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August 12th 2006 WHYTEFORD HILL

{Once known as Wester Wideford to distinguish it from the outsize farm of North & South Wideford near to St.Andrew's parish.}

Passing Walliwall Quarry and the horsey place on the Old Finstown Road (once the Old Stromness Road) I can spot the huge natural ?moraine that relates to the early Newbigging finds only because I know where to look, because it is so well camouflaged. Perhaps it was more visible when there were cairns either end. Am tempted to go behind the quarry and follow the carter's road and on to Orqil Farm, but I must call on the old ones. I consider going along the Sunnybrae road that connects with Hatston brae and taking the farmer's track newly designated as the latest footpath to Wideford Hill. However that would be too easy. Besides, I went that way last time. No, my way lies further along with the hard slog up the awesomely steep road that winds up to the hilltop. The farm on the way up is of modern vintage, comparatively speaking, and has a pretty name instead of taking on a Wideford apellation. In the mid-19th century drainage work revealed a conentless subterranean structure (NNE/SSW, it'll also be somewhere in Petrie's notebooks), and I have seen large stones at the corner of the roadside corner of the lowest building. But that was another season and all is presently hid by plants. It struck me I should perhaps be thinking more of a water course than sewage works. There is a deep cut one t'other side from t'farm. Huge concrete pipe rammed through. The other side from me a large square slab of summat, except I can't even tell if this is wood or stone even. Nothing in the newspaper account to say ther would still be remains anyways. Further up is a third suspect, an actual waterworks (peedie ?reservoir) a bump on the hillside.

Coming to the point of the first bend, at which the gradient reduces slightly, the new footpath meets it. In the field alongside the path before the junction is a concrete building. Behind and about it the centre of the field is occupied by a jumble of stones (HY41581234). So many low cairns jammed close with no apparent rhyme or reason. Are the stones from here, clearance cairns from who knows what, or have they been dumped from somewhere else ? World War, 19th century, older ? Not being a 'pukka' archaeologist I ponder such little messes and attempt to unscramble by mind alone. I have to consider what future archaeology may consider our lost opportunities, which of the things now officially ignored will then be studied, what new categories will they have constructed from what exists now in isolation. Yeh, I have an itching swelling brain !

At the next bend in the road the track to the tomb begins. This is not the track we used to use, that starts between Haughhead and Smerquoy and you have to climb a short steep set of steps to begin - designed for hikers, not motorists, it cuts across the hill mostly (there is a shallow ditch alongside that needs careful avoidance now that the path is overgrown through rare usage). As you start the new track look down to your left. The valley is Caldale, where St.Magnus body and its entourage rested a last few days before going to the cathedral in Kirkwall. It seems to me you can still see the outline of the place in which the Man's many followers feasted mightily.

The top half of the new track is like a coastal path, with steps of wooden sides and gravel interior. In some weather's it can still be safer to walk alongside them though. And always avoid the temptation to hurry lest you go head over heels. When the fence is reached the new track and the old have common cause, for once through the gate the treachorous section begins (even I have been known to come a cropper). Apart from where feet have worn the hillside there is no remotely safe place to step. I assume this is because the laws surrounding the land around a Scheduled Ancient Monument generally prohibit the work otherwise required. When I popped inside the cairn the damp gravel, even after the hot weather we've been having, dissuade me from entering the curved chamber or indeed any. So I went outside to snap a few views. Most times that I'm here I look at Damsay. At the top are the remains of an ancient nunnery beside which a castle once stood - though I can make out nothing in the centre this is where Clouston excavated a castle that is now believed to have been a broch rather. A little closer to is the bay known as the Oyce of Rennibister. Through binoculars you can make out the boulder split that at very low tides practically crosses the bay. This would have made for a safe harbour like Knarston, so I guess there to have been a settlement nearby. Where the spit sets out is Rennibister, with an earthhouse in the farmyard and a burnt mound beyond the house (? gone entirely now). The long headland to which it points has the half-devoured broch of Ing(a)showe at its tip. Closer yet the Neolithic settlement of Wideford Commons was excavated practically roadside, the green field furthest left by the watercourse held the flintfield that led to its finding.

Looking down from the Wideford Hill Tomb to the straightened watercourse (the line of the parish boundary) I saw just the other side cropmarks (HY40521207) occupying this end of a field and extending slightly into the next. After carefully picking my way down to a fence I saw through my binoculars that the cropmarks were actually curvilinear banks. Not being able to cross that 'drain' from this side I went no further. Instead I decided to go along the hill, parallel to the modern boundary [if you follow the line of the cairn's far fence down to where it meets the 'drain' there was a boundary stone at HY40631222 and another where said watercourse hits the main Kirkwall-Finstown road], after some large erect stones seen on previous occasions below the old Wideford track. It rapidly became apparent that I was walking precariously along the top of an ancient dyke, which turned out to be mostly earth with a 'top dressing' of earthfast and other small slabs revealed here and there that may have come later. The O.S. shows short lengths of field fence at varying angles where the old map shows nothing, as is true of all this side of the hill then. It is difficult to tell whether these strictly follow the hill-dyke or not as I was unaware of any divergences myself in following it. The modern fence is mostly fading away, and along the top of the dyke are many stumps of old posts. I think there have been two attempts in modern times to use this ancient feature as an aid to modern enclosure, one using the 'standing stones' that I was after. The first indication of the dyke's height was a grind/slap in it, a gap with tall stones either side, some erect and others fallen. The dyke exposed here is a metre or so in height, possibly more in places, generally with a steeper drop on the downhill side. Watch your every step. There are a few more prehistoric 'gates' on the way and regions where waters seem to have swept through the earthwork later. Even mediaeval 'gateposts' only have pairs of 'standing stones', here are clusters of tall stones high and mighty guardians of portals into places long gone. Some have been seduced into bondage with barbed wire. One of the fallen becoming embedded in the earth is 2m or more, against another leans a small rectangular flag with a well-rounded piercing. After a while the dyke ends where a farmtrack starts (HY40481155). But there is another dyke here at right angles to the first. Looking downhill there is this weird elongated rectangle of gorse, apparently lining a hiddern burn but surely resulting more from man's handiwork, and another large stone stoops near one end of this. It is wound tightly about with barbed wire though the positioning of this shows it clearly pre-dates the barbwire fence boundary. And at its base an old scarifier does it a further injustice. I can see no stones on the hill below it. From here this, apparently slighter (and scooped out in several places not too long ago, dark dry earth in the hollow scars), dyke strikes up the hill to peter out (HY40631149) a few metres before reaching the old track from Haughhead to the cairn. Uphill the line continues as a plain drystane wall. And extended the line roughly goes to the start of that farmtrack that is now the easy-option footpath for those going to the cairn. Here is a strange kink in the Sunnybank road that has always been a mystery to me in terms of why it is there. There is a lower possible dyke, presently a field boundary, that runs across from the new path in the region of Black Hill and could conceivably point to the likely Wideford cairns uphill of the gairsty [prehistoric dyke] after which Yairsay is named. But even I regard that as pure speculation on my part.

After climbing down the steps from the old track onto the road I went back towards Kirkwall. At Westbank Farm I took the track there because I knew it met the Wideford path. On the RH side of the track,after you leave the last house behind, are masonry dumps. Mostly these are lumps of modern concrete, but the very first one consists fine (?late) mediaeval blocks, some moulded. Upon reaching the track I went down to the Sunnybank road and along to the top of the Muddisdale path. The house opposite is called Wesgar, and in the field by the path is the snout of land after which it was named. There are some fairly big stones on this triangle, more possible archeaology ? When you reach Muddisdale Farm you feel this must once have been a borg, there is that air about it. A few holes were dug in the farmyard by the stream not long ago and one produced coloured earth. I thought it could have been evidence of a burnt mound, but I wasn't sure and the Orkney Archaeological Administrator preferred to doubt this. The stream apparently didn't originally flank the farmyard wall. For at the wall's RH end under the corner of the wall is a 'culvert' comprised of two sizeable culverts of different ages and alignments. Worse still, looking at the wall striking up hill from the LH end of the streamside wall I can't make out the other end of either one !

wideford Posted by wideford
16th August 2006ce

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