|As distinct from the tail (where lies The Tomb of The Eagles, the Ladykirk Stone and the Castle of Burwick - I've never been to the first, didn't know about the decorated stone and went nowhere near, was actually at the last but put it down to mediaeval and so missed out on it !).
A bilobal exercise ; two circular walks either side of St.Margaret's Hope, Hoxa and Eastside, then hopefully down to the top of Burray for what are meant to be two magnificent brochs (from an archaeologist's point of view that is).
I think this is the first time that I have been the full Hoxa route this way around,starting on the road that goes above the bus' waiting-room. Pretty scenery as usual, even seen through the shifting mists. Heard dogs barking at Ronaldsvoe Kennels across the way. Lots of lovely drystane walls. What a nice change from all those 'standing stones' I though, simply ordinary walls. Fate tempted it promptly bit me. Down in/on the sands there was a broad standing stone (ND436925) big enough to be seen from (what I later worked out was) a couple of hundred yards away. The Oyce of Quindry is what I guess you would call a tidal inlet but obviously wasn't always so. A stream still runs through it and the stone was this side of it. To the right I seemed to see a far shorter stone but I wasn't really sure with the mists and all (yesterday I mistook a tractor tyre on end for a standing stone, so you can understand why I'm cagey).
My target on this walk was on Hoxa Hill and could be reached by two slightly different routes. If no-one objects I would say now to take the track that goes up the RH side of Roeberry House and past the quarry. The one I took was what appeared a more direct route further down, a fraction past Roeberry farm. Climbing over the rope-tied metal gate the farmtrack goes halfway up the hill where it becomes obscured by pasture. At the beginning of the second field was a stream outlet fallen into disarray, the dark brown stones marking it out as mediaeval or later. The stream and its walling ran across the hill to come to a halt near the corner here, well seperated from the fieldwall itself. The ?culvert (what I still think of as bridges myself) points downhill (perhaps aligned with The Wart), so my description is possibly incorrect. There are two large slabs across the top and the nearer has a large-ish semicircle out of the edge. A slab on the left has a small circular hole. Taking a second look at the arrangement I wonder if the slabs aren't fallen orthostats. Maybe the ?culvert is a water tank or something. So unlucky to see it in this state. In explanation I now see a well marked on the map further up the field on the wall side.
This field where you can only sense the ruts of the farmtrack I can also feel stones, the remains of a wall or the hardpack of the track I suppose. At the top of the field I had to slip gingerly over the barbwire-fence at the extreme corner where there is a slight rise to effectively reduce the height that vital few inches. Here's where it got tricky because of an expanse of gorse directly ahead. Tried a few ways to pass amongst the shrubbery but only succeeded in getting everything below the knees completely soaked. Quite a few stones in the area, making me consider whether this actually was my target. No. Eventually had to give in and go round to the right. Here I came upon the disused quarry, continuing to get damp the while. Above the lip I saw an earth section with some small stones that might just possibly represent a former structure here if not simply my wild imaginings. At the top end of the quarry is the farmtrack I should have taken. Visible and dry !
My thoughts were that The Wart would be gone or under cover or not up to much. Certainly hard to find. But there stood the chambered cairn exactly where the map showed it (ND433935), smack behind the triangulation pillar. A stone cairn with a circular wall incorporating slabs (I noticed a void under one at the left) and a slab coming towards the centre from the right (the interior was excavated down to floor level). There is a platform about it which seems deeper from behind owing to the building of a water tank (whose wooden superstructure looks like a very fancy bird hide). There are stones on the platform (I didn't spot a rough modern wall about the central depression so I hope it isn't the one I saw ;-), stones behind it and stones in the gorse. There must be something going on besides a quarry and a cairn.
Rather than go back to Roeberry I continued down to the Dam of Hoxa, which presents the appearance of a beach. I took a picture of the two tiny islets in one of the pools behind it. My way appeared blocked by a drystane wall before I noticed a breach in the top. Carefully I clambered over in order not to be mistaken for the culprit - which turned out not to be human but a now half-decayed sheep. About half-way down this bottom field I found a fallen standing stone near the fieldwall. Only about two or three feet long, it was not dissimilar to some of the stones in the wall, only I could see no gap anywhere for it to have been from. I didn't visit the Howe of Hoxa at ND425940 this time but continued to my right to the Lowertown road and into the Hope again.
Back at the main South Isles road hang a right and the Eastside road runs down past the war memorial. No kind of sites are shown between here and the crossroads though at least two places at the left piqued my interest, probably 'recent' stuff. The first is a rectangular piece of rough ground marked out by farmtracks or very minor roads to somethings. Then coming nearer to the crossroads lies a big shallow depression with stones where no quarry or rocky outcrop is on the map, with a high bank, presumably natural, marking its downhill end.
Went across the road where a sign denotes Wheems Hostel. There was a standing stone on the hillside below Weemys, though I didn't expect much. Down past Sorquoy Farm the field boundaries either side line up and it was positioned along this ND46919140. Not too much trouble finding it, the Sorquoy Stones a whopper that would have stood out whatever the crop. Even more impressive close up what with the lines near the top and the green plants over the white lichen. Three to four metres high I guessed, actual height 14' to 14'6". Very little of a stone setting even for a far smaller stone, deeply rooted perhaps.
Did momentarily consider reaching my next target from there. Instead went back to the road and down a little further to a useful-looking farm track. Looking to the Kirk Ness Mound ND473913 the field margins are rough and dense with vegetation. And the mist being still about my next avenue looked to be around the coast. Once past the brow of the hill it is very visible all the way to Kirkhope and up along the coast. It is associated with a loch drained a long time back, perhaps on an islet.
Decided to have a look at St. Peter's Church. From what I read when I came back this area may have been sacred a very long time. A Pictish Symbol Stone found on a windowsill of the church is now in the National Museum of course, a cist found at Kirkhope in 1965 the farmer covered up again, The Sorquoy Stone is also known as Papley ' priest's field'.
On the coastline I saw a tall rectangular standing stone behind the church with a lichen-covered boulder alongside. Then at its top I saw a cross-shaped hole, equal-armed with circular ends, that made me think Christianised. Depite which I went for a closer look. Disappointed to find it too well decorated. Various periods but distinctly arty. A footprint looked to my eyes as old as the cross. Other things were deeply incised, crisper and very 'new', including a Pictish symbol practically the width of the stone.
This is a storm beach of large stones of all shapes. Even above the shore there are many, increasing in frequency as you progress to Kirk Ness. You think of standing stones being quarried and shaped but here they are, like an open-cast mine for megaliths of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps this is why the Sorquoy Stone is so big, not importance, purely material to hand. Such an abundance marks this area as mucho importante surely. Near the beginning a relative few stones are upright, including some about a depression in a rise ND472908. Despite the orthostats Kirkhouse Cairn is, as I surmised when I saw it, not for the dead. It could be ancient, except that if so it has been re-used more recently, perhaps as a kelp kiln. It has been heavily quarried.
The next rise along is another Kirk Ness mound ND47389117 "locally believed to be ancient". A single stone sticks out of the top visibly. Just beyond it I found a deep straight channel coming to the coast, where it is 'sealed' by drystane walling ND47439119. To me it screamed vallum. Though I think of it as V-shaped because I had to through the tape measure out to get the full depth the sides were too steep for me to risk going down alone. As it is now it is 4m across by 2.5m high and there are stones along the top. If the Kirkness Dyke is one boundary of whatever the mound is then a brown standing stone I'd passed already was likely marking the other. Having another site incorrectly placed by me I looked for it by climbing over a drystane wall field boundary using more than adequate set of stiling stones. Where the dyke turns a bed of yellow flag, not in bloom, would seem to mark the vanished loch's edge. So did the dyke (described in NMRS as drystone dyke boundary and cru) seperate the mound from the loch, keep the mound within, both or neither ?
As I went back to church and up the hill full sun finally broke out. At the crossroads I went right to reach Churchill Barrier No. 4. Long before then I accepted a lift to the main road. Reaching the far end of the barrier I thought about looking for stone cairn The Hillock of Fea ND493956. This is a site badly eroding into the sea. Which meant it would most likely be problematical to recognize, record and get the bus on time. Similar problems with the brochs at the other end of Burray. From the road I felt certain I could recognize one of them though the map confused me. Clearer targets than the other if I took my time. Unfortunately 45 minutes could soon get eaten away if they were as reported. So eventually I moved on for this bus was the last of the day. As I came to the next barrier my Samaritan again gave me a lift. This time all the way into town despite his appointment being outside of Kirkwall on the way.
A full working day done.
Posted by wideford
8th August 2004ce
wideford's TMA Blog
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