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Return to the Land of the RSC - Day Two.

Today’s targeted area was the north east of Aberdeenshire; my guide – drewbhoy. We made sure we got an early start, and along with Bess the dog for a companion, we headed out eastwards.
Although it was an icy morning, there was no bitter northerly wind to chill the bones, and a nice dry, sunny day of looking at stones awaited.

Auchmaliddie — Images

<b>Auchmaliddie</b>Posted by ruskus

First stop was the remains of AUCHMALIDDIE – just a quick walk up the field-side track from the road. These two remaining stones glow so bright in the frosty morning sunrise. With the surrounding white ground, they resembled two melting snowmen, pushed over and at that stage when the snow looks dirty as it shrinks. The white quartz seems so different from anything else in the area, and reminded me of the circle way down in Duloe.

Aikey Brae — Images

<b>Aikey Brae</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Aikey Brae</b>Posted by ruskus

AIKEY BRAE is one of those big, ‘famous’ circles which I had been desperate to include in this trip, and visiting it confirmed why. As others have mentioned, the walk through the trees to the circle, following the pebble-edged path, adds much to the moment. The great reveal reminding me also of my visit to Clune Wood 24 hrs ago. Another big recumbent, vaguely resembling a boat (or something altogether more phallic), laying between two relatively small-looking flankers (one fallen). The evenly-spaced west side uprights remain, unlike the east side casualties.

Loudon Wood — Images

<b>Loudon Wood</b>Posted by ruskus

For the next site I thanked the Lord that I had Drew to shed some light on the mystery of LOUDON WOOD. Whilst preparing for this trip, I had been dreading the search for the circle, and had another plan for getting quite close to the wood, which thankfully I didn’t have to put into action. Drew’s invaluable knowledge led us right up to the near vicinity of the path through the wood to the circle. Initially we slightly skewed off to the side, and went into the trees too far, backtracking a couple of times before taking a direct route off the path in a presumed general direction. This led us out into a frost-white clearing, where the circle sat, looking forgotten by the world. It was difficult underfoot to notice any bank or wall-ring typical of the Buchan rings, but honestly I was just glad to finally be here. It is a magical spot.

Netherton — Images

<b>Netherton</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Netherton</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Netherton</b>Posted by ruskus

NETHERTON was very different from Loudon Wood; access was quicker(!), being easily reached at the back of the farm. As Drew asked permission, we crunched through the cracking mud puddles up the track to find the complete (?) RSC that is Netherton. I really liked this one. The trees within the circle block any decent camera view, but within the messy ‘forest’ the circle is clearer than initially thought. The recumbent and flanker stones are quite undramatic, being fairly shapeless boulders, with an abundance of other stones shoved up next to them, but it feels a sturdy little group which isn’t going anywhere.

Berrybrae — Images

<b>Berrybrae</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Berrybrae</b>Posted by ruskus

BERRYBRAE, also has a recumbent/flanker set up similar in look and feel to Netherton, and being away from any farm buildings/machinery should appeal more than the previous site we had been to, but somehow Berrybrae underwhelmed me a little in comparison. Its setting is a little scrappy and overgrown, but its ring-bank is clearer. Still, it’s easy to get to, and let’s face it – it is still pretty wonderful to be here and appreciate what is here. Drew tells me enough horror stories, during our travels, of cairn and circles destroyed nearby.

Memsie Burial Cairn — Images

<b>Memsie Burial Cairn</b>Posted by ruskus

Strichen — Images

<b>Strichen</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Strichen</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Strichen</b>Posted by ruskus

After a short detour to the astounding MEMSIE, we get lunch sorted, and talk music, politics and of course, all things megalithic, sitting at the parking spot near Strichen. Refreshed, we let Bess lead the way up to STRICHEN. By now the sky is bright, and shows this reconstruction off to its best. Although one orthostat lays flattened (by cattle apparently), this ring stands proud, looking uniformed and balanced on the hillside. Great views all around also help to make this a must visit site.

White Cow Wood — Images

<b>White Cow Wood</b>Posted by ruskus<b>White Cow Wood</b>Posted by ruskus

And finally, Drew took us back to WHITE COW WOOD, for more walking along empty forestry tracks. Bess was loving it, and my weak, old legs were pretending to as well. I hadn’t necessarily planned to visit here before linking up with Drew, but glad I did, as it’s a decent cairn. With its fallen mini-dolmen-like cist in the centre, it is a fair sized ring.

With the light fading, we left this corner of Aberdeenshire, and as I thanked Drew for his amazing help today and said my goodbyes to Bess the dog, I drove back to the City, already starting to work through tomorrow’s itinerary, but still trying to process all of today’s marvels. Superb.
Posted by ruskus
14th December 2018ce
Edited 21st December 2018ce

Return to the Land of the RSC - Day One.

I had not been to Aberdeenshire for many years now, having been twice in the distant past. Those trips had been whistlestop visits, where I had perhaps only had a chance to see a few of the obvious sites around the outskirts of Aberdeen.
A few months ago my wife said that she had an opportunity for a 5 day work trip to Aberdeen in December, and we agreed I would tag along. 5 days!….That’s a lot of potential for hunting down sites right there.
So I have been planning this trip for a while now; trying to work out how I could possible do justice to so many Recumbent Stone Circles, which over the years had become a bit of an obsession from afar. I don’t know why I have this strong attachment to the region – I live in Suffolk! Other than my best friend from childhood living in Aberdeen, and my wife’s irregular work jaunts there, I do have a link also in that my maternal grandfather’s family were from Peterhead. But it feels something beyond that; like I have been here before somehow.
Anyway; that’s the background, let’s get going with these stones…

Day One:

I had roughly sectioned off Aberdeenshire into 5 areas for the 5 days ahead; SouthWest Aberdeen (inc. Aboyne area), South of Dunnideer, North of Dunnideer, between Huntly and Turriff, & the north east (Fraserborough/Peterhead way). I had a target to cover as many RSCs as possible – maybe around the 50+ mark even! I realise now that was pretty ambitious.

Clune Hill — Images

<b>Clune Hill</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Clune Hill</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Clune Hill</b>Posted by ruskus

I thought I would start close to Aberdeen, with a few huddled together sites, to quickly get some successes under my belt. So I headed off in my hire car with the dry, frosty weather on my side, looking for CLUNE HILL (Clune Wood). After a few wrong turns around Durris forest. I found the car park and headed off up the path, remembering just how unfit I really am these days. After a short 15 walk uphill, I veered off left through the trees, before coming out into the circle’s peaceful clearing overlooking the valley. The rust-coloured bracken attempted to hide the fallen stones of the circle, but with enough still standing, the rough circle can be easily seen.
The warm glow from the low early morning sun really made the colours come alive here, and indeed at one point the glare played tricks as I turned to look back at the circle believing a figure was standing there, quickly to my relief realising it was one of the lifeless orthostats. But it would be wrong to call this RSC lifeless, it is full of character and feeling, and a perfect benchmark was set for the rest of the day.

Nine Stanes — Images

<b>Nine Stanes</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Nine Stanes</b>Posted by ruskus

Onwards to the NINE STANES, which are reached within seconds from the road. Quite a low, similar-sized set of stones, including a big boulder of a recumbent and its flankers (one fallen). Orange/brown pine needles covered any flat surface of stone, noticeably giving the recumbent and fallen flanker an eye-catching look. An open aspect, and vista looking across the circle to the south gives this wooded glade a wide, spacious, relaxed feel.

Esslie the Greater — Images

<b>Esslie the Greater</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Esslie the Greater</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Esslie the Greater</b>Posted by ruskus

Just around the corner from the Nine Stanes, are the Eslies. First up is ESSLIE THE GREATER. Sitting there, exposed to the elements, in the middle of its field, it looks a big ‘ol jumble of rubbly rocks and tufts of grass, raised on a platform. Approaching from the road, passing through the busted gate, over to the rough trapezoid-shaped platform, and up into the low-stoned circle.

Esslie the Lesser — Images

<b>Esslie the Lesser</b>Posted by ruskus

ESSLIE THE LESSER had to make due with just a flying visit, as I headed off to Glassel next. En route I was called by Drewbhoy. We had made contact just before my trip to Aberdeen, and Drew had kindly offered to be my guide on one of my days here, so we finalised plans for tomorrow, and I parked up near Glassel house, and headed into the woods. GLASSEL always looked as if it was going to be difficult, and it delivered on that front. The ‘track’ soon faded, but I reached a wall, which I knew would act as a guide onwards. Without any GPS,etc I was never likely to find it though. I reached the brook, and headed left and right, but could not find any clues (even without a print out of advice from the TMA’s previous entries). Everywhere I just saw tree stumps or the dark stone-like silhouettes of up-ended root balls of fallen trees, leading me further into nowhere. I even texted Drew in my frustration for any hints, but I made the decision to leave my search as I had wasted too much time. Of course, I’m sure I was yards from it at one point.

Image Wood — Images

<b>Image Wood</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Image Wood</b>Posted by ruskus

Next to Aboyne, and the easier woodland wander to reach IMAGE WOOD. Possibly Image Wood would make more of an impact on a different day, in a different season, but it left me a little underwhelmed. 5 little stumps huddling together in their cold, winter woodland setting, as the numerous dog walkers passed by.

Tomnaverie — Images

<b>Tomnaverie</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Tomnaverie</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Tomnaverie</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Tomnaverie</b>Posted by ruskus

Leaving Aboyne, I headed out towards Tarland and TOMNAVERIE.
Whilst driving up from Coull towards Tarland, I was suddenly taken aback by the sight of Tomnaverie perched high on a hilltop, looking like a golden crown in the sunlight. I hadn’t expected that to be my first view, and regret now that I didn’t stop for a picture from there.
There’s ample parking up the short track from the road, and only a few minutes’ walk up the hill to the stones. What an incredible site this is – lovely views of course, but just a delightful circle to keep the attention back onto itself. I was reminded of the far away Torhouskie for some reason. The restoration here feels just right, and definitely must have changed quite a bit from the previously almost wrecked location next to the quarry (what quarry?!).
Whilst looking across the recumbent I was amazed to find the line of hills matched the surface of the stone facing both ways! Soon after this my phone died whilst standing centre circle taking pictures (but on return to the car, it displayed as having plenty of power).

Midmar Kirk — Images

<b>Midmar Kirk</b>Posted by ruskus

As the light began to go, and the chill factor set in, I decided to return towards Aberdeen, taking in the double whammy of Midmar Kirk and Sunhoney. I had visited both of these over a decade ago, but felt is silly to ignore such beauties, by taking them for granted. MIDMAR KIRK always seems a cold, but quiet and obviously respectful place. I feel the ancient stones seem quite ‘natural’ being here in a way. They feel protected, and bring an even more peaceful stillness to the graveyard. They seem to renew the links from the past ancestors, to our more recent ones.

Sunhoney — Images

<b>Sunhoney</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Sunhoney</b>Posted by ruskus

The walk up to Sunhoney was very muddy (Mudhoney?), but I soon reached the well-kept pathway that leads up to the grove of trees and stones. SUNHONEY always feels such a special, contained space; shut off from our world. Despite the cold, it gave me a warmer feeling than on a previous long ago visit. The grass was lower this time, and the large circle was more visible. I’d forgotten just how long that recumbent is. From standing outside the circle, looking back across the recumbent and flankers, the nearby hill (Barmekin?) was glowing bright orange in the last of the afternoon sun, whilst everywhere else was shade. Sun honey indeed.

Cullerie — Images

<b>Cullerie</b>Posted by ruskus<b>Cullerie</b>Posted by ruskus

On the return journey back to Aberdeen, I passed so close to CULLERIE that I thought I’d just nip there, expecting that I would confirm my feelings about it relating to a previous visit here. But, I have to say that it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d thought. The gorgeously clear afternoon gave the avenue of trees a grand feel, as if they were rich stage curtains pulled back to reveal the encore act for my day of stone hunting. The framing effect built as I walked towards this pretty little circle, which didn’t give me the artificial, centre-of-a-roundabout vibes I had expected. If it had a recumbent it wouldn’t seem all that different from Loanhead of Daviot really, in terms of reconstructed presentation. Bit of an undervalued site methinks.
Posted by ruskus
13th December 2018ce

Thornborough.......A henge for everyone.

After a lovely time at the Druid's Altar four poster stone circle near Grassington we got stuck, not in mud or anything like that but in a bicycle race, the pestilence, the niche absurdity that is the Tour De Yorkshire.

Druid's Altar — Images

<b>Druid's Altar</b>Posted by postman<b>Druid's Altar</b>Posted by postman
They kindly closed the road behind us whilst we were at the Altar, then demanded we go no where til the race had passed. Even after it had passed we still got held up by the race, diverted to within an inch of our sanity, we headed for Boroughbridge, and the Devils arrows, and hopefully out of the reaches of the tour de effing Yorkshire.

The Arrows, are always very entertaining, tall and perfect, and very brilliant.

The Devil's Arrows — Images

<b>The Devil's Arrows</b>Posted by postman<b>The Devil's Arrows</b>Posted by postman
But the presence of teenagers sharing a fire, beer and smokes on the fields edge, didn't lend an air of tranquility. So off we went to the last sites of the day, the three Thornborough henges.

I thought what I'd do was start at the north then go middle and then of course south. A good idea, I thought.
There was already two cars parked by the woods, but experience tells me that just because there's a car by an ancient site doesn't always mean that's where they'll be, apparently some people walk for fun, don't laugh, it's true, I promise

Thornborough Henge North — Images

<b>Thornborough Henge North</b>Posted by postman<b>Thornborough Henge North</b>Posted by postman

I left daughter in the car and entered the woods, immediately transporting me to another world, a world where the dominant life form on the planet is Bluebells. There were roughly 9.4 people dotted about the henge, bluebells outnumbered us like a million to one, because of the trees, banks and ditches, even if there are other people here, you can still get a very personal visit with this henge.
It's all very much intact as well, some of the banks are higher than in other places, but very well preserved, a sleeping giant beneath the trees. But a shadow loomed, even here, in this quaint and quiet part of the Shire, whilst looking through the southern entrance I saw a worrying thing, a thing that does not go well with ancient sites, it wasn't a bicycle race, but it was lots of people.

Back in the car we go round the block looking all the time towards where were going and inwardly groaning, there appeared to be something going on at the central henge. I parked on the roadside and gingerly approached the henge.
This wasn't good at all, there's hundreds of people here, camping around almost the entire perimeter of the henge, stalls selling crap and trash, portaloos, burger vans, and dread locked wastrels eyeing up young girls, not good at all.

Thornborough Henge Central — Images

<b>Thornborough Henge Central</b>Posted by postman<b>Thornborough Henge Central</b>Posted by postman

Immediately I climbed the bank west of the entrance, to photograph the disturbing scene, and was shouted at by greasy fat lady with her husband Krustie "get off the henge" they shouted, I looked around, "good lord, they mean me" they shouted again, "get off the henge" . Natural curiosity got the better of me so I asked "why?" "Because I said so" was the reply, who was I to argue with such clarity of thought, a well planned out argument. I demurred to there outlandish ways and descended the bank, stopped when out of view of most of the hoard, sat down and skinned up.
I've never been, but this is what I imagine a summer solstice at Stonehenge would be like, unbearable. I strolled across the interior of the henge to where it is at it's lowest, and crossed over into the refugee camp cum Beltane celebration. A nearby oaf sitting in his plastic chair noticed me and burbled something at me in some southern drawl, "what?". He said again, "good job no one saw you do that, they don't like it at all". I went over.
"Whats going on here,? I've never been to a henge and not walked all the way round."
" Celtic festival of Beltane innit mate, my misses makes us come every year, I've been here since Friday." He gave me quite a sad look. I inquired further "There's hundreds of henges all over the country, why have you all come to this one?" He shrugged.

Long drawn out sigh.

I decided it was time for a different henge, leaving, I photographed the ugly monster that is a Beltane celebration. Honestly, I like marking the solstices and equinoxes as much as the next guy, maybe more, but it's a bit much to do the half way points between them too, unless of course all's your after is beer, burgers, bangles and under dressed teenage girls.

Returning to the car, I relayed my misadventure to my under dressed teenage daughter. Then told her I'm going to the other henge in that field right there, pointing, Ok she said. She's a good girl.
Now, having a look at these henges on here the day before, I noted Carl couldn't find this henge, I couldn't remember it much either, only that its the most worn out of the three henges, so I picked the bridleway pointing in the direction of where the last henge should be, and entered the field, almost immediately I could see a rise in the land that must surely be it, I got closer, it was, it was the last henge.

Thornborough Henge South — Images

<b>Thornborough Henge South</b>Posted by postman<b>Thornborough Henge South</b>Posted by postman
It was indeed much more worn down than the others, but still clearly visible, the northern entrance being really quite good. I walked around the henge on top of the bank, there was no Greenham common relic here to tell me off, so I dug my heals in, not really, but I did wave my arms about wildly and shouted I'm walking on a henge, not really, there was a bath on the henge, Oh right, so its OK for bathrooms and camp sites but not for heroes of prehistory such as myself. Humph.
I sat for a while, I found a quiet henge at last, one all to myself, listening to the fine lovely birdsong and the audio equivalent of poo or torturing.
It's been a mixed kind of day.

Then it was time to go home, so we went home.
postman Posted by postman
7th May 2018ce
Edited 8th May 2018ce

Signs. Spring Equinox at Mitchell's Fold.

I don't like winter, that's not strictly true, what I really don't like is being cold, it hurts. So I am pretty eager for signs that we're moving back to the good times of warmth and light, signs like snowdrops and crocuses, the day being light when i'm going work, signs like the spring equinox. Which is today, so i'm going out to see some stones and take a look at what the sky is up to. Though I can probably guess.
So, where to go, it needs to be quite close, so Callanish is out, i'm old and knackered so it shouldn't be hard to get to, so Bryn Cader Faner is out. How about the Bull stones on the edge of the Peak district, too small.
Mitchell's Fold? It's been eleven years since last time. Done.
It's closer than you think, to my house, I got there with time to spare, which is quite unusual. But I was going to need that extra time, because
it had been snowing a day or two ago, heavily, in places I had to wade through two foot deep snow drifts. Seeing other places in winter makes me see just how strangely weather free home is, it snows, for sure, but it's only just a mild inconvenience, it doesn't close roads.

After much heaving and sighing I arrive at the circle, first thing to do is remove the wads of snow from inside my not good new boots, second, breath heavily on my stinging cold fingers til there warm enough to handle the camera. Third, do photography.
The equinox sun looked to be rising from behind the Stiperstones, a rocky cairn topped ridge of ankle breaking renown, about six kilometers distant.

Mitchell's Fold — Images

<b>Mitchell's Fold</b>Posted by postman<b>Mitchell's Fold</b>Posted by postman

I say looked to be, cloud, which had been absent my whole drive here had come out of no where to obscure the magic moment of sun rise. There was just a thin sliver of sky protruding through the grime close to the ground, enough to see where the sun would be if all was perfect. It's not even close.
If it's been eleven years since I've been here, the same must be true of the Hoarstones stone circle as well. So I march off in the direction of Stapeley hill, it was easier last time as I had a mountain bike, this was likely to take longer.
I passed the Dead cow stone not seeing it, as I was talking to the sheep, they chose to ignore me.
Reaching the top of Stapeley hill wasn't easy, long deep snow drifts had to be navigated like some cruel Labyrinth, or waded through, flipping snow, is it really necessary ?
Stapeley hill has two rocky peaks, with superior views, hanging between the two on a shallow ridge was something I wasn't expecting, kind of. I'd seen pictures of it, but hadn't appreciated where it was, a nice little ring cairn, it was here ! cooooool, if this ring cairn was on twitter, I'd have like it. What ever that means.

Stapeley Hill — Images

<b>Stapeley Hill</b>Posted by postman

New boots are beginning to hurt, just above the ankle, it must be time to walk further away from the car, course it is.
Like I said, it's been a while since I was last here, so I decide to come down off the hill too early and start searching for a stone circle that isn't there, deep snow, hidden holes, hidden streams, all impeded progress, I was just about to give up when a van came close by, I went over, he stopped, we talked. It's not here, it's on the other side of the forest commission bit, over there, he pointed, up and over.
He gave me directions, but my man mind can only hold half of all directions, I set off again.
Somewhere in the forest I got distracted following animal footprints in the snow, and went wrong. Nothing was making sense, I stupidly left the map in the car, but am fairly sure I've just gone off the top of it, so it's useless anyway. I'm now poking about around a house called Hillcrest near castle ring hill fort, another man helps with directions, it's over there, holds out both arms and indicates it's between them, over there somewhere. It's looking a bit grim now, I've warmed up, but lost a stone circle, it was much easier last time. Next is a long walk along the road rounding the Hemford corner and heading back to the A 488. I have by now given up, even the sight of four Roe deer doe's doesn't fill me with positivity, I do photography and walk on, painfully, some walking boots aren't really made for walking.
Back on the main road I spot a footpath that goes in the direction of back up Stapeley hill, I take it. Immediately I recognise this place, I believe I am now close to the circle, at one point I peer across the snowy moor, but see nothing and give up once more, I shouldn't have, it was there, I looked right at it but didn't see it.
Grumped out, I stomp back up and around Stapeley hill, blundering haplessly upon the Dead Cow stone, at least I managed to find that, by accident.

The Cow Stone — Images

<b>The Cow Stone</b>Posted by postman
I pause at Mitchell's fold and try and get the scant blue sky into a stoney picture or three. And go.
But I couldn't let it go for long, after wading back through the snow I get in the car and look at the map, oh, there it is, kind of exactly where both my local helpers said it was, I drive back to that same footpath off the A488, ditch the car angrily by the side of the road, don my wellies and wade through ankle deep freezing mud and shite across two fields and there it is. Then I went snow blind.
The sun had decided to show itself, the snow seemed to glow thumpingly, hitting my eyes with some considerable vigour.

The Hoarstones — Images

<b>The Hoarstones</b>Posted by postman

I had to shield my eyes from the worst of the glare whilst I took some photos, then I sat on the edge of the circle upon a flat topped stone and closed my eyes, with some relief.
After the sun had gone back in I inspected the stones more closely, well, I say closely, I mean I didn't fall over them.
Two holes have been drilled into one of the remaining stones, some say they could be ancient but the loss of over half the ring suggests a more explosive reason.
A central stone, there's one of them at the Bull stones on the edge of the Peak district, I wonder if the sun put in an appearance there, I imagine it would have been life changing.
Time to go, I agree with the devil on my shoulder and trespass wildly in order to take a more direct mud and shite free route back to the car.

postman Posted by postman
21st March 2018ce

A Sutherland Cycle Tour and the £380 Stone Circle

For the last fifteen months my friend Jeremy and I have been out cycling in the evening once a week. It sort of combines our mutual obsessions; his cycling long distances and breathing in the natural world around him and mine visiting local prehistoric sites. Of course it doesn’t work so well in the Winter as all the cycling is done in the dark and, needless to say, freezing conditions. However, the long term aim was to go on a cycle tour for a week to somewhere wild and rugged, where we could express ourselves. Along with another old friend of Jeremy’s, Martin, we’d settled on travelling to Cape Wrath in the extreme North West of Scotland, cycling around 150 miles, wild camping or staying in bothies and living on nuts and berries. Real boys own adventure stuff! About a month before we were due to set off we discovered that the military ranges there were to be used for a major NATO exercise. Apparently they would be using live ammunition so despite our ‘devil may care’ attitude we sensibly switched our attention to an AirB&B caravan just outside Lairg overlooking Loch Shin (almost).

The weather forecast for our weeks adventure had started off quite favourably, but as we got nearer time-wise and geographically, it had begun to deteriorate with the tail end of an Atlantic hurricane sweeping across the Highlands and we soon realised how sensible we’d been to put our trust in AirB&B. On the Monday morning we bravely got into the most waterproof clothing we had and pedalled off into 40mph winds gusting to 60mph with stinging horizontal rain. After a couple of hours of this I was soaked to the skin and not a happy bunny. With all the strenuous effort it took just to stay upright and keeping my head down, the thought of spying out ancient sites just went completely out the window. It just became a fight for survival as far as I was concerned although the others didn’t seem too put out about it. After four hours we’d almost reached the top of Loch Shin and stopped off to look at a small dam and hydro-electric power station, one of several in the Lairg district, before beginning our descent to the loch itself. Even this proved cumbersome as I couldn’t remember many occasions when I’d had to pedal downhill as the wind was so fierce! Rounding the top of the loch suddenly everything seemed so different. The wind that had been our enemy was now our friend, not a ‘best’ friend obviously, more like a charming acquaintance and we hardly had to put any effort into heading home down the North Eastern side of the loch. Bliss. Having arrived back at the caravan physically and mentally fatigued I began to wonder if I’d even be brave enough to get back on my bike tomorrow, and the weather forecast was still bloody awful. I also wondered how practical it would be trying to photograph any sites we came across. I had one big heavy, but weatherproof camera and another smaller, lighter, but non-weatherproof camera. Decisions, decisions.

The next day the conditions were no better, but the proposed route towards Altnaharra and then some off-roading over a mountain track weighed in at a whopping 50+ miles compared with the previous days 40 miles. Again we set off into the biting wind and rain and by the time we’d gone 11 miles to the Crask Inn I’d decided that for me the war was over. After a warming coffee around a log burning stove we separated and I was blown all the way back to the caravan. After lunch I made a plan to seek out the more interesting sites nearby and started with a ruined broch no more than 200m from the caravan. I’d spotted it earlier that morning but realised that it was impossible to actually get to it without climbing a high wire fence so I had to be satisfied with a view across the Strath Tirry which was perhaps better as it gave it some context. A sizeable mound still stands but any traces of the stonework on top are barely visible now, most of it having been either carried off for local houses or maybe collapsed into the river. Getting back on my bike I cycled the 4 miles into Lairg and made my way to The Ord, easy to find as there’s a telecoms mast on top of it (unfortunately). It’s quite exciting to visit large cairns as it’s something I don’t do very often, as there just aren’t any in my neck of the woods. Plenty of grassy barrows, but no cairns. As you approach the top there are small information boards handily scattered about telling you what the various lumps or bumps are and the first one pointed out a ‘burnt mound’, a pile of burnt stones which may, or may not, have been associated with a prehistoric sauna. I have no problem with this but why keep using new stones to heat up each time, unless they always fractured when they were flung in the water, and so gradually became unusable? Next up were some small cairns on the way up to the big one, Ord South, a grass covered monster with five small standing stones at it’s summit. Momentarily the sun was shining and the view back up Loch Shin would have been fantastic if it hadn’t been marred by some aesthetically challenged numpty from a telecoms company! Westwards you also get a great view down on Ord North, not quite as old as Ord South and much less grassy in appearance. You could also see two very large stones which are part of the entrance to the tomb, but climbing down and getting a closer look, it was obvious that the interior of the cairn must have collapsed a long time ago and the entrance blocked by debris. It’s still a handsome pile though. After my second perambulation around the cairn I noticed that the threatening rain clouds were doing their thing and it was probably wise to get off the hill or face a second soaking of the day. Jeremy and Martin got back about an hour after I did and were pretty tired and told me that the ‘mountain track’ was mostly unridable even for the fattest of tyres and I felt vindicated in my decision to cut the journey short earlier.

Wednesday offered a slight respite from the ongoing rainfall and the wind had dropped slightly as well. We decided that we’d have a non-cycling day today (possibly we were all slightly relieved though being English couldn’t easily admit it). We set off to find Achinduich stone circle which according to the OS map was just off the A836 south of Lairg. Parking in a handy lay-by we walked up the hill scanning the horizon for stones eventually found a slightly disappointing arc of five reasonable sized stones and three smaller inner-arc stones. It looked to me like it must once have been a quite a sweet diminutive concentric circle with a possible out-lier a little way back down the hill. As with The Ord, the view across the Strath Shin valley would have been splendid if a huge pylon hadn’t been placed behind it. Do they do this sort of thing on purpose? Was there some disgruntled Scottish Power person who really hated the countryside and had been thwarted in their efforts to study archaeology earlier in life who deliberately placed unbecoming masts and pylons next to ancient monuments in beautiful environments? Well at least there was more than one viewpoint. Stumbling back down to the car we decided to make a visit to Cnoc An Liath-Bhaid stone circle further North East, stopping off at Achnagarron standing stones on the way. Achnagarron turned out to be a shambolic farm, though we couldn’t blame the disgruntled Scottish Power employee for that, with a couple of nice standing stones nearby (maybe that’s what achnagarron means, ‘delightful standing stones and crappy farm’). Their placement on a slight, flat-topped knoll, along with a lot of recumbent stones, suggested that it may have been a ruined circle.
A few minutes later we were slowly making our way down a steep, highly cambered track about a mile and a half from Cnoc An Liath-Bhaid when we heard a slight scraping noise beneath the car. We got out to check that everything was alright beneath only to find oil leaking from the sump. Bad news. In trying to turn the car around on the narrow track Jeremy then knocked off a sizeable piece of the bumper, but he succeeded in getting the car to roll almost five miles back to Rogart where luckily there was a garage. A quick inspection at the garage revealed that there was no further damage and that the sump part would have to be ordered from Inverness, 50 miles South from there and would be about £120, hopefully ready by Friday. A young lad from the garage kindly drove us back to our caravan in Lairg where the atmosphere was a little dampened by the days events, and to think we’d been so close.

Thursday bought a change in the weather and the wind and rain had abated with just a slight chance of showers later. Things were looking up! It would be a day of further stoney exploration around the Southern bank of Loch Naver some 20 miles North of Lairg. We set off into a light wind with occasional bursts of sunshine which brought forth multitudes of Scots revelling in the unexpectedness of very bright light and after a couple of hours arrived in Altnaharra. According to the map there were numerous hut circles just a bit further East along the edge of the loch with standing stones and cup-marked stones. We got as close as possible on our cycles and then I pushed mine through squelching bogs for 20 minutes as I was the only one wearing waterproof boots and the others wanted to eat their sandwiches. I found the hut circles which turned out to be rectangular, so possibly they weren’t quite as old as I’d led myself to believe, maybe just the remains of crofts after the Highland Clearances from 250 years ago or less. Certainly a nice aspect though with the loch below and the formidable Ben Klibreck behind. Arriving at a river the map indicated that the standing stones were just the other side and that there was a ford. Unfortunately the rains had swollen the river and had made the ford unfordable, besides which the stones couldn’t have been very large as I could see nothing across the way. It was at that moment I noticed, almost literally beneath my feet, what might be cup marks in the large rock I was using as a vantage point. Well I’ll be. Of course this is unsubstantiated and in the wrong place, but who knows, maybe I’m the first person to notice them in thousands of years. After basking in my personal reverie of glory for a few minutes I remember that Jeremy and Martin are probably wondering where I’d got to, or were bemoaning the insubstantial supply of sandwiches, so I began to make my way back. Rejoining them we decided to start our journey back to Lairg as the threat of rain was with us again and the sunshine that had been raking the hillsides had decided to go off and rake elsewhere. On the pleasant wind-driven journey South we stopped off once more at the Crask Inn, this time for our first and only drop of whiskey and had a very nice chat with the lady who, with her husband, used to run the Inn, but now lived across the road and was just looking after it while the new owners were away on holiday.

Friday was going to have to be a shortish cycle as we were expecting a call from the garage to say when the car would be ready to pick up. Around lunchtime the call came through only to say that the wrong part had been delivered and that the garage owner would personally drive down to Inverness on Saturday morning, exchange the part, drive back, fit it and have the car ready around 2.00ish. Oh dear. That changed everything. We were originally going to start home at 6.00am on the Saturday, dropping Martin off in Warwick. Martin, in a slight panic, decided that he needed to leave straight away and would take his chances by taking any form of transport from Inverness as he had to return to Vietnam early next week. We waved goodbye as he disappeared up the Shin Valley back to Lairg to gather his possessions while we contemplated marrying into the local community and growing old in the Highlands. We were never going to leave. We arrived at the Falls of Shin Visitor Centre, a swanky bit of modern architecture with a waterfall attached and consoled ourselves with coffee and cake. We decided that we’d just have to hope the car was ready Saturday afternoon, drive like maniacs and get back down to the South Coast in the early hours of Sunday morning. In the meantime we could call in at the Achany chambered cairn a few miles further up Strath Shin on the way to Lairg. This turned out to be the most accessible monument hereabouts as it stands right next to the road. It’s quite a substantial thing with a sort of facade of large stones about halfway along and a cist set into the top. At the other end is a smaller sub-cairn (I think) possibly for their dog or some slightly less prominent relative. We set off again and decided to investigate the Ferry Wood Broch which is located at the foot of Loch Shin and just below The Ord. This however proves to be disappointing as, like the Tirryside Broch near the caravan, there was just a mound, a few lumps of stone and a slew of freshly slaughtered pine trees providing a slightly Somme-like appearance. Again we consulted the map and worked out that Sallachy Broch was about ten minutes away around Loch Shin as the crow flies and about an hour away as the cycle pedals. Surely there had to be one broch worth visiting in the area and an hour later we weren’t disappointed as we slipped and slided down the hill of the South West loch side. There’s a lot to see here with a good sized mound overlooking the water, stonework in excess of two metres in places and that old double skin thing quite evident still. A reasonably well defined entrance was still there with a Westward view over the loch, but no lintel and most of the interior choked with fallen stones from the walls and a couple of small trees growing in their midst. Peaceful, quietly forgotten, faded majesty with a slight melancholy air and overtones of moss and lichen. A good rounding off to our weeks stay.

Saturday lunchtime brings a helpful call from the garage to say the car was now ready and the young lad came to pick us up about two o’clock. The bill for the repairs came in at just under £380 as you always forget that it’s about £60/hour labour charges, a full oil change and the iniquitous VAT on top of all that. Cnoc An Liath-Bhaid had proved to be a very expensive stone circle and, worse still, we hadn’t even got to see it in the end, though I’d still like to.

Tirryside Broch — Images

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Ord South — Images

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Ord North — Images

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Achinduich — Images

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Achnagarron — Images

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Klibreck — Images

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Achany — Images

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Ferry Wood — Images

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Sallachy Broch — Images

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15th November 2017ce
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