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TO WEST HOLM August 31st 2004

It's often difficult to know, when you find something suddenly catches your attention on a well-trodden route, whether it merely escaped your active notice before or whether something has uncovered it. Doesn't matter how many times you've been that way, nowhere is that simple. So I am heading out for St.Mary's. Just out of Kirkwall there is a series of buildings at the end of which is the relatively new Orkney Wine Company. At the beginning of them I saw a triangular standing stone by the garden wall corner. Maybe I have seen it before and ignored it. But I notice in front of the wall looked recently cleared so more likely this is what now made it clearer to the eyes. Past the building complex and going up the rise was another similar stone. Thought I'd take notes when I came back only before then I accepted a lift. These are the last stones on the road going to St. Mary's, though this may have been the result of later stone clearances along the way.
Just before you see the sign for the Rashieburn track the Five Hillocks HY460054 lie in the second field behind a group of houses. Only green mounds right now. Anyway I had other fish to fry.

Nearly a couple of hours to reach the broch HY470014 on the outskirts of the village, whose other name is the Broch of Ayre. Probably because my legs were acting up. Still not my destination today.
Through St. Mary's and on to the B9052 instead of crossing Churchill Barrier No.1 for the Lamb Holm settlement HY480045. A section of the beach here consists of well rounded stones that make the most wonderful susurrus as the tide breaks amidst them and then sucks back. Even on a low ebb like today it satisfies something in you. On the other side of the road is Graemeshall, a house originally Meil 'sand' in the 16th century. On a mound a small cannon sits on what looks like a bit of concrete - I fancy it originally lay within the tiny circular stonewalled enclosure alongside.
Looking at the Loch of Graemeshall with all those incursive reedbeds I can't help but wonder if it holds any archaeological secrets from a drier time in Orkney as the Loch of Tankerness does HY522093. And nothing recorded for the hillocks about the burn on the right-hand side of the road all the way up to the junction. One of these looks suspiciously circular - "The Islands of Orkney" suggests there could be several brochs awaiting discovery in Holm (nearby is the suggestive East Breckan). A dun cow sat across the top.

At the junction I turnd right at the war memorial. First standing stone in ages about HY49280226 at the roadside by the fieldfence along from Crearhowe. Crearhowe burnt mound HY493024 occupies the top left corner of the field, but the stone doesn't line up with it. To me the mound looked annular or had a ditch and bank, probably this appearance a result of the N and S being dug into though. A well is marked by the wall to its right. 20thC concrete structures have been built into or below the mound. Being as how the native Americans coming for the OISF are Cree it is nice that I wondered if that is the first element in the name, creigh meaning boundary. Just my fancy, we were never Gaelteachd.
Bottom of the Fea track HY48970241 were no less than three standing stones, the two on the left forming a track corner. The right one was 1.2x0.3.0.2m. Of the left two the nearer to the right was 1.3x0.3x0.1m and 3.5m back from the road. The last was 3m further along on a line taken from the second to the road, and unlike the other two stood parallel to the road
Next I came to the track HY48910246 going to Little Millhouse. Here the layout of four stones appeared to make things clear as the two back from the road marked where the farmtrack narrowed. So I took no measurements because I thought the construction historic. But all these faced were at right angles to the road, in which case maybe I should.
Just on from that juncture is Biddy's Well HY4889502466, for so it says in white paint on a small square slab on top.Good job the sun was fully out as the well is under the wall. Internal dimensions from the tape 0.5m wide by 0.6m front to back and 0.6m to the top of the sediment. Between it and the road a layer of brown stones. Lifting a grassy veil I could see square-cut back and sides. The front was less distinct, made instead from rounded stones (not brown IIRC) and perhaps slightly curved. Exceedingly rough corbelling ?? Or mayhap the front used to be where the brown stones are now and all these stones merely backfill.
The Millhouse track produced merely a single stone on the left - it looks as though the right wall has infringed on the track though.
Here there is a bridge with a most impressive drop for Orkney, perhaps as high over the burn as the Brig o'Waithe is over the lochs. Something to do with the mill I guess. There are Little Millhouse and Millhouse and Millfield but no sign of yer actual mill, not even a NMRS note. Strange. On the right-hand side of the road a picturesque reedbed with a lawn fingering it from a 'new' house. The house is reached along the Millfield farmtrack. This curves back from the road before straightening out. At least the distance of this curve there are standing stones along the barbwire fieldfence of the track's upper side HY48650263-48680256. These are not all that consistent in size or shape and are all several metres away from each other. I distinctly feel they are 'modern' decoration or this could simply be my prejudice on my part.
The rest of the road there are only two more standing stones, the last only yards away from the next track on the right. This farmtrack ends abruptly at the Hall of Gorn. Not much to look at now but it must surely have been more important a long time ago. One of the barrows in the field behind it is also called Gorn (only saw them from the road). The Hall of Gorn HY48370261, of blackened earth and clay gave up a 5' long cist 1901~3. Two other mounds lie 30 yards to the E HY48400259 & HY48390257. In one of these semicircular barrows a grave was found in the 1920s. Another barrow, mutilated in the north and east, is Laughton's Knowe HY48260258 in which a bronze dagger now in the national museum came from a 2m long Late Bronze Age cist in 1916.

Coming to a crossroads I turned left to see if there was any trace of the Roma souterrain HY47830314. In the late 1950s during digging for a water main it was found on the NW side of the road about halfway between the crossroads and the first bend. Fancied I could detect it in a larger piece of dark green grass. Fancy not find most likely. Then back up to the crossroads I carried on.

The next feature I came across could be nothing, a mound of a stone and earth matrix HY473036 over from a disused tip that has probably been used for that purpose at least a little itself. A burn runs along the back of it. Which is nice. Amongst vegetation inside the fence was ?dumped at least one rectangular slab of standing stone material. The way in is by an unusually large 'Orkney gate'. Didn't think much of the idea of handling that only to find nettles in the way, as seemed very likely from what I could see.
A couple of fields further along HY470038 (before the Little Hunclett road only still on the left) is a series of long bumps like Nevada Cott (in which case I'd like to compare the pit mound with Cot of Cursiter... in my dreamstate). More glacial moraines or more than. Where this meets the road a face of stones is exposed. Some resembles a rock outcrop, especially a big boulder jutting out of the top. Vague intimations of straight lines that could be remains of structural walling or drystane wall cutting across or simply geological cleavage planes.

Soon after I hit the main road, beaten by the sun and legs suffering again (that slip inside Dun Deardail seems to keep coming back to plague me still), I accepted a lift. Normally he doesn't offer and normally I don't accept. Oh happy day !

P.S. The Mill of Holm would have stood where I saw the 'new' house, the dam further upstream I imagine to have been in the vicinity of Millfield if it was on the same side of the road.

wideford Posted by wideford
3rd September 2004ce
Edited 3rd September 2004ce

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