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Grey Cairns of Camster (Highlands)

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Watten Road, 5 mi north of Lybster, Near Wick, Highlands. One of the remaining examples of prehistoric stone cairns in Caithness in the bleak moors. The cairns, or burial mounds, date from the Neolithic Period, roughly 4000-1800BC. There are two cairns he

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      07.08.2001 17:48
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      After waking up one weary morning and finding myself in wick, a friend asked me if i wanted to go and look at hamster cages!....Well, being slightly deaf and very tired i though that's what he had said, when infact he had asked me if i wanted to go and see the camster cairns!! Now for those not in the know, the Grey Cairns of Campster (as they are officially known) lie on Watten Road outside wick 5mls north of Lybster. From Wick you follow the A99 (A9 from everywhere else) south for Lybster after which the site is signposted. 2 miles north of Camster there is a turning on the right, if you take this and travel for about 4-5 miles you will come across a lay-by, convenient for parking for the cairns. The cairns lie on the barren moors surrounding by heather and look quite sinister. They are neolithic, built 4000-1800BC but have under gone some reconstruction after their discovery so they are pretty whole. There are 2 cairns, a long one and a round one. The long cairn is about 70m long and at one end has some steps and what looks like a stage area. The other cairn, known as the round cairn, lies 200m to the left and is 18m in diameter. Nobody really knows what they were used for but experts believe them to be ceremonial burial chambers and the stage area would have been used to host said ceremonies. You can get to both of the cairns by the means of a wooden walk way, and please make use of this. Not only do they protect the flora and fauna, they also protect you as the cairns are built in a peat bog. Now the last thing you want to do is step of the planks and find yourself waist-high in bogginess! Also this is a working peat field, meaning that farmers still come down and cut and dry peat here, so keep your feet out of someones livlihood! You can get right in to the centre of the cairns by the means of low and narrow passageways...which means its a hand and knees job, so no white trousers! Now the tunnels seem rea lly dark but they are quite short and the resultant chamber is well lit, however if you'd feel more comfortable i recommend you take a torch (we did). All the stone work is original but they have been reinforced to make it safe for you to enter, which is pretty good cos i don't know how safe i'd feel entering a pile of rocks built 6000 years ago with no mortar! There are 2 chambers in the long cairn, both of which are acessable and you can stand upright in the chambers..even if you are 6 foot tall! The second chamber has a re-inforced roof as the mantle was damaged during excavation. The round cairn is by far the most interesting. Our dog loved it and wouldn't come back out which was really spooky. She's really quite timid but kept running back to this cairn and would not come out no matter how much we coaxed her. When this cairn was uncovered they found bits of pottery and both burnt and unburnt bones, and that the cairn had been deliberately blocked. Again access to this cairn is by a low passage-way, but when you get half way along you come to a small anti-chamber. 2 skeletons placed in a seated position were found here just after the blockade. I thought that maybe these 2 skeletons were gaurding who ever was buried in the main chamber, but it makes you wonder who was this person, was he/she important...or were they something else that warranted a burial place apart from the other cairns and blocked in?! The main chamber of the round cairn is again well lit and about 3m high so you can easily stand up. The chamber is quite small but circular and has a bit of atmosphere. When you come out of the cairns and stand back and look you can see hummocks in the field which don't look quite natural and we wondered if there were maybe more of them that hadn't yet been unearthed. It won't take you long to go round the cairns but i think they're well worth a visit. They're free, a nd i reckon kids would love climbing in and out of them and you could make up all sorts of ghost stories about them!! If you do visit please remember to observe the country code and shut all gates behind you to stop sheep wondering about, don't drop litter and try to keep the kids (big ones as well as small ones!) off the cairn roof! Also check out www.stonepages.com for some piccies and other info!

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