Wednesday 21 April 2010

Templewood Stone Circle

Stone circles are ancient - they date from the Neolithic Age around 5,000 years ago, a time before the pyramids were built in Egypt - and are a type of structure unique to Britain and Ireland. Nobody knows for sure what their function was, or for how long they were in use, but many align with astronomical phenomena like midwinter or midsummer sunset.

Although Stonehenge in Wiltshire is the most famous stone circle of all, Scotland is home to many of the best examples, like the Ring of Brogar and the Callanish complex. There are the spooky cirlces like Easter Auquhorthies where it is easy to imagine druid sacrifice, underwhelming circles of boulders like Machrie Moor, and quirky examples like the Sighthill stone circle, built in 1979, and claiming to be the first astronomically aligned stone circle in Britain for 5000 years!

My favourite circle is quite small and is a hybrid: part burial cairn, part stone circle, part zen garden, in the archaeolgically rich landscape of Kilmartin Glen. It's called Templewood: the very name redolent of old nature worship.

Secondary cairn at Templewood:

A visit to Templewood is always soothing: in the superstar valley of Kilmartin, which boasts numerous ancient burial cairns, medieval graveslabs, cup-marked rocks, standing stones, and the ancient capital of the Scots, Dunadd, it is Templewood for me that stands out for its feeling of peace and rightness. Would it have been the same thousands of years ago? We will just never know.

Friday 2 April 2010

The Five Sisters of Kintail

There is a legend - a real one, not one of those kid on ones told to gullible tourists by the likes of Haggis Backpackers - about the five sisters of Kintail. It is said the Fianna - the mythical warrior elite who supposedly roamed the bens and glens of Gaeldom around AD200 - are dead and in their pagan version of heaven, but on Hogmanay return at sunset to Mam Ratagan, a pass with views of Kintail, as the West Highlands are so beautiful their souls could not leave forever - not even for Tir nan Og.

The Five Sisters from Mam Ratagan:

There is another legend. [Update: as per the comments, I don't have a source for this legend, so I couldn't tell you where it came from. Reader beware!] The five sisters were originally seven, but two brothers sailed into Loch Duich from a foreign land and were smitten by the youngest two sisters. Their father refused to allow them to marry until their older sisters were all first betrothed, but relented when the sailors swore they had five eligible elder brothers of their own who would be delighted to marry them. The two brothers sailed off with their new brides, never to be seen again. The five remaining sisters waited... and waited... until they turned into stone, their feet in the rivers and heads in the clouds, there to wait in Kintail for ever for their non-existant husbands.

The Five Sisters from Loch Duich:

The sisters were to be disappointed again last weekend, as we wandered over their tops in the company of a man already betrothed - it was our friend Duncan's stag weekend. As we were all keen hillwalkers, Kintail was a great place for a weekend, and the Five Sisters is one of the classic ridgewalks in Scotland. In the pub, by chance we met a friend's walking group and compared accounts of the walk, which had been a tough one on steep mixed terrain and worsening weather.

On the Five Sisters Ridge before the sleet came in:

We enjoyed a meal and pint in comfort and conviviality, neither warriors nor stone maidens. Pity those who know only mountains and lonliness!