Cairnholy I Chambered Cairn is a spectacular chambered cairn on the southern slopes of Cairnholy Hill, overlooking Wigtown Bay. You reach it by turning off the A75 about six miles west of Gatehouse of Fleet at a well signposted junction with a narrow minor road, which you then follow for two thirds of a mile steeply up the side of the Kirkdale Glen. The road turns into a track just before the parking area.
It is worth noting that this car park also serves visitors to Cairnholy II Chambered Cairn, which is nearly as spectacular as its near neighbour and a further 150m up the track beyond it. Because the sign on the main road only refers to "Cairnholy Cairn" in the singular, and because the second cairn is not within sight of the first or signposted from the car park (though it is mentioned on the information board), we suspect that many people visit Cairnholy I without ever realising that there is a second remarkable cairn crying out to be visited just a short distance away.
Cairnholy I is reached via a gate in the wall beyond the car park. You effectively approach it from the south, passing the grassy (and occasionally rocky) hump that once formed the core of the main body of the cairn. (Continues below image...)
The cairn itself was once considerably larger than it is today, measuring some 43m long and extending to the west of the track. Most of the stones which once formed it probably found later reuse in the stone walls of nearby fields. As you arrive at the north-east end of the cairn, the spikyness that has added so much interest to your approach resolves itself into a remarkable horn shaped facade of eight vertical pillars. The two largest, in the centre, form a gateway into the chamber beyond.
The cairn seems to have stood here for between 4,000 and 6,000 years, and underwent a series of changes during its long period of time in use as a place of burial. The facade appears to have been a later addition, and defined a forecourt that was probably used for ceremonials. Excavation in 1949 found evidence of at least six fires having been lit in the area.
The chamber within the cairn remains visible, and comprised an inner and an outer compartment. It is thought that the inner compartment was the original tomb, and that the outer compartment was added when the facade was erected. The soils hereabout are acid, so little or no bone material was recovered during the excavation of the cairn. A number of items were found which might have been grave goods, including an axe head made of Jadeite, a beautiful green stone which must have originally come from the Alps.