|Another grand day in paradise as the Blide group of Out and About folk headed down to South Ronaldsay in a full minibus again, picking up a member in the south isles. The road to Hoxa we used starts in the centre of The Hope by the Smiddy museum which one member expressed an interest in seeing sometime (its actually attached to the bus waiting room, so even in the worst of weather those travelling by public transport have a no-brainer !). Along the way we passed the Oyce of Quindry, a tidal inlet where they used to play the Ba'.
Arrived at the Sand o'Wright aka Sands of Wright. Even though it was only an hour off high tide the beach looked expansive, and at extra-wide I still had to take three shots with my camera to capture it all.between the headlands. Most of the group headed east to the high cliffs at the Roeberry Taing, where they looked like tiny dolls at their foot. I suspect another Groatie Buckie hunt took place, these cowries as emblematic of good luck as their Pacific cousins. A few of us headed over the other direction where a fine swell washed the shore my much lower cliffs (though still too high for those with an aversion to owt much above a man's height). There is meant to be a 'new' track along the low cliffs, but I couldn't make this out from the below. Along the way the sparkling swell sometimes caught me out! Some waves rose glassy green, elsewhere they alternated plain with foam as if designed so. After a while the main body came towards us and we three set off to meet them. Several stranded jellyfish littered the sand, as did a peedie still-living crab missing all legs but one - Kev took pity and threw it into the sea.
Coming up off the beach I was intrigued by a long low mound set against the base of the hillside in the sharp corner of a field and covered liberally with stones. On top an area of sand has been exposed but still with some stone. At the mounds downhill side I thought lines of dark grass might show where walls had been, though I have since read in a Current Archaeology report of "buried ditches forming dark green lines during dry conditions". In June 1871 the sandy knoll called Kirkiebrae was trenched in several places to reveal a likely encampment, with burnt stones forming a hearth and containing a large number of animal bones. On the hearth was found a stone quern ("rubber"), a piece of deer bone and a broken fine toothed iron pin fastened bone comb with a set of concentric circles paralleled in southern England. At one spot a fine red and yellow substance was mixed up with a large quantity of ashes. None of which sounds ecclesiastical, but this is traditionally the site of a St Colm's Chapel established by Columba's disciple Cormac from Iona in the early seventh century (Ladykirk down at Burwick had the same dedication). It seems strange that this building has disappeared completely. Anyway the piece that had attracted my attention is not the one on record. Instead they have a hillock above the beach on the other side of the wall as it - ND49SE 4 at ND42229369 - though Kirk Geo is nearer my candidate. The owner of Roeberry Farm called Kirkie Brae a natural grassy knoll with sand exposed in the top from having been used in the wartime (an aerial photo indicates the putative machine-gun post faced the Dam of Hoxa, though it looks as much a broch to my eyes). The dimensions given are 2.5m high and roughly 17m NW/SE by some 13m on the other axis. It is described as having a modern wall about the north and east edges and at the top of the NE side what might be signs of a former building in an outer face of yard-long foot-high drystane walling.
To the north is the Howe of Hoxa, a long sloping mound near the west end of the Dam of Hoxa with an elevation at the high point hiding the broch just behind the house. Climb all the way up and you see into the broch from top to bottom as put back together by George Petrie after he excavated it. Many years ago since I have been there. Then the interior was full of nettles, and global warming will have made matters worse since. Definitely view from the top.
Traditionally the earl Thorfinn Skullsplitter lies buried in Hoxa, with the mound being identified as the spot. But archaeologists can only find indications of settlement at the lower end. However near the east end of the Dam of Hoxa an empty long cist came to light in the vicinity of Swart(e)quoy/Swartiquoy, and early Christians were wont to re-bury their pagan ancestors. Waters are a little muddied by a reference to the discovery of graves, plural, outside the enclosure excavated in 1871 as no remains are mentioned in connection with the cist (ND49SW 11 at ND43099413). This NNE/SSW aligned cist, came from 2'8" deep inside a mound and mostly formed from slabs. At a distance of 4'6" from it another slab stood parallel to the east side's south end slab, both of which rose to a foot above the mound, and he found a 12" by 9½" whalebone vessel. A strange layout it seems to me. Anyways, Petrie believed the Swartquoy enclosure had been "an earthen encampment" because of its being within a strong rampart of earth and stone. This is undoubtedly the same site as Mayfield (ND49SW 13 at ND 43079416), though as described it may include the cist location too - in 1973 the OS talks of a D ~45m in diameter whereas in 1997 Moore and Wilson give us a sub-circular enclosure 'only' 30m across. But more easily reconcileable as area blocked off by the feature's two semi-circular ramparts though. The inner rampart is the better surviving at a maximum height of 1.3m, especially at the north side where it is 5m across (but 1997 account gives bank dimensions as 1.5m high but only 3m wide). At the widest point of the inner rampart a probable eastern entrance (NE in 1997 account) is indicated by two earthfast slabs 0.8m apart. The outer rampart isn't so obvious, and even then can only be seen in the NE quarter and some of the SE quarter. A 0.6m deep ditch across the middle of the enclosure had been some 2~2.5m wide. The enclosure's western end barely survives but is likely to have extended to where you can now see a boat shed's ruined foundations as rubble and peaty deposits lie in a 2m wide vertical cut at the cliffs. Must go there sometime.
Back on firmer ground, and after taking photos of my candidate for the kirk I realise we would not be going any further. Beyond the toilet block are the large foundations of a wartime camp (the pillbox elsewhere is not in its original position, by the way). Running slowly ahead I think I have spotted the other end of the trail I would have taken them on, except you'd have to negotiate a field-gate.
Once back onboard the minibus I persuaded our leader to go to W. Hourston's smithy museum, as sufficient time remained to do so. In the event a different member came with me to the smithy - the rest went to see a craftshop (where for once Sheena garnered no wool!). Hourston's smithy is in a long low building with the old forge in the central section. Go through to the right and there is a large collection of black-and-white photos. The bus waiting-room is seperate. Its wall is a round sweep at the corner of the road, preserving the original curve made to accomodate horse-driven vehicles. At the back a further, lower, building abuts the central section, continuing the roof line. Alas the garden behind has its gate roped up now because it was bonnie when I went. Entering the middle section there's the forge on your right and a selection of instruments in front of you and overhead. Most obvious are two hand-driven pedestal tools, a drill and a lathe operated by turning a wheel. In the low room behind the forge I saw a
large thin-rimmed metal wheel and a pneumatic bellows operated by a long handle. As I came out of this room the lady in charge showed me a big bellows you work by hand to light an imitation fire on top of the forge, which felt satisfying to operate. Seeing the room full of antique photographs attracted my attention but didn't spike it this particular day.
On leaving I had time to walk towards the Doctors Road, which I remembered fondly from a previous visit (from before all these new roads). Up from the museum above the other side of the road the stone walls of an old (?abandoned) building drew me to it. Small stone slabs making up the roof, with two peedie window-holes, and a knock-down imitation of crow-stepped gables. At the front the stones had more honeyed tones and I saw the usual slop-roofed abutting shed that goes with such Early Modern homes. The doctors hoose, Bankburn, sits at the end of its road and is a small late.mansion house with square gate pillars topped by stepped pyramids of more stone blocks. Directly before Bankburn I took a turn up a footpath running outside the walls. Here along the path I chanced upon a long patch of bonnie pale purple/pink flowers, a member of the Dead Nettle family with toothed lanceolate leaves held on a tall stem. Possibly a garden escape but very we;lcome scattered there.The path ends in what I would have thought could be a small dump except for the 'cabin' there. Could have walked over to the new road if I hadn't born in mind my propensity for a wander too far ! Going back a graceful grey-and-white pusser sat in the road, watching. She had a lovely face, so I took a few photos. As I neared she finally departed without so much as a peep.
Back in the centre again there were a couple of members already back at the Blide bus. No-one else yet, so I went to the sea-front to look at an old slipway, the central portion is built using edgeset slabs just like you see in some of the cathedral arches in the upper section. Its quite a common technique in Orkney and seems to have been used for a long time for various structures - the top of the old Toy Ness pier in Orphir is made in the same way. By what used to be a damn fine place to eat (now up for sale) there is the eye-catching sweep of a row of traditional shorefront houses, now let down by the brash white of the new buildings at the far end. Finally the others came back from a cafe - lucky beggars, I didn't even get into the nearby shop for a look-see - and we were off backski.
Posted by wideford
8th September 2013ce
wideford's TMA Blog
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