Review: Prehistoric Sites
North East Scotland, United Kingdom
Prehistoric sites in north east Scotland
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Stone age man left his mark on Scotland with the mighty hill forts of the Brown and White Caterthuns near Brechin and Tap O’ The North near Rhynie, with their impressive ramparts. Craig Phadrig near Inverness is unusual as the walls have been vitrified by tremendous heat. No-one is sure how and why this was done, although there are suggestions it might have been a ceremonial destruction. Now surrounded by commercial forestry, and reached by a way marked walk, there isn’t a lot to see.
Souteraines or earth houses date from the iron age and are stone-lined underground passages which were probably used for cold or secure storage of goods. Ardestie and Carlungie Earth Houses are between Dundee and Carnoustie are both well preserved.
Culsh Souterrain on the side of the B9119 is not only one of the best preserved and impressive in Scotland, it is also one of the easiest to visit. If you are attracted by the off beat places, this is one to add to the list.
Built into an earth bank to the south of the road and would be easily missed if it wasn’t for the Historic Scotland sign. Originally it was probably part of a larger timber round house. There is a low entrance with a stone lintel above. The passageway is lined with stone slabs. The entry is now very low, about 3’ high, so it is a hands and knees job if you want to go inside and a torch is needed.
Perhaps of more interest are the stone circles and burial cairns. Nine Stanes Stone Circle near Banorchy is a cluster of three stone circles standing forgotten and over grown. Further north are Aikey Brae and Strichen.
Loanhead of Daviot surrounded by trees with views across the Aberdeenshire countryside, is well off the tourist beat and gets few visitors. This is described as a recumbent stone circle. It has a single ring of eight upright stones with a massive stone slab lying on its side, flanked by two upright marker stones. It is thought to be 4000-4500 years old and the flankers frame the moon rising or setting in the southern sky. The inside of the circle is almost filled by a later cairn of stones edged with upright stones. To the side is a smaller stone circle which is described as a cremation cemetery, in use around 2500 years ago.
Cullerlie Stone Circle, south west of Westhill is a Bronze Age circle of eight stones, enclosing eight smaller cairns which were used for cremation burials. This is a lovely setting next to a farm. We were given a warm welcome by the farm collie who showed us the way to the stones.
Corrimony Cairn to the west of Drumnadrochit is a simple bronze age cairn surrounded by circle of standing stones. Interesting if passing but not worth making a long detour to visit.
Much more interesting are Clava Cairns near Inverness are probably the most popular. We first visited these 40 years ago and had never seen anything like them. We were entranced by the stone cairns set back off the road surrounded by trees. Few people visited and they were a secret and magical place.
Times change. The road is a lot busier and there is now a huge coach and car park. Many of the trees have been felled leaving the site open to the road. Admittedly the trees were planted by the Victorians and the cairns would have been built in a treeless landscape. Even at 5pm there was a steady stream of visitors. It just wasn’t the same …
The cairns date from 3000-4000 years ago. There are two passage graves, a ring cairn and a later kerb cairn.
The north east and south west cairns have a stone circle round them and a neatly arranged row of larger stones around the cairn. The central passageway is neatly lined with large stones as is the base of the centre of the cairn. Originally the cairns would have been covered and the walls are slightly corbelled.
The central cairn is different as it is an unbroken circular enclosure with a thick wall around an open centre. Larger stones line the inner and outer surfaces. This might have marked to site of a funeral pyre or ceremonies connected to burials in the adjacent passage tombs.
For those heading to the far north, the two mighty Grey Cairns of Campster dominate the Caithness Flow Country and are two of the best preserved neolithic burial chambers in Britain.
Hill of Many Stanes is definitely a quirky place. Set in rough moorland, there are more than two hundred small stones arranged in rows. No-one knows what it was used for; possibly it acted as a calendar or for ritual purposes. It is many years since we went. As we arrived a group of young Frenchmen were just leaving. They looked bemused and told us ‘there was nothing to see’. In a way they are right but it is a strange and eery place as you follow the lines traced out by the stones and wonder.
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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.