North Uist : Baleshare

After a quiet few months it was the new year and time to get out and about again. The first event of the year was a Scottish Islands archaeology symposium on the Isle of North Uist and  among the fieldtrips were one to the beach at Baleshare  and another to look at Barpa Langass chambered cairn.


Barpa Langass is the best preserved chambered cairn in the Western Isles and I’ve written about it in a previous post.

It isn’t safe to go inside it nowadays but luckily I had been inside it many years ago. The only thing I would add to the previous post is that after listening to a talk by a local structural engineer about fractures in the capstones and shifting and movement of some of the large orthostats, including the capstones, I will definitely not be going inside again! Not unless money can be found some time in the future to consolidate the structure and make it safe.

A collapse in the passage wall that occurred a few years ago

BALESHARE (Baile Sear)

Baleshare is a long,  low-lying  island joined to the rest of North Uist by a causeway.

Taken from the cafe at Claddach Kirkibost, looking across to the northern tip of Baleshare (on the left) and to the southern tip of Kirkibost Island (on the right)

Running down the west side of Baleshare is one continuous 4 mile long sandy beach and at various places along this beach,  remains from the Iron-Age have been  revealed in the sandy cliffs. Severe erosion from tides and storms is constantly revealing more shell middens and sometimes the walls of wheelhouses, a form of Iron-Age roundhouse characterized by inner radial walls resembling the spokes of a wheel.

Above L – wheelhouse walls sticking out of the sand dunes and R – an excavated wheelhouse about 6 miles away on Grimsay

Iron-Age Wheelhouse, exposed by a surge tide

At the same time as new archaeology is being revealed, existing remains are often  being lost to the sea.

The shell middens are depicted by an obvious strata of shells in the cliff face and contain the discarded shells of shellfish as well as animal and fish bones,  pottery sherds and other material that had been discarded and put on the midden.

Pieces of pottery and tools made from bone, flint and stone can often be found in the sandy cliff.

Although this is a coastal environment nowadays, these are settlements that would originally have been some distance from the sea. Erosion has been so dramatic, over not only centuries, but millennia, that the coast here once stretched 14km out to sea and a land bridge connected North Uist to the Monach Isles, a chain of low lying sandy islands visible 9 miles to the west.

The flat machair land on Baleshare

The whole of the island is now called Baile Sear, which means eastern township and Baile Siar, the western township has long since disappeared under sand and tides.

The photos above are of the shell middens and stone remains at Ceardach Ruadh (translates as the red smiddy)  which is to the north of the parking area at the beach.  Another site to the south, Sloc Sabhaid, was revealed after a severe hurricane in 2005 and  rescue excavations found the remains of Iron-Age roundhouses there to0.

On the east side of Baleshare, a walk from the end of the road takes you to a Neolithic cairn and nearby are some abandoned croft houses.

Beach between Baleshare and Benbecula

Above & below – Baleshare is surrounded by shallow tidal waters


Duirsainean Chambered Cairn, Isle of Lewis


The last post was about a picturesque cairn in a garden on the Isle of Harris. As a contrast, this is another Neolithic cairn in the Western Isles but in a much bleaker moorland setting, further north, on the Isle of Lewis.
The islands of Lewis and Harris are not separate islands but one large landmass, with the larger, northern part being the Isle of Lewis and the southern part being the the Isle of Harris.

Duirsainean Cairn sits up on the moors above the village of Garrabost and has panoramic views across Lewis as well as to the distant hills of the Scottish mainland.

Garrabost Chambered Cairn (1)On the day we visited it there had been heavy rain all day and I was resigned to getting wet and having very poor light for taking any photos. However, after a rather damp walk the rain eased off and shafts of sunlight shone through onto the landscape.Garrabost Chambered Cairn (1)The cairn has been heavily robbed for its stone but the remaining orthostats and kerbstones, coupled with its location, make it worth a visit. An unusual feature is that the position of the kerbstones would indicate that this cairn was square shaped rather than round.
A tall orthostat marks the entrance to the passage which is on the east side and there is evidence to suggest that there might have been a forecourt.

Garrabost Chambered Cairn (2)

Garrabost is a village on the Eye Peninsula, east of Stornoway (An Rudha on the map and known locally as Point) and the cairn is on a waymarked walk from the village.





Coire na Feinne Chambered Cairn, Isle of Harris

On a journey along the west coast of Harris recently, I couldn’t resist taking a few photos of the remains of this Neolithic cairn. It sits in a roadside garden and with the last of the summer flowers still in bloom around it,  it made an attractive, if rather unusual picture of a cairn.

The cairn has been affected by the road building and again by road widening over the years and some of the site has no doubt been lost. However, within the garden you can still see the layout of the chamber and the large capstone which is lying on the ground between the upright orthostats.

Coire na Feinne, Horgabost

The cairn is in the crofting township of Horgabost and its setting today makes it hard to visualise how it would have looked in the Neolithic landscape when it would have been in a much more prominent position above the coast.

There isn’t room to park at the roadside and the cairn is in a private garden but it is easy enough to park nearby and walk along the road to view it over the garden fence.

Coire na Feinne Cairn, Horgabost (1)

The west coast of Harris, looking north towards Horgabost


Further down the coast at Borve can be found the remains of two more burial cairns and a standing stone known as MacLeod’s Stone

Cladh Mhic Leoid