|Getting off the bus at Norseman Village I thought I would have a look along the coast to the east in case I could see the Knowe of Dishero. Unsurprisingly I couldn't, but what I did see much closer to were mounds on the coastline directly right of me. Petrie describes a group about a quarter of a mile from Isbister mill. These are the Oyce of Isbister mounds (NMRS record number HY31NE 8) - oyce/ouse 'tidal inlet'. What I could see was the dominant one. A gap between the houses let me get to a field fence to use my camera a fraction closer, not intending to add to my planned itinerary. My photos show me a mound with an earth scrape that is surrounded by gorse bushes. The O.S. list this as 'A' at HY39021802, and this is the significant one not only owing to its size but because there can be seen on it most of a cist (at least 3'6" long, the east end missing). In 1946 this mound of earth and small stones stood 5' high and 45'D (though in 1966 this is revised to oughly 14m E/W by 12m N/S). The rest of the artificial mounds range from about 15' to some 21'D, with a maximum height of 3'. On the O.S. list there are two other probable barrows (B at HY39001802, C at HY38981801) and three probable burnt mounds (D at HY39001808, F at HY39001811, G at HY39001813). On the other hand in 1979 Hedges gives 4 small burnt mounds (on the E bank of a burn emptying into a "lagoon") 60m from twa earthen mounds lying atop slightly raised land. This might be because he wants the two different kinds of site to occupy seperate areas. He describes the burnt mounds as on the E bank of a burn emptying into a "lagoon". What Wedgie calls a lagoon is an area of water behind what will one day [I think] become an ayre diividing fresh water from the briny. It is possible that the barrows were part of a cemetery as in1858 James Muir, tenant of Isbister mill and farm, found several cists close to his house (whatever close means in this case). The largest was 2'3" wide, with the SW side 5'8" long and that on the NE 4'8" long. To help prevent the ingress of water the depth was greater on the longer side (2'10" as against 2'7" max) with a half-an-inch of gravel on the level bottom. A flexed skeleton lay on its RH side at the NW end and another at the opposite end. Petrie noticed what looked to be outline traces of a large barrow in the surrounding ground. Another cist, with a similarly slanted lid, found about 5' to the SW held the skeleton of a woman face down. It was only 1'10" wide by 3' long and deep. The skull was at the ESE, a few bones near the middle and a heap of burnt ones a foot from the other end. Later a third cist a mere foot square was found 5/6' from the SE end of the second cist and had a pile of burnt bone fragments in the centre.
So over to the Lyde Road and hang a left at the first junction. I don't know whether the small ?cottage in the peedie plantation first left on the Redland road is occupied, though it is neglected AFAIK in this instance I "leave well enough alone". It is modern but not shown on the 1:25,000). The first definite dwelling appears as Backatown now, a change from the older Vinikelday 'pasture wellspring'. I think that a roofless croft seen on the hill side of the road might be Sinnakilda (sinna 'small drying kiln', but if second element kelder 'wellspring' then surely the first element is either sine 'dried-up' or sin 'hollow' ?). Hereabouts, if I remember correctly, is a delightful twisty burn near the base of the hill. There's a lovely gorse bank flowering bright yellow and a tree that seems to have no trunk !
The road then rises to Nistaben, a collection of long buildings keeping to the ?ridge west of the road. The longest house still keeps the roof of large flagstones that to me are a sign of good age to the farm. In the south-east corner of a field belonging to Nistaben (due east of it alongside the main road) is a slight rise called the Brae of Muckquoy (HY31NE 13 at HY37601740). On coming into cultivation in 1877 the brae gave up numerous yellow flints on each winter's ploughing/harrowing for some time and were still showing up even in the 1920s. At the same time cists with half-burnt bones also turned up. In 1920 the quantity was given as "a great many" but an account in1927 only says "several". The next field south, on the north side of the Redland farm-road, is the find-site for the Redland flints (HY31NE 21 at HY375171), which were one of a number of stone tool collections looked at by Caroline Wickham-Jones, amongst which were mesolithic examples. Over at the Brae of Muckquoy in 2000 fieldwalking by Orkney College's Geophysics unit, of an area only half a hectare in size, produced 300 'finds'. These included bone fragments, stone tools and flints used in toolmaking (also a flint arrowhead) as well as potsherds.Could Redland and Muckquoy be all the same feature ? The 1920 author describes two large erratic boulders on the north side of the brae of such contrasting shapes that they cannot but be indicators for the flints or cists (or both). Unfortunately I only found out about them [again] afterwards in connection with my walk. Presuming they are still there the tradition is that these were thrown by a Gairsay giant, only for one after the other to fall short of their mark. The first has five indents and measures 4' by 4' by 2' thick, the second is a 6' triangle tapering from 2' to 9".
On the other side of the main road from the Redland flints the broch of the same name is shown, though remains should be down as scant remains as it is almost entirely gone apart from possibly some banks. It may have stood by a lochan. NMRS record HY31NE 12 at HY37801715 hints that this might not have been your average broch. Another name for it is Steeringlo, which is obviously a variation of the broch name Steiro. A different spelling is Stirlingow, and I notice there is a Starling Hill up in Evie next to Starra Fiold, which brings to mind George Marwick's "starra kirks" and their stones. Pictish symbol stone HY31NE 15 is said to have come from nearby before being removed to take its place above someone's hearth. The record says that no-one has found the cottage this fireplace was in. Surely it can only have been Nutfield on the other side of the burn. At only about half-a-kilometre due south it is much closer than Redland and the owner could well not have been a tenant of that farm (always assuming the current farmer's family were around in the 19thC anyway, they tend not to check these things [cf. Crantit souterrain]).
The field directly west of that where the Redland flints were found had the name Chapel Field. Redland Chapel (HY31NE 9 at HY37151713) was on a prominent rise, where light soil still gives up old building stone. Like Berstane Wood the large plantation above Redland (home to burnt mounds - maybe a barrow cemetery - and WWII remains) can be seen for miles - a good indicator of where your eyes are at when looking from Kirkwall for instance. I take it that the set of roofless building at the lower edge of the farm are the original Redland. Now you have gained height a new perspective is gained on Damsay. Taking Damsay as being 'twin island' there is still the question of whether this is Damsay + Holm of Grimbister or a reference to the low-lying land where the broch and kirk were (and the mansion house is, despite being abandoned because of spooky goings-on) contrasted to the hilly section [high enough to hide the two storey building despite how low it appears from Mainland] where Sweyn's castle is now thought to have been at the apex (the broch having been excavated as this previously). My friend Dave Lynn has done an extensive survey of Damsay recently and found a lot more going on than known before - perhaps some group could 'do an Eynhallow' on it ? I saw a comment on a Holm of Grimbister image that the present causeway is natural (they erroneously contrasted it to one that really is natural) whereas depth soundings show what looks to be the one on a SW diagonal line from the eastern end. Boats look to have landed at the Sand of Fidgeon as there are modernised steps (with a locking gate) at the mainland cliff-face. And that causeway would have given shelter.
There is a very grand house, complete with what might be a low-walled garden, on the hillside just past Redland. This is Barm. The exterior is largely intact, with only minor damage to the north end wall and the cross-hatch design roof just above that (I don't mind the flaking of wall faces as buildings in old Orkney photo books show bare stone as being the vernacular - and don't get me started on harling dear boy). Near this, at right angles to it, are the roofless remains of a ?older building. Its east end is totally obscured by thick ivy. In front of it is a very low mound that I think used to be the platform for another building rather than a tell as it is level on top and backs into the slight slope. The next place to take my fancy is Vinden where the road dips. I believe that there might have been a mill just upstream. On the west side of the road there is another fine long old building setting off the modern house beside it.
Approaching Finstown I look down at The Ouse, an oyce 'tidal inlet' at the entrance of which is The Hillock. This broch mound has a pillarbox on top of it. And up here again is a different perspective, one my high-zoom camera appreciates. On the road is a place called Horraldshay. This means 'Horrald's height'. The Dingieshowe broch is alternatively named Duncan's Height, which makes me think that Horraldshay originally signified The Hillock alone. Late last century some darn fool sliced off the eastern side of the broch to make the cliff-face straight ! At the coast between the broch and the Kirkwall-Finstown Road is Thickbigging where the remains of Black Chapel hide out. The chapel appears in the 1946 RCAMS list not on the present NMRS. Early chapels are most often found in association with Viking or early mediaeval halls in Orkney. There isn't a traditition of one here however one might have expected one.
Horraldshay itself is a fine accumulation of buildings wholly uninhabited not long since - one unroofed building still has a modern window with glass intact. Leaving the main body behind after a distance there are the remains of the end of yet another building. Coming to this spot I can see an earthbank flanked track going to the rest of the buildings. The impression of faded grandness. Perhaps an early settlement, even an old tunship. But the various ages of these structures, some multi-phase, do not make matters clear.and I'm guessing mostly ;-) At the old quarry on Snaba Hill can be seen a cairn or two, but in the past several others could be found at other places on the hillside also. They might stil be there, slighted or obscured.
Posted by wideford
29th October 2012ce
Edited 30th October 2012ce
wideford's TMA Blog
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