Watenan, West

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One of five stone rows forming part of this alignment. View from south east (Scale 1m).

Location

Scotland Caithness Northern Scotland ND 31325 42180
Lat 58.36277721   Long -3.175425102

 

Characteristics

Type: Multiple Length: 35m
No. of stones: 120 Size of stones: Small and medium
Orientation: 157.5° Altitude: 137m
Upper end: – Lower end: –
Straight (Yes or No)  : Sea View: Yes
Context:  Chambered cairns
Notes: 5 rows. Photograph of the rows at time of discovery by Gordon Watson available here.

Other Information

Public Access:  Yes
Land Status:
Scheduled Ancient Monument: No

Identification

Category: Plausible. No doubts have been expressed regarding the prehistoric interpretation of this row.


Photographs

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Edge set slab exposed in the side of a peat exposure. The accumulation of peat around the stone confirms its considerable antiquity. View from south east (Scale 1m).

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Heather patches make it difficult to appreciate the character of the alignment. There are extensive sea views from this site. View from north (Scale 1m).

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Some slabs forming these rows are now recumbent. View from south (Scale 1m).

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View from above and south of the central part of the alignment (Scale 1m).

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View from above and south illustrating the character of the rows. Loch of Yarrows is visible in the background (Scale 1m).

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View from above and north illustrating the character of the rows. Heather and lichen patches together with surface make it difficult to appreciate the character of these rows (Scale 1m). 

Reveals

There are a large number of reveals visible from this row. Several were identified during the field visit and are considered below, but there are undoubtedly others.

Whiteleen Stone Pair

A remarkable reveal featuring an optical illusion is created as you walk up the row. The reveal starts a short distance beyond the current visible lower end of the alignment, but the rows may have originally been longer. At ND 31346 42130 the tip of the southern standing stone of the Whiteleen stone pair pops out from behind the nearby hill. As you continue to walk up the row the stone grows in size before being joined by its neighbour. The stones appear between two separate hills which eventually frame them. The reveal process is a real visual treat. If you keep your eyes on the stone pair and walk up the rows they will appear to rotate anti-clockwise as if attached to a rotating sphere. Certainly an optical illusion – but one that may have been of interest to the row builders. Attempts to video this were frustrated by shaky camera work and instead a series of photographs were taken at six step intervals. The results are presented below.

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The northern of the Whiteen stone pair pops up behind the near hillside.

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Then slowly emerges out of the ground.

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The first stone is then joined by the tip of its neighbour.

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Both stones continue to emerge. 

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The southern stone is now fully revealed. 

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Both stones are now fully visible. Although not clear in the photograph this view is also framed by a slither of sea topped by land beyond. 

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More of the hill on which the stones are standing appears.

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The stone pair is now perfectly framed by the foreground. 

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Finally as you reach the top of the alignment the Whiteleen stones stand alone on their hilltop.

North Eastern Sea view

The stone alignment has sea views along its entire length and in common with its neighbour (Watenan, East) the views to the south east remain fairly constant, whilst those to the north east constantly change and indeed the sea only becomes visible at the lowest point of the alignment. The siting of this row therefore appears to have been influenced by a visual link to the north. The alignment starts at the point where the sea becomes visible and is orientated to maximise the constant changes in its appearance. Further work during ideal visibility will almost certainly yield dividends and illustrate the special relationship between the sea views and the alignment. The photograph above illustrates the character of the sea view from the top of the alignment.

Loch of Yarrows

The Loch Of Yarrows is revealed as you walk northwards along the row. The character of this reveal is illustrated in the following photographs. Each photograph is taken six steps apart.

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From this spot the Loch of Yarrows is not visible.

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After six steps a slither of water is visible.

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A further six steps a little more of the loch can be seen.

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The Loch of Yarrows slowly emerges.

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Becoming more obvious.

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Then finally revealed.

Warehouse Hill Cairns

The large chambered cairns on Warehouse Hill are concealed from view by rising ground until you reach the very end of the row and at this point are suddenly revealed.  This is both an obvious and remarkable reveal and very unlikely to be a coincidence.  Time and time again reveals of this type are being identified at stone alignments and this cumulative evidence strongly supports the idea that the rows were built to incorporate such reveals and that indeed they were a crucial element of their design and therefore use. The evidence strongly suggests that the alignments were built to provide specific visual links to special places and this in turn implies that the rows were a focus for ritual activity directly connected with several places in the surrounding landscape.

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As you reach the northern end of the alignment the western Warehouse Hill chambered cairn slides out from behind rising ground which had previously concealed it.

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A couple of steps further and the second chambered cairn makes its appearance. A truly remarkable reveal enhanced by the fact that it happens at the spot where the alignment ends.

Camster

A prominent notch formed by the valley between the Hill of Yarrows and the high ground at South Yarrows is now visually dominated by the Baillie wind farm near Camster. As you walk northward along the row, the notch widens revealing more of the landscape behind. This visual treat may have played a part, albeit a small one.

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From the southern end the notch is very pronounced.

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But becomes much less prominent as you walk north along the rows.

South Yarrows South Chambered Cairn

On the hill west of South Yarrows Farm is a large long chambered cairn. Examination of the visual links between this cairn and the alignment were unfortunately not conducted during the field visit. Post-visit analysis seems to indicate that this cairn is visible from all parts of the alignment and therefore there is no reveal, but future work may refute this.

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The South Yarrows South chambered cairn is one of many broadly contemporary sites visible from the alignment.

The Watenan, West stone alignment has a large number of quantifiable reveals and further work will almost certainly expose more. The consistency of the visual link evidence strongly supports the argument that the rows were focal points within the landscape, built to allow specific visual connectivity with the places of significance. Rows were special primarily because of their particular visual relationships with significant places. They may perhaps, best be thought of as markers leading between a series of very special and precise viewpoints.

Access Information

Car parking is available at ND 31885 40851. Follow the signposting to the Cairn O’Get. At ND 31523 40988 follow the track north to ND 31713 42049 where Watenan, East can be visited before proceeding to Watenan, West.  Watenan, West is only about 400m away to the north west but the ground is uneven and care should be taken to avoid the frequent boggy areas.


Online Resources 

Canmore     Historic Environment Record

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