By Gabbi Armstrong
Communications Project Manager for the North Coast 500
Published: 9th August 2018

Grey Cairns of Camster

Hidden out of sight, five miles along an unclassified single track road sign posted from the A9 at Lybster, are the Grey Cairns of Camster. Open all year and free to the public, these historic man made rock structures are more than worth a quick detour. With on-site parking, information boards and a boarded pathway to the cairns, there’s no excuse not to nip over!

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Photos: Camster Cairns by Willie Taylor, Scotland’s Route 66

Dive into the mystery of the cairns, thought to have been built over 5,000 years ago in the early 4th millennium. A cairn is typically a man-made stone structure used as a landmark or memorial, and these two in Camster are said to be some of the best preserved in Britain. Human remains have been found within them, leading historians to believe they were once used as burial tombs. Some archaeologists suggest that their remote location is part of the reason why they are so well preserved today.

One long cairn, with two internal chambers, is thought to be the younger of the two. However, the development and original appearance of this cairn is disputed, with some believing it was originally two round cairns which were later joined together.

The round cairn features a single chamber and three separate compartments. Excavations in the 1800s discovered burnt human remains, flint tools and pottery within the chamber, as well as two skeletons sitting beyond a blocked passage.

The cairns have been reconstructed in places to ensure their safety for entrance, with a metal gate which is easily unlocked by visitors to prevent sheep from entering the cairns. The passage to enter to cairns is relatively low and narrow, so mind your head! It is worth crawling through to see the insides of the cairns lit by natural outside light – just be careful not to wear your Sunday best whilst crawling through…

We think children and adults alike will enjoy exploring this historic site and imagining its previous usage. Situated just off the main route, Camster Cairns is a great outing to break up a journey, and a thoroughly interesting place to explore if you’re staying nearby.

Please be respectful towards the cairns. We take pride in our Scottish heritage and the cairns have a Statement of Significance from Historic Environment Scotland.

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