An account of a visit to a roadside chambered mound on the island of Skye at a time of special restrictions
An autumnal visit to a chambered cairn, believed to be ancient, having been investigated by various workmen and authorities ‘back in the day’. My researches had suggested to me that this monument sat in urban splendour, in the small town of Broadford on the island of Skye off the west coast of Scotland, an area I was able to reach by means of a bridge rather than boat as I had on my previous travels with a van full of bones*. In order to trek to the cairn, which goes by the local name Liveras, the automobile was parked near the Post Office, pharmacy, trinket shop, and an establishment vending candles bearing the mark of the island. We duly paid and displayed.
The main busy road was crossed avoiding incident, and we began to walk down Liveras Park, a road that curved down to the shore and quickly took on the form of a tarmac trackway along which were placed private residences, a manse – ministerial pile – and a Bed and Breakfasting establishment. It was between two of these buildings and their associated perfectly maintained gardens that the rounded eminence became apparent, a vegetation covered barrow or cairn on the roadside.
The mound itself was crowned with a great display of trees, while ferns and weeds and shrubs filled in the spaces between the splayed trunks of this arrangement. The roots of these established vegetations must surely be cutting deep into the cairn, easing apart the well-placed orthostats in the belly of the tomb, introducing spaces and light where before there was only darkness. The mound melted into the roadside, verge-like, with a covering of the first leaf falls of the season, another layer in the stratigraphy of Liveras.
My extensive research into this monument, conducted over 10 long minutes using the oracle that is google, told me that this cairn had been the subject of crude antiquarian investigation in the nineteenth century. In a talk given to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland on 9th January 1832 Donald Gregory Esquire told the attendant audience:
The accidental opening of this massive mound seems to me an unlikely explanation for what may have been more correctly characterised as an exercise in curiosity. However this account hints at the hollow heart of this tree-topped low eminence, from which some treasures were recovered along with the remains of the ancient dead.
The stone object Gregory tells of is a stone-bracer or wrist-guard, worn by an archer, and a second object of similar nature was later recovered from the beach nearby, suggesting it was discarded there during the 1832 foray. The form of this monument – Neolithic – and the recovery of these Bronze Age objects, suggests multiple occasions of human burial at this place, so close now to a manse inhabited by one who commonly ministers to the dead.
The wrist-guard was made from stone from the Langdales in the Lake District and even now resides in a drawer in storage at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. It is pictured on a coloured board of information that stands just a few paces away from the cairn.
‘Death was taken very seriously then‘ begins the writing on this board of information, as if this were not the case now. Perhaps this was a monument constructed by the ancients to cope with excess deaths, locking them away in a safe of stone, the combination code of which was only known to a select few.
Daubed onto a wooden service pole sticking from the side of the cairn was the letter H painted in yellow. This was next to a yellow indicator of electrical flow beneath the earth with its own black H. Thrust into and beneath the lip of the cairn, indicators of another type of power at work here.
This plot will never be built on. There will always be a gap between the manse and the bed and breakfast, and so all those who reside in those buildings will continue to be neighbours to the dead.
Sources and acknowledgements: This chambered cairn is of a Hebridean Type and a little more information can be found in canmore. The account by Gregory can be found here (google the title, a pdf is available online):
Gregory, D. 1857 Notes regarding various remains of antiquity, both of the earlier and middle ages, observed during a recent visit to the Hebrides’, Archaeol Scot, vol. 4, 1857. Page: 364
The final photo in this post was taken by Jan Brophy.
The * indicates another story for another time.