Ancient Scotland Tour Ancient Scotland Tour
Menu Bar

June 23rd 1998

Clach Mhic Mhios After leaving the Fort Augustus Abbey by the Loch Ness, we headed North, towards Sutherland and Caithness. There are some splendid sites in these counties of Northern Highland. The first stop was The Ord, a series of hut circles, a burnt mound (a heap of broken stone with a central hollow probably used as a cooking pit), a henge and two kerbed cairns. These various sites are visitable by an Archaeological Trail and a helpful lady at the Ferrycroft Countryside Centre nearby may give you a leaflet about the trail. Then we drove to Embo, where in the car park of the local pub lies a wrecked chambered cairn. We keep heading North following the coast and spent a pleasant hour at Carn Liath, a well preserved broch in splendid position by the sea. Then, at Lothbeg we took the narrow road across Glen Loth, a solitary and outstanding valley where is said the last Scottish wolf was killed many years ago. Here we found a megalithic jewel: Clach Mhic Mhios, a beautiful 3.3m tall pillar. We totally agree with Robert Gourlay, the author of the useful archaeological guide Sutherland, who describes this stone as It stands dramatically in the middle of the rather gloomy upper position of Glen Loth, silent and mysterious. I never failed to be impressed by its presence, in sunshine, fog or thick snow. The glen too is a fabulous place: further on, in the middle of nowhere, we also saw a herd of deers and a low-flying hen harrier.

Achavanich We slept in Helmsdale, a nice village full of anglers (by the way, in Sutherland there are many Dutch tourists. We met a lot of them. Could anyone tell us why there are so many Dutch in that area? Did Sutherland make a huge promotional campaign in Nederland?). Next morning we went to Learable Hill, where a standig stone, several stone rows and two stone circles pop up in the thick moorland. Then we drove to Caithness, where we walked to Dunbeath, a fine broch partly restored some years ago by Historic Scotland and Dunbeath Preservation Trust, and to Achavanich, an enigmatic and rare horseshoe-shaped setting of 36 standing stones.

We found accommodation nearby, in the very comfortable Tacher farm and the following morning we drove up to three megalithic sites in Caithness that should not be missed: Camster Camster round and long chambered cairns (two splendid sites that you can explore crawling inside them), Mid Clyth (also called Hill o'Many Stanes because it is literally a hill covered by rows of standing stones) and Cairn of Get (or Garrywhin, it is a passage grave within a cairn reachable by a beautiful 800m long moorland walk). Then we quickly drove up to Scrabster, where we took the ferry to Orkney Islands. We were pretty worried by the sea crossing, because we were remembering wery well every horrible minute of the same crossing on our Scottish holiday seven years before. So we sat and stood still, prepared for the worst, watching surprised all the other passengers who were happily eating fried cod and beans and drinking beer. And our stomachs were all right too! No problem at all! Yippiee!!
We landed in Stromness and went straight to the self-catering accommodation we had booked in advance. It is our first time in a self contained apartment: it consists in a large bedroom/sitting room, a bathroom and a fully equipped kitchen. We can also use the washing machine in the laundry room next door (the machine is now working on four pairs of muddy jeans of us). And a week in this comfortable flat costs us much less than seven days in a B&B.

Cuween Sunday in the morning it was very foggy, so we decided to go to the 'indoor' sites (that means the chambered cairns and souterrains in which you must crawl to get into). The very first one was Unstan, then came Cuween Hill and Rennibister. In all three Diego took photos with his panoramic gear, in order to build QTVR movies to offer wiews from the inside of these beautiful sites. The chambers are small, wet and very dark (especially the one at Cuween Hill), but it is so interesting to look at how ancient Orcadians carefully built them and to discover how complex where their burials (in Cuween Hill, in addition to some human bones, 24 dog skulls were found).

Stones of Stenness Out of Rennibister we realized that the weather was turned into a splendid sunny afternoon, so we went straight away to the breathtaking Stones of Stenness and Ring of Brodgar. There were many people around these two sites, so we 'escaped' to Barnhouse Stone, Watch Stone and Comet Stone, the three lesser visited stones which stand near the two main 'temples' (Stones of Stenness was also locally named Temple of the Moon while Ring of Brodgar was the Temple of the Sun).
These two main Orcadian sites are so impressive that we couldn't resist spending some time around them. And after a quick pasta cooked in our kitchen, we came back to Ring of Brodgar for seeing the sunset (at 10.30 at this high latitude). The site of course was full of people (it was the 21st June, the summer's solstice): photographers, people leaving offerings (apples and shells are still there, near one of the stones struck by a lightning on the 5th of June 1980), tourists and noisy oystercatchers flying around (probably wondering why so many human intruders were meeting there).

Yesterday we went to Kirkwall and met Elaine Tulloch, Deputy Chief Executive of the Orkney Tourist Board. She was very helpful and she is allowing us to get connected to the Net from her office. So we hope to send some other diary pages and new stunning images from Orkney in the next days. There is so much to write about these wonderful islands and their nice inhabitants! It is a pity our English prose won't be good enough for this task!


Home | Diary | Images | Messages | Maps | Resources | Equipment | Stone Pages