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Altnacealgach Inn, chambered cairn 460m north west of

A Scheduled Monument in North, West and Central Sutherland, Highland

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Latitude: 58.0557 / 58°3'20"N

Longitude: -4.9463 / 4°56'46"W

OS Eastings: 226244

OS Northings: 911191

OS Grid: NC262111

Mapcode National: GBR G75F.F36

Mapcode Global: WH28Y.ZSS9

Entry Name: Altnacealgach Inn, chambered cairn 460m NW of

Scheduled Date: 5 March 1935

Last Amended: 17 September 2018

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM1765

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: chambered cairn

Location: Assynt

County: Highland

Electoral Ward: North, West and Central Sutherland

Traditional County: Sutherland


The monument is the remains of a chambered cairn dating from the Neolithic period, probably built between 4000 and 2500 BC. It is visible as a heather covered mound measuring approximately 18m in diameter and 3m in height, with a polygonal chamber. The entrance passage faces to the southeast and the cairn is broadly aligned northwest-southeast. The site is located on the southern slope of Cnoc na Sroine 460m NW of Ledmore at around 175m above sea level. It overlooks Loch Borrolan to the south.  

The entrance passage of the cairn is located in the southeast and is approximately 3 to 4m in length. The chamber entrance is 0.53m wide and between two portal stones which are 0.7m and 0.9m high.  The passage leads to a polygonal chamber measuring approximately 3m by 2m by 1.5m which is constructed of large orthostats resting on bedrock with panels of fairly thin, horizontally slabs of stone set between them. The structure of the passage and chamber is covered in cairn material consisting of rounded, gathered pebbles which is now obscured by heather. The features to the south east and south west of the cairn that have been interpreted as long cairn type 'horns' or 'tails' may actually be natural features. The main structural elements of the cairn are angular worked stones up to 1.5m in length. 

The scheduled area is circular in plan with a diameter of 35m. It includes the remains described above, and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The above-ground elements of the modern fence surrounding the monument are specifically excluded from the schedule.  

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument is an upstanding and well-preserved example of a chambered cairn.  Although subject to archaeological investigations, it survives as a substantial monument and is close to its original scale and form.

The cairn is interpreted as an Orkney-Cromarty type which is a extensive group of cairns generally characterised by a single long chamber divided into stall-like "compartments" by stone uprights. This cairn is described by Henshall and Ritchie (1995) as a single compartment chamber which is distinct from the more complex multi-chambered types. The monument is broadly aligned northwest to southeast, with the entrance passage to the monument facing to the southeast. This corresponds with numerous other examples of Orkney-Cromarty chambered cairns studied by Henshall and Ritchie (1995) where there appears to be an overall preference for the entrance to face between the east and the south.

Investigations by Barber (2011) found an antechamber outwith the main chamber of the monument between the incurving ends of the core cairn believed to be a weight-relieving structure for the crossing of the core cairn over the passage at its junction with the chamber. According to Barber (2011), the material that makes up the chamber is quarried blocks of Syenite stone, a granite-like rock type with a pink to red appearance when fresh. The entrance portal stones are made from glacially-rounded quartzite slabs. The Syenite and the cairn material can be found locally; the quartzite is harder to provenance.

The monument was previously investigated by Curle (1909). Finds from that excavation comprised several small plain, coarse pottery sherds from a single vessel which appear to date to the Bronze Age, suggesting that the cairn was reused in the the Bronze Age. More recent excavations demonstrate that the site continues to have high potential to support archaeological research using modern methods and recording. This work shows that the scientific study of the form and construction techniques of chambered cairns compared with others can enhance our understanding of the development sequence of this site and of chambered cairns in general.

Dating evidence from similar chambered cairns elsewhere demonstrates that they were constructed and in use between around 4000 BC and 2500 BC, with some re-used in the later Bronze Age. They were used for communal burial and ritual, and excavation often reveal evidence of complex development sequences. Therefore this cairn may have been in use for a long period of time. Scientific study of the cairn's form and construction techniques compared with other chambered cairns would enhance our understanding of the development sequence of this site and of chambered cairns in general.

Excavations at similar sites have established that there is good potential for the survival of archaeological deposits, including human burials, artefacts and environmental remains such as pollen and charcoal, within, beneath and around unexcavated or partially excavated examples. The archaeological deposits have the potential to provide information about the date of the monuments, ritual and funerary practices, and the structure of Neolithic society, while surviving artefacts and ecofacts would enhance understanding of contemporary economy, land-use and environment.

Contextual Characteristics

Around 600 chambered cairns are found throughout Scotland. This example has been interpreted as an architecturally-distinct subgroup known as the Orkney-Cromarty group which date to the Neolithic period in Scotland. They have a widespread distribution across the north and west of Scotland in Inverness-shire, Ross-shire, Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney. They can typically be described as passage graves with their chambers often defined by upright slabs of stones (sometimes described as 'stalls') which demarcate burial spaces into separate compartments. The enclosing stone cairns of Orkney-Cromarty cairns are mainly round in plan, but some are short horned or long cairns and others heel-shaped, but it is the form of the chamber that defines the group (Richards 1992, 65).

Chambered cairns are found in a variety of locations. Some are placed in conspicuous locations within the landscape, such as on the summits of hills or on the shoulders of hills, so as to be deliberately seen on a skyline, or otherwise seen in profile. Their relationship to routeways across and between different terrestrial and marine landscapes, location near to good upland pasture and views over specific areas of land (perhaps relating to different communities) also seems to hold significance.

Altnacealgach Hotel chambered cairn is situated on the southern slope of Cnoc na Sroine at around 175m above sea level on a small glacial crag-and tail like feature formed of Syenite bedrock. This elevated position affords good views in the near distance over Loch Borrolan and the modern Lochinver to Lairg road to the south – both of which could have been routeways at the time of the cairn's use. The monument is also prominent against the shoulder of the hill when looking north from the loch and road.  More long distance views are available from the monument looking to the south, west and east and onwards towards Cul Mor which is a prominent topographical feature in the Assynt landscape. Views to the north are restricted by topography.

There are two similar burial cairns in the vicinity of the monument:  Altnacealgach Hotel (Canmore ID 4627) which is located approximately 330m to the east of the monument and is not visible from it; and Loch Borralan, chambered cairn on E bank of, WNW of Altnacealgach Hotel (scheduled monument SM1766) which is located approximately 207m to the south-west of the monument on the eastern shore of the loch and is just about visible from the monument. There is a further concentration of chambered cairns near the Ledmore Junction to the west. This example is therefore part of a wider group of burial cairns found in this area with other examples in close proximity. The spatial arrangement of these examples can give important insights into the wider organisation of the Neolithic landscape and the placing and meaning of such sites in specific locations. This can help us understand more about social organisation, land division and land-use at the time of their construction and use.

Associative Characteristics

There are no known associative characteristics that contribute to this site's national importance.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the past, in particular the design and construction of prehistoric burial monuments. It is an impressive monument that retains its field characteristics and can be compared with other chambered cairns that survive in the vicinity. In particular, it retains important structural evidence which can inform us of how such monuments were constructed. Chambered cairns are one of the main source of evidence for the Neolithic in Scotland and so are an important part element in our understanding of the nature of Scotland's prehistoric society and landscape. They can enhance our understanding of Neolithic society and economy, as well as the nature of burial and ceremonial practices and belief systems and are an important component of the wider prehistoric landscape of settlement, agriculture and ritual activity. As a well-preserved example of an Orkney-Cromarty chambered cairn, the loss of the monument would diminish our ability to appreciate and understand the meaning and importance of death and burial and the placing of cairns within the landscape in the Neolithic period.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland

CANMORE ID 4626 (accessed on 29.05.18). Site number: NC21SE 2

Local Authority HER Reference MHG13048 (accessed on 29.05.18).

Barber, J., 2011, 'Loch Borralan East Chambered Cairn – Life and Death in Assynt's Past Project, Highland (Assynt Parish), Excavation', Discovery Excavation Scotland, New Vol. 12, 2011, Cathedral Communications Limited: Wiltshire, 97-98

Burl, A. 1981, 'By the Light of the Cinerary Moon': Chambered Tombs and the Astronomy of Death' in C. Ruggles and A. Whittle (eds.) Astronomy and Society in Britain During the Period 4000 – 1500 BC, British Archaeological Reports, 88

Cavers, G. and Hudson, G. 2010, Assynt's Hidden Lives: An Archaeological Survey of the Parish, AOC/Historic Assynt

Curle, A.O. 1909, Five Field Notebooks, Ms/36/4-8, unpaginated, housed in the National Monuments Records of Scotland

Curle, A.O. 1909, Diary of Fieldwork in Sutherland, 2 Vols, Ms/36/9-10, housed in the National Monuments Records of Scotland

Henshall, A S. 1963a, The Chambered Tombs of Scotland, Vol. 1. Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh

Henshall, A.S. and Ritchie, J.N.G., 1995, The Chambered Cairns of Sutherland: An Inventory of their Structures and their Contents, Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh

RCAHMS, 1911a, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland, Second Report and Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the County of Sutherland: Edinburgh, page(s): 5, No. 14 RCAHMS Shelf Number: A.1.1.INV(2)

Richards, C, 1992, 'Doorways into Another World: The Orkney-Cromarty Chambered Tombs, in N. Sharples and A. Sheridan (eds.) Vessels for the Ancestors: Neolithic of Britain and Ireland, Edinburgh University Press: Edinburgh, 62-76

Scott, D. (2016) Watchers of the Dawn: Solar and Lunar – Orkney, Cromarty and Clava Passage Cairns:


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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