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TANKERNESS NESS-SIDE October 10th 2004

Starting at the airport, and approaching The Mount from that way, the steak-knife stone came up in the binoculars quite distinct. Amazing how easy it was now I knew what I was looking at, that all the shapes weren't fenceposts. Very significant in its original state I'm sure. Still wondering about the age of the stone near the Bossack amenity site, perhaps in connection with the five clay mounds that came from it. Can't see the Whitecleat well anymore. Not sure whether it has been filled up and blocked or simply capped. At least I recorded the well whilst it was accessible.

Pass the Hall of Tankerness there are a few remaining from a standing-stone fence, but nothing like what you find over the hill. Where the road turns there is a quarry on the right, and above the further lip of it is a tall conical stone cairn. Though marked on the 1:25,000 O.S. it has no record on CANMORE. I think maybe it could have been a rallying point for Covenanters or some such, but when I saw it for the first time my thoughts ran rather to to brewing or early industrial use. It is a little distance after this that a pair of standing-stone fences line the roadside for field after field, one every few yards on opposite sides turn and turn about. Eventually even I had to give up on examining every one, I must have done dozens as it was. NGRs no way ! At one place where I looked down a farmtrack there was another standing-stone fence at the other end of the field there also. The standing-stone fences continue somewhat after the road hits a RH junction and IIRC also beyond it before petering out. There is a lovely example of standing-stone gateposts HY53401005 on the right the field before coming to the junction, most especially that at the left which consists of a stone with a scallop in the side into which a shorter curved stone neatly fits at an angle (this could be one stone cleft I guess). In this area there are several standing stones with shorter ones angled to prop them up and I think this might be in imitation of concrete fenceposts, which unfortunately for my ideas would make them 'modern'. I intended to take the RH junction on my return in order to try again to locate the Howe of Lanskaill burnt mound and the Yinstay survey cairn that stands by an unexcavated souterrain (found then promptly buried for future generations to excavate).

My objective was a promontory fort (yet another The Brough) and a few lesser sites. The straitest approach was via the Cott of Ness farm as far as I could tell, but I chose a different route as being simpler to follow if I was to be certain of correct identification. So I continued on to the point where the road took a final turn and struck off to the right for Hangie Bay. This would involve following the lines of a few fences down to the coast where my first quarry would be practically in front of me. At one place I was obliged to slide under an 'Orkney gate' - it is very well the farmers saying they have no problems with access rights but the new fences going up all over the place are much tighter than the old ones and just too high to slip over now, and there are electric ones in very unnecessary places.
When I reached the coast it was very wild, a mess of small and mostly hidden dips and hollows swamped by spongy tussocks of some maritime grass. Though necessarily at one time connected to the land my first site is now a rock stack deeply cleft in twa'. I am of the opinion that castle names in Orkney tend to be used for post-broch and early Viking settlements. But this stack site, the grandly named Castle of Hangie Bay, is (as far as can be seen) only the remains of a cairn, if that. I saw an erect slab on the LH side of the nearer hummock but CANMORE refers only to one on the summit with two more at right angles to it. Perhaps this is further evidence of erosion. It may have been another promontory fort once upon a time, but a recent suggestion has been that this was a fowlers' cairn . What, they flew in by helicopter ! If it really was used by fowlers it surely cries out for rescuing as a one-of-a-kind site. Not that the budget would stretch to the required extreme archaeology alas.
There are some lovely natural arches here, if only they were not so inaccessible and slippery to approach they would have tons of visitors. I avoid funfare rides but can't resist the thrill of this kind of place, the danger coupled with the feeling of surmounting the odds. Should you come this way watch out for an ?arch in the making, a huge rectangular hole in the coastline going all the way down to sea-level. I'm sure there must be a proper geological term for it.
Finally the coast heads into a deep dip where the promontory is, a truly treacherous place to tread nowadays. Surely if you are building stuff for people you don't put it opposite a water-holding cup of land. It seems a little strange to me - or was it excavated by people themselves for some now obscure reason. Though there are two sites here, The Brough itself and the 'Covenanters Graves', opinion is that they are basically one, to whit a promontory fort and outbuildings. You can't really make anything out, I think unless the grass catches fire or there is a severe drought you are unlikely to see what is recorded. Lots of bumps and hollows that could be structures threaten to trip you up, but basically all you see is grassy tussocks all over. I saw one erect slab in the 'cup' (the 'Covenanters Graves' section) and one on the promontory fort proper (The Brough). From one place to the other are meant to be features both circular (at least two of 3m) and rectilinear (with one perhaps 8m long).

Down the coast past another natural arch. The last site I was looking for hereabouts was a 3x1x1m possibly ancient dyke. At this point the coastline ran into the fence and I had to go into the field. Fortunately there was a handy wooden style. No sign of the earthwork, or else I wasn't looking quite the right way for it. So I made my way down the coast again until I came within sight of Ness farm. There is archaeology close by but it is either gone or'modern', though the wind-pump is on a burnt mound and between it and the farm stones litter the ground and sound hollow in places (suggestive of prehistoric buildng). So I did not go there but instead struck out for the farmtrack above, coming to it at a corner.
Here I found a most curious feature which I deeply regret not having photographed. It takes the form of a three-sided rectilinear earthwork from from HY5422 to HY5429, many metres long and I think several feet high, such as might be left where an old building once was. On the 1:25,000 O.S. map it is shown as a dotted line and a full slanting line, making it appear to pre-date the present field boundary. CANMORE does not list the site but CANMAP adds the detail of an obtuse angle at the far end that is formed by a perfect line. Very intriguing. Connected to the corn-mill perhaps ??
And here an 'Orkney gate' blocked the farmtrack, wire taut as a drum. Took some doing to get by. Distinctly not access friendly ! If one is being charitable, perhaps a local dispute is involved. Before I reached the above mentioned road junction I prudently took up the offer of a lift, because despite having an airport bus return ticket the weather looked a bit dicey.

wideford Posted by wideford
28th October 2004ce

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