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Caithness Field Club

Multiple Stone Rows Of Caithness And Sutherland
L. J. Myatt

Their Distribution
At a number of sites throughout Caithness and Sutherland are to be found multiple rows of small standing stones. The stone usually protrude not more than 1m above the surface, and in some cases they are either barely visible or have become submerged by the growth of peat or other vegetation. They are arranged in rows, often fan-shaped in the form of a truncated cone, or, less commonly, the rows may be parallel. Such settings of stones are often inconspicuous, sometimes hidden by heather, and may be easily overlooked. Consequently, by diligent fieldwork, more sites have been gradually discovered in recent years, and there may be yet more to be found.

The best known, and most extensive setting is undoubtedly that at Mid Clyth known as "the hill of many stanes". Although now incomplete, there still remain over 170 stones firmly set in the ground. Visiting them at the end of the 19th century Anderson (1886, 126) records over 400 stones. Since that time some of them have been removed and the setting may have originally extended further to the east. Fortunately this site is now in the care of the Department of the Environment.

3 km north-east of Mid Clyth is a large concentration of similar stone settings in the Watenan area. Here some six sites are to be found quite close together. The Watenan area is perhaps the richest for antiquities in Caithness, having two separate hill-forts and a high density of burial tombs. Another setting of stone rows appears 3km to the north of the Watenan group at Battle near to the Loch of Yarrows. Again 5km to the north-west is a similar setting in the vicinity of the chambered tombs at Camster. Other single settings occur in Caithness at Dirlot and Upper Dounreay. Although at the latter location the site of a second setting is indicated on the 6" O.S. map, nothing now remains. Gunn (1915, 353) mentions two other settings in Caithness, the locations of which are no longer known, if in fact they still exist. One is "between Westfield and the village of Broubster" and the other "above Borlum in Reay (where) there is a row of 100 stones in two opposing lines".

Into Sutherland, the two sites close to the river Helmsdale and that on Learable,Hill have been known at least since the beginning of the century. However, in recent years, a further five sites have been discovered; three in the Badenloch-Rimsdale area. and two others near Borgie and Skelpick.

Elsewhere, on the mainland of Britain, other examples of multiple stone rows are to be found in Dartmoor. Here they consist mainly of either double, or sometimes three, rows but they are always parallel and not fan-shaped as is usually the case in Caithness and Sutherland. At Beaghmore, Tyrone, is a fan-shaped setting of four rows, but the rows are more widely spaced than in the examples to be found in the north of Scotland.

It is only in Brittany that sites similar to those in Caithness and Sutherland are to be found. Here, in addition to the extensive multiple rows of Le Menec and Kermario having large stones and each extending over a distance of about lkm, there are smaller settings of fan-shaped rows.

List of Sites
Below is given a list of the known sites of multiple stone rows with the corresponding grid references and an indication, where possible, of the shape of the rows, whether parallel or fan-shaped. Where no indication of the shape is given it is because so few stones now remain and the alignment of the rows can no longer be determined.

SiteLocationGrid ReferenceType
1Mid ClythND  295384Fan
2Loch WatenanND  318411 Fan
3WatenanND  315412 
4BroughwhinND  313412  
5BroughwhinND  312409  
6BroughwhinND  311408  
7GarrywhinND  314413 Fan
8Loch of YarrowsND  313441Fan
9CamsterND  260437Fan
10DirlotND  123485Fan
11Upper DounreayND  012660Parallel
12Upper DounreayND  007660Destroyed
13SkelpickND  722574Parallel
14BorgieND  661587Fan
15Loch RimsdaleND  716348Fan
16BadenlochND  782351Fan
17KinbraceND  827322Fan
18Learable HillND  892234Parallel
19KildonanND  955185  
20KildonanND  966189Parallel
Distribution Maps
The settings of multiple stone rows listed above are shown on the distribution map of Fig. 7. Note - Map to come later 25 November 2000

The six settings concentrated in the Watenan area are shown in more detail on the larger scale map of Fig. 8.


Published in April 1980 Bulletin