Balnabroich, Kirkmichael, Perthshire

Standing Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NO 09175 56752

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 27267

Getting Here

1867 OS-map showing the stone

1867 OS-map showing the stone

Take the A924 road north of Blairgowrie, between Pitlochry and Bridge of Cally and, about 4.6 miles (7.5km) along, roughly halfway between Ballintuim and Kirkmichael, in the field by the roadside immediately west, you’ll see this conspicuous upright stone standing all alone – unless the cattle are meandering slowly around it!

Archaeology & History

This single monolith that stands today as a cattle rubbing post, may at one time in its distant past have been related to the present pair of standing stones hiding in the small remain of trees 148 yards (135.5m) to the south; although neither Aubrey Burl (1993) nor Alexander Thom (1990) ascribe the stone such an association in their relative tomes on aligned stone rows.

Balnabroich stone, looking south

Balnabroich stone, looking south

Balnabroich stone, looking west

Balnabroich stone, looking west

When the great standing stone lover Fred Coles (1908) came here, he was as reliable as ever in his subsequent exposition of the place – and despite getting his measurements slightly out he told us almost liltingly, like an antiquarian Uncle Monty stroking his megaliths, that

“At a point almost 176 yards due north of (the) two stones is a tallish and unshapely monolith standing but a few yards west of the main road.  Its most notable feature is the extreme irregularity of its shape.  If any proof were needed to show how uncritical were the people who raised such stones, how totally devoid of any regard for symmetry or neatness of contour in the monoliths they set up, surely the ground-plan of this block of rent and riven quartz-veined whinstone, fissured and uncouth in all its parts, would supply it.

“The contour here shown was measured by laying down an irregular rhomboidal figure, and from each of its sides measuring by offsets to the depths 0f the curves which are so prominent on the north, the northwest and the southeast sides.  The ground-plan this obtained shows that, taken between their prominent angles, the four sides measure almost exactly 3 feet each, and the main long axis of the stone which lies due east and west and measures 4 feet 6 inches.  The monolith stands 5 feet 8 inches above the ground and…appear to have been unconnected with circles, so far at least as it was possible to glean any information.”

References:

  1. Coles, Fred, “Report on Stone Circles Surveyed in Perthshire – Northeastern Section,” in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, volume 42, 1908.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, North-East Perth: An Archaeological Landscape, HMSO: Edinburgh 1990.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Allt a’ Choire Chireinich (04), Ben Lawers, Kenmore, Perthshire

Cup-and-Ring Stone:  OS Grid Reference – NN 65306 39560

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 238575

Getting Here

The petroglyph & its associates

The petroglyph & its associates

Along the A827 road between Killin and Kenmore, park-up at the Tombreck entrance and cross the road, taking the long track which eventually zigzags up the slope of Ben Lawers.  Keep your eyes on the copse of trees a few hundred yards east that runs up the slopes.  Head towards this, past the multiple-ringed Allt a’ Choire Chireinich stone, then AaCC 2 and AaCC3 carvings, then notice on the other side of the stream a couple of large boulders.  That’s the spot!

Archaeology & History

This faint but intricately carved petroglyph is one in a cluster of three carvings, right next to each other—and it’s the best of the bunch by a long way.  A single cup-marking is found on the flat stone beneath this one (AaCC5); whilst the large egg-shaped boulder in front has perhaps a half-dozen cups on it (AaCC6).

Alex Hale's sketch of the carving

Alex Hale’s sketch of the carving

Faint remains of concentric rings

Faint remains of concentric rings

The large flat-topped boulder of AaCC4 however, possesses at least seventeen plain cup markings, along with twenty-four cup-and-rings, six cup-and-double-rings, three cup-and-three rings, three cup-and-four rings, and one cup-and-five rings!  There are some carved lines that emerge from several of the cups, with all of the three cup-and-four rings having a carved pathway emerging from the central cup and going out of the concentric system.  It’s quite a beauty!  And it sits upon the ridge next to the clear drinking waters of the burn, gazing out over Loch Tay and the mountains all around in a quite beautiful landscape.

Immediately above and below the carvings are a number of settlement spots or shielings, known to have been used until recent centuries.  They were quite ideal living quarters and some of the old folk here, in bygone days, would have known old customs and stories of this petroglyph.

References:

  1. Hale, Alex, “Prehistoric Rock Carvings in Strathtay,” in Tayside and Fife Archaeological Journal, 2009.
  2. Yellowlees, Sonia, Cupmarked Stones in Strathtay, Scotland Magazine: Edinburgh 2004.

Acknowledgments: Huge thanks to Lisa Samson, Fraser Harrick and Paul Hornby for their help reaching this site and exploring still further.  Let’s do it again sometime before I vanish forever up into the far North.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Fiscary (1), Farr, Sutherland

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 73102 62629

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 6445
  2. Carn Chaoile
  3. SUT 29 (Henshall)

Getting Here

Fiscary 1 cairn - from Fiscary 2

Fiscary 1 cairn – from Fiscary 2

A mile east of Bettyhill on the A836 road, watch for the large piles of rocks up on the hill on your left (north).  Go through the gate, past the Fiscary 3 cairn and 150 yards northwest you’ll reach the crowning cairn of Fiscary 2 on the hilltop itself.  Fiscary 1 is just a few yards in front of you.

Archaeology & History

Although this is the smallest of the Fiscary cairns, it is the one that has had been investigated more than the others in this cluster—and you can tell as it’s been dug into.  However, saying that, when Aisha and me were here a few weeks ago, the wind was blowing with such strength that we could give it little more than a cursory overview, as we were both getting blown about like a pair o’ puffters in the gale that was raging in from the sea!  Twas quite overwhelming…

Fiscary 1 to the rear

Fiscary 1 to the rear

One of the first things you notice is how this cairn is inextricably linked, both physically and otherwise, to its close partner on the hilltop only yards away: the Fiscary 2 cairnFiscary 2 reaches outwards towards where we now stand—slightly below the larger tomb immediately north (the airt of Death itself): almost as if an ancient Queen and Her King were resting still hand-in-hand in their respective burial sites.

Aisha on top!

Aisha on top!

…And although such romance may seem nothing more than that: recall that we are probably looking at two giant archaic monuments whose birth emerged in the neolithic: when time was measured by night, not day; when the Moon was Prima Mater’s aide and portender; and patriarchy had yet to be borne…. Giant hilltop cairns were the places of our ancient shaman-kings, queens and tribal elders, whose integral relationship with the cycles of the world to which we are (still) bound, were quite different in some fundamental ways, before rites of passage were disposed of…. But I’m moving away from the modern history of the Fiscary tomb…. Soz!

Around the time when some of the indigenous northerners up here were seeing the fading lights of their animistic cosmology disappear into the emergence of ‘history’, when the traditional tales were ebbing, Fiscary 1 was at least being written about—albeit in a detached way, as a museum piece, a piece of architecture.  It’s the way things have become.  The tomb was excavated by a local man called Cathel Kerr in the latter half of the 19th century, although he reported that it had already been dug into a few years earlier.  Kerr told that some of the stones had been taken by an unnamed local for building purposes (not good!).  “It had been opened from the top” he said—continuing:

“and there was abundant evidence around the cairn, that large slabs of stone had been removed from the interior.  A little observation showed that there was the appearance of an internal chamber… The…cairn is about 150 feet in circumference and about 9 or 10 feet in height, and between it and (Fiscary 2) there is what seems to me to be a neck of stones joining the two cairns… Most of the neck joining the two cairns is covered over with turf, but a very slight observation reveals the fact that underneath it the mass of stones is continuous.  The apparent depth of stones is from 3 to 4 feet. It is most unlikely that this neck could have been formed by stones falling from the top of the cairns.

“The chamber, when opened, proved to be tripartite.  The entrance is from the west or northwest side, between two upright stones, with a large heavy slab thrown across them.  The passage is only 3 or 4 feet long, and about 3 feet high, and nearly the same in width.  This leads into a small chamber measuring about 6 feet by 3 feet.  In front of it, on the north side, a large upright slab projects, and helps to form part of the end of the inner chamber and a division between the two on the south side.  In all likelihood the stone corresponding to that one has been removed, so that there is nothing to mark the division between the chambers on that side.  The larger chamber measures 6 feet 4 inches by 7 feet 9 inches.  The sides are made up of large upright slabs and masonry, built up between the slabs.  The corners are all rounded and there is the appearance of vaulting by the stones overlapping one another.  The height of this chamber at present is about 5 feet.  The end of the chamber is made up by two upright stones, with nearly 2 feet of an entrance between them, leading into the innermost chamber.  This chamber is a very irregular oblong; indeed the ends are rounded.  On an average it is 5 feet 9 inches long, by 33 inches wide, and 3 or 4 feet in height.  It had the appearance of being covered over with slabs, some of which stood on edge inside; but of this I am not very sure, as the roofing of all the chambers has been interfered with.

“Inside there lay on the floor a large quantity of broken stones and black earth.  Underneath there was what seemed a mixture  of ashes and earth, with numerous pieces of charred wood, but no charred bones as far as I could see.  Underneath that layer there was ordinary gravel.  I found some fragments of bones on the innermost part, and some in the larger chamber.  They do not appear to me to be of very great antiquity.  A small vitrified mass was found on the floor.”

When the Royal Commission (1911) lads turned up to see the site in 1909 they reported—in a rather exaggerated manner—that the cairn “is now completely destroyed” and then in the next sentence said,

“The chamber is half filled-up with debris and only two or three large slabs remain, the others having disappeared.  Its diameter has been about 46ft, and its height 4ft to 5ft.”

If the Royal Commission believe that’s an example of something being “completely destroyed”, they should turn their eyes and attention to sites like the Nixon’s Station cairn on top of Ilkley Moor which, when I was young, was larger than any of the Fiscary cairns; but somehow under the watchful eyes of the regional archaeologists in the 1980s and ’90s, was levelled to the ground – i.e., properly destroyed!

Audrey Henshall's ground plan

Audrey Henshall’s ground plan

In more recent years the cairn has received the honourable attention of the great Audrey Henshall (1963; 1995) who, in her updated site profile of Fiscary 1, told us not much more about the site than her predecessor Kerr.  Contextualizing the place with its partner Fiscary 2 and the platform upon which it rests, she wrote:

“The paired cairns appear to be independent structures 8.5m apart, though a platform extending beyond the base of the south cairn, which has no internal features exposed, spreads to the base of the north cairn, which contains a ruined chamber… The north cairn is of bare angular stones with turf and heather only encroaching over the edges.  Its limits are well-defined and give a roughly square plan with short diameters of 16.5m… Kerr exposed the roofless tripartite chamber, and most of the structure which he recorded was visible in 1955 (Henshall 1963).  Less could be seen in 1992 as the chamber had been largely filled by loose stones…”

Much like the situation as it is today.  More recently a small pile of stones has been added to the top of the cairn, from whence the view is excellent to the north, east and west.  The larger Fiscary 2 cairn blocks the view directly south.

Folklore

Otta Swire (1963) not only told that this landscape was once peopled by giants who made the land and played a part in the creation of some of the giant tombs around here.  The one time local school-teacher at Bettyhill, Alan Temperley (1977), also told us that the fairy folk lived close to the giant tombs of Fiscary.

References:

  1. Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return, RKP: London 1955.
  2. Gourley, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
  3. Gunn, Adam & Mackay, John, Sutherland and the Reay Country, John Mackay: Glasgow 1893.
  4. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 1, Edinburgh University Press 1963.
  5. Henshall, Audrey S., “The Distant Past,” in The Sutherland Book (edited by Donald Omand), Northern Times: Golspie 1991.
  6. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 1995.
  7. Kerr, Cathel, “Notice of the Excavation of a Chambered Cairn in the Parish of Farr, Sutherlandshire,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 26, 1892
  8. o’ Reilly, Kevin & Crockford, Ashley, What to See Around Bettyhill, privately printed 2009.
  9. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.
  10. Sutherland, George, Folk-lore Gleanings and Character Sketches from the Far North, John o’ Groats Journal: Wick 1937.
  11. Temperley, Alan, Tales of the North Coast, Research Publishing Company: London 1977.

Acknowledgments:  Huge thanks to Aisha again, for taking some of the photos – and adding your elegant spirit and energy to the place – as well as getting me up here in the first place!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Baile Mhargaite Cist (01), Bettyhill, Sutherland

Cist:  OS Grid Reference – NC 69908 61102

Getting Here

Get yourself to the Baile Mhargaite Enclosure 1 and walk less than 150 yards southeast.  Keep your eyes keenly peeled on the ground as you can easily miss this one!

Archaeology & History

One of Baile Mhargaite's cists

One of Baile Mhargaite’s cists

The only archaeological note I can find of this small singular prehistoric grave is in the Canmore entry, which is far from clear as to the position and situation of many sites hereby.  They described this small sand-filled grave (which they describe as ‘Cist b’) as being “on a gravel ridge and is oriented N-S. It measures 0.8m by 0.6m.”  That’s it!

Looking down on the tomb

Looking down on the tomb

But saying that, it is a small single little thing amidst a huge mass of material.  It may well have been covered by a larger cairn at an earlier date, as there are many such monuments on this elevated sandy plain and the slight surround of smaller stones at, and just beneath the surface may validate this.  It is also possible that this was the spot where “beaker fragments…found in a cist at Bettyhill” came from, but the archaeological records (Abercromby 1912; Mitchell 1934) are not accurate.  Two other cists close by are the other potential candidates!

References:

  1.  Abercromby, John, A Study of the Bronze Age Pottery of Britain and Ireland – volume 1, Clarendon: Oxford 1912.
  2. Mitchell, Margaret E.C., “A New Analysis of the Early Bronze Age BeakerPottery of Scotland,”in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 68, 1934.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Baile Mhargaite Enclosure 1, Bettyhill, Sutherland

Enclosure:  OS Grid Reference – NC 69843 61228

Also Known as:

  1. Bail Margait
  2. Margaret’s Town

Getting Here

Baile Mhargaite 1 enclosure, looking NW

Baile Mhargaite 1 enclosure, looking NW

Take the A836 road west out of Bettyhill, down the road and cross the river on the tiny bridge.  From here, go over the gate on the right-hand side of the road and follow the edge of the river towards the sea. Crossing the large extensive sands, you’ll reach a large sand and gravel rise ahead of you. Once on top of this natural feature, walk NNE for 550 yards (0.5km) until you reach one of many extensive sandy expanses in the grasses (and pass tons of archaeological remains as you walk!).  You’ll get there!

Archaeology & History

Arc of south, west & north walling

Arc of south, west & north walling

On this naturally raised sand-and-gravel platform at the edge of this beautiful sandy coastline in the far north of Scotland, walking in search of this particular enclosure, you’ll meander past a whole host of prehistoric sites and remains – some of which are plain to see, others hiding almost just above ground level, barely visible.  But if you’re an antiquarian or historian, this plateau is a minefield of forgotten history!

The site is shown on the 1878 Ordnance Survey map of the region as a “hut circle”, which it may well have been—but this is a large hut circle and was more probably a place where a large family would easily have lived.  When I visited the place the other week, there were no internal features visible.  It is a large ring of stones made up of thousands of small rocks whose walls are low and scattered, barely a foot above present ground-level in places, and barely two-feet at the very highest.  It has been greatly ruined or robbed of other architectural elements and an excavation is in order.  My initial evaluation is that this structure is at least Iron Age in origin.  In Angus Mackay’s (1906) venture here in the early 1900s, he suggested that this and the other “circular rings” were “cattle folds.”

Aerial view, looking straight down

Aerial view, looking straight down

Looking down from the broch above

Looking down from the broch above

The enclosure measures, from outer-edge to outer-edge of the walling, 16.5 yards (15.1m) east-west by 18 yards (16.5m) north-south, and has a circumference of roughly 52.5 yards (4mm); although an accurate measure of its circumference is hampered by the scatter of spoilage from the collapsed walls stretching outwards.  Only the western walled section remains in reasonably good condition.

Looking south, thru the enclosure

Looking south, thru the enclosure

Close by are many cairns, some of which are prehistoric.  A chambered cairn  on the same ridge less than 200 yards away, with another enclosure of the same type yards away, clearly shows that people have lived and used this raised section of land for thousands of years.  We know that people were still living here at the end of the 18th century which—for me at least—begs the question: what ancient traditions, customs and lore did these people know about, which may have dated back into truly ancient history?  …And then the english Clearances destroyed them…

References:

  1. Mackay, Angus, “Notes on a Slab with Incised Crescentic Design, Stone Mould for Casting Bronze Spear-Heads, a Cup-Marked Stone, Holy Water Stoup, and other Antiquities in Strathnaver, Sutherlandshire,” in Proceedings of the Society Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 40, 1906.
  2. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Fiscary (2), Farr, Sutherland

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 73112 62604

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 6445
  2. Carn Chaoile

Getting Here

A mile east of Bettyhill along the A836 road, watch out for the large piles of rocks up on the hill on your left (north).  Go through the gate, past the Fiscary 3 cairn and 150 yards northwest you’ll reach the crowning cairn on the hilltop itself – the Fiscary 2 cairn.

Archaeology & History

Fiscary 2 cairn, looking NW

Fiscary 2 cairn, looking NW

The second of the three giant chambered cairns on this moorland hillside is the largest (only just!) of them all.  Positioned right on top of the small hill, this great mass of rocks stands out from the roadside a quarter-mile to the south quite blatantly, yet it somehow evaded the eyes of the early Ordnance Survey lads in their visit here in 1873 (though the nearby Fiscary 3 cairn was plotted).  Odd…

Aisha against the size of the cairn

Aisha against the size of the cairn

When Aisha,  her clan and I came here a few weeks ago, Nature was in full gale at the time and half her clan returned after a short while, leaving us to get thrown about in the winds!  Even just trying to stand upright on this and its associated tomb proved difficult.  But despite this and the low grey clouds—typical of northern Scottish weather—it was obvious that the views from here would be superb, seeing far into the distance with a 360º view.  I have little doubt that other important prehistoric sites would be speaking with this giant neolithic cairn, but there is nothing in the archaeology accounts to help us on such matters.

The giant tomb is almost linked to its companion—Fiscary 1—by a low scatter of rocks running between them, with only a yard or two separating their disturbed masses.  Several archaeology students have posited that the two seemingly separate sites were, many thousands of years ago, perhaps one elongated chambered tomb, just like the ones found nearby at the Coille na borgie and Long Skelpick cairns; but it seems unlikely in this case…

Fiscary 2 Cairn, looking SE

Fiscary 2 Cairn, looking SE

Although Adam Gunn (1893) mentioned the “four large cairns” at Fiscally (the fourth and smallest is 262 yards to the west), the first real description I can find of the place comes from an article by a local man called Cathel Kerr (1892) who told us it was “about 220 feet in circumference, and 15 or 16 in height”; but most of his article dealt with his excavation into the adjacent Fiscary 1 tomb, which he noticed was connected by a stone platform that ran between the two sites.  This was the first mention of such a connecting platform—and a curious feature it is indeed.  When the Royal Commission lads came here in May 1909 they also noted this connecting platform.  They found that the cairn itself,

“does not appear to have been excavated.  It is circular with a diameter of about 52ft and is some 10ft high to the top of the modern pile of stones on its apex.  It presents a peculiar feature.  At the north end is clearly visible a broad platform of stones extending to a distance of 25ft from the base of the cairn and, though largely overgrown with turf, traceable by the outline of stones almost entirely around it.  This platform has been described as a neck connecting the two cairns (Fiscary 1 and 2, PB), but in reality it stops 7ft distant from the adjacent cairn.”

Henshall's ground-plan of Fiscally 1 & 2

Henshall’s ground-plan of Fiscally 1 & 2

Holding onto her hat at Fiscary 2

Holding onto her hat at Fiscary 2

Indeed, this “platform” seems to have been either deliberately constructed with the hilltop cairn positioned on top of it, or has been set around the tomb.  It’s difficult to say with any certainty.

The great Audrey Henshall (1963; 1995) wrote extensively about this ancient monument in her works, finalizing her site entry in The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland (1995).  After describing in some detail the archaeological association this site has with Fiscary 1, she turned her attention here and wrote:

“The larger south cairn (Fiscary 2, PB) is bare, steep-sided, and has been little disturbed.  The diameters are between 19.5 to 21.5m, and the height is 5.5m measured from the NW.  The edge is clear for about half of the circuit.  The surrounding platform is quite low and is partly covered with peat and deep heather which in places obscure the edge.  The platform varies in width from 4.8 to 7.3m.  On the SE side the cairn edge is clear and there is no sign of the platform.  It appears on the NE side where it is largely free of heather, and the cairn material merges into its stones.  This part of the platform is edged by a rough kerb which fades away westwards into the spread of stones which links the two cairns.  In the area between the cairns the stones are mainly covered by peat on which grow turf and heather.  The spread of stones appears to be thin, but on the NW side of the cairn, where there is evidently a drop in ground level, breaks in the peat cover show that here the stone spread has considerable depth.  Round the W side the platform is heather-covered, and along the SW part, where the hill drops away steeply, there is a rough kerb at a lower level than elsewhere, within which the surface of the platform rises to the base of the cairn.  The S end of the platform, which here is bare stones, seems to turn sharply towards the S edge of the cairn, though the actual edge of the platform is indefinite.”

The likelihood is that this cairn is the oldest of the cluster of three found here, most likely constructed in the neolithic period.  Its position in the landscape would indicate that the site would have been built to commemorate the spirit of a local tribal elder, a King or Queen.  It’s a superb site and I’ll be visiting it again very soon indeed!

Folklore

Bouncy faery-esque sprite rushes by

Bouncy faery-esque sprite rushes by

Otta Swire (1963) not only told that this landscape was once peopled by giants who made the land and played a part in the creation of some of the giant tombs around here.  The one time local school-teacher at Bettyhill, Alan Temperley (1977), also told us that the fairy folk lived close to the giant tombs of Fiscary.

References:

  1. Gourley, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
  2. Gunn, Adam & Mackay, John, Sutherland and the Reay Country, John Mackay: Glasgow 1893.
  3. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 1, Edinburgh University Press 1963.
  4. Henshall, Audrey S., “The Distant Past,” in The Sutherland Book (edited by Donald Omand), Northern Times: Golspie 1991.
  5. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 1995.
  6. Kerr, Cathel, “Notice of the Excavation of a Chambered Cairn in the Parish of Farr, Sutherlandshire,” in Proceedings Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume 26, 1892
  7. o’ Reilly, Kevin & Crockford, Ashley, What to See Around Bettyhill, privately printed 2009.
  8. Sutherland, George, Folk-lore Gleanings and Character Sketches from the Far North, John o’ Groats Journal: Wick 1937.
  9. Temperley, Alan, Tales of the North Coast, Research Publishing Company: London 1977.

AcknowledgmentsTo Aisha Domleo, for her images, bounce, spirit and madness – as well as getting me up to see this cluster of sites. 

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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Fiscary (3), Farr, Sutherland

Chambered Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NC 73222 62484

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 6446
  2. Pict’s House

Getting Here

Fiscary 3 giant cairn, looking west

Fiscary 3 giant cairn, looking west

Along the A836 road from Bettyhill to Thurso, a mile east of the village keep your eyes peeled to your left (or to the right if you’re coming the other way!), looking north, and you’ll see some very large piles of stones a few hundred yards away. Go through the gate onto the rough grasslands and the first one you reach is the cairn in question. Y’ can’t miss it!

Archaeology & History

On 1878 OS-map as Picts House

On 1878 OS-map as Picts House

This is the third and southernmost of the three giant chambered cairns on this moorland hillside and is the second largest of the trio.  Curiously it was the only one highlighted by the Ordnance Survey lads in their cartographic analysis here in 1873 — they somehow missed the others.  But a few years later when the Royal Commission (1911) doods got their noses up here, they said that this,

“which is the most easterly, is circular in form, is about 68ft in diameter, and 15ft 6in to the apex, on which a small pile of stones has recently been erected.  The cairn does not appear to have been excavated, but the stones in several places have been pulled out, probably in attempts to discover the chambers or in pursuit of rabbits.”

Looking into its centre

Looking into its centre

Long stone at southern edge

Long stone at southern edge

Considering the size of this giant cairn and its close association with is neighbours 150 yards northwest, I’m surprised at the lack of attention it’s been given.  Within the collapse of stones on its southern-side we find an elongated stone which seems to have stood upright at some point in the past, either at the very edge of the cairn, or just inside it.  It may even have been a covering stone to a collapsed entrance, but without an excavation we’re not gonna know for certain.

The fact that this cairn is on the slopes south of the crowning cairns of Fiscary 1 and Fiscary 2 implies that this was built some centuries later than them.  Also notable here is that the view to the north is blocked and we are instead only looking across a panorama east, south and west.

Folklore

Looking across into the east

Looking across into the east

Local tradition told that this was a Pict’s house (it may well have been) and is shown as such on the first Ordnance Survey account of the region in 1878.  Otta Swire (1963) told that this landscape was once peopled by giants who made the land and played a part in the creation of some of the giant tombs around here.  One time local school-teacher at Bettyhill, Alan Temperley (1977) also told us how the fairy folk lived close to the giant tombs of Fiscary.

References:

  1. Gourley, Robert, Sutherland: An Archaeological Guide, Birlinn: Edinburgh 1996.
  2. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Tombs of Scotland – volume 1, Edinburgh University Press 1963.
  3. Henshall, Audrey S., “The Distant Past,” in The Sutherland Book (edited by Donald Omand), Northern Times: Golspie 1991.
  4. Henshall, Audrey S., The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland, Edinburgh University Press 1995.
  5. o’ Reilly, Kevin & Crockford, Ashley, What to See Around Bettyhill, privately printed 2009.
  6. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Second report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Sutherland. HMSO: Edinburgh 1911.
  7. Sutherland, George, Folk-lore Gleanings and Character Sketches from the Far North, John o’ Groats Journal: Wick 1937.
  8. Temperley, Alan, Tales of the North Coast, Research Publishing Company: London 1977.

AcknowledgmentsHUGE thanks to Aisha Domleo and her clan for getting me up here.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

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