|Researching in the Orkney Room I chanced to overhear staff taliking about something going on at the Earl's Bu in Orphir so had to go and see what. This turned into the first of 3 more trips to the parish. This blog is a product of all three arranged into geographical chunks
In James Omond once he has left the Mill of Kirbister he talks of the main Orphir road passing through a region of "fairies, ghosts, and goblins" called White Moss. Which makes me think of Markstone Moss elsewhere and wonder if the site of that name is misplaced rather than gone, people having a habit of confusing an area named with the usually far smaller area where the legend resides on the map (or alternately with tiny sites looking on the wrong end of the legend !). How wonderfully the walking mind wanders.
After you pass the Germiston road junction there is a permanent pool of water roadside occupying a rectangular hole. The 1882 map shows nothing there and you can see no rock to make it a quarry. Its presence unremarked annoys me - is it something missed off the earliest map or where a WW2.building had been ? The negative impression of some construction set deeply into the ground being wholly removed certainly. Just along from this I see for the first time the obscure evidence for a circular earthwork. On several previous visits I have looked for James Omond's "old circular building... almost level with the ground" where Johnston's map places it. Finally I realize that this is wrong, for it places both that and the Graystane between the main and mill roads whereas "The Book of Orphir" places them securely either side of the main road. And so this must surely be Cursiter's possible hillfort after all. From it came many curious stones, chief among which was the muller for a saddle quern [the moving top stone]. This had at its back several grooves to fit the fingers in and must have looked mighty fine.
Before reaching the Swanbister junction there is a gate allowing access to the Greystane field. It is slightly rusty and secured with a rope, so be extra careful climbing over. The stone is very carefully shaped. In fact someone has said this can't be a standing stone because it has straight lines and nice angles (recently a real archaeologist at a public event said you can tell proper standing stones because they are larger than 'straining posts'. Which would rule out a significant proportion of the officially recognised ones !). If this had been an erratic someone would have had to erect it, it didn't get this way by itself. The shoulder has obviously been created in fairly modern times, archaeologically speaking. Perhaps when the modern main road was created (the track of the mill road being the obvious original way) it was desired to split it up for carting away but proved too hard. Another possibility is that someone thought to create two slighter posts out of it for use elsewhere and was similarly balked. Certainly this would produce the fat square-section stone fenceposts seen elsewhere in Orkney - there seems to have been a fashion for them at one time, and I can see no antiquity in these.
Next I went back and passed the ruin of Sweanabow (not named for another Bu district as bow here is used for agricultural land held in common or possibly a cattle parc). As I made for the corner E corner of the field there was an area (east of the building and nearer the burn) of damp spongy ground that I take to be what is left of the well shown on the 1882 map at HY35810628 : the one on the modern map further up at HY35720636 does not appear on that - actually I must confess I initially identified a short rectangular cutout along the edge of the bank lower down as this well. Continuing I struck across to the burn that runs down from the road and followed up the west bank. By the corner is a triple watercourse junction and one tall stone in one of the fences there. Coming up I came firstly to a depression alongside the stream, roughly rectangular and seeming man-made, which I tentatively identified with a well as noted above. Next I came to where the larger of two broad flat bridges cross the channel. Leading up to it is what remains of a wallbank of fairly large stone blocks lining the east bank and a few stones my side. It stands two or so feet high and over the original a big slab of concrete has been placed to enable tractors to cross, but underneath the traffic has caused the blocks to start falling apart. After this comes the point at which the burn turns slightly and there are two fencepost-sized stones in a short angled stretch in the barbwire fence by the east bank. The northern one looks to stand alone but
that to the south has plenty of packing with a couple of feet of ? submerged fieldwall projecting downhill a little lower than that. Looking across at the two I saw two small horizontal rocks by a cut. My thought was that this was a feeder channel. Later when I went to the other side, however, I saw it to be a closed off depression a foot or more deep with at least two slabs inside, a thin one presently upright. I think this narrow almost slot has to be what is down as a well on the modern O.S. Nearer the road is the second bridge, simply one large thin stone slab fairly low over the water. Above this are two modern erect stones on either side of the burn, which continues under the road through an unremarkable 'modern' channel.
Then I walked along the uphill boundary and across the shallow hump that is the glacial till opposite Highbreck. Facing Highbreck the steatite cremation urn came from the continuation of this that the house sits on, from somewhere on the left. Next feature along is another channel under the road, with an erect stone on its left. It is multi-period. There is the original drystane tunnel with a couple of erect slabs in front like the low 'passage' before the Hillhead of Scapa well (only without the back wall of course). Then
coming from the two slabs are concrete sides and end over which a big rusty iron pipe runs. There is another such pipe in front of the channel entrance which ends clean cut a few inches from the erect stone. Now I headed to the muddy way through to the next field, gated by two erect stones in slightly different alignments. The southern one is at a major field junction and perhaps these downhill areas are of a field system before what are called the 'improvements' of the latter half of the second millenium. Lastly I went across to the Smoogro road junction. Here there are three erect stones on the west side. The main road and side road ones are rounded and have lichen like the rest in these fields. The middle one is obviously a (comparatively) recent addition; slightly darker, all straight edges (tho' still tapering), and devoid of a certain naturalness.
Could go no further, so retraced my steps. At the Swanbister junction there are the dwellings of Nearhouse, apparently absent (there are a few dots in the track complex) in their entirety from the 1882 map like Highbreck. An uncultivated triangle of land roadside here once turned up a cist. There now is a small jumble of ?stone/slabs that could be taken for this but surely would have been noted if 'twere and so must be a mere simulacra. I'd love to enter this peedie patch of land for a closer look simply on the off chance, but it gives off unmade garden vibes vis-à-vis the cottage close by.
Posted by wideford
25th November 2005ce
Edited 25th November 2005ce
wideford's TMA Blog
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