on the same plant, the same coloured throat but violet instead of white elsewhere on the flower. I expected The Castle, a geological feature, to be difficult to recognise. Plain as a pikestaff really, a future stack with a short modern cairn (possibly hollow) of brown stones on top. I could have climbed down up the narrow neck... coming back might have been trickier. In the neck's 'valley' there is an angled wall, of the same material and equally modern looking, at the eastern side. Beside this what resembles a solid cartwheel is apparently covering a well or something. The other side of the wall a large slump of water-worn rocks goes to the rocky beach far below (only after seein a picture I took have I seen steps on the southern side of the wall that go down to this [or I would have myself !]). By the cifftop the other end of the narrow beach is a bank of soil where the earth has been scraped up fairly recently.

After passing The Castle I crossed over mushy ground to the long cairn, soft-going but I did avoid damper patches. On this side of the mound I could see middling-size stones, presumably from the small late structures referred to by Davidson & Henshall others perhaps connected with the reported rectangular hollow (west of the chambered mound) they also believe prehistoric but not original. In my initial approach from The Castle circling clockwise the south horn of the western hornworks was very visible as a long broad grassy strip with a rounded top, looking like a pseudopod or starfish arm.

Coming to the western end the inside of the eastern hornworks my first impression was a sharper, less obtuse angle than shown on plan. I wonder if they have eroded back where these 'end' as this appeared higher than the reported height to me (however the O.S. earlier did report this end of the mound as of greater height).

Up on the mound not much more than a step from the back of the hornworks I found a feature [my A] surely not previously noted, as D&H state that turf covers all except the high mound. It takes the form of an oval, 4.8m wide by 3.8m front to back, on which lie many slabs. These are in a slight depression but as I looked back from its eastern edge a very low bank was visible. Perhaps it is a chamber of the later long cairn, but if instead this is from a second original mound it would help explain why the later cairn has appeared too long hitherto (the Roseness cairn also has an apparent satellite, even lower than this).

Next along I saw a slab projecting a little, distinct from the glimpsed 'wall-faces', then further on again the base of the main mound. The latter is about 12m across. Continuing to the back there is a 0.68 long angle topped slab projecting 0.3m , and a little distance on at the high point a hollow [my B1] filled with stones and slabs that is is 3.1m wide. At 1.4m from the western edge by the back end of the hollow (2.1m front to back in D&H) is 0.6m of an orthostat 1.1m wide was plain to see - I think this is in D&H as 1.5 by 0.65, wary of getting too closeI may have missed a bit. It is unfortunate that though the RCAMS Inventory shows this chamber on side elevation it is not indicated on the plan view, because half-a-metre to the right of B1 is another slab- & stone-filled circular hollow [my B2]. This is 1.7m across and fractionally lower on the hill (there are orthostats in B1 whose level is given as 0.65m below that of the rear slab). A second stall or possibly another chamber I would imagine (I suppose it might be that the turf between the two is simply the result of archaeological methodology). Then, just behind this, the other side of an imaginary line from B1's largest orthostat is a depression [my B3] 2.3m wide and 2.2-2.6m from front to back. Despite there being not much stonework poking through B3 I would hazard that this represents a robbed stall/chamber (hence its apparently more downslope position) resulting from digging prior to the 1920's period in which B1 is likely to have been excavated.

At the eastern end of the long cairn the S horn survives over twice the height of its NE counterpart making the latter less eviden on first viewing. At the moment the forecourt is very clearly defined by a singular display of a bed of reeds. Full distances and dimensions, as far as I could measure on my own, are givn under miscellaneous.

Though the ground about the site is mostly damp and springy this is boggiest on the southern side where it slopes down to the cliffs. I tried to get back this way but it was way 'boggy'. When I kept to the drier portions this brought me to a 'mound' which is presumably the western end of the ridge, and less than a metre in front of this a bank or dyke, both apparently composed of earth with a few stones. The latter is rather bulky and would seem to emphasise control over the approach to the cairns, as along most of the Head of Work what some call rough pasture most would think of as approaching shallow bog (Roseness is similar though heathery). This must be the route Moth and Jane took through Work farm, once site of a broch and perhaps a souterrain.

After heading down across to the cliffs I went along the clifftop under the watchful eyes of two seals, but came to stop where the drystane fieldwall reaches the cliff. At this spot there's a girt big pile of slabs 3-5' long and maybe 4-6" thick, like a fallen stack of dominoes. Followed the wall back up to a gate, but with the field having kie in it I left well alone. This would seem to be the normal route to the headland. Further up another gate had a sloped top 'standing stone' over five feet tall as one of the gateposts. Then I was back at the military road again.
wideford Posted by wideford
26th July 2007ce
Edited 26th July 2007ce

We asked at the farm if we could have a look at the long cairn. Slightly bewildered as to why two apparently ordinary people would want to view an old cairn in THIS weather, the farmer indicated how close we could drive to it. This cheered me. However, it was a fair old walk over uneven ground (no path) in FOUL weather to the very edge of a promentary.

The cairn was long indeed, and tall, too, with some of the rubble poking through. But hellish neglected and in this weather, nothing to write home about. I couldn't see an entrance to it at all, and the day was too HIDEOUS I lost interest in looking for it and began the long march over the bog back to the car.

It's location IS splendid though, windswept, remote, overlooking other islands with the waves crashing up onto the beach just metres away.
Jane Posted by Jane
5th July 2004ce

Actually you are unlikely to get to this the easy way as this approach, which starts at a wartime road below Water Board property, requires mounting two gates. Moth & Jane went through Work farm but make sure this is not lambing time. This is a long (h)low mound [153'x40'x6'] with four horns. At the summit a cavity contained slabs set on edge. At the higher end are massive flagstones on edge or on end appear at irregular intervals. They are perpendicular to the axis except for the taller one at the E end which is at a different angle.
Not named on the 1:25,000 is a stretch of the cliffs N of Long Cairn called The Castle, almost a stack
wideford Posted by wideford
1st May 2004ce
Edited 22nd July 2007ce


Add folklore Add folklore
In 1890 this hilllock was supposed the final resting place of a woman from about 150 years previous, who spent her years looking for the husband lost in a fight between Orcadians and Danes wideford Posted by wideford
25th April 2007ce


Add miscellaneous Add miscellaneous
My field measurements (some approximate) for clearest features of ENE/WSW site on E/W ridge, going from front=western to back=eastern ends ('' = metric conversion) :-
From back end of Hornworks 1 to edge of feature A = 0.2m. A is 4.8m wide by 3.8m f-b (flat uneven stones on slight mound. ? chamber of long cairn). At 2m from A is a a small projecting slab, then 6.1m from this to edge of main mound B. This is about 12m wide . At 6.5m from mound edge is a 0.68x0.3 m projecting slab with angled top. Then another 1.4m to edge of feature B1 3.1m wide at summit (stone- & slab-filled hollow. ?chamber). From this edge 1.4m a to 1.1m long orthostat by back edge (slab showing 0.6m of top) is 1.4m. From eastern edge of B1 to mound base 6m, then 3.3m to back end of Hornworks 2. Only 0.5m to right of B1 is similar hollow B2 but 1.7m diameter (? another chamber - or is seperating strip a product of excavation ??). Behnd this is depression C3 measuring 2.3 by 2.2-2.6m (? robbed chamber).
Other sources :-
Site ['47x12 by 3.6m' at E end] O.S. in 1964 height 2m E to 0.9m W
Hornworks 1 [NMRS '14.6m' across horns internally at front] {Davidson and Henshall NW horns project 3m and are 0.5m high}
B [' >12 by 3.58m high'] O.S. 2m {15 wide by 16.8 f-b and 1.4m high at NW end, 2.1m to GS}
Hornworks 2 [externally '24.1m' across] {SE horns 24.7m across, project 8m and height NE 0.3 S 0.7m}
wideford Posted by wideford
22nd July 2007ce

Two for the price of one, as though there is probably an Orkney-Cromarty tomb within the horned cairn that obvious steep-sided oval at the top near the SE end is a later addition. wideford Posted by wideford
28th September 2005ce

Visible at the back of 31478 is the Head of Holland. The mound at left is the sandstone quarry used for the cathedral, at one time it was thought there could have been an IA structure on it but the area was so destroyed no-one mentions it now (there was a broch at Work farm re-used for a mill course !). On the Holland shoreline nearer to is a promontory fort. wideford Posted by wideford
28th August 2005ce