Cairnpapple Hill

Cairnpapple Hill

Just outside Edinburgh sits a relic of a bygone era — Cairnpapple Hill. Set in the Bathgate Hills of West Lothian, Cairnpapple Hill is one of the most intriguing Neolithic monuments that Central Scotland has to offer. It has a terrific, equal parts eerie and fascinating atmosphere, offering insights into life 4,000 years ago.

The Cairnpapple Hill Cairn was built around the same time as many of Scotland’s famous attractions, including the Standing Stones of Stenness. This monument is so old that it predates other major attractions worldwide, like the Pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge. Cairnpapple Hill is also unique compared to other Neolithic sites, with a complex design and a large cairn with two cists inside.

If you’re a history buff looking for a unique attraction to see within proximity to Edinburgh, then Cairnpapple Hill is for you. Let’s cover everything you need to know about this historic site, from its history and how to get there to what you can look forward to while there.

History of Cairnpapple Hill

History of Cairnpapple Hill

Many details of Scotland’s hidden history are still being unearthed to this day, including the storied past of Cairnpapple Hill. While historians and archaeologists know the cairn’s origins, new findings could change the narrative considerably. What is true is that Cairnpapple Hill wasn’t created in a single lifetime.

Before a standing stone was erected or a person was buried, Cairnpapple Hill started as a set of six hearths Neolithic humans used to burn offerings and pray to. A set of stone axes that originated in nearby Wales was also found, which leads historians to believe that there was trade between societies of the time. There are no distinct traces of these hearths today, and the mighty henge monument likely covered what was left of Cairnpaple Hill’s origins.

The henge monument that stands in its stead was a mighty undertaking, standing 30 metres across and created by displacing earth to form a hill-shaped burial cairn. While the timber posts that were used to support the cairn have rotted away, you can still see the post holes where they once stood.

Bronze Age

As the Neolithic transitioned to the Bronze Age, Cairnpapple Hill was one of the few notable Neolithic monuments to persist. The site continued to be used for rituals, and Bronze Age farmers likely added smaller stones and a cairn close to the site’s centre.

It also was in the Bronze Age when a local leader was buried within Cairnpapple Hill. The body was found with a wooden burial face mask and beaker pottery, which acts as a food vessel to help the buried on their path to the afterlife. It’s a fascinating look into the religious practices of the time, although the significance of each item still needs to be confirmed.

There were also several other additions to Cairnpapple Hill, including many of the modern highlights of the site. Two cists (pits with a stone top) were added during this time as additional burial sites, and a much larger cairn was built over the two cairns that had previously existed (also the one you see today). The burial costs have unique markings, including three cup marks.

Modern Day

From the Bronze Age to the Iron Age and the present day, Cairnpapple Hill was slowly uncovered. The primary individual who initially conducted the unearthing of Cairnpapple was Professor Piggott from the University of Edinburgh. Between 1947 and 1948, Piggott discovered the henge monument we spoke about and the Bronze Age burials.

Cairnpapple Hill was an important site for several generations of farmers in the local area and is now in state care by Historic Scotland and Historic Environment.

It has a visitor centre where you can learn about the historic site, buy tickets to explore the burial costs and support the continued maintenance of the site. Cairnpapple Hill is one of the most amazing attractions in the area.

How to Get to Cairnpapple Hill

Cairnpapple Hill is a short drive from Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh. Whether by car or public transit, you can easily fit Cairnpapple Hill into a day of adventuring. Here is how to get to Cairnpapple Hill using various modes of transport:

By Car

You can drive to Cairnpapple Hill from Edinburgh in under an hour. Here is the quickest way to do so.

  • Take the A90 from Edinburgh west into West Lothian, transferring onto the M90 when possible.
  • At Queensferry, turn left onto the A904.
  • Turn right onto B9080 at the A9 Partnership.
  • Then, turn left onto B8046 when possible.
  • Continue along the B8046 and turn right towards the Paw Park Ecclesmachan.
  • Take a left, a right, and a left, and you should begin to see signs for Cairnpapple Hill.

The entire route should take around 45 minutes, and there’s a car park close to the visitor centre on the site.

By Transit

If you prefer to travel around Mainland Scotland using Scotland’s public transit, there are ways to reach Cairnpapple Hill. Remember that no direct bus or rail routes take you directly to the site, and the closest town is Bathgate from Edinburgh.

  • In Edinburgh, head to the King Waverly Station.
  • Take the Helensburgh Central from platform 9 for about five stops.
  • There are several ways to reach Cairnpapple Hill once you arrive at the Bathgate Station.
  • Walking takes about an hour or half as long to reach the site if you plan to cycle there.

Using public transit will take a bit longer than driving there. It’s best to rent a car if you plan to see Cairnpapple Hill and other attractions of Forth Valley.

Opening Times

Cairnpapple Hill is open seasonally between 29th March – 30th September. Opening times are between 10:00 – 16:30 (with the last entry at 16:00). Occasionally, the site is closed for lunch breaks around noon.

Ticket Prices

Ticket prices to Cairnpapple Hill are as follows:

  • Adult Tickets (16 – 64) cost £7.5 per person.
  • Child Tickets (7 – 15) cost £4.5 per person.
  • Concession Tickets (65+) cost £6 per person (unemployed individuals count as concessions).
  • Family Tickets range between £15 – £25.5, depending on the number of members,

The site is highly reasonably priced for the experience. Make sure to visit it if you want an inexpensive attraction to add to your to-do list.

Attractions at Cairnpapple Hill

Once you’ve made the short trip to Cairnpapple Hill and paid your ticket to the visitor centre, you can enjoy this historical site. Fitting the site into your to-do list is extremely easy with how close Cairnpapple is to Edinburgh proper. Here are some things you can look forward to during your visit.

Enjoy a Leisurely Stroll to Cairnpapple Hill

Leisurely Stroll through Cairnpapple

As you make your way towards Cairnpapple Hill, you’ll likely notice the foreboding shape slowly rising on the horizon. This complex site may be intimidating at first, but it makes the walk towards Cairnpapple brimmed with excitement.

Only a few people know that the area surrounding Cairnpapple Hill before agriculture was a dense forest. Today, it’s a gorgeous green pasture that makes it perfect for a morning or afternoon walk away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

The walk to Cairnpapple Hill is gentle and pleasant, and it is a great start to your time at the historic site.

Learn about this Henge Monument

Henge Monument

Once you complete your Cairnpapple Hill walk, the unique configuration of its henge monument is the first thing that catches your eye. This hill is an incredibly complex structure and was constructed over several centuries. Keep an eye out for the rock-cut ditch that outlines the henge monument, likely how Neolithic and Bronze Age humans sourced the earth for the structure.

The Cairnpapple Hill henge also has several holes that dot its perimeter. This is where the supportive beams were previously placed to main the structure, and you can tell where the post holes were. As far as henge monuments go, Cairnpapple Hill is a highly unique Neolithic structure.

Discover a Bronze Age Cist Grave

Bronze Age Cist Grave

The best part of visiting Cairnpapple Hill is the opportunity to enter the cairn itself. You can see the interior of a modern cairn, which has a reconstructed dome that recreates the site as it would have looked in the Bronze Age. While the recreation is larger than it would’ve been, it’s an excellent representation.

Within, you can see reconstructed graves that are marked with colours. Red gravel means it was an upright burial in the stone cairn, while white means it was likely a Christian burial. While it’s difficult to encompass the various times and parts of the cairn since they were built on top of each other, you’ll be able to see all the main phases of the site in one go.

See the Forth Valley

Forth Valley

Cairnpapple Hill is part of the Forth Valley, which spans from Edinburgh to Stirling (more or less). Many visitors choose to traverse Forth Valley and see the stellar attractions in the general area (including Cairnpapple Hill). These include Kinneil House and Estate, the Helix in Falkirk, and Stirling Castle, to name a few.

We’ve written articles about many of these locations, so if you plan to add more amazing attractions to your holiday, we recommend checking them out.

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