A sensational archaeological landscape, the Yarrows Trail, located on Caithness’ historic eastern coast, is a joy to experience and is one of the region’s most rewarding walks. Just a mile or so south of Thrumster, a short drive takes you to a car park close to the start of the walk. A circular route can be followed, though there is much more to explore if you are willing to venture off the beaten track!
Yarrows Trail is one of Caithness’ best kept archaeological secrets – a heather-flocked landscape containing a diverse range of archaeological monuments, some of which date back as far as the Neolithic period.
Standing stones, stone rows, brochs, and cairns can all be encountered here, and the sense of solitude and peace when you visit (you’ll usually be the only person around!) lends to the otherworldly experience.
Your first stop should be the South Yarrows ‘Cairn’ (in actual fact a broch) located on the loch. Not only is this a pleasing wee rhyme, but it is one of Caithness’ best examples of a broch, although it is prone to flooding every now and then, so do take care when visiting. Secondary structures – later period ‘wags’ which are normally attributed to the Picts – can also be seen surrounding the broch. The broch itself is rather interesting as it shares commonalities with brochs of the Western Isles, such as the thinness of the walls and the ‘considerable length’ of the intramural gallery (i.e. the space between the broch’s two walls).
Continue south along the field, keeping Loch Yarrows to your left. The trail is faint here but you can be guided by white-tipped signposts. We highly recommend you wear an extra pair of socks and good shoes if you attempt this trail, especially if it’s been raining the day before. For those who are a little more intrepid, there are plenty of other archaeological monuments and structures to explore in this general area (including some fantastic standing stones and somewhat mysterious stone rows) and we recommend using Pastmap to find out more about them. Taking an OS map is always a good idea too – this landscape is bigger than you think!
You’ll see the silhouette of the Cairn of Warehouse from a distance on your right – follow the trail until you get there. There are a number of hut circles, cairns, and even a fort nearby, but the Cairn of Warehouse is particularly photogenic. From here fantastic views to Wick and the North Sea can be had, and it is a great place to stop for a sandwich.
Return northwards back to the car park. The last monuments you can expect to see on this trail are a pair of 5,000-year-old Orkney-Cromarty type long cairns, originally excavated by Joseph Anderson in 1865-1866. Perhaps a little confusingly, these are referred to as South Yarrows North and South Yarrows South! Cairns are prehistoric burial chambers where the bones of ancient communities were deposited. It is thought that prior to the ‘burial’ or deposition of these bones, the bodies were stripped of flesh through excarnation – whereby animals fed on the human remains.
Of the two cairns, South Yarrows South is better preserved, but they are both fascinating structures. South Yarrows North has a distinctive ‘head and tail’ appearance, and a chamber here was reused. In one of the outer compartments was a cist, which contained an urn and 70 ‘tiny, round lignite disc beads’ of a single string jet necklace – which bore a striking resemblance to other beads deposited in the Pitt Rivers Museum.
Though there is a ‘trail’ of sorts, it is often boggy and sometimes difficult underfoot, and so a reasonable level of fitness is required to complete the route. Please also note that livestock (horses, cows, and sheep) are also kept on or nearby the trail, and so some caution is needed when traversing the estate.
You can find out more about the Yarrows archaeological landscape, as well as other archaeological and historical sites, on Canmore, Scotland’s historic environment record.
A cist or stone-lined grave some 2.5 m long, with human bones and a bronze spearhead, was found at the Cairn of Warehouse – perhaps a warrior buried with his spear!