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Cairn Holy Chambered Cairns


Two remarkably complete Neolithic burial cairns, of a type characteristic of Galloway.

Cairn Holy Chambered Cairns

Two remarkably complete Neolithic burial cairns, of a type characteristic of Galloway.

The cairns are situated on a hill offering fine views over Wigtown Bay.


Neighbours

On a hillside overlooking Wigtown Bay, two Neolithic chambered tombs lie within 150m of each other. Both lie open to the sky – the stones of their covering cairns were robbed long ago to build field dykes. The tombs’ skeletal stones today create a jagged outline that was never intended by their builders. Both tombs were partially excavated in 1949 by two eminent professors of archaeology, Stuart Piggott and Terence Powell, with unexpected results.

Cairn Holy I

This is the more elaborate of the two. It has a splendid curving façade of standing stones that once formed the backdrop to a forecourt in front of the tomb. Excavation showed that several fires had been lit here.

The chambered tomb behind the façade consisted of an outer and an inner compartment. The inner compartment was built as a box, so that it was closed and therefore inaccessible from the outer one. It was probably originally roofed by a great stone slab resting on the two taller end-slabs. The outer compartment was entered through the façade.

Cairn Holy II

Tradition holds that this was the tomb of Galdus, a mythical Scottish king, and it is easy to see why. Perched on a rocky knoll, and set against the background of the heather-clad hill of Cairnharrow, this monument has an undoubted presence in the landscape. Despite the loss of its stone over the centuries, the two jagged portal stones and the chambered tomb behind are testimony to the strength of belief in the area over 4,000 years ago.


Distant contacts

Little in the way of human remains was discovered in the excavations. Artefacts were also scarce, but they did include some surprising items, indicating that tombs’ builders had widespread contacts. In the forecourt of Cairnholy I, beside one of the hearths, was a flake of pitchstone that can only have come from the island of Arran. Among the sherds of pottery were fragments from a decorated bowl of a kind normally found in England. The most unexpected discovery, however, was part of a ceremonial axe made of jadeite, found on the floor of Cairn Holy I’s outer chamber. This beautiful green stone was imported into Britain from the Alps. Its presence in Galloway reflects the wealth and power of its owner.

Highlights

  • The location – on a gently sloping hill above Kirkdale Glen with views over Wigtown Bay.
  • The façade of Cairnholy I – almost as impressive as it would surely have been over 4,000 years ago when it was the focus of ritual ceremonies.
  • The inner tomb of Cairnholy II – still with its huge capstone in place.
  • The walk – leave the car beside the A75 and enjoy a healthy hike.



Facilities

Car Parking

Location

Region – Dumfries and Galloway

6.5m south east of Creetown, on the A75.

Grid reference - NX 518 540.