|A description of the stone setting at Achavanich in Caithness.
U-shaped stone setting ND188418*
How to find : Take the A895 north from Latheron for 9km, then take the minor (Lybster) road on the right just after Loch Rangag. After 1km the stones are visible in the field to the left. Don't block the road! The site is also referred to as 'Achkinloch' and 'Loch Stemster'.
Best time of year to visit : Midwinter sunrise? ; lunar major standstill summer moonrise?
This setting of stones at Achavanich forms a strange and impressive site, which is surprisingly little known and little visited. It is almost unique in Scotland.
The stones are set in an elongated 'U' shape, which seems always to have had one open end, to the south-east. It is about 70 metres long by 30 metres wide. There are about 36 stones or stumps still surviving in position, with an average height of about 1.5 metres, though the tallest is 2 metres high. There may originally have been about sixty stones set up here. The stones are flags with their long axes facing inwards and outwards through the circumference, not parallel to the circumference as is usual with stone circles. There may have been a kerb on the east side to protect the stones from the slope.
At the north-east corner, and also on the east side are settings of stones which may be the remains of burial cists. On a low hill to the south-east is a Neolithic round cairn.
Such a site can indicate no precise astronomical line, but it seems natural to stand in the centre of the setting and look 'out' through the top of the setting, up the slope. The range of azimuths defined by the end stones, as seen from the centre is 144.2° to 181.0°, with the respective horizon altitudes being 3.1° and 1.6°. So the band of declination values suggested by the stones is from -22.5° to -30.4°, which include both the position of the rising sun at midwinter, and the rising extreme southern moon at the major standstill. This is a speculative interpretation!
The only similar site is at Broubster (ND048608) 23km away, where 9 stones of a 32 stone setting survive, with the open end of the setting in this case at the south-south-west.
Achavanich, a view across the setting. This site is difficult to photograph effectively!