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Meallach's Grave... Notes in Great Weather... July 15 2014.
Decided to take a wee walk in the forestry at Dyemill before dining at Lamlash, just to put a keen edge on the appetite. We had no intention of climbing all the way up to visit on old Meallach but had a couple of sunny hours to kill and had decided to wander the forest paths by the burns on the lower slopes of The Urie.
I had visited Meallach's Grave twenty four years ago and had been massively underwhelmed by its midge-ridden forestry confinement. I kinda like a view when I climb a hill - call me old fashioned - and there hadn't been exactly a lot of stonework to see back then. It was more than my dinner was worth to even suggest taking a look in on Meallach and the stumps of his cairn...
As we walked along the pleasant forestry paths admiring the splashing burns, waterfalls and deep pools, we wound gently up through the trees and out into the the open sunshine. The entire side of The Urie had been given a right good scrogging - all the trees were gone!
The footpath then joined a well-metalled forest road which made very easy walking to the crest of the hill at Creagan Nan Coileach. We turned to head back down and a little footbridge beckoned us to walk down the opposite side of the burn we'd walked up on. A little signpost suggested a short walk to Meallach's Grave. I held up my hands - I hadn't planned on a site visit. My OH and wee HD let me know in a wordless kind of way that I would be visiting Meallach on my own and that they would see me back at the car.
The climb up from the main path took five minutes. Easy walking. Lovely open hillside, breezy, no midges. As I climbed up to the terrace with Meallach's Grave I noticed a number of North Arran Peaks come into view over the long back of A' Chruach - just as I reached the site.
What a site. What a sight! What a change! What a difference clearing off the Forestry has made to this site. The views are (of course) stunning, but the placing of the cairn in its particular position makes so much sense. With the forestry gone you can even see the curve of the portal on the South side of the cairn some distance from the stones. A green line of buried mossy stones curving off in a gentle arc. The chambers were a bit clearer too - they had been full of heather and bracken when I last visited. Clearing the forestry and removing the forest debris from the site has opened it right up. I headed back down to the car with a real spring in my step.
Meallach's Grave is right up there with Giants Graves in Arran's Chambered Cairns. Meallach is a big league hitter now. These places never made much sense when they were cloaked in forestry and made kinda devoid of context. The trimming of shrubbery on many of Arran's hillsides continues. Cannae come quick enough I say. Brazilians all round.
Back To The Old House
Back over on Arran and back in the old cottage at Merkland.
Left the OH and the Young Digger knocking balls around Bilsland's Crazy Golf on the front at Brodick. I coaxed Old Piney into fourth gear and trundled out past Cladach and the stinky old harbour below Brodick Castle. Two seals were basking out on the rocks at Merkland Point. Piney reversed into the the layby/ boat ramp almost by herself and even thoughtfully stalled as soon as she was tucked in position.
I'd had a fair old struggle locating this cist until a few years back and I've still never seen any sign of anyone else having visited the place. It is incredibly close to the road and I decided to time myself getting to the cist from closing the car door.
The old Merkland cart track which also serves as a part-time burn was even more overgrown than last year (and the year before). Long trailing Brambles and sprouting Hogweed conspired with ankle deep slimy mud and curtains of Willow to obstruct my progress. But only 2 minutes and 45 seconds after slamming the car door shut and setting out, I was gazing down at the mossy old cist of Merkland Wood. I heard two cyclists on the road chatting as they pedalled by (this site is THAT close to the road).
The moss looked deeper than before, with little seedlings of the Willow and Rhododendron sprouting on the thick, moist green carpet on the capstone. The erosion below the cist (just above the burn) has slightly worsened but the earth and bank immediately around the cist seem fairly well consolidated.
The deep undergrowth does mean a very high midge count even during the hottest and sunniest of days. After a few minutes taking in the quiet of this site I'd fired off enough photos and lost enough blood to the skeeters - I fled and staggered back down through the mud and thorns.
Old Piney grumbled into fourth gear and trundled the couple of miles back into Brodick. Young Digger and his mum were only on the 10th hole. I'd been away for a bit less than 30 minutes - but they weren't your regular minutes I don't think.
This is a difficult walk in whatever point you start from and these particular Galloway Hills are an unforgiving bunch. Our route took us in from the car park at Kirriereoch, a good march into the hinterland on former forestry tracks, then out onto the great long whaleback of Kirriereoch Hill via a series of ever diminishing and deteriorating sheep paths. About 1800 feet up Kirriereoch a tremendous stone wall begins. The stones are enormous. We saw one which was the size of a small car. Story says the wall was meant to delineate the old Ayrshire - Galloway county border and the wall appears to be of some great age. After the superhuman effort put into its construction it is a pity so few people have ever seen it. After topping Kirriereoch Hill we took a steep descent following a much smaller wall which wound us down 1500 feet to the tiny lochan of Loch Twachtan (careful now!). Twachtan's population of trout have been completely isolated since the last Ice Age by a few steep waterfalls.
Time limits meant we only had twenty minutes to catch the allotted number of specimens for a Fishery Research Project we've bneen involvved in for a number of years. We hit the fishy target at 19 minutes paused for breath, a five minute breather, a sandwich and some juice. Then with our work done we pressed on to the social part of the journey, we were going to visit on The Grey Man of Merrick.
Progress across the morass between Twachtan, Munshalloch and the Howe of The Cauldron was very slow. Legs plunged deep into peat bog and despite clinging to the winding stone wall for guidance, low cloud sometime erased all views, the weather closed in and at times we thought we were past the crag we wanted to see. But we needed to hit Loch Enoch first. Loch Enoch had its own distinctive and unique family of trout until the end of the 19th Century when Victorian-Era Acid Rain killed the loch (and many other Galloway Lochs). This loch was restocked over the latter half of the 20th Century and has recovered well.
After edging round the shining gravel shores of Enoch we hit another wall and struck off towards the Grey Man. After a few hundred yards we took the small path off to the right and our target drew into sight.
The Grey Man is a spectacular feature. It works from both sides and its scale is spectacular. Return took us down past Loch Neldricken and Loch Valley to Loch Trool and the second car. Oops did I mention you'd need to do a 2-car job to take this one in? You don't actually need to... but it is advisable. Good luck y'all!
Grey Weather at Calla
This site has long intrigued me. A broch... here in the dark badlands of South Lanarkshire? Well... why not? After all... on my short twenty minute journey to the site of Calla Broch I drove past a henge, a Norman Motte, the oldest roofed building in Scotland, the late Upper Paleolithic site at Howburn, an important roman crossroads, a roman fortlet and a field with two emus in it.
The broch site is just that... just a site, A stump.. but it is a beautifully elevated platform with stunning views to Tinto, Quothquan Law and within sight of the massive roman complex at Castledykes by Ravenstruther. It is thought that the legions had a hand in bringing this mighty structure crashing down at the end of the first century.
The broch was known locally as "the quarry" for centuries and has provided the drystane dykes for many of the fields here. The site itself has intact walling most of the way round, but it is just well concealed under turf, deep undergrowth and fallen trees.
A quiet site with little to catch your eye. There are some large blocks of worked and hewn masonry scattered at the edge of the platform and here and there where you can find the curtain wall's edge, it is robust and stands quite a few courses in height.
The site has never really been excavated. Chatting with a local archaeologist about it a few years back, he described the broch as having been toppled into itself. The resultant heap was then quarried over centuries and then the area around the broch heap was planted with conifers and Beech. Many of these old trees have blown down around the edges of the broch platform and remain uncleared. It would take an army to clear this place in order to let any excavation take place. A very limited dig some years ago uncovered a couple of pieces of cannel coal.
High Auchenlarie - October 2012 - Notes in Grey Weather.
Three days and nights of unrelenting rain have rendered what is normally a well-drained, steeply-sloping pleasant field of springy upland pasture into a flowing quagmire of muddy goo. My climbing boots skite left and right as I clamber up like a novice ice-skater. The possible "cairn" lies uphill, in the top right corner of the first field above High Auchenlarie Farm (best park at the wide point below the farm road-end where the Auchenlarie Burn flows under the Laggan Outdoor Centre B-road). Follow the track up from the minor road and turn left through a metal gate just before the farm.
The “cairn” is disappointing, being formed of a number of large slabs and boulders dumped on top of a low mound of smaller stones. It is not quite a metre high now. The whole thing looks exactly like a low pile of field clearance and the fields around here are full of such field clearance cairns – some much larger. The views down over the roofs of the static caravans at Mossyard and out over Fleet Bay to Wigtown Bay and beyond are spectacular. The view hung like an apocalyptic storm-scene as painted by a depressed Turner, nursing the mother of all hangovers. I have seen this site in beautiful summer and autumn weathers many times and the views out to the Isle of Man are spectacular. The walk over from Cambret over Cairnharrow and Barholm Hill via Cauldside takes in a few sites well off the track and worth of a few hours stiff walking. Half a mile or so above the disputed cairn in unimproved hill-sheep land is a spectacular cairn, quite undisturbed and standing over 10 feet high proud and confident of what it is. Not this place though. Without excavation I think it must remain a site of disputed antiquity – albeit one surrounded by authentic sites and with an outlook worthy of Galloway’s best.
The cup and ring marked outcrop 15 yards SW is well turfed up and once the deluge started again I quit and slithered back down the hill to my car. I'll take my trowel the next dry day I am up there!
It was my OH who picked this summer's Arran holiday cottage deep in the heart of the Merkland Wood. My preliminary researches confirmed my suspicions - the cist I had unsuccessfully sought in previous years lay somewhere within the cottage's grounds. Last July I had spent a frustrating couple of hours getting eaten alive by midges and cut and scratched by bracken and rhododendron as I tried to find the cist said by the antiquarians to be "situated on a small eminence" above a burn and described by the OS to be "poorly preserved".
I parked in the small tarmacked boat ramp and crossed the road to the trackway leading up to 2 cottages at Maol Don. Do not go up this track, instead enter the rhododendron jungle to the left of the cottage track but to the right of the roadside stone wall.
I found a vestigal path which sort of becomes a burn. To the left rises the "small eminence". This "small eminence" turns out to be a thirty foot cliff whose top is swathed in head-high bracken and rampant rhododendron. As I clambered up the steep crumbling bank I found myself gazing into a dark hole surrounded by mossy stones. I knew I was right on the money. Badger activity six feet below this cist has left it in a bit of a precarious position. This cist is not poorly preserved - indeed it is in great nick - and sits jutting out of the sloping bank above the burn just just below the flat top of the "eminence". In previous attempts to find this cist I'd been stumbling around on the eminence's "summit top" among the tick-laden, midge-ridden ferns and shrubs.The landowner's attempts to hack back the invasive rhododendron has left many ankle breakers and stumps which are real trip hazards in the deep undergrowth. But you don't need to go there & if you find yourself up there amongst the bracken you have passed the cist.
The cist is complete, the mossed-over capstone is in place, the four side slabs sit vertical and in position. This cist's dimensions are a bit larger than those described on Canmore, so a part of me wonders if this is the same cist. There are no photographs or sketches of the Merkland cist described on Canmore (or in Balfour's Book of Arran Vol 1)) to work from, but I am presuming it has to be the same one. This is a very quiet, deep woodland setting for a cist in a fine state of preservation. I stood brushing off midges with the slanting bars of evening sun transforming the wood into a tropical rainforest of rhododendron blooms, green ferns and deep moss with tall natural Scots Pines forming a scented canopy. I got the impression that no-one had visited in a very long time. A very cool resting place.
After a Sea-Trout commando expedition myself and Sam Spade dropped in on Gatehouse of Fleet en route home. We parked outside the house which posed as "The Green Man" pub in The Wicker Man and strolled out through the town to the Borland Hills. Some very perky stirks just out into pasture from the long delayed Spring meant an abrupt retreat from the area of Rutherford's Witnesses before we could locate the Rock Feature.
Time was pressing upon us to return home but we figured we had half an hour left so I suggested we have a wee search for some of the Lagganmullan panels. We drove quickly out towards Skyreburn and parked at a little pull in on the Glenquickan Road. The fields were full of Ewes and lambs and our presence soon had literally hundreds of the things scuttling away through the connecting field gates, baaahing and bleating as they rushed up towards the farthest field at Lagganmullan Wood.
The field I wanted to check out for rock art was mercifully free of livestock (I am continually beset by livestock issues on my stone forays) and after wandering hoplessly up to the top field wall, I could see no slabs or rocks protruding from the surface of the smooth turf. In desperation I grabbed a handful of turf and tried to peel it back - it came away and revealed a beautiful pair of cups and rings. Sam Spade nearly fell over in surprise and amazement. I was pretty gobsmacked to have fluked it in such a random way too! We found another part of the panel by peeling some more easy turf back. A good soaking with some water & some photos before replacing the turf then we headed up to the top field where I wanted to check out a group of stones on a small hillock which had caught my eye on visits to the area last Autumn and at Easter this year. See if you can spot them here (a few of the blobs are trees).
The Ewes and lambs which had fled from us when we entered the first field were now crowded around the stones on the hillock. I didn't want to further disturb the livestock and incur the wrath of the farmer who was now approaching on his quad, so we just photographed them from a few hundred yards away. From the air, the stones form a rough triangle. Field clearance? Modern/ Victorian Folly? Messed up ancient site? Who knows... its not on Canmore and I'll have to wait for another few weeks till I'm back in the area to get a proper look at the arrangement. Failing that... I'm back down for another week at Borland in October.... The lambs will have gone off to market and the Ewes will be off the hills by then...
Visited Monday 26th September 2011
I've been spotting this circle since the mid 1980's when I used to travel down to England on Citylink coaches. Later, when I got my car and was heading down the M6, I always saw it at the last minute as I hurtled towards some much needed comfort stop at Shap Services. Gunnerkeld - often seen and never visited. So it was again on Friday 23 September 2011 as we headed down to North Wales, battering over Shap with our first stop already decided as "the first Gwasanaethau on the A55" - so Gunnerkeld would still have to wait. I caught a fleeting glimpse of the site in the morning sunshine as we passed heading South for Pwllheli and I made a note to stop off on our leisurely return on Monday.
The leisurely return trip on Monday was thwarted by a bad crash on the M6 at Junction 31-32 near Preston during the afternoon. It took us five hours to move ten miles during which our missed lunch turned into tea-time. My OH and junior were both starving by the time we got through the carnage of the accident (it looked awful) and with the promise of some fast food and a wee scenic rest, they held their fast until we hit the burger joint at Tebay. We all rammed burgers and fries into our faces while I manouvered us off at Junction 39, rolled up the minor road and parked up. We'd been on the road for nine hours.
I was truly bowled over by this site. Maybe after the carnage of the journey North I needed to relax, maybe it was the hunger, maybe it was the Cumbrian evening sunshine, maybe it was actually stopping at this old friend whom I've looked at for more than half my lifetime (but never stopped and passed the time with). Who knows, but the place is a delight. Someone here has pointed out the similarity to Croft Mhoraig - it does have a similar feel. I loved the toothy, stumpiness of the place, the odd angles. It reminded me of a busted molar tooth with various bits split off and jutting up. Oddly perhaps, I loved the fact that the Southbound carraigeway of the M6 was so close. It made the stones feel alive and at the heart of things, even though they all do look a bit worse for wear. I could have sat all evening, sipping my regular drink and picking at juniors left over fries, watching the traffic and the sun sinking to the West over the peaks. The field was empty of livestock but some sheep thoughtfully baa'd in the next field over, completing the whole Cumbrian Gunnerkeld experience thing.
However, the car wasn't gonna drive itself to South Lanarkshire and there was still around 150 miles till home. The clock was ticking with school and work to get up for on Tuesday. We headed back to the car, back to the M6 and headed North for home. A great site. Roof of Cumbria. Shap. Great. I'll be stopping here again.
Barharrow Seven and Eight - Saturday 17 September 2011
Barharrow 1-8 is a collection of rock art panels first discovered in 1995. The outcrops form a rough trapezoid shape, whose points extend into fields on either side of a minor road near Twynholm. Canmap helps a lot.
You'll want to get yourself here. All the panels are within this frame.
A phone call late last Thursday brought myself and junior down to stay Friday night with holidaying friends a couple of miles from Barharrow.
I rose early today (Sat 17th September 2011) and was joined by General S as we squelched through foot deep mud in search of Barharrow 8. It was easy to find, visible from the road and at the end of a hundred yard long submarine shaped hillock at the road-side of the field.
(Here it is on Google Streetview the little outcrop just to the right of the yellow gorse is the one)
The hillock has many rocky outcrops and exposed faces. The little crag at the end is where you want to head once you navigate the fence and quite a meaty bit of rock art it is too. The lichen (yellow and white) encrusted rock has very deep motifs. A central cup has seven maybe eight deep curving channels radiating out (a bit like a spider shape). There were another couple of likely looking cups on the rock which connected with the radiating lines. A real chunky motif!
The field was also home to twenty five black Galloway bullocks and once they'd spotted us they came trotting over - we nipped smartly to the fence and got over while the bullocks were still plopping through the mud!
Barharrow 7 was next, back across the road, up the little access to the field and through the gate. You pass a couple of little old quarries which have been used for dumping rubble and old bits of corrugated iron in. Keep going. We were looking for the gate in the drystane dyke on our right. When we peered over there was a massive Charolais bull standing right where I wanted to go. After about a quarter of an hour's waving and distracting we got the monster with the horns and nose-ring to wander off along the edge of the fielddyke till it was far enough down for me to venture in, while General S stood on the dyke keeping watch. I'd had a brief visit to the panel a few months back but had no time to tarry then.
The panel is a beauty. Exquisite. A real treasure. A spiral - at least a foot across - sitting at the base of a gorse bush, staring at your face. If you check out Canmore the directions are quite clear. Just do the paces and look for the prominent outcrop (on the left of an old causeway...). It was a beautiful still Autumn morning and just a perfect day to see this panel. There is something about a spiral... and this one really is a lovely piece of work.
The delay with the bull meant Barharrow 1-6 will have to wait for a week's holiday in Gatehouse of Fleet mid October. My camera also had a malfunction and my pictures came out a bit blurry, however I also used the camera of General S, but as he's still down by Twynholm it'll be a few days before I can post them here.
Somebody once wrote that "the past is another country". It's not of course! The past is the same country but it was just a while ago. Different times.
Been a few years now since me and Mrs HD climbed Auchterhouse Hill. She grew up at the bottom of the hill but the last of her family passed away a few years back and we no longer have anywhere to stop up here. However, delights like the Sidlaws keep boomeranging back into the mind and while on a wee holiday in Blairgowrie this week we decided to return via Auchterhouse and stretch our legs.
(Turn off the Newtyle Road for Kirkton of Auchterhouse, head past the phonebox and make your way up the long straight of Auchterhouse Brae. Keep going straight on till the houses run out and you come to a gate beside a forestry plantation on your right. Go through and follow the path. The hillfort summit is the one with trees on it.)
The walk up the actual hill is a leg-stretcher but only for about twenty minutes. The path is very good. Watch out for doggy-dirt on the first few hundred yards as locals walk their hounds here. Indeed, on a number of occasions in the early/ mid 1990's we met Dundee legend and Whippet-lover, the late great Mr MacKenzie walking his dugs here. The past eh? It's a different time zone...
The evolving views are massive. Far to the West the great pyramid of Schiehallion stands clear and proud. There is a panorama which takes in the Vale of Strathmore, the Highland Massif, Fife and the mighty Tay Estuary. We even picked out the spine of the Pentlands showing between the Lomond Hills in Fife (I'll bet Tinto might even be seen on a clearer day).
The hillfort's ramparts and ditches are still pretty intact, despite being in an area planted with a little forestry. At some places there were five ramparts and ditches. The deepest being about six feet from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the rampart. The defences around the North and West are fairly sheer natural rocky crags. Someone had placed some flowers on the remains of a cairn in the centre of the fort.
We were back down at the car in twenty minutes. A great wee climb and a welcome opportunity for us to visit the past, but in the present. Our nine and three-quarter year old had never been up before and he practically ran it up and down! Do this one if you are in the area, if its a nice day - take a picnic and take your time.
Site visit 25 July 2011.
I parked in the lay-by 100 yards South-East of Carlsuith Castle on the A75. It was 6.30 am and I'd decided to rise early and get this done before breakfast. I was in need of some fresh air and a walk to shake off the night before - I'd had a few jars at the Ellangowan Hotel in Creetown (that's the pub/ hotel in The Wicker Man for any fans out there).
I headed up through Birk's Wood roughshod until I hit a wee path which took me to the right. I had to cross a wee burn and climb a dyke and fence at the edge of the wood before making my way up the edge of a field to the track which takes you up to the fort.
There is a stone standing on a wee knoll at the edge of the wood in the corner of the field. Unrecorded - but it's there. Nice shape and 1m high. The track up to the fort is very good. Ten minutes easy walking to the fort. The view is pretty spectacular. The Isle of Man with Snaefell and its neighbours loomed up out of a hazy Solway. Across the bay Wigtown and Garlieston lay snoozing. Early morning ferry traffic headed along the A75 to Stranraer far below.
The final approach to the fort is through a very narrow defile with sheer rock faces on either side. Then through a little metal gate and you are there. The fort itself is really a steep hill with rocky cliffs protecting three sides and a steep basnk on the other. Little of any ramparts are left, just the odd bit of banking and the faint trace of a ditch on the North and North-East side. There is a large stone set at one side of the entrance like a doorstop.
Don't visit here for impressive ditches or intact drystane ramparts. They simply aren't here. The defences seem to have been mostly natural cliffs augmented by man on the vulnerable North side of the fort. Little of the hand of man remains here. But do visit this site for the panorama. The fort is only about 600 feet up but it's like the top of the world!
Site visit 25.7.11
The car thermometer showed 26 degrees as we swung out of our base at Castlecary. Car windows wound down on the twenty minute run up to the masts on Cambret Hill. We parked by the masts and started down the hill at a good pace. A neat quad track took us most of the way down. It had been eight years since I last visited the site but I felt sure I could walk directly to the stone.
The walk down with my OH, our nine and a half year old and his best pal was quick but the sun was pretty merciless. We made a quick stop by the "cist-slab" rock to reapply some sun block.
After a quick map check I re-aligned us all and sent the kids ahead to find the marked rock in an area I pointed out. They found it straight off! I'd brought down a 2 litre bottle of water to wet the rock and photograph it better - but we had to drink the water! The glaring sun made my photos a bit indistinct and glared out!
The cairn across the burn looked massive and inviting but it was so hot that we had to get everyone back to the car ASAP.
The return trek up the hill was not so pleasant or so quick. A few cleg bites between us (I also pulled a deer tick out of my ankle later that night) and a toiling climb under an unforgiving sun. Ice creams and cold fizzy drinks at Gatehouse of Fleet soon sorted us out!
This is an easy stone to visit if you are in the area. Once in Gatehouse go down Church Street (directly opposite the Granite clock tower in the High Street). Stay on this street as it passes through rows of very sweet little white Gallovidian cottages and Church Street becomes Memory Lane (honest). Follow Memory Lane till the houses run out and a cemetery comes into view. Drive past the cemetery and park at the little parking bay just beyond. About a hundred yards into the field immediately beyond the parking bay is the stone . There is a good wee swing gate for access.
Today there were no jumpy stirks, nervous bulls, Belted Galloways or even a Texel sheep in the field. This lone four foot stone stood baking in 26 degrees of blazing Galloway sunshine. It is highly weathered and has suffered a fair old bit of cattle rubbing which reveals some surprising profiles.
It appeared on the 1854 OS sheets but is thought by some to have been fairly recently erected. At a point in the recent past it might well have been in a horizontal position on the ground for there are plough scars visible on one side of the stone.
A few hundred yards to the South West lies a barrow cemetery. A hundred yards to the North West (in the next field) is a wee roman fortlet - as yet the most westernly known node on the Flavian road system in Galloway. There is a settlement in the woods beyond the parking bays. A lot of history here and hereabouts but whether this standing stone is an ancient one or not is uncertain. Far above, the masts on Cambret Hill gaze down and say nowt!
This four poster lies at approximately the same elevation as Allt Cul Corriehiam but at a few hundred metres further East across the hill. You will find it at roughly the point where the broad level tongue starts to drop away. Again one stone lies fallen in the long grass. This four poster is a little smaller than Allt Cul Corriehiam and sits in a slight hollow and a few yards to the South in deep bracken sit two more stones in some kind of setting.
Despite being way out in the open air, I found the site felt quite enclosed and that it had less of the ambience and open-skied vibe of Allt Cul Corriehiam. Perhaps it was because the site perches above a narrow river valley with the steep sides of Burican Hill on the other side of the water. But somehow it felt less like a stone circle and more like a grave, with its two larger stones marking the head and feet.
As I stood up from crouching down to take a picture, a Merlin flew past me at waist height less than five feet away. I was nearly blown off my feet in surprise, but steadied myself and stood grinning like a fool as I watched it fly at breakneck speed down the hillside. I never find my time is ever wasted heading out to sites like these, even if the stones aren't the greatest, Nature often steps in and gives you a wee treat. Particularly on Arran.
Beyond the Teanga Burican
I was surprised just how short and easy this walk was and just how fruitful the journey was to become with a wonderful array of sites ranged across the gentle lower slopes of Tormusk. They were only discovered in the late 1990's and they include three four-posters, numerous cairns, cists, stone alignments and standing stones spread across the hillside's lower slopes. I strongly advise plotting the sites carefully on an Explorer Series OS map from the Canmore site beforehand. A few feet of peat has been laid down since the sites were constructed, add to that a further two or three feet of growing heather, bracken, grass and reeds which conspire to conceal everything… but that is half the fun – seeing these ghostly, forgotten sites emerge from the undergrowth in front of your eyes! For those who enjoy bird spotting I saw seven different birds of prey (White-tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle, Kestrel, Buzzard, Hen Harrier, Sparrow Hawk, Merlin and Tawny Owl) in the leisurely hour and a half the walk took around this group of sites.
Directions - drive from Lamlash along the unclassified Ross Road two and a half kilometres beyond the Buddhist Retreat Centre. Park at the layby by the green sign marking the footpath to Shiskine. Or if coming in from Sliddery drive ½ km past Glenree Farm and park in the same layby. Take the Shiskine footpath and follow for ¾ km till it joins another path. Follow this path up the little wooded river valley. There is a fence on your right hand side. Descend to the ford (if the ford, riverbanks and riverbed is of red sandstone bedrock you are in the wrong place - return to the main path and follow it further upstream for 300m to the next ford). The path becomes a fine quad track. You will pass what appear to be three large capstones lying by the path. You will then find yourself passing through a gap in a large drystane and turf structure. This is the Teanga Burican and marks the beginning of the surprises! It might seem like the *rse-end of nowhere but this really is the beginning of everywhere – you just have to look carefully!
Standing on top of the Teanga Burican you can easily see a prominent standing stone on the hillside. Keep your eye on it as it is a useful orientation marker for the other sites. Continue up the path until you draw level with the standing stone and strike out confidently across the hillside towards it!
The West of Scotland Archaeological Service (WoSAS) report says that the prominent standing stone has a cup mark. I couldn't find one. Perhaps I'd found a different stone. This one was about 1 ½ metres high and slanting slightly. For some reason the photos came out all blurry – so it'll be next time for those.
Next, I headed up the slope looking for the first four poster 90-odd metres further on. All I could see was the mogre of near waist-high bracken and heather I was wading through. I felt my heart sinking… How on Earth would I find anything in this undergrowth? I counted off a hundred paces up the hill. Suddenly there it was! Right at my feet! The bracken had subsided a bit and the heather revealed a smashing little jaggy-toothed four poster right in front of my eyes! The stone to the North East is fallen, but lies right where it should be, snug in its peat and heather bed. The views back down to Bennecarrigan and the coast at Sliddery are stunning. The four poster sits on a broad gentle tongue just a few hundred feet up, but its elevation and situation on these empty moorland slopes give it a real lofty vibe.
Mitchelhill Rings - Sunday 7 November 2010
A couple of hours free, I plumped for Mitchelhill Rings, a stunner of a hillfort on the eastern shoulder of White Hill. I nipped through Biggar out past the Rugby Club, over the top at Crosscryne and descended into the lost valley of Kilbucho. Parking isn't hard but it isn't easy. There is a fairly wide verge with some great old Beech trees at the side of the road nearest the hillfort (over the years I haven't found anywhere better or nearer, but tuck your car right onto the verge as this is a narrow road with tractors and farm equipment rattling up and down it). Across the road from a little cottage go through a gate then follow the burn to the base of the hill. You can either go straight up the side of a forestry plantation or follow the track which winds up to the right. I just go straight up. The fort is about 300 feet above marked by bumps on the skyline. Once you reach the track halfway up follow the line of the spring which trickles down the side of the hill (it is betrayed by a fine healthy growth of reeds and a trickling sound). The source of the spring is just below the level of the fort, where (one above the other) two deep, mossy, reeded-up basins about twelve feet across and six feet deep catch the water of the spring. As I stood after the steep ascent, gathering my breath, my heart pounding (as it frantically tried to squeeze blood through my larded-up arteries), I wondered if the fort builders might have created these basins as an easy way of gathering an easy water supply on this high hilltop.
From the fort the views are incredible, the remains are impressive and look out over the gap which leads through to Broughton and Drumelzier. The isolated valley which Mitchelhill Fort broods over is an incredible place. It has no less than eight hillforts stretched across a space of less than four miles by one and a half miles. They guard this lonely valley's few narrow entrances and exits. Many of the hillsides are scarred with rows of cultivation terraces, at least half a dozen "settlements", many enclosures and I'm sure the modern roads pretty much sit on what went before. There are a number of burial cairns and one (possibly the pretty much destroyed one on Threepland Hill) held some very important people because two identical gold lunalae were discovered in 1859. Bronze Age axes and spears have also been found in the valley as well.
Sometimes a good map or diagram is worth a thousand words in helping to describe or imagine a place. here is a link to an OS map of the valley with the option of clicking for aerial view etc.
I had intended making the short crossing over the top of White Hill to Cow Castle hillfort for a few pictures - but the beautiful, still, frosty afternoon suddenly took a much more aggressive turn and first sleet, then snow began blowing in horizontally. I descended back down by the spring and said hello to a farmer and his collie dog as they rode their quad along the hill track carrying some bags of sheep feed. They waved back and headed further round towards Kilbucho. I was back at the car in ten minutes and in front of my fireplace ten minutes after that. The sleet battered at the window and I reached for the log basket. I was glad I was not trying to keep warm at Mitchelhill Rings.
Splendid Isolation – Crookedstone - A Stone Alone
31 October 2010
My domestic duties done and household chores completed I nipped out for a couple of hours to seek out the Crookedstone. I turned out of the road-end and headed south on the A702 into an afternoon of perfect autumn stillness, brilliant sunshine, blue skies and rusty coloured hills.
I turned onto the B7076 after Abington and stayed on it, by-passing Crawford and ignoring the signs willing me to visit Elvanfoot and Drumlanrig Castle. After another mile, the B7076 curved over the M74 and a wee signpost bearing the legend "Crookedstone" pointed to a turnoff. I drove down and came to a wee level crossing. You have to cross the main Scotland/ England West Coast Rail Link to get to this site. The crossing gates are hand-operated and to raise them you have to pump them up by a handpump. I quickly changed my mind when out of nowhere a Virgin Pendolino hurtled past me, causing instant sphincter tightening fear and sucking the breath out of my lungs. I decided to leave my car where it was and cross the tracks by the wee pedestrian gates. I crossed rather quickly and was immediately spotted by a gang of sheep who showed a vague interest in me before rushing off along the peaty banks of the Clyde Burn like an absurd impulse towards Elvanfoot.
I tramped the half mile or so up the farm road. The stone is in a field next to the farmhouse and as I approached I was greeted by three large snarling, barking hounds. Thankfully they were behind a high fence. The racket brought out the farm's occupants. They looked rather surprised to find a visitor wishing to see the stone but were not in the least bit "off-ish". The farmer was kind enough to point me a way to access the field with the Crookedstone in it, and asked me to close the access gate firmly as there were tupps in the Crookedstone's field who were aching to attend on the ewes in the adjoining field.
The stone is about two metres long and stands about one and a half metres high, pointing upwards at 45 degrees. It is covered with large natural looking cup marks and leans Northwards in its gently sloping field about a mile across the flat valley floor of the River Clyde from Air Cleuch. The top of the stone's profile appears to mirror that of a fold in the hills to the North-East. I wondered about rising sun alignments. I wondered about the robbed-out cairns I'd seen at the side of the field. I wondered about the strange isolation of the site. Cut off on the West and South sides by the River Clyde, Daer Water and Potrail Water, cut off by heights of Beattock Summit to the East and completely cut-off from the North by the M74, the B7076, the West Coast Main Railway Line and the Clyde Burn.
A mile or so to the South there is a MASSIVE early settlement site which covers a wide hillside near the Daer Reservoir. With masses of material from the Scotland earliest visitors through to the very first farmers, it's been under excavation for nearly five months with the hearths and tool finds right below the bottom of the peat. I wondered about that too and those first farmers checking on equinoxes, planting crops and keeping animals. The hills and valley floor here have three feet of peat growth on top of them now. The Crookedstone seems to stick a lonely finger up from its grassy field and say "We were here".
On the way back down the farm road I climbed uphill under a couple of nice old Scots Pines and checked out an alignment of three stones I'd spotted on the way in. Set in the turf a couple of feet apart only their topmost edges and one side jutted out of the turf. When I reached the little terrace where the stones were I saw they had a range of cups on them, some very large, some small and some which looked like pecking. The Crookedstone has natural cups on it but the cups on these three stones looked nothing like them.
Again I found myself leaving a site with much more to think about than when I arrived, but maybe that's how it should be. I'm detecting a pattern.
Druid - Friday 15 October 2010
After a delicious (and rather IN-expensive) lunch in The Catacol Hotel, we drove down through Thundergay and Whitefarland. Beautiful calm seas and high leaden skies lent the journey a sense of impending.... something or other. I'd not had my fly rod out on the holiday, and although the trout season had finished the October runs of Sea Trout and Salmon were in full flow. A lucky angler walked up to the bridge at Dougarie Lodge as we drove past. He was carrying what must have been a twenty-five pound Salmon. "Wow Look at the fish he's got!" I exclaimed. No answer. My OH was fast asleep in her car seat and the wee fella was snoring gently, slumped on his booster in the back. Hmm, I thought, free time for Druid!
I pulled over about half a mile further on and walked up to Auchencar Farm leaving the two dreamers to their dreams. The farmer was just setting his prize tups out amongst his ewes in the field with the stone and in the one next to it. he stopped on his quad and told me just to go into the field if I wanted. I've been up to the stone many times before and I politely declined, the view is so much better from a distance. You get a better idea of the scale of the stone. A bit of perspective.... Also, I hate to disturb a tup about his business, so I contented myself with brilliant views across the field toward the stone.
Druid is just such a brute of a thing. massive and phallic, a curving, bulging, priapus and yet at the same time it is one half of a very feminine shape (the other half lies broken beside it). There is a slight rise around the stones which could be a well robbed-out cairn but I'm not convinced. Some short cists were ploughed up between the stone and Auchencar Farm about a hundred years ago and a cremation urn was found about a hundred yards North West of the stone in the late 19th Century. The surviving stone faces towards the sea and it is highly visible. This stone was meant to be seen. We saw it from miles away, walking round from King's Caves at the start of the holiday. For the sea-going (and sea-arriving) early visitors, the 70 feet above sea level stones would have been a superb landmark as they arrived by canoe from the South up the Kilbrannan Sound. The stones would have guided them into Machrie Bay and two of the best salmon runs (The Machrie Water and the Iiorsa) on the South Western Seaboard of Scotland. There is an ancient (and large) tidal fish trap by the mouth of the Machrie Water and those runs of Salmon would have been immense in the Neolithic.
I returned to the car and the two still-snoring dreamers and set off for King's Cross Point, our wee holiday cottage and the promise of a game of the new Arran Monopoly set.
Dreamtime in Stronach Wood – 14 October 2010
I grabbed a couple of hours during the afternoon while Junior and my OH played with the latest consumer purchase – Arran Monopoly. While they were racing around buying up the likes of Catacol and Lochranza and vying for control of Arran Aromatics, I parked up on the String Road just at the pull-in, up from the stalkers path and headed into Stronach Wood.
I could hear shooting going on up in the hills and on Monday we'd watched and heard stags at the rut in the corrie high above Corrie, from the North Goatfell Ridge and all the way back down the mountain. There were fresh quad tracks on the stalker's path all the way to the carvings. The carvings are about half a mile along the path and actually are the path. This is a shameful state of affairs. For the want of a few felled trees, some fenceposts and a hundred yards of fencing wire, foot and quad traffic could be diverted off these beautiful panels. It wouldn't stop the interested folks getting as close as they wished but it might stop the wear and tear of unintentional damage from the through traffic.
I photographed the panels and checked out some triangular pointy peaks on the panel slightly above the birds I'd noticed during the summer's visits. They appeared to mirror the view to the pyramidical peaks of North Arran (Goatfell, Cir Mhor and Beinn Tarsuinn).
With the forestry plantation still surrounding the panels, photographing them with the back drop of the peaks wasn't possible – but it will be one day! The illustrations from Coles (1901) nearly show the orientation (it would be slightly more turned to the right).
The panels in the Kilmartin Valley haven't suffered by being displayed well. This site could easily be cleaned back and should be properly examined. Without a doubt, there is much more art to be found around the three exposed panels. I was looking for some more…
You see, I'd had a wee plan to seek out the lost panel (panel K) reported to be 80 yards to the West back in 1901. It hasn't been seen since and was thought to be buried by bulldozer action in the dense forestry plantation. I paced and measured. I measured and paced. I retraced my steps and thanked my lucky stars it was October and the midges were all dead. After a while and right on the eighty yard mark I came across the edge of an eight foot slab buried in soil, pine needles and peat. It was right where it should be and had a plantation tree growing on top of it. I had no spade, trowel, GPS or axe. I photographed it.
From my memory the exposed edge looked rather like the top edge of the slab shown in the very poor 1901 photograph here
I was kicking myself for not bringing at least a wee trowel, so I promised myself yet another trip over to Arran later this year - this time properly equipped to shift some of the soil off this likely slab. It didn't look like anything worse (or more) than the peaty spoil from the drainage ditch between the planting lines for the trees had been heaped up on top of the slab. Then the trees had been planted and had been patiently dropping sixty years of pine needles on top of that. So maybe I'd found panel K? A winter trip was definitely on!
With myself exhausted and the camera battery dying, I headed out of the forestry, onto the top of the Stronach Ridge and wound my way along a rocky crag-edge on the lower slopes of Muileann Gaoithe heading towards the Parking Area and cairn at Allt Mor at the bend halfway up the String Road. At one point below me, a large slab of rock at the side of the ridge-crag formed a great-looking rock shelter enclosing a squarish area the size of my living room. I checked my map (I aint got no GPS) and it was at NR 995 360. I climbed down carefully to have a look and nearly put my foot down on a BIG Adder.
It hadn't sensed or seen me. It lay dozing, coiled in a considerable heap in the last warmth of the afternoon in the rock shelter. I leaned down as close as I dared and snapped a picture. It woke and slid very quickly into the long grass. It was between three and a half and four feet long. A BIG Adder! I legged it out of the shelter pronto. I'll have to go back in winter for a photo of the rock shelter too.
I got back to the road and decided to forgo the cairn at Allt Mor and head down the hill to my car. I'd had enough excitement for one day. Stronach Wood... it's the gift that just keeps giving. Go get some I say.
Blimey - They've let this place go a bit! 14 October 2010
This place has a few names. Lamlash Road Circle on Canmore. Blairmore Circle locally. Lamlash Stone Circle on TMA. They were the first stones I ever visited on Arran over thirty years ago. Regardless of what the circle is called, this group of stones occupies a superb location, albeit rendered rather impotent, being hemmed in by hundreds of acres of Sitka Spruce on both sides of the road (thoughh to be fair, some of the forestry is at last being cleared). As I approached the outlier, I set up a Barn Owl which had been using the stone as a perch to vomit up its pellets. It lifted off silently and drifted into the trees towards Clauchlands leaving its last pellet on the outlier, steaming slightly in the cold of the morning.
The four surviving stones are perched on a slight knoll, at the highest point on the road between Lamlash and Brodick. The stones were barely poking their heads up out of the mass of heather and bracken. The site used to be regularly cleared of the heather and bracken though this hasn't happened for a for a while!. A few years back a fire caused some cracking and damage to the outlier. A rock cut cist was found in the centre of the three main stones but isn't exposed nowadays. There are other large stones half hidden under the peat on and around the mound. There is little to be seen or made sense of here now. This site should be an almighty place. It should look North to Goatfell, Cir Mhor and the jagged ridges of North Arran. Instead it is hemmed in by scrubby Birch, Willow and the massive Spruce plantations of the 1930's and 1940's. To the South, Holy Island, Blairmore Standing Stones and the robbed out Dunan Beag and Dunan Mor cairns are now invisible, swamped by forestry.
Through the forestry track another mile to the coast leads you to the hillfort at Clauchlands (not listed on TMA). The forest trek takes you through some of the best Pitchstone areas on Arran and you can grab yourself a little souvenir pebble of the shiny glassy stone our ancestors loved so much. A beautiful circular walk takes you back to Brodick by the very best pitchstone outcrops at Corriegills.
I believe that one day these stones at Lamlash Road could be sympathetically restored to something rather special. The site's original majesty was in its location. With the forestry removal currently underway on this magical island there is a real opportunity to re-instate the views and carefully excavate the peaty knoll and its immediate surroundings for the surviving stones fallen comrades. But I wont hold my breath.
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I live in Scotland with my other half and my twelve year old son.
I grew up looking across the Firth of Clyde to Arran. I first visited the island in 1980. I've gone back a few times every year since.