South Yarrows North chambered cairn is located on the spine of a long ridge running north-south formed by parallel normal faulting of the county rocks (ND 304 434). The cairn axis is orientated across the ridge with the chamber entrance facing east.
Joseph Anderson, who was to become one of Scotland's foremost antiquarians, excavated the cairn in 1865. At the time he was editor of the John O Groats Journal, a local newspaper, but went on to become Keeper of the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh.
South Yarrows North is one of a number of chambered cairns in the Yarrows - Watenan areas studied by Anderson during the 1860s that became the first systematic study of a group of chambered cairns in Scotland (1).
The long horned cairn, appears to comprise two elements, a shorter eastern section, ca. 17 m long, containing a ruinous chamber and having a horned forecourt, and a long, low rectangular western section separated from the eastern section by a c. 1.5 m gap, the whole being c. 50 m long and overgrown by turf and heather.
Anderson thought that the gap was due to robbing-out of cairn material. However the axis of the larger section is clearly offset from that of the smaller section, containing the chamber, indicating that it may have been a later addition built to convert a round cairn into a long one.
The burial chamber of South Yarrows North cairn was entered by a short entrance passage in the centre of the facade. The passage led into an antechamber, narrower than the main chamber and defined by two pairs of orthostats. The main chamber had outward curving, walled sides and an unusual rounded end. This curved, distal end of the chamber was segregated from the remainder by a pair of low orthostats to create a separate space.
Anderson reported that the floor of the chamber was covered by irregular paving slabs laid on ca. 150 mm of highly compacted clay containing charcoal, burnt and un-burnt human bone and animal bone.
A secondary, slab built, cist covered by two slabs, had been inserted into the left hand side of the anti-chamber on top of the floor deposit. The contained clay and burnt bone, a broken pot of a coarse stony fabric with an everted rim and decorated with parallel twisted cord impressions. Anderson also found seventy discoidal and cylindrical lignite beads, some still lying as they had been threaded (1).
The chamber is now very ruinous and little of what Anderson described can be easily recognised.
1) Davidson J L and Henshall A S, 1991, The Chambered Cairns of Caithness p 104.
The trail continues to South Yarrows South chambered cairn which is possibly later in date.