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Anything but Mine Howe - March 3rd 2004

Meant to locate Craw Howe and Five Hillock but forgot the map. Remembered the location on the 1:25,000 of the former, past the airport and the first Tankerness Road junction, only I couldn't identify the milestone that provided the bearing - note to always bring up the site on CANMAP rather than going by what is on the readily available O.S., if I had had the everyday map it would have been no help anyway! So on I trundled. Fairly certain I saw the Five Hillocks as they cover a larger area than even CANMAP indicates. Also directly on the right-hand side of the Deerness road there are relatively small dips and scoops and scatterings of stones that aren't shown as archaeology despite looking the results of human endeavours, likely subjects for the psychometrist I'd say.

Then as I gave myself my last chance to give up and retrace my steps up on the left came the wooded area at the other Tankerness Road junction. This is the Mine Howe locale. Coming down the junction the community centre is on the right and on the left the the woodland is revealed as a modern plantation. Past the community centre are two rather wide well seperated dykes at least partly drystane-lined . The lower one's left wall seems rather overbuilt, so that I suspect this may be the right edge of the Round Howe broch's remaining ditch on this side. The broch's defences are either side of the road. Looking across to Mine Howe (it is still closed at this time) the Long Howe is between there and the broch. A mite crowded even if I could see the three clearly.

Looking to the churchyard I noticed for the first time a tall standing stone in a field behind it. Intrigued, I set off for it along the deeply rutted trackway that goes alongside. Just past the top corner the ground seems confused is as near as I can describe it, sort of bottoming out and then the track sort of shifts slightly to the left. Then you reach where two fields meet and one is higher than the other and there is a deep cut forming the boundary. Shortly the cut takes a sharp dogleg and the standing stone is the other side of the track from this. There are shorter stones behind and either side of this. The track (inside the field and at an angle to the track I walked) back from there seemed to align with Breck Farm. It doesn't match up with the Breck site location of HY512066. However it is likely to line up with the kaleyard from which a structure that had at least one beehive cell was removed. The target could have been a lot closer, because though the remains of St. Ninian's Chapel are supposed by CANMORE to lie beyond the churchyard (HY501062 in a line with the wall between the burial ground's two halves atop a knoll) stones are often uncovered from the slight mound in its left half, on line with the pre-dogleg section.

Beyond the remains of the chapel at the traditional placing CANMAP shows the name Stem Howe but nothing is shown there and I can't even find out what 'stem' means here (recent geophysics found a 50m by 6m arc between the 'chapel' and the churchyard, amongst numerous other anomalies about it). I read an official description that spoke of Mine Howe standing out from the surrounding natural hills. Which when you go there is odd as it the whole area seems a landscaped whole. From Stem Howe far behind the churchyard three hills curve around to the right. Are they all Stem Howe? From inside the churchyard I could make out a few apparent bits of structure in the two hills nearest the road. Alas I did not have the camera this time and so can only show dark pictures of these from behind as 'Stem Howe'.

Passing Mine Howe I noticed (again for the first time!) a large standing stone HY512062 set into the present end of a hill (another deep cut end) that the Breck Farm lane cuts across. This is parallel to the lane and through binoculars I saw a smaller stone to the left but perpendicular. Unfortunately there is a chain across the lane which I thought best not to cross.

I thought this was an isolated feature. Except as I went further along I was surprised to see a magnificent line of standing stones near this forming a fence along the crest of the hill. From the beginning of this to the road the field edge takes a slight dogleg where it crosses a burn. Fewer stones remain clearly here. The main visible section includes two stones parallel to each other with perhaps a six-inch gap (not a split stone at all). The roadside edge is similarly incomplete, but it also includes such a coupling, here next to a 'proper' standing stone. What with the field being bounded by what I shall call 'standing stone fencing', as opposed to the usual drystane walling, I had a distinct feeling of temenos about this area. Strange.

Most Orcadian field boundaries are drystane walls - as far as I can recall the only other area I've seen that has much of these these 'standing stone fences' is Evie. You couldn't really call them stone rows but they aren't quite fences. You do get places where stone slabs form wall lines, however these are fully connected whereas the standing stones always have distinct gaps and any wire always looks distinctly out of place. There are variations. Out in the Tankerness peninsula a fairly long walk along the road there is a 'standing stone fence' on both sides, the stones being staggered either side. On the eroding coastline between Essonquoy and Weethick one is composed of very widely spaced tall stones with two smaller ones in between, most of the land it once lined gone.

Going past the next junction at the lane to Muckle Crofty is a tiny copse with a teeny pool at one end. The other side of the road a tall standing stone HY517066 sits in a bare space with a little grass about it. Only when you look across you see another some distance away. If you look across the nearer it is on a beeline across the other. The remains of another 'standing stone fence' I presume.

For one walk so many musings, asides and feelings. But this is what makes us open antiquarians instead of strict archaeologists.

wideford Posted by wideford
7th March 2004ce
Edited 19th March 2004ce

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