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EASTSIDE, SOUTH RONALDSAY September 11th 2013

Coming to St Margaret's Hope (from Kirkwall) instead of turning down into the main body of the place go a little further and by the war memorial, barely outside The Hope turn left at the junction. On reaching a crossroads continue on over and down past Wheems terraced Campsite. Just past Weemys (sic) the Sorquoy Standing Stone, fourteen foot high, can be seen on partway along a field boundary on your left. NMRS record no. ND49SE 3 at ND46919140 once stood bigger, reported as sixteen feet high in 1805 so perhaps reduced by replaced soil exploratory digging in the following decades (though standing stones are apt to change their exposed height over the tears - some gain, some lose - making the identification of lesser specimens occasionally hit and miss). Three foot from the present base it's 2'6" broad and 18" deep, with a maximum thickness being 21~22" above that height. No mention is made of the projection on the top which reminds one that the Stonehenge trilithons are seen as using woodwork
techniques and that it is now seen that the original Wessex influence came from Orkney. This stone has been postulated as the one referred to in regards to the ?souterrain ND49SE 13 found near Manse, so at ~ND473915. This is described in an 1875 work as a two-foot wide underground stucture having a fine floor of water-worn stone and measuring 11' long and 2'6" high. Nearby was a stone, in height 11'. So not Sorquoy. However, whilst the Sorquoy stone is up on the bottom of a scarf slope the Papar Project were told of another standing stone closer to the shore, unfortunately de-stabilised by post-war drainage work. There are other such passages known as having been in proximity to standing stones, Near the Yinstay cairn in St Andrew's for instance is an equally little recorded one (stone one now). The Blide mini-bus parked by the kirkyard. At one time they intended to develop the land about it, only to discover this area to be fair riddled with archaeology just under the turf.

Whilst the others walked the sandy beach on this Bay of Newark I did a photographic tour around the outside of the kirkyard. Certainly lots underfoot between the shore and the two southern sides. Coming through the 'gateway' right of the wall towards Kirkhouse Point are two upstanding structures, one a roofless building with what looks like a low-walled garden the other a conical stone cairn. The latter is the base for a post-mill type windmill, ND49SE 18 ND4710190745. The former appears on the 1st O.S.
with the name Millhouse, but ND49SE 38 at ND47089078 had been the storehouse for an 18th century fisher - a stone dated 177 comes from there. Seen from here here it looks two-storey, but it is built on a slope and the 'attic' is reached by stone steps at the back. First I walked around the coastline. Here, right by the edge, there is a large deep hollow masked by vegetation Then what had seemed a random stone assemblage from a distance resolved itself into three lines of large stones, some dresssed. I assume these were the boat nausts, though overly straight-sided to my mind, but later read about seven mortared walls that were supports for a wharf, so perhaps these are them eroded further since 1997 - this inlet itself is thought to have been touched by the hand of man. At the inter-tidal end a shag sat mere metres from me. On this side of the point there are three hand-operated boat winches, of which one has the remains of a wood frame. The storehouse outside has been turned into a sort of patio and the enclosure is now a walled garden for real. Of course it is now locked and barred. There are two reclaimed benches. The shorter of the two has an ornate back inset with huge sunflowers in fretwork. Next in my itinerary is the windmill base. The question that occurs to me is was there also a 'proper' mill nearby, now under the turf or is Millhouse simply a name given to the storehouse simply from proximity to the post-mill ?
Probably the right place in my journey to say what lies beneath, or at least is suspected to from the 2007 field visit ahead of planning permission. West of the kirkyard is a sand quarry (alternatively sand dune) at ND470908 which has a wall and midden at the north end and, more importantly, structures accompanied by occupation layers at the south. There is a length of curving wall at the kirkyard's east side at ND4712790892 and to the north-east at ND4716490920 a low turf-covered mound of some kind. Only little further along the coast there is a mound on the storm beach which appears heavily quarried at the south-east. ND49SE 16 at ND47249084, aligned NE/SW and measuring some 17m by 10m roughly, is traditionally a burial ground. Because of the presence within of a similarly aligned orthostat,only 0.9m long and projecting 0.6m, and two more on the west margin in 1973 the visiting O.S. raised the possibility of its being a chambered mound. Another visit in 1981 had the O.S. discount this. Unfortunately in 2007 the mound's slabs could not be found. There are other structures and some orthostats in the vicinity. The presence of a likely kelp-pit means any more ancient remains were probably destroyed during the kelp boom.

Behind the kirkyard at Kirkhouse Point is the Millenium Stone, decorated all the way around like a standing stone totem pole – I’d much rather have a replica of the Pictish symbol stone that once resided on a church windowsill !! There was WWII activity at the east side, though the ground is a little damp. I couldn't spot the searchlight remains recorded as being "immediately" NE of the kirkyard wall, all I saw was a concrete floor with its divisions being crowded out by invasive grass and a recent mound (well away from the wall and IIRC three-sides with an open-end, so agriculural I suspect. As well as the searchlight emplacement ND49SE 54 had been the site of three huts and several likely machine-gun posts. But I did find a personal reminder in a block of concrete resembling a mooring-point. On top it has engraved RKHOUSE with curlicues top and bottom, though on a photo there may be other words badly eroded. It doesn't strike me as official, buth then again it is no scribble or idle doodle. Nice. A noisy flock of birds were inside the kirkyard, then a few sat temptingly on the wall to provide only enough photos to know they were worth the effort ! Then the flock flew down into the grassland about me. Only time I saw them was when I disturbed them - why do birds fly up when they are invisible to you ? We have two dates for North Kirk set in stone above the seaward door, 1642 and 1801. I would think the renovation came about through money from the fishery. Another name for it is St Peter's Church, and a year after its building the presbytery burned a wooden effigy of the saint - did this come from an ealier kirk on the site or had this been a re-location ? It has been remarked that this is an anomalous location for a Peterkirk, there being no broch nearby. However there is that short wall
arc, and there is the mysterious Danes Fort eastwards.

At last came the time for me to catch up to the others. In the mid-60s Mr. A.Laughton of Kirkhouse had reason to cut into a sandy knoll (the intention being to enlarge his farmyard) and on reaching a depth of some six feet came across bones in what he thought to be a stone coffin. Before uncovering any more of it he simply put the soil back, well enough that it could not be found by investigators forty years later. The track to the beach is cut deep, and above it there is what strikes me as a rather long mound with stones poking through near the top (ND469908). Coming near the bottom end I found definite walling, with a corner including a fine long stone. Gaining height the other side of a short stream I could see a rectangular mound that used to be a walled structure abutting my corner it seemed to me. On the 1st O.S. there is another building south of the present set of Kirkhouse buildings. I eventually found a record for this, it being shown at the farm's other end on PASTMAP ! ND49SE 68 at ND4689190963 is described as a drystone structure with a corn-kiln's remain attached (this shown on the 2nd 25" O.S.). Also mentioned are indications of further archaeology below ground. On a satellite image the eye of faith sees a possible circular enclosure. But that could just be the track's effect I suppose.

Attention diverted again, almost as soon as I started along the Bay of Newark my companions were coming back. Tried to walk faster but the sands suck you in. So trudging along where small plants at the edge provide more grip. The next burn along is more of a normal size and does come with a name, though my guess is that Stromispuil comes from there having been a drained pool above the strand. If puil means pool that is, though certainly Stromisuil is attached to a drain section on the 1st O.S. To avoid Sheena's dog Star charging me as I photographed my fellow travellers I stayed on the near side of the burn. She was unable to fathom that it she could just go round. So being scared of water she spent several minutes searching for a way over before throwing in the towel and jumping almost cleanly over a shallow section. Ailsa simply loves the water. She went so far out a new member thought she wouldn't come back ! Over the months this has increasingly irked Star, who stands on the shore barking like mad. Didn't take long enough to get back to the mini-bus.

As we started going uphill I could see a mound the colour of hay three fields north-east of the initial bend. A long time ago this was either on the margin of a shallow lochan or actually in it. If the latter I would bet on it being the islet one presumes gave its name to the Papley district of South Ronaldsay. I know there is a well in close proximity, but then brochs in similar positions had them too. The Kirk Ness mound, ND49SE 7 at ND47289130, is an example of a site with changing opinions. Traditionally it is a 'Danish' Fort, but last century they opined the remains were simply the homes of fishermen, which is some turnabout in fortunes. And now the locals are back to the ancient edifice viewpoint again - you can't simply ask any old locals, you need to ask locals with long ties to the land you are investigating. Like The Cairns at Eyreland/Ireland (another "Danish Fort") copious stones have been removed from this greened stony knoll at some time. In 1929 structural remains coul still be detected, but being slight were not found in 1973. This vaguely circular mound stands 2m high and is about 30m across. On the other side of the former lochan appears to have been a burnt mound, ND49SE 15 at ND47169119, as Mr Laughton often turned up black earth and burnt stone in large amounts whilst ploughing. Fancifully I think on the Wasbister burnt mound and the disc barrow on the same side of the Dyke of Seean in Stenness. Very fancifuly I'm sure.

Sheena had been keeping off chocolate until Kirsty, the new member, mentioned that by the track to the Italian Chapel the Orkney Wine folk have a peedie shop selling wines and related comestibles – you can even try a nip or two. As we had a look around I found myself sorely tempted by the chutneys, and the jams even more so. Have to plead poverty over deliciousness. Fortunately back in the minibus Kirsty gave us some to sample. Coming into St Ola a thick mist came down, horrible haar obscuring the verges. The road overlooks Scapa Flow of course, but anywhere in Orkney you are no further from the sea than seven miles, no great distance for a rolling fog (though this wasn't that dense, more of a mist like I said).

ce
wideford Posted by wideford
23rd September 2013ce


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