You reach Cairnholy II Chambered Cairn by walking 150yds up the track from the car park it shares with its near neighbour Cairnholy I. This in turn is reached by driving two thirds of a mile along a narrow minor road that climbs steeply up the side of the Kirkdale Glen from a signposted junction on the A75 about six miles west of Gatehouse of Fleet. Many will want to visit the spectacular Cairnholy I first, then use the convenient gate in the north end of its wall to access the track to Cairnholy II.
Cairnholy I Chambered Cairn is so spectacular that it is tempting to think that Cairnholy II has to be a poor neighbour. You catch your first glimpse of it as you round a corner on the track, and begin to appreciate that though its charms are in some ways more subtle, it is every bit as worth visiting as its lower level neighbour.
Like its neighbour, the cairn has stood here for between 4,000 and 6,000 years, and the periods of use of the two cairns were either contemporary or at least overlapped. Much of the mass of the cairn of Cairnholy II has been stripped away over the centuries for reuse in local field walls, but thankfully the large stones at the core of the cairn seem to have remained undisturbed. (Continues below image...)
While Cairnholy I is believed to have been altered during its period of use to provide an arena for rituals to take place, Cairnholy II seems to have continued to function as a simple place of burial. Excavation in the late 1940s laid bare the key elements of the cairn, and these remained in place as you see them today. The entrance to the cairn was reached from a small forecourt between two large upright stones, which now provide mutual support by leaning against one another.
Within the cairn was an outer chamber, with beyond it an inner chamber sealed by an upright stone. The inner chamber was roofed by a large flat capstone, which today remains in place and provides the most fascinating feature of the cairn. Granted that the capstone would once have been supported by many other stones, it would still have taken a great deal of effort to place it here. And its modern situation, apparently precariously balanced on just three or four points of support, gives a sense of magic to the cairn it probably lacked when its entire structure was complete.
Beneath the capstone it is possible to see into the inner chamber. When the cairn was excavated a flint knife and arrow head were found here, together with the remains of five or six Beaker pots in the outer chamber. No trace was found of the human remains that would once have accompanied them.