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Swartland Drovers Road trail, June 20th 2012

The above is the name of this advertised trail, though the section walked only just comes into Swartland itself (and in the end our little party stopped just short at the Burn of Clett, not finishing on the B road). I do not know the start and end points of the full drovers road, thought the southern end would seem to be the Loch of Bosquoy. The only other Orkney drovers road that I know of started at Groundwater in Orphir and ended at Walliwall quarry in St Ola, though being a carters road may not be the same thing (there is a Carters Park in Kirkwall itself - park 'enclosure'). After all this time this blog is all archaeology, as with one exception (proving that day's rule) that is all that I photographed. Flowers there were I'm sure, even pointed one out to the others, but all I have is a vague memory of violets in the track that may be from this.

Heading north to Skaebrae/Skeabrae, first off a reminder of modern times. Very obvious west of the track are the remains of Second World War RAF Skeabrae. Later NATO considered combining what remained of RAF Skeabrae and RAF Tern (Twatt airfield) into one grand new airbase - back in the sixties I believe, perhaps later. All that remains standing of NMRS record no. HY22SE 59 are a couple of perimeter huts, the bomb store and a combined cinema-gym, and several air-raid shelters. The runways survive as distinct entities, as do the dispersal bays (some of these have been converted for agricultural use and others are stripped of their protective banks). Furthest from me is an imposing two-storey rectangular building that I took for a control tower. but that is reduced to only a depression. There are windows, so obviously not the bomb store. That will be the gmnasium-cum-cinema then. Much closer to me are some big squat buildings of brick. Though all records appear to show the airfield only west of this road I did find a solitary building on the east side southwards of the main surviving buildings, a beautiful red brick construction (with a few blue bricks). Not rectangular, either six or eight sides, more likely eight. No sign of there having been a roof. There is a gap in one of the sides and a (now leaning) wall of the same material faces this side, having at the top the remains of a vertical slot six to eight courses deep. All the walls I make to be of the same height at some 24 courses high [good camera].

Where the track meets the modern road the group leader chose to go back, though the 'official' route is not long past this point, finishing level with Swartland Farm. I would like to have checked to see if the marked Burnt Mounds are really gone, but most disappointed not to have been able to look for the Quinni Moan tumulus. At some point the record for this has erroneously attached to itself the 1869 report of a series of excavations that properly belongs not with this Queenamoan (Quinni Moan) in Sandwick but with Quoynamoan in Stenness ('behind' Tormiston) - I take "The Orcadian" over Petrie's Notebook as no-one wrote in to say the parish had been wrong.
Coming back down on the east side a long rectangular field by the 28 on the 1:25,000 map is the Benzieclett site, HY22SE 54 at roughly ~HY279206, where in 1903 an underground passage turned up on the property of Vola owned by a John Kirkness. It is uncertain from the article whether a roof had been removed in the past or this had been done when found. The considerably curved 30' long passage, aligned N/S, looked to have been entered from the south (that end was filled with earth though). It measured roughly 4' high by 2'9"-3' wide and is described as having at least one of the sides built using large stones, with small niches, and having at the other end some edgeset stones. The less substantial side had suffered greatly at someone's hands since finding. In the passage were shaped stones "used for certain purposes". If the airfield extended to both sides of the drovers road could this have been the Skeabrae souterrain, HY22SE 3 at HY27272013, removed in making the aerodrome ?? Thought that would mean the local had it wrong and his location does go nicely with the broch on the airfield (with the Quinni Moan burnt mound as the third member of the trio maybe).

Further along the east side are the remains of Nether Benzieclett. This long house with all its parts is said to be one of the best representations of its type. Unfortunately its appearance has deteriorated since the photos and the roofs have gone. Just a few metres eastward of Nether Benzieclett at HY28152054 is the Sandwick Congregational chapel. This was founded in or before 1812 by George Reid of Lerwick but didn't hold meetings after about 1882. There are two buildings here. The church had four rectangular windows on the side I can see, and at the end a narrow doorway with a semi-circular arch. The smaller building has its entrance facing the far end of the chapel and has a slanting roof, so of its time (in Kirkwall they used slates). Yet further east is the Burn o' Roo boundary dyke, which I could not detect for certain from the road.

Near the sewage works the Burn of Hourston empties into Muckle Water, nowadays known as the Loch of Harray. Where the drovers road meets the burn there are a large footbridge, big enough to have four decent size spans, and a ford. The ford is obviously of late construction. A wide 'path' of long rectangular stones (presumably edgeset) lead down into the water on either side, rather than only embedded in the stream-bed like others I have seen in Orkney - definitely an England-shire feel to it. On the works side the bridge base to the road has a straight wall but on the north side there are two slightly curved offset walls one above the other. Had a look at the west side of the bridge and vertical drystone walls form the banks. Coming back from there I held tight onto the fence and moved carefully along, only for my foot to disappear into a hole. There I fell backwards and hung over the burn whilst a tree root neart the top of the hole held me in an ankle lock. With the others not near took a while for the others to hear me - strangely, though I had no control over my full-blooded screams there was no pain involved ! Eventually after a few attempts they were able to release me. Felt like ten minutes all told but in actuality a little under five minutes between taking photos of the bridge and of Wasum. The ligaments still haven't healed. When I mentioned it to a doctor 11 months later the advice given was "keep on walking, and if it hasn't healed in a while go see a specialist". Like I'm a millionaire !!

South-west of the sewage works, between its legend and the stepping stones one is the former site of a tumulus, HY21NE 50 at HY28841971. Wasum (wass 'water' - don't know the second element and that u to me is simply the a with additional short lines) is in the Orkney Name Book as a burial mound, but even the first 25" map at about the same time merely shows "site of Wasum". Of course like a lot of things labelled as site of Wasum does just about survive (visually near the water's edge), and I could see a few stones in the rise. The record says farming has further reduced what had been a large mound and that ploughing often brings up large edgeset stones

Next I picked out a small unnamed holm that I had spotted lying off the shore on my way up. This is one of several items going under the name Hourston. HY21NE 93 at HY28891957 as an NMRS record only goes back to 2010. It is allocated the site types of causeway and island, though the narrow causeway is shown on maps from 1882 to present as stepping stones. Comparing it on the map with the Wasdale islet ("causewayed island dun") in Firth and it is roughly the same length but only half the width, giving as very approximate dimensions 35m by 12m. It is not anywhere nearly as high and one would assume the site type is interim as it is surely a crannog as much as those recently so listed in the Voyatown and Swannay districts ? I see a level mound or platform occupies the central half, with the sides gradually going down to loch level. On top I can make out inmy photos at least three large stones (one erect) and a couple more at the back (perimeter wall ?). What I take to be the stepping stones seem to start near or at the mound platform. On the old 25" map the stepping stones are running NNW, and following that line it shows what appears to be the remains of a circular stone cairn offshore at HY28881965 (say halfway between this holm and Wasum).

At the farm of Howaback there is a tumulus by the garden wall that goes under that name and Hourston. HY21NE 32 at HY29341955 appears on the present 1:25,000. In 1928 this earth and small stones barrow stood nearly 6' high and 40' across, in 1966 barely 4' in height but only about 5' smaller - either way I didn't (AFAIK) see it. At some time the top and sloping sites were excavated and a mix of partially and wholly burnt bones found in a short cist, small and square, not visible in 1928.
Another barrow I didn't see (hidden on the other side of the Howaback hill, ~130 yards almost due south of the farm) contained a similar cist, found whilst farming. HY21NE 34 at HY29381942 is now much spread out, so only shows as an ill-defined rise (though 1966 report made whilst area under crop). But in 1928 the size was estimated to have been about 45'D, possibly more. This site goes under the names of Hourston and Cogeraback/Gogeraback
Confusingly another site also bears the names of Howaback and Hourston. HY21NE 33 at HY29551935 is the tumulus marked on the 1:25,000 close to Grut Ness. This grassy barrow sits on a slight rise, stands nearly a yard high and is some ten yards across. My attention was brought to it by twa rabbits running onto it, bringing it into focus whilst also giving me an idea of size. The present record opines that it is a chiefly earthen barrow, with a few protruding stones. But in 1928 RCAMS felt differently, noting a number of rather large stones lying in [sic] the hollowed top and more sticking out of its slopes at intervals, which indicates a more structured composition.

Near the junction with the Russland Road I noticed a few interesting lumps and bumps. Perhaps the Knowes of Coynear do actually exist as a seperate thing from the Conyar mounds east of the main road despite not showing on the 25" maps ?? I must point out neither do those ! We didn't get to do the final stretch to the Merkister Hotel, instead decamping to the Standing Stones Hotel for a proper tea meal.

wideford Posted by wideford
23rd June 2013ce

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