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Altnacealgach Inn, chambered cairn 600m WNW of

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

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Latitude: 58.0552 / 58°3'18"N

Longitude: -4.9497 / 4°56'58"W

OS Eastings: 226040

OS Northings: 911146

OS Grid: NC260111

Mapcode National: GBR G74F.RHH

Mapcode Global: WH28Y.YS5P

Entry Name: Altnacealgach Inn, chambered cairn 600m WNW of

Scheduled Date: 28 March 1935

Last Amended: 17 September 2018

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM1766

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 BC and 2500 BC. It is visible as a round, heather covered mound measuring approximately 15m by 12m and approximately 2m high. The cairn is broadly aligned northwest-southeast, with the entrance passage facing towards the southeast. The site is located beside the eastern shore of Loch Borrolan on a small promontory at about 140m above sea level.

The main structural elements of the cairn material comprise gathered stones of varying shapes and sizes. Some of the cairn has been removed, particularly on the eastern side, and this is where the entrance passage is located. The chamber is no longer visible apart from a depression in the cairn material. A ring of small boulders appear to form the edge of a very low platform on which the cairn is built.

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.

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, substantially intact and close to its original scale and form. The cairn is interpreted as an Orkney-Cromarty type, belonging to  an extensive group of cairns generally characterised by a single long chamber divided into stall-like "compartments" by stone uprights. The cairn was first recorded by Curle (1911) and then by Henshall and Ritchie (1995) who describe the monument as a round cairn made of rounded stones and covered by a thin level of turf with a polygonal bipartite chamber. The south-eastern section of the cairn was already quarried when Curle visited the site in 1909 and this has affected the survival of the entrance passage.  Other features described by Henshall and Ritchie (1995) such as orthostats, portal stones and corbel stones are difficult to identify today. However, excavations by Barber (2011) at Altnacealgach Hotel, chambered cairn 460m NW of, Ledmore (SM 1765) give an indication of what features might be expected to be survive.

The monument is broadly aligned northwest-southeast, with the entrance passage to the monument facing to the southeast. This corresponds with 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.

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. These monuments were used for communal burial and ritual and archaeological investigations have reveal evidence of complex development sequences at similar sites. This cairn may, therefore, 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 the visible elements of the monument.  Such deposits have the potential to provide information about the date of the monument, ritual and funerary practice, and the structure of Neolithic society, while surviving artefacts and ecofacts would enhance understanding of contemporary economy, land-use and environment when the monument was built and when it was in use.

Contextual Characteristics

Around 600 chambered cairns are known of in Scotland. This example has been interpreted as part of an architecturally-distinct subgroup known as the Orkney-Cromarty group, dating to the Neolithic period in Scotland. The group has a widespread distribution across the north and west of Scotland, in modern Inverness-shire, Ross-shire, Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney. They can typically be described as passage graves with inner chambers often defined by upright slabs of stones (sometimes described as 'stalls') which demarcate burial spaces. They are mainly round in plan, but some are short horned or long cairns and others heel-shaped - 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.

This example is situated on a small promontory on the eastern side of Loch Borralan. This position affords good views over Loch Borrolan and the modern Lochinver to Lairg road to the north – both of which exploit a natural routeway, likely to have been used as such at the time of the cairn's use. The monument is also a prominent feature within the local landscape. Long distance views are available from the monument looking to the south, west and east and onwards towards Cul Mor, a prominent topographical feature in the Assynt landscape

There are two similar burial cairns in the vicinity of the monument: the excavated Loch Borralan cairn, 200m to the ENE (SM 1765) and a further example 500m to the ESE   (SM 1765).  (Canmore ID: 4627) The latter cairn is not intervisible with this example.  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 and specifically, a subgroup know as Orkney-Cromarty cairns. It is an impressive monument that retains its field characteristics to a marked degree 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 sources of evidence for the Neolithic period in Scotland and so are an important part in our understanding of the nature of 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



CANMORE ID 4623 (accessed on 29.05.18). Site number: NC21SE 1

Local Authority HER Reference MHG13051 (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


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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