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ALL TO SKAILL August 15th 2004

Open day at the Castle of Snusgar excavation HY23611960 (RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY21NW21 lists little, hence the dig), close by where the Skaill Viking Hoard was found HY23691962. Sunday not good for those lacking transport. Fortunately until the end of September The Tourist Trail bus goes to Skara Brae HY229187 within easy walking distance for almost anyone. Choice of two and took the later one, which still gave me three hours for a walkabout beforehand and only one bus to Stromness after. Did think about going there first anyway but best to follow protocol.

Going towards Skaill Church (where a gravestone marks either where an old set of burials was discovered or where they were re-buried - the NMRS record is unclear about this) a tiny stretch of very minor road leaves the B9056 to continue following the coast before a track leads you into the fields to the Knowe of Verron. The track fades away soon but it's easy going. Don't mind the cows. Where I crossed a stream is like stepping stones but could be fallen standing stones ?from a wall. Further along I came across a tumbled line of stones going to the coast. A little too spread for a plain wall it seemed to me, and if it had been a curve (it could have been a very slight one I suppose) I would have taken it for part of the boundary of ? a ness-taking or a promontory fort.
Of course the Knowe of Verron HY231198 is a broch, though I harboured slight doubts when I was there. It is in a similarly precarious position to the Broch of Borwick at Yesnaby but without the wall height to keep you out. As I came to the broch remains all I saw was a short grass mound, and in the modern-times excavated cliff edge I could see a gallery wall sticking out. The 'back' of the site is well protected by a sharp deep sea inlet to the cliffs, calling to mind the Brough of Bigging in Yesnaby. There are traces of early diggings when you are on the broch (even on the grassy top I was careful). This I found out about back home but this doesn't tell you about the square pit there, so could it have been revealed not long ago ? Smallish relatively deep slab-lined square pit and stones surrounding the top. Exquisite. Nearer the cliff edge there are other areas of stone I could make nothing of, could find not even the slightest viewpoint to make them worth a photo. Looking over the cliff at the recorded excavation is a vicarious thrill. I could see the slabs of a rectangular structure and I thought there was something alongside. I could also see the edges of black material coming through the cut, placed there after the exploratory excavation of the eroding section. The weather still being fine and dry I gingerly crept down onto the cliff exposure using some of the bigger stones as lightly as possible in order to disturb nothing. I had hoped from down here that the nondescript stone scatters above might show something but still no. You can still see some of the midden material on the 'floor'. Looking from left to right there's the slab-sided structure, the seeming outline only of another structure, some of the gallery wall sticking out (as is often the case with these cliff-eroding sites) and then further up the cliff face a couple of spaced small protruding boulders (including a well-rounded ovoid) that gave the appearance of being the ends of a 'cupboard' or niche.
Behind the broch is a field boundary and at the corner of of the RH field the gate is held by two round wooden posts HY23081980. Rather unusual for Orkney. Closer observation revealed the outsize stone-settings that would formerly have held standing stones instead. The one at the left has a RH stone 0.5x0.1m whose lower end abuts the existing post's right, a stone at the upper end 0.45x0.1m going left, and a stone between this and the post. Peering over I saw that the drystone wall of the RH field sits on a base of flattish boulders seemingly. Abutting the RH post's right is a stone 0.4x0.2x0.2m, and behind that two probably displaced stones of which one 0.25x0.1m has an angled LH end. Looking behind the gate I could see an intriguing basically flat setting almost fully vertical in the earth. It totals 0.9m and is at an angle to the line of the gate, with the left 1.9m away but the right only 1.6m. Odd. Taking the front as a rectangle the LH side is a stone 0.4x0.25x0.15high, the top end a stone 0.5x0.15, the RH side a stone with a pointed top. Below the top stone is the end of a distinctively reddish stone block 0.2x0.1m and below that a stone presenting a triangular appearance (around the RH edge of the 'mound'/'ramp' is a similar shaped stone 0.2m across that may be part of the setting. There appear to be lines on the top stone, but these could be simply geological and I was able to make nothing of them. Where this field makes an angle there is 15m from the corner (2.4m between modern fenceposts is handy for field archaeology I find) a standing stone at right-angles HY23101981.
From here I pursued a slightly lower route and found the true stream crossing HY23271977, including large fallen stones (the largest one split along its length) that brought to mind the Mark Stone of Gaitnip bridge. There is somewhat of drystane walling lining the beck here but it seems older than that above that crosses it. Could repay investigation by someone more methodical than I.

Back on the road I went up past the church and took a left at the very next junction, a farm road that takes three sides of a square that brings it back to the proper road again. On the first side is the farm track down to Lenahowe. Here is the Linnahowe Mound, a.k.a. 'The Castle', a long prominent mound occupying most of an enclosure. In the far end a chunk has been taken out for a silage pit. As the NMRS says there are many stones revealed by the pit but nothing resembling any kind of structuring. I only saw a few stones in the undug bit, nothing really worth mentioning.
The second leg includes the track to Upper Garson. There is a standing stone 3.7m up the right of the track 1.4x0.5m. I wouldn't have seen this if I wasn't measuring for something else I must say. Past the track junction I found a standing stone HY2326920535 actually incorporated at the bottom of the drystane wall, 0.3m high at the near end and 0.7m the other by o.9m long. Six metres away HY2329320542 was another in the same situation 0.6x0.6m. An order larger than the usual boulder inclusions. When I went back to the first stone the tape measure found something solid. Probably the wall base, perhaps like the one I had just found by the knowe,but the soil about it was practically rock hard too.
On the B9056 again going uphill there is a short length of slab fence that uses short adjoining standing stones instead of slabs. Then again, there is a quarry close by.

It was starting to rain hard now. So at the crossroads after taking the Quoyloo and Orkney Brewery road I immediately took the next turn downhill instead. This way the 1:25,000 shows Rossel Howe, only the NMRS says this cairn is now gone. By now it was pelting it down. Below Howagar where the field takes a corner I thought I had found another flatface-aligned pair but the second leg of the fence there was another standing stone, to make it three.
Soaking wet I gave up on the idea of following the road down to Kierfiold and the Loch of Skaill. Besides, going round and uphill again I had no idea how long it might take - could catch the bus but miss the open day doncha know. A pity because I'd looked forward to attempting to find my Loch of Skaill 'niche' (for measuration). So I took to the little-used track on the right that runs below Netherstove and Midstove as the shortest route to Snusgar. Grass very damp against my legs but it turned out to be worth it.

a,b,c: First standing stones on the downhill side of the track at HY24441979. One field ends and the line of the next one is staggered. Two stones along the field fence projection both broad but the one nearer the road well thick. A third stone in the staggered field is on the boundary but slightly away from the junction with no sign of a wall association even though it does point straight across the field. Couldn't safely approach to measure them because the ditch too obscured.
From here on there's standing stones everywhere both sides of the track, with none of them less than 10cm thick.
d,e: HY2400019766 1.3x0.6x0.1m along a fence boundary away from the actual junction and pointy HY23978119764 1.5x0.6x0.1m , both on the uphill side.
f: Where the Burn of Snusgar crosses the track at the uphill top of the 'box' there's a biggie at HY2394819762 2.2x0.6x0.5m pointing uphill, utility-knife shaped. Like the one by the backup power station in Orphir it stands on the stream bottom backed against the fieldbank, apparently with the one face fully exposed. This probably does bring the top about the level of the other stones' tops but still begs the question "Why here, like this ?".
g: Just past the 'box' on the downhill side a stone HY23941975 1.3x0.6x0.2m stands back from the fence, fortunately within my arm's reach.
h: At the box looking down the burn there appears to be another crossing, with a stone visible at ?HY23941962.
i: no NGRs till near the end now. Along from f a stone of possibly mirroring shape, a fair specimen at 1.7x0.6x0.15.
j: 20m on but the downhill side 1.3x0.6x0.1m.
k: 4m on 1.5x0.2x0.1m
l: in the field near the fence the solitary presence of what looks like a mediaeval gatepost standing stone, with usual rounded tip. Different colour of stone than the others but still its unusual siting makes me think it is part of some incomplete arrangement along with k and l.
Coming up to a track junction heavily populated with standing stones.
m,n,o,: Uphill side 0.9x0.4m, then one 1.2x0.4x0.2m at right angles to fence, and another I didn't measure because from the junction too many more continue uphill, I'm all stoned out.
p: One more on the downhill side HY23761975.
q,r: From the junction downhill are only two more. One at the left and only slightly further down one at the right HY2373219615 by where I cross the top of a field to the Castle of Snusgar.

When first thing I looked toward the unexcavated side of the site and saw the white of stones. Thought it could make something to snap, only now it turned out to be merely wool !! Demi-circled the site following a decent ditch (unfortunately pockmarked by neat rabbitholes a fair way). Then up that side of the mound and the ladder over the drystane wall to the dig side. Joined a group just started. The ditch I looked at they believe unlikely to pre-date the mediaeval. There are low swellings behind that could be ditch or banks but just as easily outbuildings to my mind. All they are digging now is down onto sand, so that unless it gives out even deeper down the site is likely to remain Viking. I wondered to myself if whoever was responsible for the later structure at the Knowe of Verron had moved their metalworking to here when that was no longer tenable as a safe site to do the metalworking in. Here they are finding shells and animal bones, but to date the largest piece they know the function of is the area of smithying at the top of the mound. On the day I went the vertical section showed where a hollow cut into the consolidated sand for this. A little further downslope they tentatively thought they had uncovered the stones of a passage. Not quite sufficient for me to use the SLR. Oh how I miss the digital camera, sadly still u/s.

After this I went towards Skara Brae. The 1:25,000 shows tumuli where cists were found behind Mill Croft on the left, but someone (most likely a ferrylooper) has declared their road Privet. On to the bay side of Skaill House to try and locate the Knowe of Geoso. Even using the map I had a terrible time finding my bearings, as if the two regions of paper and land held only the flimsiest of connections to one another. Walk to the edge of the far house wall corner and look across uphill. It is easy to see the triangular scar of quarrying in the top right corner of a field. The cairn is just by the top right corner of the field diagonally opposite (though outside of it a fraction). Might have made it outon the horizon from here, wasn't sure. Spent so long thrashing out my bearings making my way through fields of cattle to it felt beyond me. Saw drivers going to Skaill House Farm, which looked a simpler option, but making the grand detour to get onto that road in the time remaining was problematical. So I gave up, basically.

Rested and ate a late lunch whilst waiting for the bus to Stromness and then the one home. Going south to Stromness on my right I thought I saw a double of flatface-aligned pairs along the track to a disused quarry opposite the farmroad to Clumley. If the observation was accurate they are at about HY244159 and facing off to each othereither side of the broad track.

wideford Posted by wideford
20th August 2004ce
Edited 20th August 2004ce

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