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SW DEERNESS June 9th 2006

Having taken the bus to Dingieshow (£1.85) my intention had been to walk back to Kirkwall and optain digital images of the Venikelday/Campston "ring-work with broch". But the mist looked set to remain a while longer and the tide was well out at Sandi Sand, so I thought to linger awhile. Actually the mist never quite made it into clouds all day wherever I was and no matter how high it rose. So spent the day wandering Deerness, First along the shoreline over burns and taings (rocky outcrops and low uptilted
strata on the beach), next inland, then along clifftops, over and through barb-wire fences, down a ravine and through 'Orkney gates' tautly strung. Life begins at 50, eh ! So my seperate fieldnotes will describe safer and simpler routes than I took ;-)
Once I had left the sands I came to a stretch of springy turf intercut by almost pools and narrow tidal inroads, very like the thin peninsula south of Tankerness Mill. Here common plants took on different colours and disguised themselves, the thrift all manner of pink into virtually red and some ultra-short stems. Clumps of plump blades of probable grass, verging on succulent - wouldn't surprise me if it were edible like samphire. Amongst the thrift a fruiting rod of plantain devoid of its pollen foxed me
momentarily (it annoys me when British folk call all tropical plantain bananas). Then it was onto rock-strewn beaches and climbable taings coming out from the cliffs. One sandy-looking stretch was composed sea-shells, mostly complete, that must have been from sea-birds - early on I disturbed a nesting colony (I presume) and the sky was awash with wheeling terns. For a while a small group of seals shadowed me in a line, simply curious for my welfare.
The first likely looking mound that I saw (HY54510514) was too rectangular for a broch and there was no loch. Still I climbed up the low cliff for a peek - it looked more like a farmer's dump. Though I didn't go for a closer look because of this, it is down as a possible urisland chapel connected with Braebuster. There are supposed to be slabs and larger masonry all over it (probably well-hidden by turf in summer anyway), mostly in the quarried end nearest me, but the only certain wall is four courses high at
the centre of the mound where a ridge runs. None of which I would necessarily have observed from my distance.
My next interesting find seemed at first sight to be another black taing, if rather broad. Coming at it the southern end is formed by a line of stones on edge like the top of some drystane walls. Not to say that this part is man-made, or at least not entirely, but this area encloses a rather rectilinear pool. My suspicion is that a natural feature has been adapted to catch fish - they go in at high tide and then the ebb traps them between the 'walls'. The 1882 map shows what may be this at HY5479059-
(alternatively HY546058).
Right after came my long-term target, alongside the now overgrown track between Braebuster and Mirkady by Eves Loch. Eves Howe was down as a broch for me to visit at some indeterminate time as I thought it was far far away. So amazed to reach the place I put up with the lack of visible masonry. Looks like there were no outworks, a small broch tower rather than a nucleated settlement like Lingro or Gurness. Up on top of the mound in the waters I see grassy clumps I take to be the causeway built not that long before the 1883 one-day excavation. Hit upon some stones and cleared the grass off a few without further result. What's left of several 'standing stone fences' all
over the place, including a tall one in the northern half of the lochan. Between the latter and the north shore what I took to be the stumps of wooden posts are further stones. Taking what I've seen into account it seems to me the waters have expanded in more modern times rather than shrunk from a greater expanse as presently asserted (nowadays it presents a pinched appearance, on the 1882 map the lochan only goes as far north as the broch, with the curved tip heading towards it). This would
put it on a par with the Loch of Tankerness across the Deer Sound. Similarly the land about is very level. In Tankerness a Bronze Age house with a possible settlement was uncovered on the shore when water-levels dropped nearly a metre during a drought. Perhaps this is relevant to the possible settlement platform connected with the broch, though add this to the mix in an Iron Age context instead and you're back to the Loch of Tankerness again with the Howie of The Manse. None of which is to rule out the mound area specifically as encircled by water, as on the seaward side drain-like zigzags were noted, only to say the lochan itself could likely have been much smaller back then. Came down carefully as though there were no tussocks visible my feet kept sinking into the tall lush grass. More of the same by the old track, then flat spongy turf squelching underfoot. I think this is where the lochan formerly went to sea. At the seaward side there is still a short length of wall and a few tall stones perpendicular to
one another. It is likely that this used to be a field junction (not shown on the 1882 map even) before Eves Loch doubled in size, the mound marking a field boundary even more closely then.
Leaving the broch a little further on is a deep ditch running up to the junction of the Mirkady farm road and the minor road. Obviously linear (possibly originaly a hilldyke as an early 19thC map shows Grind 'gate' of Braebister abouthands. The cobbles at the top of the banks where they meet the coast are a decent depth surely have been brought in from elsewhere, not drystane wall material and definitely not from the beach. The track up to the junction is by the LH side of the ditch. It would have been nice
to go on to Hornip's Point to look for the chambered cairn, but I figured that was a walk too far. At the next headland along I could see a mound. I felt sure it must be archaeological even though there was nothing shown between Eves Howe and the chambered cairn. It was only when I came back home and looked at internet maps that I realised my unknown was in fact Hurnip's Point !! It had long been known that there were a couple of boat nausts (basically single boat berths or dry docks), then in 1991 the archaeologist investigating these found they had been built of materials from a horned cairn of which a little still remains. Ah, another chance missed - it goes without saying I regret even more not knowing I had the durn thing in my sites than dismissing that Braebuster mound from my explorations. Just call me Epimetheus. A winter visit seems in order, if the buses run at a reasonable time.
The track by the ditch ends where farm and public roads meet. Trivia or crossroads. Turning right I rather liked the plain lines of slow sweep upward of the public road in front of me, resembling a less strenuous Clay Loan. More evidence of 'standing stone fences'. Finally reached the B9051, North and South Keigar acting like tutelary gatekeepers. In front of South Keigar are a couple of low mounds - presumably from present-day building as the earthhouse (RCAHMS record no. HY50NE 9) and stuff (HY50NE 11-13) came from 300m below the steading, a field to the north (sic) of the minor road (the NMRS for HY50NE 11 says WSW of the steading i.e. S of the road). The opposite side of the crossroads stands the farmroad to Yarpha. Here the gateway is a standing stone trapezoid like that near Biddy's Well in Holm at the beginning of another farmroad.
I was sorely tempted to head north and then east for a look at the burnt mounds between Greentoft and Seatter on O.S. "Explorer 461". Instead of which I went south. On the left I came to a signed footpath and decided to take that. The sign says footpath, but all that is in evidence is broad ruts in a farm track obviously much used by modern tractors. But I am very glad I did take this route, as on the right a completely surviving 'standing stone fence' with the modern one. Are these really simply an
alternative in the 19th century improver's arsenal to the slab fences of the likes of Swanbister, Swannay and Northdyke ?? Rather labour intensive I would think. This 'path' brought me out near Greenhall, and looking at the map once again felt the siren call of those burnt mounds from up north.
Sticking to my guns I went south (to finally join the B9050). If you are in the area, below where the minor road turns a well shown to the east of the road was near a place with the interesting name of Little Knolls. Looking to the west of the road on "Explorer" a small blue rectangle is at the top of the field where The Knolls was. I don't remember anything because not having meant to enter Deerness today I hadn't looked up Oldmaps - though even that doesn't show the twa deserted crofts I met along the coastline. Glenavon at the crossroads didn't exist in 1882 (though even such a name is still far better than the totally inappropriate full-on Gaelic names folk give their houses in Orkney nowadays - stick to Norn or Lallans please), only Nethersands opposite. The abandoned house at the end of the short track before you reach this was called North Sands. There's a well marked by the track's beginning. This is still there, but you can't see it as in recent times it has been topped by cobbles and fine material (Keldapeter below Appietown in Harray was closed after a lad fell in, but no good reason for it here I smell). Shame.
Onto the B9050 I passed the Newark Bay junction and on to the A960 intending to go home. But where this turns is another trivia, two minor roads at right angles head for the coast, one to the Newark slipway and the other marked as coastal path and geo (also called a goe in Orkney, a deep gap in the cliffs resulting from a cave's collapse) - ?Muckle Castle. Between the two endpoints was a burnt mound WSW of Mussaquoy and beyond the coastal path. Having failed to reach it before I was determined upon the attempt. Over barbed wire I edged along the cliffs till I found somewhere not perpendicular, clambered and slithered slowly down a ravine of a ?burn down the tumble until I reached the rocks below. Climbing along and over rock strata, avoiding seaweeed skeins and all but one tide abandoned pools, then found a suitable spot to climb back up for a looksee. Another obstacle course brought me finally to the site in a strangely elongated field. Even from a distance you could tell it had been excavated. Though this could be the remains of something resembling Hawill the NMRS record sees no real reason apart from the crescentic plan for burnt mound status, the shape no doubt resulting from known quarrying they say.
To me this Mussaquoy mound looks like a narrow oval mound with a long rectangular pit taken from the side. There are red stones at the back of this and red fragments in an exposed section at the back, however this seems to have originally been structural and is in no way burnt. To me it looks as if this had been adapted even before the quarrying. The report mentions two edge-set slabs 5' apart and a foot high as resembling a cist. At the front of the mound I see only one, at the northern end, but this may be owing to the time of year. However I see a long stone lying alongside it. Scraping away the thin grass covering revails your usual standing stone shape of a few feet long. Not usual is the material, which is brown in colour like you would see in an old house (there is some in the exposed material too). Which again appears to tell against burnt mound status. Though why is it not reported then ? The O.S. map of 1882 only shows a narrow stretch of rough land. And I wonder if we now only see part of the rim of what was a much larger structure a long time ago - off the cliffs here is a feature called Peerie Castle, so were they once one ?? Unfortunately a low battery stuck my camera's zoom on telephoto, and only after did I remember going macro would reset this to wide, so there was a hell of a time trying to frame anything properly.
The far end of the field was held in tight by an 'Orkney gate' that required a push from distance leaning slightly as I felt it unsafe from close and straight on. Certainly the way I should have come though. The slipway isn't very far away as it happens. Much grander than it sounds. A council-funded construction of neat concrete lines in a quite out of the way pace at the southern end of the Newark Bay sands. At the other end of the beach a handful of small white caravans dotted the land. Near this is a mound seaward of Newark itself, where amongst other structures a late Norse cemetery overlay a couple of earthhouses. This site stretches to the eroding coastline. It comes as no surprise that there is believed to be a broch (Howie o' Backland at Quoyburing) further along this same bit of coast, another of my long-term targets.
Up the slipway road to rejoin the A960. Before reaching Sandi Sands once more I saw a tall solitary stone in a field between these and the road. My perusal found a few sandy rocks but no wall. It is amid lots of hollows from either a burn or former tidal encroachment, and perhaps a slight mound too. I was surprised by how much further still the tide had gone out. The deep swoop of Dingieshowe's skyline showed a much excavated broch, that at Eves Loch is smaller but more remains - but only because there was too much debris for them to chuck out in a single day ! As I passed Campston the mist was still not turned to proper cloud. With battery truly dead I got onto a bus just past Toab village. Back in Kirkwall the sun came out finally.

EVES LOCH 1882 outlines the area that is now the northern half and indicates "liable to flooding", so despite my reservationsperhaps this could have been drained at some time previous time. The then northern tip is sickle-shaped as if curving about a bank/ditch surrounding the shown broch, but no causeway is shown. What is certainly of note is all the man-made activity at the lower half of the then Eves Loch - the east side is a straight line, the south and south-west three sides of a rectangle with a possible structure about the south end of the lochan. Near the lower half of the west side a gap in the lochside is indicated, and a crank-shaped line extends south-west almost to the coastline. None of these features align with the field-system, though I must admit neither do the modern field boundaries within which the present southern half of the lochan resides. A curving field wall came down to within a few metres to the east of the northern tip - perhaps the line of stones in today's loch.

wideford Posted by wideford
13th June 2006ce
Edited 27th June 2006ce

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