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 across the sea 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 a vengeance, 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…
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