|Approaching Orphir village there is a fine old church on the left, with excellent seats and calm garden for the partaking of your piece (sarnies etc.) behind. This is the junction that leads to Gyre and the Viking Heritage Centre whotsit. Below the church building work has started, no' even foundations yet. They've dug big holes alongside the road for services. Here large flags have been exposed that I would love to be something but obviously is not (then, farmers now when they stick in grant-funded fences seem to knock pieces out of the old walls and occasionally even uproot them completely, and yet in Orkney we are lucky enough to have some drystane walls going back to the Neolithic - now we are losing all our history). Along the road I saw one of my favourite archaeologists and, I thought, a couple with an interest in the Vikings. Which seemed to confirm the game was afoot. Still time to see what so I left the Bu till later.
As you go down the old King's Highroad towards Gyre you can see Konger's Knowe on the left a couple of field's away from the road, so I decided to essay that first. Unfortunately the old field dyke boundary is a formidable obstacle still, broad and deep and mired in vegetation, so I had to content myself with standing on top of the almost buried wall this side of the dyke. On trying to find a way further down I thought I was in luck when I saw two tall stones across the dyke, but though I thought there were other materials there I could not see through the plants. Only after I came back did I realise that this was the old gate in the boundary referred to by Johnston (HY34440489). I had not expected an actual physical entity surviving to now. Think of a farm gate using middling standing stones for posts only with a width nearer to that of a domestic garden gate - the stones stand 1.1m spaced 1.3m apart, whilst in Orkney farmgateposts are either 2.4m or in the region of 3.6-4m. There's an outside chance that Johnston was wrong and grind could mean 'green field', however this would make for a massive coincidences. All the gaps in the old Evie hill-dyke were called slaps but that is way over in East Mainland and a matter of culture and/or a different kind of feature.
So I struck back across the line that connects to the bit of road that goes over Gyre. This line is an old track and submerged ?fieldwalls, perhaps a bank too.
Above the stackyard of Gyre is the findspot (HY340047) at "the crown of the breck" for what A.W. Johnston called 'chambered cinerary urns', a term which Anne Brundle of the Orkney Museum thinks was used at the time to describe cists with divisions. I expected nothing, the modern road cutting through the farmtracks that were. So I was surprised to find that this section, the piece of road between the stackyard and the drystane fieldwall, had not been taken for fields. Amazingly it is still unenclosed, occupying an area several metres in either direction that lies between the section of road above the stackyard and the field boundary walls. There are a few stones connected but these appear to be the top of a mostly buried wall. So at least for know the site is preserved for the future. There is what seems to be a spoil heap, stones buried in and on the earth. Strange the way the modern materials are by the roadside end as once you climb up on it older stuff becomes apparent. Doubtful this comes from the original excavations even so ?
It can be no coincidence that in 1972 a double cist HY30SW 12 was found by the stackyard the other side of the road (HY34090464). This held four skulls in the SE compartment and another in the NW ! Seeing the distance between here and the stackyard in person I see no reason why this could not be a small cemetery like Queenafiold. But presuming Anne's memory is certain why so many of this specific type ?? On my last visit I thought I finally had the cist's location pegged, the relevant side of said stackyard being the smaller side road that has cottages along it. I went up and down carefully, to no avail. Then I chanced to look under a small 'recent' concrete ?watertower in a tiny 'field' and saw some kind of hole. Here there are a few small modern blocks. Also several thin slabs lying about the shallow grassed up depression. Couldn't really make out anything clear, not even anything I could really photograph for reference. Looked possible surely. Unfortunately upon looking up the record card I saw the tractor driver had dug the find from a bank, no mention of tower construction. So I am still flapping. If it ain't this it could still be from one of the 'chambered cinerary urns' perhaps.
Now I chose a better route for my re-discovered tumulus: going back up the road I entered the quarry field (used for building the slab fences hereabouts in the early to mid-19th century) and went diagonally. At the opposite corner (whose 'Orkney gate' is thankfully down) there is an ornamental gatepost of impressive size that led once to a since-vanished dwelling (as did others of the type uphill from Gyre). I call it a phase 1 type, which is conical and of drystone construction. Phase 2 is constructed the same but cuboid. Phase 3 the construction changes to stone blocks. Then they become smaller or are made of modern materials, no thoughts on which concept comes first. Could be totally wrong of course !
From there I at last walked across into the Kongarsknowe field. There is a large circular pool of water by the lower half of the turf-covered mound, probably in a natural depression. What was most necessary was to find out the knowe's composition. Even from afar I had seen exposed bits. Looked like the usual earth with a few small stones. Only up real close did this reveal itself to be mostly ?decayed rock, probably sandstone. Though there appeared to be no signs of structure I cannot believe this to be a (wholly) natural mound. Unable to tell its shape and there was too much wind for the tape measure. It paced out to about 70m around the steeper, unploughed, main bit. From here the mound slopes more gradually until it peters out somewhat over 90m circumference. The central portion (? rocky core) is well over two meters high (possibly three) and the 'base' another metre below that. On my second visit I took measure of the site. It covers an area 35~37m in diameter but the 'core' is not circular, being 29m long and 17½m across the upper mound. The pond behind it is 35m maximum diameter, making the depression the same size as the knowe. Which is surely significant of something.
Johnston marks its first appearance on paper to 1797. Then likely about the time the slab fences were being built by Fortescue of Swanbister (as reported in "The Farmers Journal" of February 1877) according to "Old Lore Miscellany..." he wished to investigate the Fairy-brae of Congesquoy" but was warned by James Flett in Lerquoy not to dig this "old landmark". Marwick in his book on field-names says that the Congesquoy near the Bu of Cairston probably indicated a quoy acquired by an earl. Here the Upper and Lower Congesquoy appear late and IIRC are within the commonalty. However Johnston's 1820 map shows Congasquoy (sic) to the other side of the dividing line, and Kongar instead means ' king's farm ' (as in Consgar).
Going down the hill there is Gear Field to the left whose previously seperate roadside half was called at various times in the past Norquoy and Church Field. In the lower quadrant (HY338045) foundations, stone implements, bones & ashes have been found. Johnston's map has a Maseygate 'church road' from the Bu farm area ending at the lower wall where the Bu boundary is.
The Viking interpretation centre is open most of the time and comes in useful for ablutions and such, I know of nowhere else in Orphir for the distraught walker to gain relief. A good place to visit besides. No sign in the region of any vehicles or archaeological bodies when I went there. I took the Breck footpath from the Round Church and by the shore there was a rectangle impression in the pebble beach against the shore that was certainly the result of digging. But with no-one and nothing around I assume nothing remotely official - my big ears had led me astray.
Looking to west I could see across a gap in the low cliff a group of fair-sized erect stones. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I rushed right across the shallowest bit of the Bu burn in order to reach the site. The name that I have for this area is Harproo. This is a stream-name, and so it is no surprise that a shallow stream proceedsover the present farmtrack down to the beach from the Bu road (it is simpler to come down the farmtrack). This was an old hill dyke seemingly similar in dimensions to that close by Kongarsknowe, being just over a metre deep and approximately 6m across where it meets the shore. My impression is that the W margin of the track is more like the original ?prehistoric bank would have been, but I have not yet walked the track. On the cliff-top either side the drystane shore wall is terminated in lichen-covered stones on the order of a metre high. Fairly standard. But sitting on the base of the 'trench' is a stone of a very different character (HY33190413). It stands a head higher than any other stones in Orphir. It differs from the other stones in being completely devoid of lichen and having the colouration typical of stones that have been in the vicinity of a farmyard all the time. I am firmly of the opinion that this is HY30SW 11, the Bu of Orphir standing stone, transplanted. With the other stones it has several 'loose' modern gates roped across. This stone is 1.9m high and 0.2m thick, is 0.6m across the base (which appears to be stone-packed) tapering to 0.3m at the top. At the Bu road end of the track is a similar arrangement of two stones aligned plus a third slightly away. It is my guess that the farm stone could have been a replacement for one swept out to sea.
RCAHMS NMRS no. HY30SW 16 at HY332042 is by the same field border of the Bu boundary. In the 1980's N/S aligned rectangular foundations with cross-wall were found near the shoreline. An alternative name for the site is the Kirkyard, being traditionally a chapel and graveyard. The area is being eroded where it meets high tide and - though I was ignorant of it at the time my photos reveal in the cliff close to the E terminal stone several stones about half a metre below the cliff-top in an area about a metre across and ?under half deep. Johnston reports bones and large stones coming from here. Unless it be multi-period I am not entirely convinced of its attribution, Harproo means 'stream of the heap' and the suposed chapel site over near the Hillock of Breakna broch is the also ambiguously named Cairns of Piggar. On the other hand the foundations could always be unconnected with the other remains.
My ignorance of the tides stopped me going further around to the Head of Banks. Here Johnston shows Corn Goes (i.e. geo), the Courting Hole, and Black Goe. Near the first of these three he notes (HY332039) two small stones near the cliff edge as gravestones and the former presence of two more stones held to be for gallow sockets. It strikes me that one or both of these sites could (have) been the remains of a settlement similar to the Covenanters Graves in Tankerness. Further around the headland an earthwork appears on his map. This appears near the legend Tooacks of Oddi but doesn't definitely name it. Tuacks may be natural knolls on the side of hills or artificial mounds, sometimes called towers. All this headland for 2006 to investigate.
Posted by wideford
25th November 2005ce
wideford's TMA Blog
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