Isle of Albion
Photographed: Wednesday 1st May 2013
Other Names: Cuween Hill
Site rating:

The Fairy Knowe is a chambered tomb dating back to around 3000BC. It has a diameter of about 55ft, and rises to around 8.5ft. The tomb is accessed via a main passage, which opens into a central chamber with four adjoining side chambers. When the tomb was excavated in 1901AD, the remains of eight people were found inside, along with the bones of birds, oxen and most notably the skulls of 24 dogs. The latter has led to speculation that the dog may have represented some form of tribal totem.

The Fairy Knowe sits atop Cuween Hill, overlooking the Bay of Forth. Access to the tomb involves crawling on hands and knees along the entrance passage, probably through puddles and mud (although this is somewhat mitigated by the stone slabs that form the base of the passage). Once inside, the gloom, damp and solitude ensure a powerful sense of atmosphere. Very little light manages to enter this tomb, so be prepared to bring your own (or hope that the torch provided for visitors at the entrance contains working batteries).

The central chamber is high enough to stand upright in (which provides a stark contrast to the claustrophobic entrance) and unlike many restored burial chambers, it is still in possession of its original roof. Access to the side chambers is tight, but possible.

The Fairy Knowe might not be the most impressive of Orkney's attractions, but it's still an essential place to visit. The muddy knees and isolation make this a slightly more authentic and rewarding experience than a visit to some of the more managed sites. It's hard not to experience a tangible connection to the past when sitting in darkness inside a 5,000-year-old tomb.