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.
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
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!!
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).
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).
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!
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