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THE HOPE TO HOXA January 23rd 2014

Only three for the Out and About today; the volunteer driver Patrick, me and the labradoodle Star. In St. Margaret's Hope we parked the minibus at Cromarty Square, went onto Shore Road and took the second road on our left, much steeper than School Road. Good way to build up to the walk, get the 'big hill' out of the way. First thing we come to is a set of tall walls roadside, with steps in between to take folk up to the level ground above and through step-topped gatepillars sans gate. Here is Bellevue, built in the last two decades of the 19th century. This angular two-storey house with blue-grey slates is the only one I've noticed in Orkney built of pale pastel red stone. More likely my memory let's me down. And mistakiing the house for Angle Cottage (which is by the site of St Margaret's Chapel) I thought the big walled enclosure it is part of was the school. Braehead behind is already on the 1st 25" map, though I think not much older. In the field on the other side of the road disturbed ground is all that is left of the the site of the Brough of Ontoft.

Cresting the hill we looked down at Heatherum where a modern double path of modern flags shone in the sun, more striking than any open air art installation. Turning left here takes you swiftly to Widewall Bay. Nah, that won't do. Turn right past the fine farm of Grutha and go around the coast we shall. This is the way I came when I stayed at the Murray Arms. On this road to your right look down onto the farms of Lowertown and enjoy Scapa Flow and its islands spread before you. On the map Hunda seems small, but from here it took a while to identify it as the causeway is much longer than on photos I've seen and we were looking at Hunda broadside on - explains why the circular walk from the Burray village takes as long as it does ! Not long to reach the other side of Hoxa Hill.

As we made our way down to the ayre we were much taken with the 'boathouse' at Mayfield (formerly the name of a dwelling back up the hill). This modern 'boathouse' is one of those modern conceits, a hoose made to resemble an upturned boat, but awfu' bonnie and rather large. The drystone wall divided seaside garden is pretty too. Somewhere hereabouts are believed to be the remains of an authentic boathouse, yer actual housing for boats. Next the shore this side of the Dam of Hoxa sits Longhouse farm range with its corn-drying kiln. Longhouse, Hoxa Mill originally, is now a residence. Something I only realised after I strayed onto the lawn to snap the kiln ! There is a track that takes you from the Dam of Hoxa over the old ayre to the Sand o'Wright. At this time, going by the overflowing pools either side, it struck us as maybe not the best route for now, might only get so far before being 'pushed' back. Tread the shore. Continue on to the road end at Howe. On the eminence above is the Howe of Hoxa. Which is a doubling as Hoxa is haugsheid referring to the broch. You can only see the top of the tower, and until you reach the spot it looks just a weird fieldwall. Then there you are with a topdown view. Which is a good thing, because the last time I went the interior had way too many tall nettles for one to venture in. From the broch a long mound heads doen the hill, and tradition states that Earl Thorfinn Hairsakljuf was hoy-laid here after his death in about A.D.960, However all archaeologists can say is that there are traces of settlement in the lower section.
Passing by the broch I contented myself with a few shots from the road as I had used my SLR up close some time ago and we wanted to be back on time. Had my first glimpse of its small 'companion' by the shore, which will be a lot easier to resch than I had assumed. 115 paces/yards from the broch is the Little Howe of Hoxa, though it is possible the name is that of the mediaeval ruin rather than the (supposedly) prehistoric structure. In June 1871 George Petrie excavated this, and after he left Mr Gray of Roeberry (who had partialy dug the chambered mound on Warthill the previous year) continued to clear it out and (it was believed) make further exploration. Petrie found an approximately circular structure with two concentic wall enclosing a space of ~21'D. The 4' thick outer wall was seperated from the inner by a 2' high passage tapering from 18~20" below the covering stones to 16" wide at the base where it met bedrock at one place.. A 20' long passage and doorway went all the way through the structure, standing 4' high and being 2½' wide. Traditionally a passage connected with the Howe of Hoxa, but no trace found of this at the time or since. Presently the site is called a homestead and thought to be either early broch or pre-broch, but the finds made seem to me to be as likely from a Viking wirk or borg - perhap not a "green site" still. It is notable that none of the newspaper reports refer to it as a broch. There is a way in still, an archaeologist friend of mine entered the hole even though it is generally considered dangerous to do so. A wall post-dating the excavation goes across the homestead. Little Howe of Hoxa may simply be a name used to differentiate the ruined dwelling. There is a slip near Howe and a couple of derelict buildings mentioned on the NMRS, what appears to be a roofless croft and a small square building of just four walls.
There are plenty of other early settlements in the area. Just back up the hill is Swart(e)quoy where excavations starting the same month found a probable earthen encampment suurounded by a strong rampart of earth and stone. Also at the same time some trenches made in a sandy knoll called Kirkiebrae on the other side of the isthmus found another 'encampment'. Though the name implies a church connection the finds don't bear witness to this, and the St Colm's dedication is a thoroughly modern fiction or the papers at the time would surely have said. One of the trenches turned up a fine red and yellow clay/pigment intermixed with ashes along with a huge number of bones from the same fauna as that at Little Howe. On a hearth of burnt stones one of the relics was a piecemeal bone comb held together by iron pins and having a central dot surrounded by small concentric rings. It stood comparison with examples from Hampshire and other English counties, bringing to my mind the recent theory that there had been Angles resident on Orkney in Pictish times. Situated close by where caravan park it doesn't look much to me, being more impressed by a mound in the elongated field triangle on the hillside. Wouldn't be the first time the slight repositioning of a boundary has put a site on a different side to that on maps, as happened to me with Brodgar's Fairy Well.

A short road section goes across the hill, and here is the junction with the road to Head of Hoxa - carry on to this and eventually arrive at the Hoxa Tapestry gallery and then a fine reastaurant with glorious views (when the mists clear), beyond which a lovely nature walk takes you around the wartime camps and emplacements. Another time. Arriving back onto the main road the pillbox you can make out in the land between the shores has been moved from its original location, so possibly an alternative explanation for what I see in the field corner. East of the toilet block are several hut bases and foundations from a small camp used by REME. As we came by the farmer was dropping hay fodder on some for his sheep. Very well behaved they were, staying in the field even after he left the gate open to get more fodder. Not enough time to tread the Sand o'Wright, so off up to Roeberry. A couple of interesting buildings on the farm.The ends facing us had wide ornate multicolour stone block archways, one open the other blocked off. Patrick and I spotted a very small belfry on the roadside building and thought this to be an old church, no, no, schoolhouse. Then at the other end spotted a big external staircase. So most likely a storehouse, with that 'belfry' housing a pulley system for hauling goods up to the next floor. The first O.S. shows something peculiar, apparently where Roeberry Cottage is now. I like the cottage gateway, framed by softly curving walls. And way above Roeberry House are the sad remains of The Wart tomb.
Now we were up the other side of Hoxa Hill overlooking the Oyce of Quindry. I wonder if it is a coincidence that tidal inlets attract Ba' games, but of course they provide (or occur in) big level patches of land e.g. Oyce of Quindry, the Ouse and the surviving Ba and the Ba ' Green of Orquil (probably the Ouse at Finstown and the head of Hamnavoe for Stromness too). Anyhoo, on the uphill side of the road a Nissen hut sits in complete isolation. Incredibly this is all that's left of Hillside Camp (ND49SW 33 in the region of ND435923) - some 500 men from the Royal Engineers and Royal Artillery stayed at the accomodation camp. At the head of the Oyce of Quindry a road goes by the shore to Ronaldsvoe. Near the junction with the main road I spot another Nissen Hut, though even through binoculars this resembled a small cottage.with a chimney at each end. My next thought was that a wartime building had been turned into a dwelling, but further observation showed the structure had been covered in concrete like many an engine house. So I suspect it provided power for Hillside Camp. However, no matter how far I drill down on PASTMAP absolutely nothing is shown there, never mind a site pin !! Most curious.

Of a sudden coming down the hill into the Hope headed for School Road, to the east is Stonepark. In the 19thC several cists were found in a mound at Stonepark [?ND444932 by a field bend], and in another fired stone and earth mound on the same farm of Blanster (near the farm buildings) a single cist held some ashes under an upturned urn. A little further down, somewhere near the playing fields on the other side of the road had been yet another small military camp, this one for the RASC with only a few hut foundations left to mark the endeavour. But the next thing to grab my attention is what I think is Angle Cottage, an L-shaped two-storey mansion house with crow-stepped gables. Though with a date of 1893 visible on a photo I take it that it has been re-modelled if so. When I wrote up this walk for the Blide Blether because I had mixed up the roads I had applied the name to Bellevue !! In 1866 at a spot 20~30 yards from the shore (that had been under cultivation for almost a century) men digging for office house foundations near the Established Church manse uncovered a skeleton 2-3' down, prior to which 5-6' of mound material had been already removed. I'm not sure whether this was U.P Church property as this is much further back, and all I can find on RCAHMS are several records for warehouses [offices is Orcadian for farm labourer accomodation at this time]. Another mystery. Patrick, Star and I got back in the minibus and returned to the Blide in order to be there at the alloted time, but the two humans agreed it would be a fine walk to extend into a full day by adding in a tour of the Head of Hoxa military sites.

Petrie's excavations in local papers :- June 21st & 28th1871 "The Orkney Herald", June 24th & July 1st 1871 "The Orcadian".
Swartiquoy, ND49SW 11 at ND431940 - lost site of tumulus with cist and urn. Enclosure almost definitely that down as Mayfield, ND49SW 91 at ND 43150 94238. The modern Mayfield farm's former name Swartiquioy, with East Swartiquoy near Kirmareth.
Howe of Hoxa. ND49SW 1 at ND4252693962, mentions.
Little Howe of Hoxa, ND49SW 2 at ND4243 9403
St Colm's Chapel / Kirkiebrae, ND49SW 8 at ND42229369. My own suspicions lie with the stuff in the field corner at ND42189371, rather than ouside, even so.

wideford Posted by wideford
6th March 2014ce

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