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Fieldnotes by LesHamilton

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Acairseid an Rubha (Promontory Fort)

Visited: August 16, 2022

Almost a year on, on a superb sunny morning, I renewed my quest to visit Acairseid an Rubha, which is Gaelic for 'The anchorage of the peninsula'. On the OS map this looks a mere stroll, but in practice attainment of the goal is a pretty hard slog and not a task for the unprepared. The approach starts with an approximately two mile walk in along a good estate road from the car park at Point of Sleat. As you approach the coast the path crosses a stream, and shortly after two tracks head left towards Point of Sleat. Ignore these and continue a little farther till the track passes a cottage before arriving at the beautiful Point of Sleat Harbour. Here a notice warns of a difficult rocky coastline ahead.

It looks quite daunting and certainly requires a strong pair of boots and, I suggest, not a little experience of navigating rocky Skye terrain. If you are unsure, do as I did on first approach and ascend the hillside to make a route around this section. I did, however, return by the coastline, and found that by making use of a number of grassy oases within the coastal rocks, it proved less daunting than it had appeared from the other end.

Canmore has little to say about this site other than that it is a 'possible dun' and referring you to the website of Historic Environment Record for The Highland Council area, which explains that the site was recorded as recently as 2011 as a possible Iron Age dun from around 550-560 CE, but noting that 'Nothing remains of the structure, but a large amount of fallen stone forms a scree on the east facing slope. The basal stones of an inclined possible access path remain, in one place attaining a height of 3-4 courses of stone. '

After negotiating the coastline, Acairseid an Rubha sits at the extremity of the bay, connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of dry land. From here it is no problem to ascend the ridge that appears to lead to the dun: but it doesn't, and I had to return to near sea level and negotiate more awkward coastal rocks to make my way round to a small beach almost immediately below the headland. From here it was still a steep climb to the summit, where two modern stone cairns, clearly visible from across the bay, stand.

The summit of Acairseid an Rubha is grassy and really quite small, and shows no obvious signs of antiquity. On the slope below, the scree on the east side was certainly in evidence, and above it a section of rock that just 'might' have been part of ancient walling. Below the scree was a section that seemed to have a degree of structure, perhaps part of an entranceway.

The Acairseid an Rubha headland is undoubtedly a superb lookout point and provides stunning views seaward and towards the Cuillin. But in view of the difficulty of access—I've never had to work so hard to visit any broch or dun previously—would our forbears have actually constructed a small stronghold there? Maybe round the far side there is an easier point of access from the sea, by boat, that makes it a realistic possibility.

Achaneas (Broch)

Visited: June 13, 2022

A short distance from the Achness Hotel in the community of Rosehall, and a mere 90 metres southeast of the ruined Achness Broch, stands another dilapidated broch: Achaneas.

In this case there is a distinct mound two to three metres in height bearing a number of mature trees, but again, little evidence of walling structure or an entrance passage. There are, however, a number of large stones on the eastern and southern slopes of the mound.

Achness (Broch)

Visited: June 13, 2022

As a spectacle, the remains of Achness Broch are barely worth the visit, and it was only because they sit just over one hundred metres from the magnificent Casselly Falls (Achness Falls on the OS map) that I was in this area. You pass the broch on the path to the falls.

Nowadays, Achness Broch is just a low, grass-covered mound, with less than a handful of stones peeking through the undergrowth. A mere 65 metres from the broch stands the walled Achness Graveyard, and it seems probable, in the absence of any other stone structures in the vicinity, that the stones of the broch were plundered in its construction.

From some viewpoints it is just possible to discern a rather shallow saucer-shaped depression in the surface of the mound, as reported by Canmore, typical evidence of the central court of many brochs.

Just 90 metres to the southeast of this broch stand the remains of another ruined monument: Achaneas Broch.

Ferry Wood (Broch)

Visited: June 13, 2022

Ferry Wood Broch (remains of) lie in woodland immediately west of Little Loch Shin in Lairg. Access is from the Countryside Centre, where ample parking is available. If you drive past the football pitch, you can park up close to the gate that gives access to the woodland.

The path into the woods soon splits but as it is circular you can follow either branch and, after a walk of just under a kilometre, at its northernmost point, you will encounter a marker stone carrying generalised information on the brochs of Scotland. The remains of Ferry Wood Broch lie on a shallow rise just a few metres north.

In truth, there is not a lot to see as the structure has been long since trashed by forestry work, but the overall outline is clear, marked by numerons sizeable boulders all around it, though apart from one short, tumbled stretch, few are adjacent to each other. No signs of inner or outer wall facings are apparent, nor any hint of any mural structure.

At the time of my visit there was a low semicircular structure that resembled a wind break, but as all its smallish stones were clean and free of vegetation, it is almost certainly a recently constructed 'folly'.

Acairseid an Rubha (Promontory Fort)

September 12,2021

Rather embarrassingly, on returning from a trip to the Isle of Skye, I discovered on checking the GPS data in my photographs, that I had not in fact visited Acairseid an Rubha promontory fort. I had in fact visited a headland on the opposite (north) side of the bay! Fortunately, I found that two of the coastal scenes I had photographed did in fact include Acairseid an Rubha and they are presented above.

Acairseid an Rubha is accessed from the car-park at the end of the A851 from Broadford, where a wide metalled track heads to Point of Sleat. After two kilometres, at the point where the signed path heads sharp left southwards towards Point of Sleat, the track continues towards the west coast. It is now under a kilometre to the fort.

As for the fort, I hope to visit it next time I'm on Skye. Very little seems to be known about it, and even Canmore has nothing significant to state other than that it is a "possible dun".

Tulach Beag (Broch)

Visited: June 23, 2021

Tulach Beag is a dilapidated broch which can be visited as part of an excursion to the much more impressive Tulach Mor. As the remains of this broch have a fairly low profile, it is recommended to follow the route to the nearby Tulach Mor, then walk about 460 metres northwards along the bank of the River Thurso. As you approach, Tulach Beag becomes evident, just 40 metres inland from the river. No trace of walling, outer or inner, remains here.

Route Map
The map of Causeymire Windfarm on the Tulach Mor page actually shows the location of this broch.

Tulach Mor (Broch)

Visited: June 23, 2021

Tulach Mor is the southernmost of the Westerdale brochs in Caithness, and stands adjacent to the River Thurso in the Causeymire Windfarm near Achkeepster. Unusually, perhaps, walkers are actively welcomed to explore the area of this windfarm. Access is via a good metalled road to the windfarm, to the west of the A9 and about 1½ kilometres south of Mybster.

Be aware that the much more expansive Halsary Windfarm lies immediately adjacent to and south of the Causeymire Windfarm (but is not at present shown on the OS map). Its spacious entrance is just a few hundred metres farther south. On my first visit to the area, I parked in the entrance to this windfarm and found the layout totally different to the windfarm shown on the OS map. If in doubt, look for the Map illustrated in the Artistic / Interpretive: section above. If you don't see a sign bearing this map beside the cattle grid at the start of the road leading into the windfarm, you are in the wrong windfarm!

Route to Tulach Mor
The purple marker "P" indicates the parking area at the windfarm entrance (you are not permitted to drive your vehicle into the windfarm). The green markers show the locations of the Tulach Mor and Tulach Beag brochs. The southern one is your target, Tulach Mor.

The walk to Tulach Mor starts with a trek of around four kilometres along a wide roughly metalled road. Keep to this road (yellow trail on the map) and avoid turning off along any of the short turbine servicing roads. All the turbines are indicated by small white markers on the map, and the one where you set off cross-country to Tulach Mor is a larger white marker indicated "X".

When you leave the road, you have a walk over a mixture of grass tussocks, heather and sphagnum (cyan line on map) for almost 600 metres, effectively due west. The main indicator to look out for is the River Thurso. Turbine "X", is the first turbine from which you can actually see the river, so basically just make for it. The terrain is mixed, and the easiest stretches are the frequent grassy tongues. I visited in drought conditions, but I reckon the superabundant sphagnum could be a problem in wetter times. Almost at once, you should see the broch mound in the distance.

Tulach Mor is a prominent mound abutting the eastern river bank close to where the River Thurso dog-legs sharply towards the southwest. The broch stands on a rock with a steep face on the south and west and was originally protected by a ditch around its eastern side. On the east is a field of tumbled masonry, presumably the remains of a severely quarried wall that formerly crowned the ditch.

There's not a great deal of walling remaining, except on the south and southwest, where several courses of neat blocks endure. For the rest, the structure is just a grass-covered dome with a saucer-shaped depression in its summit, characteristic of the filled-in court seen in many brochs. On the northern arc of the summit some stonework of the broch's inner wall still protrudes while on its inner western wall is a lintelled breach leading to an intra-mural cavity.

Rumster (Broch)

Visited: June 23, 2021

Rumster broch stands in Rumster Forest, not far from the broch at Golsary. Sadly, there is little to see other than a green mound with no evidence of stonework at all.

To access Rumster broch, follow the directions on the Golsary page but, instead of taking the turning to the right, continue south for about 700 metres then take the forest road to the left (east). Rumster broch is immediately evident in the field on your right.

Canmore does state that "one course of a curved wallface, made of heavy stones, is exposed in the south-west arc". I daresay that in spring, before the rank nettles and thistles hold sway, it might be easier to locate.

Borgue Langwell (Broch)

Visited: June 22, 2021

The remains of Borgue Langwell broch (red marker on map below) stand near the top of a short valley south of the Langwell Water (stream) near Berridale in Caithness. The structure consists of a grassy mound with remnant walling courses on the south and southwest only. Elsewhere, any stonework that had existed is now totally tumbled into an amorphous stoneheap. The broch mound itself is a grassy dome with a slight saucer-like depression in its summit and the occasional large stone peeking out from its sides.

Getting to Borgue Langwell poses a bit of a challenge. Until a few years ago, the OS map showed a woodland path leading from a car-park on the A9 (blue marker) almost directly to the site. But no longer. The trees have been harvested leaving behind a wasteland of stumps and branches that is almost impossible to cross: and of the original path there remains no trace. Add to this the fact that a large section of the area is now guarded by a high fence—presumably to protect new plantings—and the problem is compounded!

Starting from the car-park, which is 1.5 kilometres south of Berridale, the only practical route is to follow the A9 south. Fortunately, there is a wide grassy verge all the way, which makes this a very safe option. After 800 metres, the band of roadside trees gives way to a wide fire break which heads north towards Borgue Langwell. After a further 600 metres I arrived at a fence and gate. Frustratingly, the broch lies, not on the other side of the gate, but beyond a second fence heading off to the right. With no sign of a gate through this fence (though there obviously must be one somewhere), the remaining option was to clamber over it using the high slatted stile at the side of the gate. The broch lies around a hundred metres away beyond the remains of an old farm steading.

Golsary (Broch)

Visited: June 23, 2021

Golsary broch lies in Rumster Forest, not far north of Latheron in Caithness. All that remains these days is a conical vegetated mound at the end of a low ridge in a clearing in the woodland. Close by are the ruinous remains of Golsary farmstead.

What impresses most on first sight is the height of the broch, which stands almost four metres tall atop the south end of the ridge. There was no sign of any stonework at the time of my visit, when the entire structure was buried under quite dense vegetation.

To the north, the ridge has been excavated to create a defensive ditch about two metres in depth, somewhat exaggerated by heaps of discarded spoil which have formed a rampart either side of it.

Getting There
Access to Golsary broch is easiest from the A9. Some 9 kilometres north of Latheron, just past Loch Rangag, a side road (signposted "Lybster 7") heads off to the right towards Rumster Forest. There, about 0.5 km after you enter the woodland, there is a car park on the left (blue marker on the map above). From here it is a walk of 2 kilometres southwards to the broch. The route is labelled 'Cycle Route' on the OS map.

Keep heading south and take the second turning on the left which leads gently downhill into a shallow valley. Best plan is to make for the U-bend in the road and follow the stream to the broch (red marker on map). Everything here is densely vegetated and you simply have to bash through it to your goal: there is no path.

Ousdale Burn (Broch)

Visited: June 22, 2021

Ousdale Burn Broch is now beautifully consolidated, thanks to the efforts of the Caithness Broch Project over the past five years.

The central court, which previously sported a 70 year old rowan tree and was generally overrun by vegetation, has been cleared and covered with geotextile (to prevent the regrowth of vegetation) and gravel.

The broch wall, which had tumbled badly in the region of the entrance passage, has been carefully consolidated by stonemasons and the previously blocked entrance passage cleared of debris. It is now possible to walk into the broch through this entranceway, although you will have to stoop somewhat. The large guard cell leading off the entrance passage has been repaired and its corbelled roof restored. The collapsed wall recess (aumbry) has been restored with permission from Historic Environment Scotland, and at present contains a rather unusual bust.

The Caithness Broch Project website contains details of all the work that has been done at Ousdale Burn Broch, profusely illustrated with 'before-and-after' photographs of the salient features.

Access to the broch is now via a purpose-built path which starts from a new car park that has been created a short distance along the disused loop of the 'old A9' at ND 061 189, exactly one kilometre (0.6 mile) north of the "Welcome to Caithness" sign, on the right hand side as you drive north along the A9. The route to the broch starts at a gate opposite this car park, and entails a walk of almost a kilometre down a well constructed gravel path. Along the way are sited no fewer than five interpretation panels—all different—which detail the broch itself as well as the geology, history and archaeology of the area.

Read more about the project in this John O'Groat Journal and Caithness Courier report from December 2020.

Leitir Fura (Promontory Fort)

Visited: May 25, 2021

Five miles south of Broadford, on the A851 road to Armadale, is the Forestry Commission's Leitir Fura woodland (signed from the roadside), which provides an enjoyable two mile walk to the ruins of a township that was deserted in the early 18th century. On the coast, due south of the township and about 200 metres west of Rubha Guail on the Sound of Sleat—flanked by shingle beaches—stands a rugged headland atop which can be found the remains of Leitir Fura Promontory Fort. To reach the fort, start from the car park close to Kinloch Lodge (blue marker on the map below) and follow the path marked "Leitir Fura Historic Township". The path is circular so you have two options, the low path which is flanked by woodland all the way (white line on map) or the upper path (yellow line), signed "Drover's Path", which climbs above the tree-line and gives superb vistas across the Sound of Sleat to Glenelg and Knoydart. Either way, you end up at the Township (green marker).

Immediately south of the zig-zag path that leads down from the township is a large cleared turning area for Forestry vehicles. It is from here that you make the push for the fort. The terrain I crossed commenced with a thickly vegetated area of bracken and brambles which leads to birch woodland towards the right: in summer, reinforcments of bracken render the way all but impenetrable! Since the fort cannot be seen from here, a compass is a useful aid to reaching the fort (red marker), which stands due south of the turning area.

The going was hard until I came across a rough path at half distance, which eased my route to the trees. Once amongst the trees the walking is easy. Bear right through the woodland until you reach a stream (the Allt Achadh an t-Sabhail), and cross it. Although the terrain here slopes easily down to the coast (which is easily accessed), you will soon see the formidable vertical cliffs of the Promontory ahead. Carry on till you reach the neck of the promontory, by which time you will see the northeast wall of Leitir Fura Fort on the cliff top ahead. The promontory is choked by rampant birch scrub so a direct ascent is not possible, but I found I could outflank this by keeping close to the cliff edge.

An easy alrernative is to make your way down to the shingle beach northeast of the fort from where there is an easy rising path to the summit that follows close to the cliffs.

Of the fort itself, little remains apart from a significant stretch of slightly curving wall face on its northwest. The wall is well built, measures three metres in width by two metres in height and rises to six or seven courses. And that's about all there is of note. Canmore states that: "At the E end of this terrace, a massively constructed entrance can be seen, measuring about 2m in width by 3.7m in length and approached by ramp leading up from the beach on the NE and providing the only easy access to the top of the promontory".

Although I easily found my way up the "ramp leading up from the beach", I saw no evidence of the "massively constructed entrance". Maybe I'll return another day and check this out!

Possible easier route
After leaving the fort and returning to the car park by the lower path, I noted, just a few metres along, a rough track entering the woodland and apparently following the aforementioned stream. If it is possible to follow the stream from this point, you would have to cover relatively easy wooded terrain all the way to the fort. I may investigate in future.

Dun Ban (Camuscross) (Stone Fort / Dun)

Visited: August 31, 2020

Dùn Ban is a coastal dùn, hidden from general view on a small rocky headland just south of the community of Camuscross, on Skye. As far as I can tell it is only visible to those who actively seek it out.

To visit this dun you have to venture to the end of the minor road (signed 'Camuscross ¾ mile') that heads south from Isle Oronsay on Skye's south coast. Where the metalled road ends at the south of Camuscross Bay, a private road continues across the stream (Allt na Bèiste) to several houses. Between the 3rd and 4th of these houses, a secluded grassy track heads towards a gate and stile.

Cross this stile and follow the path beyond as it curves round to the left, bringing you to a gate in the fence to the left. Beyond this gate, a rough path heads upwards to the summit of a low hill (Ard Snaoiseaig Cnoc an Fhùdair). From the top, continue seawards and downhill to the dùn, which is now obvious.

On the day of my visit the summit of the dùn was guarded by a large cow (with calves browsing near the coast), rendering it unwise to approach the structure more closely. It will still be there next time I visit Skye!

Dunan Choinnich (Stone Fort / Dun)

Visited: August 31, 2020

Dunan Choinnich, which Canmore considers may well be the remains of a broch, must surely be one of the most difficult features of its kind to visit on the entire Isle of Skye.

From the road at Torabhaig Distillery in Teangue, the distance to Dunan Choinnich is exactly one kilometre. But the rugged coastline is not an option: there is no direct path. To reach the dun, start at the distillery where a rough farm track heads off to the right and circles around the Torabhaig buildings before crossing the Allt Ghleann Thorabhaig (a stream). Immedaitely ahead, the path is gated, and an arrow board points to the right where a walkers' path follows the stream to the coast. Ahead is a ruined building with a rusted-red roof; pass this and ascend the grassy slope below the ruins of Knock Castle where you should spot a trodden path heading left (east) to a fence.

Straddle this fence and pick up a good walkers' path that hugs the fenceline of the field to the left. This peters out after about 500 metres, at which point you must descend the shallow valley carrying the Allt Gairistin Neill burn and ascend the prominent 60 metre high hill opposite.

The slopes are bracken covered in summer but there are plentiful grassy tongues which ease the way. From the summit of the hill, you see Dunan Choinnich sitting at the neck of a rocky peninsula. Descent is through somewhat denser vegetation, but there are grassy tongues and sheep paths to ease you down. It took me a full hour to reach Dunan Choinnich from Knock Castle!

Good strong walking boots are an absolute necessity!

Dunan Choinnich is extremely ruinous, though its grassy central court is evident from afar, surrounded by a vegetated rampart to the east and the tumbled, featureless residue of a wall that originally marked its landward boundary. There are only the scantiest remnants of structural detail remaining of a construction that is most definitely a target only for the determined connaisseur!

Tiantulloch (Broch)

Visited: August 9, 2020

Only a few hundred metres north of the Minera site, but on the opposite side of the road, are the prominent ruins of Tiantulloch croft house and associated outbuildings: the mound of Tiantulloch broch stands tight against these, rising to a height of some three metres. The remains of this broch are altogether more interesting than Minera and the approach from the road on a clear sunny day is impressive with the distant Caithness mountains framing the site.

So similar is the stonework of the croft buildings with the remaining outer walling courses of the broch that it is difficult to dispel the notion that the broch has been plundered in centuries past to provide their masonry. Notwithstanding, there remains a significant stretch of original exterior broch walling on its eastern side, in many places six and more courses deep.

To visit the site, follow the instructions for Minera but drive up to the Buolfruich Windfarm where verge parking is possible. The field containing the broch is guarded by a barbed wire fence, but if you walk up the road to its northern corner, you will find the final stretch free of barbs to assist access. A short walk over mainly springy turf brings you to the broch.

Minera (Broch)

Visited: August 9, 2020

Minera is a largely grassy mound some 3.5 metres tall which Canmore rates as one of the best preserved broch mounds in Caithness. The belief is that the structure contains "substantial structural remains and a largely untouched stratigraphy."

Minera is surrounded by a well-built wall which doubtless consists of stones that were originally exterior walling courses of the broch itself. Nevertheless, there are a considerable number of stones peeking out from the undergrowth and a short stretch where somewhat dilapidated walling is visible. There is a depression running into the mound from the west which contains two large stones which Canmore suggests could have been part of the entrance passage.

To reach Minera, follow the road signed "Houstry 3 miles", a little over quarter of a mile northeast of Dunbeath on the A9, for the full 3 miles till you see the turbines of Buolfruich Windfarm. A short distance before the windfarm, a road branches to the right and there is room to park. Minera is just 200 metres from this junction, probably hidden by the farm outbuildings on the right. To visit, walk about 50 metres up the side road to a field gate, beyond which a well walked path heads past the outbuildings directly to the broch.

Just a few hundred metres farther on is another broch mound, Tiantulloch.

Watenan South (Broch)

Visited: August 8, 2020

Watenan is most famed for the neolithic chambered cairn of Cairn O'Get (Garrywhin), and rightly so. But approximately half-way along the waymarked path to the cairn, a low hill rises on the right. It's an easy walk over grass to its 110 metre summit where stand the remains of a broch, Watenan South.

Canmore describes this as a complex site with a circular central earthwork surrounded by linear grassy depressions that might be intra-mural galleries. Two large isolated stones on the east may be related to an entrance passage, and there is evidence of outer defence banks and ditches on the west and south.

On the west of the broch is a stretch of walling courses, and the bank to the south has a number of internal facing stones peeping through the grass.

Not a great site, but it is well worth making your way to the top for the view across the loch.

Dunbrae (Broch)

Visited: August 6, 2020

The ruined broch at Dunbrae stands about 500 metres north of its more famous sibling at Dunbeath, but is not accessible from the latter. Instead you must take the road signed Houstry 3 about half a kilometre past Dunbeath (when travelling north) and head fror Rhemullen.

The broch stands in the field immediately ahead after you cross the Bridge over the stream. Unfortunately, at the time of my visit this field was occupied by a huge herd of cattle, so the only sight I had of the broch was obteined from the road after circling around the field.

For definitive comment on Dunbrae Broch, see what Canmore has to say about Dunbrae broch.

Thrumster Little (Broch)

Visited: August 8, 2020

The dilapidated remains of Thrumster Little Broch are located a little north of the community of Thrumster on the A9 in Caithness, just a couple of hundred metres along the track to Thrumster Little farm.

The broch is visible from the road as a grassy mound, but as you approach it is seen to possess several courses of ground level walling, comprising quite large, light coloured stones. The interior, however, is completely filled with debris, rising as a grass-covered dome perhaps three metres tall.

On the eastern flank, the exit from the entrance passage can be seen behind the tight embrace of a wire mesh fence.

Loch Rangag (Broch)

Visited: August 6, 2020

This broch, more commonly known as Greystell Castle (sometimes as Greysteil Castle) stands on a stubby peninsula on the eastern shore of Loch Rangag. The structure is severely dilapidated with a tumble of angular blocks surrounding it. Indeed the only obvious signs of structure are a hint of double wall around the western arc and slight signs of a ruined entrance passage on the east.

It has been suggested that the peninsula might well be a man-made structure, perhaps originally a crannog, though it does seem rather too close to the shore of the loch to be the latter.

The easiest access to Greystell Castle, from the car-park, is to follow the main road south until level with the broch. Although the field below is protected by an electric fence, you will find at this point a narrow break in the fence where the electric wire is safely ensconced in a loop of insulation to allow clear passage. It's just a matter now of descending an easy grassy slope to the stile that gives access to the broch.
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A keen hillwalker most of my life, my interest was restricted when the need arose to care for an ageing parent.

With limited opportunities to travel far from home, I 'discovered' the world of stone circles, mainly in my native Aberdeenshire.

This provided the ideal opportunity for short walks of just a few hours duration, and resulted in me visiting many places of interest that I had never considered previously.

Stone Circles of NE Scotland
Here you will find both Google and Bing maps displaying more than 100 sites of stone circles, the majority in my native Aberdeenshire. The markers on the maps are clickable, to reveal a photo of the stone circle and a link to their Canmore Site Record.

A menu at the side of the maps allows you to zoom in to any individual circle, viewing its environs as a zoomable aerial photograph (Google) or an OS Map (Bing).

I've since extended my interest to the megalithic remains in The Netherlands, where there are some magnificent passage graves known as hunebedden (giant's beds). Despite the fact that The Netherlands is essentially flat and sandy, these 5000 year old monuments from the Funnel Beaker Culture are often found in exquisite woodland settings, nearly all of them in the province of Drenthe. There are almost limitless opportunities for delightful walks between small villages, taking in a diversion to a hunebed here and there.

My TMA Content: