A well-preserved Bargrennan type cairn, close to the village of Glentrool in Galloway Forest Park.
My favourite cairn or prehistoric site is often the one I last visited, but I’m sure this one will remain a favourite. It exceeded expectations in every way, from the ease with which I found it, the pleasant walk from the village and then the first glimpse of it through the trees. I expected to be taking some atmospheric photos of it through the mist and rain (like many other photos I’d seen!), but the rain stopped when we arrived in the village and then the sun came out and shone down into the clearing where the cairn is situated.
The Bargrennan type cairns are unique to this part of Scotland and consist of a small chamber,covered with a round cairn. The White Cairn is well-preserved and you can follow the short entrance way into the chamber itself, which is still covered by its capstones.
Excavations revealed that the cairn had been reused in the Bronze Age, when a cist was inserted into the side of the cairn. This contained an urn and cremated bone from a man.
There are many Neolithic cairns in Galloway, including some long cairns, but the main types are the Bargrennan ones and the Clyde cairns. The Bargrennan type are not found anywhere else in Scotland and are unique to the upland moorland areas in the west of Galloway and into southern Ayrshire. The Clyde cairns are found in the more fertile areas along the coast. These were court cairns with impressive facades leading into a gallery and similar to the court tombs in the NE of Ireland (see Cairn Holy post).
and Prehistoric Rock Art, a “Coo Palace” and a very unusual church!
These are all found a short distance from each other, between Knockbrex and Kirkandrews, on the eastern side of Wigtown Bay (nearest towns – Kirkcudbright and Gatehouse of Fleet).
Castle Haven Dun
Entering Castle Haven Dun is like discovering a long lost secret garden, the walls all clad in ivy and the interior a mass of unruly brambles and vegetation. From the shore, the walls emerge up from the rock that it’s built upon, so that it’s hard to see where the rock finishes and the stonework starts. It merges into the landscape in a way that makes it difficult to spot from the road or the coast and there are no signs or even a path to it (style-like steps in the wall beside the road indicate where to go).
Yet, this is an exceptional dun, both because of its state of preservation and its unusual design for this part of Scotland. Built on a small promontory, the dun is D-shaped, with the main entrance from the field on the north side. In the south wall of the dun, a narrow passageway leads to a flight of steps down onto the rocky shore below.
A Galleried Dun
This dun has a feature similar to the Iron Age brochs of northern Scotland, ie. the main structure consists of two concentric walls with a gallery between them. From the central courtyard there are doors leading into the gallery between the walls. The gallery was roofed with stone lintels, some of which are still in situ.
However, unlike the brochs, which had stairs winding up within the walls, Castle Haven has the unusual feature of stone, style-like steps jutting out from the inner wall of the courtyard, to take you up to the next level.
I’d be intrigued to know how high the dun was originally and if there were galleries on more than one level. Due to its shape and fairly large size, it’s unlikely that the walls towered up high like traditional brochs.
Galleried duns are also found in the north of Scotland. For example, Dun Ardtreck on the Isle of Skye, which is also D-shaped and on a promontory, and it is possible that the design of brochs developed from these galleried duns.
The Coo Palace (a posh cow shed!)
Castle Haven Dun owes its state of preservation to considerable restoration work that was carried out in 1905 by James Brown, the laird of Knockbrex. He had a keen interest in architecture and as well as his work on the dun, he also built Corseyard Dairy with its very posh cow shed, known locally as “The Coo Palace”!
Another of James Browns architectural creations was a tiny church in the nearby hamlet of Kirkandrews and I think this is one of the most unusual churches I’ve ever seen. Its design is inspired by a fusion of Arts and Crafts and Celtic design and a fondness for miniature castles! The small panelled room with a fireplace at one end reminded me more of a miniature banqueting hall than a church. It looks very cosy and there are some beautiful photos of when they have had candlelit services there.
Parking at the church is very limited! The best way to appreciate this stretch of coastline around Castle Haven Bay is by walking or cycling along the narrow country road. It’s only 2 miles from the Coo Palace to the church and along the way you pass the dun and the rock art and get some lovely views of the bay.
Tongue Croft Rock Art
Rocks bearing cup and ring marks are plentiful in the Galloway countryside but are often difficult to find (or find access to). This rock art is just a few metres from the road, on the road between the Coo Palace and Kirkandrews. It can be found just over a wall on the right hand side of the road if travelling eastwards.
The Machars – a low-lying coastal plain of fertile farmland in the west of Galloway
In an elevated position near Port William is a row of what would have been three very impressive standing stones. Unfortunately, only one is left standing, the one in the foreground having fallen down a few years ago. It was tilted at quite an angle and when you see the tapered end that had been in the ground it’s maybe surprising that it stood for so long. It’s noticeable that there is much less lichen and weathering on that part of the stone.
The stones are all about 10ft high, aligned NE-SW and have commanding views of the surrounding countryside.
Drumtroddan Cup and Ring Marks
The rock art is about 400 yards away but accessed from Drumtroddan Farm.
There are three outcrops of rock, two in the field, which are surrounded by iron fences to protect them from livestock, and the other is in the coppice at the edge of the field. At first glance I was slightly disappointed as the markings were quite faint on the lichen-covered stones but once I started to look more closely I could see that most of the exposed rock surfaces were covered in many cup marks, rings and concentric circles of various sizes. There is certainly a huge number of cup and ring marks crammed onto the rock that is visible and I’m sure there must be much more hidden under the grass.
It may not be as impressive as Kilmartin but it is a significant example of prehistoric rock art in the south of Scotland.