|N.B. I would not recommend anyone to follow my route from Berstane Taing along the shore, even at very low tide, unless they can put up with oodles of slippery seaweed and are totally confident about clambering over wet and occasionally unstable rocks and pebbles. Its like yomping over a rollercoaster in the dark. Don't go alone as it is definitely dangerous. I, on the other hand, am the very definition of foolhardy ;-)
It was good to reach the broch on a fine summer's day, allowing me to take pictures without the effects of rain this time. Nowadays in coastal parts of Orkney there isn't as much difference between winter and summer, broadly speaking, as regards vegetation obscuring archaeological features (though it is a heck more lush this time of year, so still a matter of personal taste). And that was the case here. Still, we aren't talking of a complete broch and the landward side I'd give a miss right now because of the grass - same goes for the Ingshowe Broch which I revisited recently. Down on the beach is a lot better. Though I think the coastline section not quite up to Ingshowe they are both
broad outlines with a few brushstrokes. The latter has more 3D detail to the individual features and the lines look cleaner because the base sits directly on level rock. At Berstane there is no such cut-off. Perhaps the strata didn't allow this or they didn't have the time or manpower. Alternatively it may simply mean that Ingshowe was a greenfield settlement whereas Berstane occupied the site of an earlier structure or structures.
Across the Bay of Berstane the tide stood low, and I determined to go at least as far as the sandy beach, the Sand of Gillies, and perhaps finally around the rocky coast to the Head of Holland (and maybe beyond, for the desire to explore waxed great). Between me and that beach, past the now overgrown track from Berstane House, I had been as far as the pier of better-off days. On it I could see one or two red-and-white vehicles. Not the right colour for the water board surely, and I wasn't sure whether there
was activity. Get your eyes fixed boy. Nearing the pier the forms resolved themselves as lobster pots or creels ! Once the beach was reached my only options were to go on or turn back the way, the kie were in the fields. Saw a fair-sized standing stone, but rather too square and regular. Close by is the bottom of some concrete cylinder like a miniature pillarbox. Wartime, with stone as misdirection, or simply agricultural ? Perched precariously on the very edge. In other places huge rocks fragmented from the cliffs show how little effort might be needed to gather material for megalithic structures, both red and white vintages. At one point the red sandstone cliff was criss-crossed by lines of white mineral an inch or two wide and over a foot apart, nature's tic-tac-toe like veined marble under a magnifying glass. Eventually I came to a level grassy area, slightly below the tide level but protected by a low ridge. Maybe in the area of The Jetty. Turf covering bumps and rocky hollows - kelp pits ? At the end of the long triangular
patch not quite sure where I was on the map, and unsure of how much time the tide would give me to round the next bit, I erred on the side of caution (even I baulk at the possibilty of being stranded 'neath sheer cliff-faces) and didn't attempt South Taing.
From the turf a wide track with high sides wound up to the clifftop. Here I was exposed to a strong breeze that, given the often narrow passage between clif and fence, was fortunately blustering inland from this side. Here and there were collections of white rocks and slabs, the remains of field boundaries and such I imagine. More anomalous is a field full of them (some quite large) in the field by the Head of Holland quarry, as this is a mini-mountain of nothing but red stones (supplying these for the cathedral just as Big Howe near Herston in South Ronaldsay did for blue stones). So it should come as no surprise that once upon a time it was thought there were the much-mangled remains of some prehistoric structure amongst the hillock's rockery, though now all reference to this is disappeared. As I made my way gingerly round I felt that there had been further erosion. Of course this could merely reflect my fearful state of mind at this point. This impressive 'hillock' can be seen for many miles around, so it seems unlikely to have been only used for quarrying.
Given how poor I am at map-reading I shouldn't have been surprised at how close the cairn on North Taing was to the cathedral quarry, as it is popularly called. Just look down along the coast and there it is. Not until I came home did I realise this was what I had read touted as a possible promontory fort. Except I can't find the reference anywhere, not even in the Blessed Raymond's book on these, so may be in error. Certainly you can see rough similarities with a crescentic bank on a sticky-out bit and a low straight one further down. The record calls it semi-circular, but the card in the Orkney Archive indicates more of an oval as I had seen from the Head of Work road previously. If the low bank were a ness-taking one would expect a double-line, often believed to be the tops and tails of graves - hence the various Sailors and Covenanters Graves in obscure places. Also it does not lie in front of the cairn's, whose open end is 'wrongly' orientated to the cliff anyways. Which isn't to say it doesn't represent some enclosure, just not necessarily directly to do with the cairn. To be a promontory fort there would have to have been a huge area enclosed and structures completely vanished,
because the cliff on which the cairn sits is no promontory and there are no other remains. Supposedly this place was re-used as a gun emplacement. But I just don't see it myself. A twelve-foot thick defining wall isn't readily apparent - I shall simply have to go back again in winter-time now I am better informed. A little further round the coast is a small mound of exposed earth and stone close by the shore. Modern ?
Now I finally left the coast to follow the farmtrack. Decided to go look-see the Head of Holland chapel remains, Kirk Do (? St.Duthac) in a field to my right. Another field filled with stone and some kind of mound in the corner by the coastline. Not sure whether I reached this after a fence bestrode the track or no. Climbed over the metal fieldgate into the field - if you don't open a gate you can't forget to close it after all, but do try to use the hinged end as that is what the farmers prefer you do. Couldn't find any kind of regular outline amongst all those stones. Then I found a round hollow. An eremetical cell my first thought. Obviously the site much deteriorated. Then I struck off towards the mound I had seen from the gate. Which is nearer the centre of the field thn the corner and actually is the chapel. Well, well. Ruins still several feet high, two rooms, fair bit of masonry still exposed on the inside. Why so much stone round about upslope though ? Difficult to believe the building was scattered to the four quarters or built amidst several rock outcrops. Kirk and kirkyard or chapel on pre-existing site ? Reminded a little of the Taing of Beeman settlement.
A couple of tractors passed me by - only farm vehicles are allowed through to this side of Seatter Farm, leaving a long walk for any who seek to go to the Head of Holland now. Going up the straight stretch of road to the farm I look at a small stone hut to my right. It seems to be concrete clad with drystane, perhaps a wartime subterfuge as it is passing strange otherwise.
Posted by wideford
27th June 2006ce
wideford's TMA Blog
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