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ORPHIR FOLLOW UP August 1st 2005

Though the steatite cinerary urn (HY30NE 17) is described as having been found south of Highbreck before 1935 actually it came from left of the unused ground between Haybreck and the road, precise directions giving it at HY35750643 as shown by CANMAP itself (par for the course - the Broch of Lingro is in an area north of Lingro according to the O.S. in 1977 but actually lies eastward, being only fractionally further north in longtitude !). I always suspected there might be something about the bumps around here and now I knew that the glacial till from which it came is the mound cut through by road. Clued in I had made the connection finally. Nothing is said of how the urn was found, we can rule out road-widening and the 'modern' building of the cottage itself having had a hand. No trace of anything there now. About the same distance from the findspot as that is from the edge of Highbreck's rough ground is the site I had seen before, the earthwork with the chicken feeder. So that places it at HY35700640. To say that it could be at the end of a production of glacial till does not make it natural, it must have been very easy to dig into as evidenced by finds elsewhere about here. Could it relate to the (presumably Viking) urn ? For some reason the places and finds in Orphir seem pre-eminently. Or could it just be they have taken too fully the archaeologists' fancy, explaining the disdain for the Graystane maybe. Between that and the cist findspot at Nearhouse 'new house' lies a field centrally occupied by a building called Sweanabow 'the Bu of Sweyn', which seems strange as there is Swanbister below. But here nothing of note is apparent and the disparity between IIRC 'farm' and 'farm-settlement' remains.

Next stop that mysterious cuboid by the 'cottage' connected to Nealand. My hopes were high because the vegetation was virtually dry. I wanted to take measuerments, check for possible pipes, take a close look to uncover the function. But when I crossed over the dyke high nettles denied me access - I am not even sure that they were there last time, now that a summer of sorts had finally arrived things were shooting up week by week like something out of a John Wyndham story. At least there were no nettles in the space between the 'tank' and the building. No sign of anything going between them or any pipes. Which for the moment leaves me with an object looking in the region of a metre or so long and under half that across, composed of finely coursed drystane walling topped by a thick flag. The stone is like an horizontal 'standing stone'. A bit more intriguing detail on this with a shallow rectangular cut in the middle of the side towards the building; this about a third of the stone's length, sides in a 4:3 ratio on the photo and roughly a couple of inches deep.

Down to the Bu of Orphir road. Lookiing out for a quarry somewhere on the right. Orkney's 'quarries' are as plentiful and confusing as the 'wells'. They're all over the county. What look like quarries can appear on the map as rock outcrops and vice versa, and sometimes what is on the ground isn't noted at all. Then there is the subtle difference between a place from which material is quarried and one that is only a quarry. So I look at quarries and such to make sure I miss nothing. Didn't see it anyway as far as I could tell. Nice stones along the roadway. What I thought to be possibly one of my 'flatface-aligned standing stone pairs' wasn't as they were far too close and there was a third stone at right angles. Some setup. And the stone I had seen loose by the farm was undistinguished.
At the Earl's Bu went to the bit with the mill channel and looked for anything at the stream to no avail. Further towards the sea, by the churchyard, there is stonework along the banks for a few metres. Nothing to say it couldn't be pre-Viking of course, it definitely isn't a wall associated with the mill as I have seen many Orcadian examples and they are all perpendicular.

From the churchyard took the Breck coastal path - The Breck being another stretch of 'broken' hillside like Breckna. Along the path you come to a place where a length of drystane wall still stands tall and covered with much pale-green (iunless you know better ?) lichen. Of course I chose to walk the shore below the cliffs for as long as was possible. From this viewpoint you can see how precarious the wall sits by the very edge of the cliff. And from this side every stone is thoroughly decorated by the soft 'staghorns' of that 3D lichen. Take a photo or two. On the shore you can see the sea-blackened length of a stone wall. One hesitated to call it a field-wall at the bottom of those cliffs. You see many of them stretching out to sea in Orkney, made up mostly of slabs on edge, and they look so primaeval that you are never 100% sure whether or no they are natural. With this one you feel safer about the artificiality as several stones stand up tall and vertical within it. Take several more photos. Alongside you can make out a broad shallow depression going down to the sea. Is the edge by the wall natural or man-altered ? Either way you can certainly imagine this as a slipway, with boats tethered to those long stones. Then I reversed my steps to clamber up to the steps again.
Where the path goes landward one arrow points you to a bothy, going under a 'doorway' a lintel connecting two 'halves'. The way didn't appear to continue after it met the cliffside again. So back and up to the road. Made a mistake and went right where it ends in the houses. Hang a left and turn right at the sharp corner unless you wish to return to the Saga Centre. This way leads to the group of habitations at Gyre. Lush vegetation hid the waters either side bottom of the hill. There is a walk there through the plantation on the left but I wasn't sure if you were allowed - maybe another time. Being estranged from plentiful trees in Orkney it feels so good to walk up that hillside road arched over by them like a green way. Bliss. This way brings you up to the churchyard junction in Orphir village, sat down and had my pack lunch by the gardens there rather than on one of the picnic tables. Then walked back to Kirkwall.

Along the way I took up my binoculars to look at The Holm of Groundwater (named after site of a RC chapel on the hillside above) on the Loch of Kirbister. On this is an intriguing site (HY30NE 6 at HY37170814). I could see the oval island, now hidden totally in tall vegetation, along from the pier. Depite the lack of view I felt strongly reminded of the artificial islet on the Loch of Wasdale (supposed site of a chapel), only by report much reduced structures and ?without the causeway - it has occured to me lately that perhaps before the last few centuries, when antiquarians ascribed ancient non-rectangular structural mounds to brochs and their ilk by default, 'tradition' instead automatically thought them to be the site of chapels, which would explain the great amount of confusion about the nature of such sites.

More about the Holm. In 1870 Petrie went to it and traced a circular building and its entrance. This is an oval structure 8.5x6.5m of stones (some square) covered by turf that sits on the 1.7m high southern half of this 37x19m island. Around this are faint traces of an enclosure a short distance from water-level. In 1935 an edge-mounted slab could be seen on the western side.

wideford Posted by wideford
16th August 2005ce
Edited 16th August 2005ce

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