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The Tullos Cairns

Four Bronze Age Cairns. Though these have inevitably suffered over the millennia, and are considerably overgrown by gorse, it makes for a fine walk on a sunny day to complete a '
round' of the Cairns.  Tullos Hill a modest summit overlooking Nigg Bay and Greg Ness, the Hill rises to 83m (272 feet) 2 miles (3 km) southeast of the City Centre. On its slopes are Baron's Cairn, Cat Cairn, Crab's Cairn and Tullos Cairn, which are Bronze Age burial cairns. The remains of a World War II Prisoner of War camp are also located here, together with a former landfill site which has been restored. 

From the old road as it enters the Tullos Hill a path winds up to a great cairn of stones set on the sky-line; this is the Baron's Cairn. The stones are now scattered about by many a young vandal, but formerly they were laid down with care and regularity. It was at this Cairn the Beacons were lit to warn the warders at the Harbour that an enemies' ship approached, in order that the River Mouth might be closed by the great Chain and Ships Mast  Boom, and that the Footdee Block-house Cannoniers stand to their guns. The foundations of the Watchman's House were to be seen close by the Baron's Cairn.

Further west there is another great pile, "The Cat's Cairn," also on the sky-line, and at the east end of the hill a smaller cairn stands, " The Crab's Cairn," while on the northern face, North East of the Baron's Cairn, and far below the sky line, there is a huge stone heap known as the "Tullos Cairn."

Crab's Cairn is the least prominent of the 4 large stone cairns on the ridge on Tullos Hill. They form the remains of an important Bronze Age cairn cemetery, probably dating to the early 2nd Millennium BC. Its position lies 335 metres south east of Tullos Cairn The cairn measures 11m in diameter and 1.1m high and consists of a mass of loose boulders and stones. This cairn is in dense gorse undergrowth and has been crossed by a 19th-century field boundary as well being damaged by 20th-century rubbish dumping.  The naming of the cairns on Tullos Hill is recent. Brown's Map of the area in 1777 is the 1st very detailed map of the area (it is held in the City archives). It reveals that Tullos Cairn was so named in 1777 but none of the rest of the cairns had their modern names at that point. Crab's Cairn does not seem to be name known at that time, although they have assumed their names by at least 1867.

These Cairns were probably intended to be commemorative of great events in the sturm und drang of the fierce old days. The Monuments remain, characters of a lost tongue, the signification of which we cannot decipher. The Cairns were of great importance to the old navigators, and we find the most precise directions given for employing them as guides and landmarks, but it is very unlikely that they were originally piled up for this purpose any more than were the twin spires of Old Machar Cathedral, which were also taken as leading points by sailors.

Tullos Cairn is the largest, most northerly and best preserved Cairn, one of 4 large stone cairns on a ridge on Tullos Hill. They form the remains of an important Bronze Age Cemetery, probably dating to the early 2nd millennium BC.  Unlike the other 3, this cairn is not located on the skyline. Instead it lies on the north flank of a slightly terraced area on Tullos Hill.  The original shape of the Cairn has been lost as there are several indentations, which may be the result of stone removal or illicit excavations in the past.  It measures roughly 20m in diameter and 2.5m high.  The naming of the cairns on Tullos Hill is recent. Brown's map of the area in 1777 is the 1st very detailed map of the area (it is held in the city archives). It reveals that Tullos Cairn was so named in 1777 but none of the rest of the cairns had their modern names at that point.

Between the Tullos and Crab Cairns there is a Hill-Well, far removed from all source of contamination, called Jacob's Well, a rillet from which soaks through a little valley, among the bog moss and pennywort and sedge, to collect in a neighbouring hollow as a broad reedy pool. Along the course of this water trickle a kind of rush known as "sprots'' grows a fine annual crop; these were largely used for "raips" and thatching. The harvesting of the sprots used to exercise to the utmost the ingenuity and "slimness" of the Farmers of Nigg. The sprots are useless until mature, so the neighbouring agriculturalists kept a jealous eye on their growth, each man resolving to reap those sprots for himself as soon as they were ready. A Farmer and his men stole out 1 moonlight night and with stealthy scythe cleared the little hollow and set the sprots up in stooks, to carry home at dawn. Home they returned in the night, hugging themselves in satisfaction at their timely strategy, and after a brief sleep returned with daylight for their hill harvest. But a rival sprot seeker, who slept while they reaped, had risen an hour earlier to cut the much coveted rushes, and, finding them ready stocked to his hands, gathered them up in thankfulness of his neighbour's industry.

Consumption Dykes
These distinctive drystone field boundaries or Dykes are very characteristic of the landscape of North-East Scotland, although similar features are known from other areas, including New England. There are over 100 recorded in Aberdeen alone, of which several fine examples survive on Tullos Hill. They are in essence simply walls which have been built excessively large in height or width, to ‘consume’ glacier shed stones which have been cleared out of the fields to make the ground more suitable for agriculture.  In many cases, great care has been taken to make them aesthetically pleasing as well as practical. The examples on Tullos Hill are related to land improvements by David Morrice, owner of Tullos House in the early 19th century. One such dyke marked contains part of what has been identified as another Bronze Age burial cairn, which is a scheduled ancient monument.


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Last modified: 01/09/2013