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The State of our Ancient Monuments (by Leslie Myatt)

13th January 2013

Photograph of The State of our Ancient Monuments (by Leslie Myatt)

First Published in Caithness Field Club Bulletin - 2011

With a potential increase in tourism to the county we should pride ourselves on our antiquities as does our neighbour across the Firth, Orkney. They should be displayed to their best advantage if they are signposted for visitors. A recent visit to two ancient monuments in the county gave cause for concern as to their state or access. The two in question were the stone setting at Achavanich and the henge at Pullyhour.

Achavanich Stone Setting ND 188418
Until recently the horseshoe setting of standing stones was completely open to the surrounding moorland and sheep grazed the site keeping the grass short and exposing the stones to full view. Now the site has been fenced giving access through gates and the lay-by has been enlarged to give more parking space. An interpretive sign has been added.

The site is no longer grazed thus allowing the grass to grow and now in parts it is waist high. To get a full view of the stone setting is now well nigh impossible and the site has lost its original atmosphere. Only by some form of periodic grass cutting can the site be presented to the public in its best possible state.

The interpretive sign states .the 4000 year old standing stones are thought to be unique in the North of Scotland. This is because normally the broad face of each stone faces the centre of the setting. Not so at Achavanich here the edge faces the centre.. No mention is made of a similar horseshoe setting at Broubster in Caithness (ND 048608) which has stones aligned in the same way. Also there are stone settings in Sutherland at Dalharrald (NC 679390) and Cnoc an Liath-bhaid (NC 728102) where the stones are set with their edges pointing to the centre of the setting.

Pullyhour Henge ND 115545
Recently well signposted and with an interpretive sign is the henge at Pullyhour on the Harpsdale road from Halkirk. The site was excavated in 2008. Presumably because it is so well signposted people are expected to visit it. Unfortunately the only access to the site is either over a doubly barbed wire fence or through a muddy burn. No proper access has been provided. After excavation the site was back-filled and so there is little to see apart from a low circular mound.

The interpretive sign states that the entrance faced south lining up with the rising midsummer moon and also with a low burial cairn on the opposite bank of the Thurso River.

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