Cuween Hill Cairn – Orkney, Scotland - Atlas Obscura

Cuween Hill Cairn

Enter the world under the hill at this ancient UK burial chamber. 


While this ancient hillside tomb was originally built for simple farmers, today it looks almost as though it is a secret entrance to some hidden fairy world. 

Found at the end of a rough, jagged trail on the mainland of the Orkney Islands, Cuween Hill s a patchy earthen dome that looks like just the sort of place to bury some people. The multi-chambered burial vault is thought to have been built around 3000 BCE by a tribe or settlement of Neolithic farmers. Inside the hill is a tall main chamber that is accompanied by four smaller chambers. Archaeological excavations discovered the remains of at least eight humans as well as 24 dog skulls. This may mean that the dog was the farmers’ symbol or totem, and that the space may have been cleared of remains periodically.  

The interior space has been shored up after being damaged during earlier excavation. but is now open to visitors who want to make the hike. The entrance to the chamber is quite narrow so you will have to crawl to enter.  Inside the burial chamber the ceiling is tall enough that it is quite easy to stand up, although it is a pitch black cave that was once filled with dog skulls. Luckily, next to the entrance is a box holding a torch.  It is possible that the torch will not have batteries in it, so it is advised that you bring your own.

The walk up to the entrance covers a set of steps surrounded by overgrown grass, giving the site an even more ancient air. It takes a lot of guts to stride into an ancient grave, but there are worse ways to spend an afternoon in Orkney.    

Know Before You Go

Off of Old Finstown Rd. There is signage directing one to the location. A small parking lot is provided. One will have to travel 10 -15 minutes up a dirt trail to reach the open. There is a wooden ladder to climb and a flashlight is located in a box to the side. One has to enter on their hands and knees with room for four adults to move around. Be sure to search for the rune markings over the interior entrance on the left.

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