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EAST HOLM November 5th 2011

I took the St Margaret's Hope bus as far as the first of the Churchill Barriers. The full name of Holm parish is Holm and Paplay, and basically East Holm is Paplay 'place of the priests'. Lamb Holm (earlier Laman, perhaps as in Lamaness) is included as part of Holm. I considered crossing the barrier to have a look at the eroding ancient settlement in the low 'cliff' to see what has changed since my last 'inspection', but through the mist the tide appeared too high for safety. There is a traditional site of an RC church (quarried away) marked as by the WWII camp remains. 'Popish' can mean any pre-Reformation church so I would like it to instead be close to that settlement - there are the scant footings of a few ancient structures on the ground in the vicinity.

Turning away from the barrier I took the road that heads up to the War Memorial junction. Here is one of those marvellous places where the tide playing over the polished pebbles causes a lovely swooshing sound on the forward and backward strokes, a splendid susurru. Before the Graemes established Graemeshall the area was known as Meil 'sand'. Most likely this was for the portion of beach called the Sand of Graemeshall (though I should point out there had been a sand pit on the other side of the road and burn from Mass Howe I can't think of a fortune being made from sand in the mediaeval period). Uphill to the north there is still the large the Muir of Meil to carry on the name, but as there is a place called Hestimuir 'horse moor' I would suggest this might have been the original name of that moorland.
Crossing over the burn I see the cliff path is now, after a few additions, termed the Graemeshall Trail. At the start there is now a contrived patch of water-worn pebbles for footing but these are, as the saying has it, slippery when wet. I'm not sure they improve the grip therefore. Good job the path reverts after the pebbles! At the far end the trail turns uphill and takes you past the west end of Newark. This strait piece runs tightly between three wellsprings, and even though these are no longer running above ground it is no surprise that this part of the track was thoroughly sodden. And in between the trails beginning and end there is at least one hollow that requires careful crossing.
From the stones the path climbs slowly up. Below you is a stretch of shore whose name Bowan brings to mind Viking farm names Bu/Bow. However in this case the element bow is Orcadian for rocks breaking up waves. On the 1st 6" map has the legend saltings nearby. The mound immediately to the right is Mass Howe, which name is taken to refer to a church. The scant remains of stone on top are said to be it, except that the 1st O.S. marks the traditional site in the field behind. In any case this was most likely the Graemeshall chapel's precursor because an early work mentions as well as the parish kirk (St Nicholas') a chapel, and the parish kirk never moved. I am still of the opinion that here Mass=moss, as ecclesiastic connections give such names as maesigate/mecigate. On the north side of the field lies a track called Mass Road that bears off from the modern road a little ways up from the burn. I currently believe that the supposed mass road was to aid visitors to Hestakelda 'horse well' above. Where this old way departs from the modern road there had been a stone by the outside of the elbow - I must remember to seek it out sometime (if it remains). A possible alternate suggestion is that this is part of an antient boundary [for what it's worth NW of Newgreen (just left of the 02 on the present 1:25,000) there had been another stone next to the SE corner of the field containing a well]. The Paplay kirk has always been St Nicholas Church, explaining why the Vikings appear not to have used the broch under the graveyard there for defence.

Next along a large field contains well-preserved wartime buildings, the remains of WWII Holm Battery and Accomodation Camp and some from WWI. You come across the camp first as you enter. As the field had been trampled recently by kie I tried to tread as light as possible. There is a great variety of structure and form here, from Nissen Huts (engine houses) to underground 'bunkers' (e.g. at the far end the WWI magazine under the obs' post), in a smaller space than (say) Rerwick Head Battery. Also present are gun emplacements from both wars, some plain buildings that might have been storage shed, a fire command post and a tall building that is the battery observation post. It is the last that draws the attention, part of a tiny complex including a gun emplacement and crew quarters. Though my interest in the wars is marginal I could still have spent far longer here with my camera than the hour I did! Two twelve-pounder gun emplacements in the far bottom corner of the site are curiously connected by a sinuous open-top channel, big enough for a man to walk along in a crouch. Perhaps a protected crawlway ?? Returning I went back to the path near to where I entered. Right on the coast are several searchlight emplacements. Looking around the one virtually at the cliff edge there are two lumps of rusting machinery, one of whch looks like a winch. Then on the seaward side I saw some planks across another channel facing onto the cliffs. Even after taking the wood off for a moment I couldn't really tell if this came from the searchlight or was purely to divert a wellspring from the foundations. Put the planks back to keep animals from falling in.
When I came back I found a well-illustrated 58-page A4 spiral bound book by Jeff Dorman called "Orkney Coast Batteries 1914-18" that has all the plans for these and armament illustrations. At only £5 I was surprised that there were still copies left, but these only in Spence's newsagents rather than the publisher's outlet (the Orcadian Bookshop). In this the two putative storage sheds on another page are marked as magazine buildings I think. This is part of another, smaller, battery called Holm/Clett. But even he looks to have missed a multi-sided foundation on the end of a spur directly opposite the Tower of Clett. With the increasing interest in Orkney's fortifications it would be nice for another expert to tackle the inland wartime remnants. Personally I think a good choice for research would be the WWII radio and radar stations. they might be easier to neglect. For instance alongside what I think of as the Tradespark road, actually Heather Loan, Pastmap indicates a radio station (HY40NE 33) pointed out on a Luftwaffe reconnaisance as being behind the houses. There are some parts just protruding but the best surviving part of the 'Mayfield Cottage' radio station lies in a small field at the sharp angle junction of Heathery Loan and the Greenvale track (HY45440881), away from the main part. Another half-submerged almost bunker-like building with the barely protruding bits of something else going away from it.

In the same field is a wellspring with the Tower of Clett 'burnt mound'. But as the latter survives very low all we can be sure of is that it is a mound remnant with some burnt material in an off-centre lump. Last time I thought this lump was the entire mound. Easy to understand when no diameter is given. This time I went more carefully over the boggy ground and could feel the stones under my feet at several places around what I think is the periphery and were of seemingly different form at each place. Anyways, what the 1st O.S. shows here is simply a stream line with a watery ellipse about halfway along that looks anomalous to me at the moment. Where this meets the coast the path goes into a shallow but steep sided hollow that can trip you up by making you go too fast over obstructions that I think cover the springwater. Had a closer look at the structure at the back of the dip just outside the field [HY49480164] and cleared away the covering vegetation as much as I dared. It is cuboid, with the long side facing the cliff being over half-a-dozen courses of fractured stone. I could expose three good courses of the south end. At the north end I had previously seen one erect stone but beneath the grass I found a couple of fallen slabs, either a similarly coursed wall or fallen orthostats. There doesn't seem to have ben a front to it. As to a 'floor' all I could tell is that there is corrugated iron over something - I didn't want to get that messy! My thought was that this is the remains of a well with metal covering it when it went out of use. It seems likely that the stone came from the mound up the hillside. Close by Pastmap shows a burial Raymond Lamb found at the cliff edge, HY40SE 17 near Rami Geo at HY49480160. Alack there is no digital image and I'm not forking out for one of the photos on my money. Mystery, ah !

Along from Rami Geo facing a field junction a spur of land points to the Tower ( The path section back up to the main road is very soggy, grass soaking the boots. However it gives me shots of ground-hugging thistles with their dew-bedecked leafy rosettes, some shining silver and others gossamer with pearls of water webbing
them. At the top a new gate lets you into the field having the sundial mound. Not what the phrase would bring to mind this, being a (?) natural mound with a stone arrangement on top. I assume some form of gnomon to have been removed in the early
20th century. Could other sundial sites on the 1st O.S. also have been of this type. In Overbrough in Harray there were two sundials marked, both associated with a church and a broch though only the church on the definite broch is pre-modern in origin. You only cross a few yards of the field before you are confronted by the recent stile that lets you up onto the main road. It is even trickier than those on the Inganess trail, like it has been made for giants. This looms before you and when you gain the top and turn it is as if the pole were a bucking bronco trying to throw you off sideways. With great trepidation I stopped myself being swung round back into the field !

Passing the Hurtiso ('Thornstein's mound') junction that takes you up to St.Andrew's parish the next juncture is at the edge of the height overlooking the rest of East Holm. This farm is Vigga from vígi 'small defensive site', that is small as compared to Castle (castali) Howe that is - for some reason the Vikings appear not to have used the broch now under St. Nicholas graveyard, unless already ecclesiastic by then. However Hugh Marwick says the meaning of the farm-name Vigga as unknown and normally vígi>wick I think. Could perhaps be an error for Bygga ? On the downhill side the boundary wall is curved. So I grew excited on seing a small niche in this. Took a couple of photos and realised later from the red lines that this is where a postbox had been !!

Just shows the value of taking pictures of everything that captures your eye at the time it captures the eye. Coming down to the church I had the opportunity to turn right onto a path to take me the rest of the way.along the cliffs. Didn't though on a short winter's day. Where the road levels the bridge carrying the road at Wester Sand is more complex than necessary for this, perhaps there has been a mill in the vicinity with the pool behind the church possibly a millpond rather than for fish as I previously thought.
Opposite the kirk is a taing called Canniesile. On the side towards me the long flat face of a stone flashed silver. Looked man-made. Then I looked across the rock and several more such stones flashed in the sun. For an instant I could imagine these as the outer edges of some antique foundations, then I realised I was seeing an illusion caused by the low sun's gleam. On the north side of the church is a chimney having two different widths set on top of one another rather than gradually aprioaching one another, topped by a fluted central pediment (I think that is right). In the top half of this side of the kirk are two tall arched recesses, half in the space of the crow-step gable and half the walls. These must have been windows but now are blocked off on the inside by earth red painted wooden panels. The vehicle gateways are framed on the way in by coursed stone which merely abuts the kirkyard wall and so is probably later. Very reminiscent of St Lawrence in Burray without the gates ! Coming through one I went around the east side to have a look at the hut by the kirkyard wall. Nothing of interest there to me. The 1st O.S. shows a well directly behind St Nicholas Church in the field. This would explain the small circular feature that lay there. Like as not this also provides a context for the artefacts that I found after the deep ploughing a few years back. Does the wall serve to mark this falling (or being pushed) into disuse ?
Heading towards Rose Ness I only went about as far as the top of the St Nicholas Manse track before turning back instead of continuing to North Howe cairn. Along the way I looked longingly at Castle Howe, a Viking fort that probably started of as a broch. It seems strange that there is not another broch on the ness itself, the nearest on Mainland being at Dingieshowe, but the seaways are guarded by the several that gave their name to the island of Burray. It lies by the other end of the narrow bay from the St Nicholas broch. You can walk along the shore and then carefully pick your way across. Other than that you can approach the seaward side along an old track. You do have to pick your way along fallen fences, however at this time what put me off was the thought of wading through sodden grass not knowing this hid and mebbe slipping a lot. From it to the road is a curving rise. This is much more obvious looking back from further along. It would be nice if this rise were part of a larger settlement. Unfortunately Orkney is one of those places where it is often difficult to divine the natural from the man-made. On the one hand Orcadians used nature's mounds as part of their monuments or for burying stuff and on the other settlements and artificial hills get taken over by nature (often buried in their turn). Ducrow looked quite nice with the smal trees protecting the front of the farmhouse. A man with a dog was looking after stock on the hillside.I thought about going to the castali from the roadside fields except that on a short day becoming engrossd there would steal time from it.

Returning to the church a road runs up from the south corner of the kirkyard wall and has two kinks before reaching the next junction. On the inside of the first kink the wall angle is filled by one of Orkney's triangular flat-topped stone piles. It has only just now struck me now that this is more than likely the Orcadian version of a stone clearance cairn. Opposite the second kink is I think the ruination of a wartime building. However if so it has subsequently become a dumping ground for the debris of other buildings. The field on the inside of this kink has been used by the water board. Only after coming back home did I find that this is the location of the Tieve Well. And the road is called Tieve Road (presumably from the well rather than vice versa). In Irish tieve means 'hillside' and you would reckon that it had been the original route to the church before the modern road from Vigga direct. But Gaelic is only suspected in the South Isles rather than a definite fact, and even there its use is doubted by most. Pity. Marwick says unknown origin but a later writer derives it from Old Norse tave 'overflowing', hence muddy or boggy ground.

At the top end of the road I turned right and went over to Upper Bu in order to gain a better view of Greenwall. Greenwall is the traditional site of a Franciscan monastery hence ?Paplay. The resemblance between the storehouse here and that in St. Mary's is because the owners of Greenwall later took over Meil (building Graemeshall there). But this is far bigger and I already wondered if it had been a tithe barn before I re-found the monastery connection with Greenwall. Upper and Nether (now Lower) Bu, nearby, were originally the Bow of Scale, Earl Erland's bu farm. The current verdict is that we should read this as 'the Bu called Skaill'. Pastmap shows a stone south of Braehead (?Fea) W of Upper Breckquoy, and two beside the road S and ESE of Upper Bu.
I wonder if these might have marked the boundary between the areas of Paplay and Grenewall ?? Later Greenwall became a grange by the inclusion of the Bow and other places. I never knew before that Orkney had granges. Coming around to the front of the relatively modernised main house I see it glowing a pale biscuit in the fading sun. The slightly off-centre doorway is a portico topped by an equilateral triangle. This is of modest size but no less impressive for that. The second floor windows start at the tip. There is a pleasing asymmetry to all the windows and the front also has a small building attached at the left. The high-sided roof covers a third floor and has a chimney either end. The two-tone effect is probably because narrower and lighter lower portion has been cleaned and repointed when the modern windows were put in. The whole frontage is awfu' bonnie.

I would like then to have gone up the tracks and peedie roads to Muckle Ocklester so that I could come down past the modern church to look for the possible features I'd glimpsed after ploughing before coming back to the Hurtiso junction. I wonder if 'Thorstein's Mound' has a connection with the Lyking Viking burial found near Upper Hurtiso or possibly even with the hood found "off the moss of Hurtiso". But the clouds meant dusk would arrive early so I instead carried straight over to Vigga. Not many metres to the north is what amounts to a small viewpoint from where you can look down on the land from St Mary's to Burray. Here I took several photos of the dying sun's rays across Holm Sound when I became aware of a lady getting out of a car behind me. As she came closer I recognised a social worker I had known. I showed her how the sun in throwing a ray of light over the sea towards us cast its dark brightness over the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm. There being no more to be usefully done I accepted her offer of a lift back to Kirkwall where I did my shop before going home.

1) Since this walk I went again to the site of St Nicholas Chapel in Evie. Until the 18th century this was the parish church. In this I believe it took over from the Knowe of Desso (aka Denshow), where George Petrie trenched out a blue slate cross-slab. This is in the same style as the Papa Stronsay cross, which came from another chapel dedicated to St Nicholas. Add this to the Holm church and that once standing by the Round Church in Orphir, similarly dedicated parish churches, and you get a strong feeling that in Orkney [and some places elsewhere ?] a dedication to St Nicholas shows where an early (or early Viking at least) kirk had been built. Too much of a coincidence otherwise methinks !

2) The second thing I have learned since then is that what appears to be an ancient tradition of the healing properties of dew from certain places is that this is a displacement, that originally the curative was well water before this became thought superstitious. On Wideford Hill in St Ola there is a day of the year when lassies run up the hill for the first morning dew. If we look instead for a well there is only one on the whole thing. This is just near Blackhill. I knew it to be special from the first time that I saw it. A big bowl-shaped depression at HY423114 with the remains of a wall at the wellspring side (though on the 1:25,000 the W is shown further up the field edge). I think it once held more water - when the reservoir was built they initially had a problem with a leak or overflow from water elsewhere, probably explaining the pipe that has been inserted at some time.

wideford Posted by wideford
24th December 2011ce

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