Standing Stones: OS Grid Reference – NM 8405 0403
Also Known as:
Roughly halfway between the staggering standing stone at Kintraw and the farmhouse of Salachary a coupla miles east along the A816 road to Kilmartin, a small overgrown car park nearly hides on the south-side of the road, just below the forestry. 50 yards west of this, a small track winds uphill. 650 yards (0.6km) up here, once it levels out, a hairpin in the track veers NW; ignore it, instead walking into the marshy grass in front of you (south) for 50-60 yards up and round the small rocky crag. Once you get round the edge of this, immediately east, you’ll see one of the tall monoliths 50 yards ahead of you.
Archaeology & History
Rediscovered in recent times by Marion Campbell (1962), this damaged row of three tall standing stones is cited in Swarbrick’s (2012) poorly-arranged survey as being “difficult to find in broken ground”; although patience brings the stones clearly into sight for any explorer. They’re big too! Sadly only one of them still remains fully upright—but that one’s nearly 9 feet tall!
In Miss Campbell’s initial description of the site, following their rediscovery, she told how,
“A chance sighting led to the discovery of a group of three monoliths, one erect, one sloping and one prostrate, on the West side of a wide glen leading S from the upper part of the Bealach Mor; the site commands a fine view into the northern hills. The spot is about 550ft above sea level and this is therefore the highest group of standing stones so far recorded in the area.
“The erect stone is 8ft 4in x 2ft x 1 ft, lozenge-shaped in section, with a pointed top. The leaning stone, also lozenge-shaped, is 10ft x 1ft 8in x 1ft, and pointed. The fallen stone is over 11ft x 2ft wide, too deeply buried in turf for the thickness to he measured. The stones appear to have stood in line, the nearest points of the first and third stones 9ft apart and the line joining them running north and south. Along a ridge running S behind the stones are a number of small ruins, oval and rectangular, in old cultivations. No surviving placename has been recovered for the site so far.”
Indeed, no subsequent investigation has led to either an early name nor any traditions about the site, and the stones cannot be found on any early maps of the area. A pity, as they’re quite impressive stones and would have had some old stories known of them in ages gone by.
Twenty years after Miss Campbell’s discovery, in May 1982, the stones were visited and surveyed by the Royal Commission lads. Their description very much tallied with Miss Campbell’s, but it’s worth citing anyway. They told us that:
“On a terrace on the W side of an unnamed valley to the S of Bealach Mor and about 850m SW of Salachary, there is a setting of three large standing stones which is aligned from N to S. Only the N stone is still upright; it measures 0.7m by 0.72m at the base and rises with straight sides to a pointed top at a height of 2.75m. The central stone is of similar proportions, but it now leans to the NE at an angle of about 15° to the horizontal. The S stone, which measures 3.4m by 0.65m has fallen with its top to the SE.”
Around the same time, Clive Ruggles (1984) assessed the Salachary stones for any potential astronomical alignments and found—as Alexander Thom & Aubrey Burl did in their own survey (1990)—that as they pointed virtually north-south they stood beyond any solar or lunar functions. Thom found the stones align almost perfectly north-south, with a notch in the southern horizon at 178°, and on the northern horizon the hilltop of Meall Reamhar at 2° west of north. This northern line may relate to the airt of death, although no other immediate archaeological remains have been found to fortify this idea (however, other unrecorded standing stones are close by and their relationship with Salachary has yet to be adequately assessed).
Aubrey Burl’s first description of this stone row told us:
“There are three stones in a N-S row situated on a terrace on the W side of a glen. The N stone, with a pointed top, stands 8ft 4 (2.5m) high. The central stone leans dramatically at 20°. It is 10ft (3m) in length. The S stone is prostrate and half-buried. It is 11ft (3.4m) long. The row is about 13ft (4m) long. From the site there is a fine view of the northern hills.”
In truth, the main north-south axis relates to the more open geological avenue of the landscape. Both the east and west are all but blocked by crags and hills, and the stones seem to have been positioned to echo the hollowed section of the landscape. The land runs in curious geological folds and has a distinct genius loci which I enjoyed in differing (usually wet) conditions when I used to live nearby. The site is well worth a walkabout if you’re in the area – and there are more unrecorded stones still hiding in Nature’s rocky folds nearby.
- Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
- Campbell, M. & Sandeman, M., “Mid Argyll: An Archaeological Survey,” in Proceedings Society Antiquaries Scotland, volume 95, 1964.
- Campbell, Marian, ‘Salachary, Kintraw’, in Discovery & Excavation Scotland, 1962.
- Ferguson, Lesley, “A Catalogue of the Alexander Thom Archive Held in the National Monuments Record of Scotland,” in Records in Stone (ed. C. Ruggles), Cambridge University Press 1988.
- Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Argyll – volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, HMSO: Edinburgh 1988.
- Ruggles, Clive L.N., Megalithic Astronomy, BAR: Oxford 1984.
- Ruggles, Clive L.N., “The Stone Alignments of Argyll,” in Records in Stone (ed. C. Ruggles), Cambridge University Press 1988.
- Swarbrick, Olaf, A Gazetteer of Prehistoric Standing Stones in Great Britain, BAR: Oxford 2012.
- Thom, A., Thom, A.S. & Burl, Aubrey, Stone Rows and Standing Stones – volume 1, BAR: Oxford 1990.
- Weston, Garth, Monuments and Mountains, Ashridge: Bakewell 2007.
Acknowledgements: This site profile could not have been written without the help and of Nina Harris, Paul Hornby, Frank Mercer and Belinda Sales.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian