Dreaming Stones: Going underground

The roads on the Isle of Skye are my kind of road…narrow, winding and green. I was loving driving around the island, but when presented with an even narrower road that climbs a steep hill and throws in a hairpin bend or two, the only thing to do is to take it.

The road led us up the headland above Uig, and we were already eyeing up possible parking spots. Any accommodation we had found for the night online was exorbitantly expensive… there was no way we would pay over a week’s wages for a night’s lodging, even if we could… and so far, we had seen no ‘vacancy’ signs either. Skye seemed to be closed on Mondays; for a holiday destination, this did seem rather odd.

Following the headland, we had magnificent views to the neighbouring isles whenever there was a break in the mist. We had not gone far, though, before I spotted a sign and pulled into a car-park. Kilvaxter souterrain, it said, and we’d had such a wonderful experience at Carn Euny on our trip to Cornwall, that we really did have to stop. Unfortunately, the rain was pelting down and there were people…we do prefer to have the ancient sites to ourselves where possible. We still had a few bits in the cooler for second breakfast, so we nibbled and watched as the latest visitors spent several minutes getting kitted out with professional looking gear.

We had seen one ill-equipped family make the visit in just a matter of minutes as the rains came down with avengeance, diving back to the car with soggy children. We gave the next couple ten minutes… they had donned full walking and rain gear after all. They even had an umbrella. We shouldn’t take bets on things like that, I know, but you can tell the genuinely interested from the casual tourist a mile off. And anyway, we were wrong… they only lasted five minutes. Either there was very little to see or it  didn’t speak to them at all.

We, however, were immediately intrigued. The site had only been discovered in 2000, by a gentleman called Phillip James, when one of the lintels collapsed, revealing the underground void. Local people had excavated and restored the site with help and funding from various bodies. This living link to the ancient history of the community and its ancestors seems indefinably right.

The site consists of a hut circle and souterrain… an underground passageway. There is no clear explanation for these chambers… the most common theory, at least for the simple ones, is that they were used for food storage, although some, like Carn Euny, may have had ritual uses for their chambers too. Another theory is that they were a place of refuge in case of attack, but this seems ludicrous to me… unless the entrances were far enough away from the settlement and well enough hidden, they would be no safe place at all. No-one really knows, though the passages would undoubtedly have served as storage space, whatever else their purpose. They date from the late Iron Age, around two thousand years ago, and according to the information board, there are at least twenty of them on Skye alone. So much for our ‘three ancient sites’… not that we registered that at the time. We just thought it was odd that it hadn’t been included by our usual sources…

The hut circle is clearly marked, with many of the base stones remaining, but the souterrain is the most exciting part of the site. The entrance, recessed into the sloping ground, would have been covered by a wattle door made of woven branches. The passage is very low…the doorway around three feet high, the passage less than two and a half feet wide and over fifty-five feet long. It is pitch black inside and there is no lighting. But, mobile phones have torches… not that we would have used the battery had we known what lay ahead…

Stuart couldn’t get inside very far without light and bent double, especially as the tunnel was deeply flooded. Hobbits are better suited to such ventures, so, hitching up my flowing skirts and grateful that I’d donned the wellies, in I went. To the left, stabilised by modern sandbags, was a small alcove-passage, raised above the ground. In front of me, the tunnel roof rose and fell, while the pool of muddy water got deeper and deeper.

The silence within was complete and quite eerie… breath echoed and the dripping water beat out an arcane rhythm as I went deeper into the womb of earth. Above me, massive stone lintels held the roof in place… a quite extraordinary bit of construction. The camera flash refused to work, although it should have done so. The only light was the meagre glow from the phone. Within just a few feet of the entrance, I could have been miles from the surface. And I loved it… until, that is, the pool  of water got so deep it was at the top of my boots and threatening ingress. I beat a reluctant retreat, disappointed not to have reached the end, but between the uneven, stepped floor and the pool that hid it, retreat was the sensible option.

How can you fail to be moved by a place like this? It is not some grand temple or massive monument, but a bit of domestic architecture that has survived for two thousand years. Ordinary people, like you and me, once lived, laughed, struggled and loved here. The construction of this safe place, whatever its purpose, must have been of vital importance to them for them to have done such amazing and back-breaking work… and it stands as a testament to their lives still today, preserved now by the very people who may be their descendants.

The rain that had paused to allow us to explore began again as we made our way back to the car, wondering what else we might find as we drove the island roads…and hoping that lunch and a bed for the night would be amongst them.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com.
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56 Responses to Dreaming Stones: Going underground

  1. Darlene says:

    What a cool find!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Helen Jones says:

    What a wonderful place, Sue!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. jenanita01 says:

    Not sure I would have stopped at that point, but it might have been very deep! I wonder why the camera flashlight refused to work?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      There is a limit to how much water those boots can hold…and I hate driving with wet, muddy feet 😉
      Yes, it was odd, in such complete darkness. I had to use the phone torch to get any shot at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Astonishing, Sue. New one on me -and certainly one to make you ponder…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fascinating, as always!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. What a great post Sue, It sounds like an very interesting place and like you, I would have wanted to get to the end as well. I’ve not heard of that sort of structure before so it was fascinating to read about – I wonder what it was used for.

    Like we we don’t much enjoy these places either if there are lots of people about. We went to Belas Knap earlier in the year and it was covered in people – and hideously obnoxious ones at that – which did ruin the visit for us. they’re much nicer with nobody there!

    As for the camera – Ghosts draining the battery maybe?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      There is a lot of speculation about the souterrains or fougous, and when you see how different they can be from each other, I don’t buy a ‘one size fits all’ explanation.
      We were at Belas Knap last October: https://wp.me/p1wss8-gzQ and like you, found the place full of people, some of whom showed little respect for the place. We just waited though…they soon leave.
      As to the camera…it was rather strange. I have four fully charged batteries when I travel and charge any I have used every night. They usally manage to last for three days shooting each, but after that one night when we were unable to charge the used one, I found myself with barely any power in any of them.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I went to Skye a few years ago and found it to be fascinating. I did not see this tunnel though. How wonderful! Shall have to go back 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. willowdot21 says:

    This is so jam pack with experiences, it brilliant 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Alli Templeton says:

    Sue, this is a fascinating post, and I have to apologise that it’s only now Stuart has told me about it that I found it. Somehow, goodness knows how, your blog has fallen off my follow list, and I was wondering why I hadn’t seen any posts from you for a few days. (Is that normal for WordPress?) In fact, I was just about to contact you and ask if you were alright when I got a text from Stuart about this beautiful place you explored. So it’s nice to be back in touch, and I really enjoyed reading about this special place. You’re right, of course, that it would be impossible not to be moved by such an ancient shelter and the thought of people’s lives playing out in and around it. A place well worth braving the weather for! ❤ 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Sadly yes, that happens with WeirdPress occasionally. You get used to missing people and realise it was just a gremlin…
      In fact, I’d been wondering about you too but thought you must be away 🙂

      It was a stunning little place…and made evn more special by the way it had been excavated and preserved by the locals.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alli Templeton says:

        Good old WordPress then, I guess I’m still getting used to it and it’s gremlins.
        I haven’t been away yet, but have been busy writing the narrative for my Welsh castle wander which we’re off on next weekend (22nd), so I’ve been rather lost in 13th Century Wales, although not getting notifications doesn’t help with keeping up with my friends’ blogs.
        Yes, it says a lot about a community that looks after it’s ancient sites like this. A fascinating piece of prehistory, and a great post to come back to… 🙂

        Like

        • Sue Vincent says:

          You get used to its vagaries…and spit feathers occasionally. But it is still the best platform…and best community… I’ve found for bloggng.
          I’m looking forward to reading of your travels. I do love that bit of the world.
          If you get chance, you might like some of the other posts on the journey. We managed a couple of castles on the workshop weekend… as well as the other suff afterwards that I am still writing about 😉

          Liked by 1 person

          • Alli Templeton says:

            Oh wow, yes please! Always glad to hear about castles.
            I’ve just realised another one of my follows has dropped out too. It’s something I’ll have to be aware of now I know. Don’t trust the silence!
            North Wales is a beautiful area indeed, and we’re looking forward to exploring it properly. It’s a big project. The castles, together with how they got there make a really good story, so I hope you enjoy the trek. It’s the reason I started my blog really, but I’m finding I’m very much enjoying blogging anyway, and I’ve met some lovely people, like yourself. We’ll have that glass of mead when I get back… 🙂

            Like

            • Sue Vincent says:

              I’ll look forward to that, Alli. It will be good to meet to and Stuart. 🙂 And I know you will have fun in Wales…

              If you fancy reading and of the posts on the journey, there are some on the Silent Eye…use the search bar halfway down the right hand side to look for Hunting the Unicorn. The rest of the trip ( ma and Stuart meandering 😉 ) Are all on here under the title Dreaming Stones 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

              • Alli Templeton says:

                Thanks Sue, I’ll have a look.
                It’ll be lovely to meet up, so we’ll sort something out when we get back. In the meantime, while we’re away, I hope the building work progresses well, and that you keep well and out of the sun. It doesn’t seem to bad at the moment. Fingers crossed it stays like this for Wales. 🙂

                Like

              • Sue Vincent says:

                I’ve been out in the sun all day, every day, as the garden progresses at my son’s. The worst of the interior work is yet to come… 😦
                I do hope you get decent weather…though Wales is beautiful in any weather. I remember one particular drenching at Strata Florida, the 12thC Abbey…. but we didn’t really care 🙂
                And yes… August 😉

                Liked by 1 person

              • Alli Templeton says:

                Please take care of yourself in the sun, and I’ll keep everything crossed for the interior work.
                You’re right, Wales is gorgeous in any weather, so I won’t grumble. Unless it’s boiling. 😉

                Like

              • Sue Vincent says:

                Yes, I can quite agree with that one 😉

                Liked by 1 person

              • Alli Templeton says:

                😉

                Liked by 1 person

  10. Adele Marie says:

    I remember telling you that my Uncle Tommy used to tease me about being little and dark and a pict but what if, as usual, there is truth hidden in the obvious. The old races. They have been described as little and darker in appearance and hair than the Celts. I just wonder….lol here goes my brain again. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Jennie says:

    Yes, how can you fail to be moved like a place like that? Will you go back when there has been no rain and you can go in further? Please say yes!

    Like

  12. macjam47 says:

    A fascinating post, Sue. I would have to go with the thought that they were used for storage, especially food since they are underground where it would be cooler. Hugs.

    Like

  13. Is my memory deceiving me or didn’t you all go into another site somewhere that was kind of like this with a sort of well you walked down into that was lined with rocks and seemed to have rock stairs part way at least into it and it was I think near a church or some other kind of building that was not (if I remember right) a home.

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      We have visited a good many sacred springs and wells, as well as places like the souterrains (one of which had flooded with the rains) …but this one was quite unique.

      Like

  14. I am not sure if my three South African wimps will be prepared to do this, Sue.

    Like

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