Ancient Monuments

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Cairn Reain, chambered cairn

A Scheduled Monument in Wick and East Caithness, Highland

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Latitude: 58.3816 / 58°22'53"N

Longitude: -3.1799 / 3°10'47"W

OS Eastings: 331097

OS Northings: 944293

OS Grid: ND310442

Mapcode National: GBR L6JK.S22

Mapcode Global: WH6DT.4L0F

Entry Name: Cairn Reain, chambered cairn

Scheduled Date: 17 May 1939

Last Amended: 16 January 2017

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM435

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric ritual and funerary: chambered cairn

Location: Wick

County: Highland

Electoral Ward: Wick and East Caithness

Traditional County: Caithness


The monument is the remains of a chambered cairn dating from the Neolithic period, probably built and used between 3800 and 2500 BC. It is visible as an irregular, low grass-covered mound measuring at least 31m east-northeast to west-southwest by 22m transversely and between one metre and 1.5m in height. The monument lies on a ridge overlooking the Loch of Yarrows, at about 100m above sea level.

The scheduled area is irregular on plan, to include 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 scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground elements of all post-and-wire fences.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument survives as a low mound with distinctly different eastern and western parts. The eastern part is grass-covered and stands about 1m in height with scattered stones visible on the surface. Small-scale excavation has confirmed the presence of cairn material and a possible central chamber along with evidence of disturbance, probably relating to earlier excavation of the monument. The western part, at around 1.5m in height, stands slightly higher than the eastern part. Some surface stones are visible and it appears relatively undisturbed. It is unclear if this is the continuation of the cairn lying to the east or a second separate cairn. Scientific study of the monument's form and character would enhance our understanding of this cairn, and clarify the nature of the western part.

The small-scale excavation of the eastern part has demonstrated that there is good potential for the survival of a wide range of archaeological remains, including human burials, artefacts and environmental remains such as pollen and charcoal, within, beneath and around the upstanding structure of the cairn. The archaeological deposits have the potential to provide information about the date of the monument and ritual and funerary practices, while any artefacts and ecofacts would enhance understanding of contemporary economy, land-use and environment.

Dating evidence demonstrates that chambered cairns were constructed and in use between around 3800 and 2500 BC. They were used for communal burial and ritual, and excavations often reveal evidence of complex development sequences. The monument at Cairn Reain may therefore have been in use for several or many generations. Scientific study of the cairn's form and construction techniques compared with other chambered cairns would enhance our understanding of the character and development sequence of this site, and of chambered cairns in general.

Contextual Characteristics

Chambered cairns are found throughout Scotland, with a concentration on the north and west. The example at Cairn Reain is of significance because of its potentially unusual structure and proximity to a wider complex of broadly contemporary monuments around the Loch of Yarrows. These include the South Yarrows long cairns about 1km and 1.3km southwest (scheduled monument references SM507 and SM508, Canmore ID 9068 and 9057) and McCole's Castle chambered cairn about 1km south-southeast (scheduled monument reference SM467, Canmore ID 9047). The proximity of these monuments can give important insights into the Neolithic landscape and the placing of cairns in the landscape, and add to our understanding of social organisation, land division and land-use during the Neolithic.

Chambered cairns are often placed in conspicuous locations within the landscape, at the edge of arable land and overlooking or inter-visible with other ritual monuments. This cairn is a visible feature in the landscape, located on a ridge overlooking the Loch of Yarrows with good views in all directions.

Associative Characteristics

The cairn was first investigated by the archaeologist Joseph Anderson in 1865, a key figure in the development of archaeology as a discipline in Scotland. He excavated many prehistoric monuments in the Caithness area and undertook the first systematic study of a group of Scottish chambered cairns, of which the cairn at Cairn Reain was a part.

Statement of National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it makes a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular the design and construction of burial monuments. The cairn is a distinctive monument with proven potential for the survival of archaeological remains, and can be compared with the varied group of chambered cairns that survives in the vicinity. Chambered cairns are often our main source of evidence for the Neolithic in Scotland, and can enhance our understanding of Neolithic society and economy, as well as the nature of burial practices and belief systems. They are an important component of the wider prehistoric landscape of settlement, agriculture and ritual. The loss of the monument would diminish our ability to appreciate and understand the meaning and importance of death, burial and ritual in the Neolithic and the placing of cairns within the landscape.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number 9038 (accessed on 21/06/2016).

Highland Council HER Reference MHG2203 (accessed on 21/06/2016).

Anderson, J. (1873) Notes on the excavation of "Kenny s Cairn", on the Hill of Bruan; Carn Righ, near Yarhouse; the Warth Hill Cairn, Duncansbay; and several smaller sepulchral cairns in Caithness , Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 9, 1870-2.

Anderson, J. (1886) Scotland in pagan times: the bronze and stone ages: the Rhind lectures in archaeology for 1882. Edinburgh.

Davidson and Henshall, J L and A S. (1991) The chambered cairns of Caithness: an inventory of the structures and their contents. Edinburgh.

Henshall, A S. (1963) The chambered tombs of Scotland, vol. 1. Edinburgh.

Mercer, R J. (1985) Archaeological field survey in northern Scotland: volume III: 1982-3, University of Edinburgh, Department of Archaeology, Occasional Paper No. 11. Edinburgh.

Pannett, A., Brophy, K. and Mills. S. 2016 Excavations at Cairn Reain, Caithness 2015. Evaluation report. Unpublished report.

RCAHMS. (1911) The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland. Third report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Caithness. London.


HER/SMR Reference


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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