|Took the bus from Kirkwall to the road junction just before Maes Howe. Never quite sure whether to call it after Grimeston or Stoneyhill. It leaves the Kirkwall-Stromness road and arches over to the Harray road but there is another road leaves 'it' before the Staney Hill stone is reached and goes back the way before curving back to exit on the Harray road nearer the junction with the main road. There is a crafts sign for the Fursbreck Pottery, which is actually not at Fursbreck but near Jubadie slightly along the Harray road. Clear as mud. Anyway, 'it' is the road to the right of Maes Howe as seen from Tormiston. As you reach level with the mound there are a couple of geometric areas of pale gravel beside the road that I can only presume cover an area of exploratory excavations, if they aren't from trial trenches I am at a loss as to what they are. From here on you are granted a mighty fine view of the bank around Maes Howe with enough elevation to see the bank inside from slightly above. There are a coupl of tumuli shown as in the field behind the maiden mount but I've never noticed them myself. A cist was found 5 chains from "the circle mound.. Maeshowe...", out of level ground by a quarry - presumably the disused one on the O.S. 1:25,000 - in contrast to ones found previously in the vicinity on platforms or small mounds.
The next recorded site is on the same side of the road, where the bigging letters of Overbigging lie on the map, the field before the track going to Lochside. Aerial photography first revealed this (RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY31SW 39 on a NNW/SSE ridge) as a 200' sub-circular crop mark - on the ground W of the entrance along the ridge they reckon is a hundred foot section of a yard wide ditch remaining visible. All that I saw from the roadside was a big low mound a foot or possibly two high above a big low hillock ! Geophysics came up with no indications within the enclosure that this was a settlement, so the best explanation would be that this was an animal pound - perhaps the marshy areas were once more extensive and the stock could be kept safe and dry here.
On a natural mound 15 chains north of Lochside farm itself cists were found in 1915 and again in 1928 (HY31SW 32). On the 1:25,000 the site position according to the Royal Commission's CANMAP is the field below that containing the picnic legends. If it is where I'm thinking the area now looks much 'quarried'. Must remember to look when I have less of a rush on. At the northern end of the field is the viewpoint track. I shall discuss this out of sequence. I went to 'my' Viewpoint Mound that overlooks the loch, the water levels looked reasonably low between the picnic point and the mound, though the stone scatter in the waters there still looks random. Up on the mound I was unable to locate my peedie 'stone-lined' hole. Hardly surprising, as not only was there much more grass cover now but the top has since my last visit been invaded by rabbits (I have noticed this at several sites lately e.g. Skae Frue) and there is a multitude of holes, making walking dodgy as some are exposed and others not. The rectangular structure in the loch below the mound's west side was little apparent, so I had misread the water levels. From here you can see several possible lines of walling coming from the various holms (islets). According to the NMR there is a possible building on Stenny Holm (Stenny=Staney=Stoney. Over in St.Andrew's near Mine Howe there is an apparently 'missing' Stoney Howe (perhaps by Breck - certainly names for Mine Howe all relate instead to dampness or mine-working), as in 1880 "Lang Howe, Round Howe, Stoney Howe, Stem Howe and Chapel" are mentioned as tumuli in close proximity).
Before I went to the Viewpoint Mound my main target was the Vola Mound (HY31SW 7 at HY31471395). This N/S aligned barrow was 102x85' with an irregular ditch of between thirteen and twenty-one feet. The platform and ~17.4m diameter mound both presently stand a metre high, and there were the remains of a 5" thick earthfast stone on the latter with the same orientation. Naturally I went what turned out to be the more difficult route first, as that lay closer. Opposite where the viewpoint track starts, on the north side of the road, is a field fence and the mound lies inside this, though I went along the outside. For a marshy are it was surprisingly dry. At the start I mostly followed what appeared to be a pair of cart ruts that wandered through the lush growth of reeds and grass and such. Underfoot it felt as if a myriad shod cattle had trampled it when damp - each time a shoe went down I had no idea when it would hit bottom. I could see where the grass in front of me - probably someone's hound, I can only imagine a farmer walking here. The experience put me strongly in mind of the time that I went to the Knowes of Trotty, wading through knee-deep vegetation with little idea of what lay beneath. The mound lay in more obvious pasture. I can see how someone might mistake this for a stone-deprived henge even at this time of year, a big flattish mound ringed by a fairly broad sloping bank with a skinny-looking ditch, but I concur with the current opinion that this is a funny kind of bell barrow rather than a disc as used to be thought. In a few well-exposed areas (usually the sign of a previous thorugh investigation where the grass never seems to grow back) earth and a few small stones are shown). Definitely worth a look in winter for more possible features. In the rough piece outwith the field I climbed a taller hillock for the taking of photographs. Here too were the usual signs of unrecorded excavation pits. The same held for another similar. But both completely turf-covered, of a very different nature to the Vola Mound itself even if they too may have endured the hand of prehistoric man. Coming out I was checking the remaining waters of the burn beside the road, only a few metres left in the heat, when it struck me this marshy area resembled a situation seen in 19th century excavations at the Burn of Langa Dee, where it was evident that water had been purposefully channeled about the mounds.
After taking the viewpoint track I continued up the road only a matter of metres (as it seemed to me) when I found a far easier way to the Vola Mound. This is signed as "Harray footpath 700m", though whether this means 700m of or to is unclear ! This skirts the marsh plant area by going alongside other field fence boundaries. The first bit is over yet another upswelling, upon which a 'modern' cottage sits. Stand with your back to the house and look across to the Vola Mound before you. Past here the 'footpath' turns a corner and heads to a barred metal gate that is the only concievable direction of continuation. This lets you into the Vola Mound field, though I chose not to go in because the cattle would congregate about me - not for fear but lest they damaged the very features that I wanted a closer look at (the same holds true for a possible souterrain at Nether Scapa, and even now sheep graze there instead I don't want to risk a collapsing passage when I investigate). So another for my ever-expanding winter to-do list.
The next thing I want to look at I didn't know until after I came back. "Harray - Orkney's Inland Parish" by John T.Firth et al (1975 revision) gives the legend Pile of Stones in an area adjacent to the east side of the road north of the Burn of Rickla, the latter being part of the present Harray-Stenness parish boundary. The 1882 map only shows a boundary marker at HY31531420. Perhaps the large irregular stones in the bank beside the road further along, over a foot in each direction and not of a shape fit for use in a drystane wall, have come from it. A little further away from the road I did know about, but again forgot to look for, the Fairy Knowe (RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY31SW 22 at HY31731407) over on the downhill side of the Burn of Rickla - on the second leg of the 'Harray footpath' it is in the second field east and similarly two fields from the Vola Mound. This apparently natural mound, much ploughed, is meant to have held some unrecorded graves.
As well as the Pile of Stones the field-name map for Grimeston also shows another two unreportedsites to look for sometime. Follow from the picnic symbol up until you come to Biggings. The field immediately west of the farm, called Longquoy (centred HY309146), is supposed to have some graves or cists with a hole in the ground close by them. And the field below that, Tengagena (centred HY309145 approx.), is described as where the remains of a 'Pictish' mound are (wrong place for a broch, so something else). Of course this was back in the 1920's, so it may be too late already.
Passing the awkward Hybreck-Gorn junction and climbing the hill to reach the Staney Hill Stone on my left I could see some mounds on the brow of the hill, what the records call a false crest. Most obvious was a conical one several feet high. Then between this and the road was either a middling-sized flattish mound cut through in ages past or two slightly smaller ones. Coming closer they are in a field abutting a house just before the junction with the other minor road to the right. The Feolquoy Barrows (HY31NW 7 centred at HY31741551) are described as three earth and stone mounds about 8-10m across, having lost a couple of metres since first described, and about a metre high. A nearby fourth possible barrow of less than half their dimensions is possibly only spoil. An urn was found in the smallest of the three, which is cut through by a peat road, by a gentleman from Gorn. What I saw looked little like the official description - maybe its the time of year. Through a pair of binoculars I could make out something on the downhill side of the taller barrow in view a little way down from its top. This time of year I fully expected this to be something natural like an herbaceous plant, a straw bundle or dung. But no, definitely a reasonable sized stone. Have to get back to it, time pressed me now.
There was a Slap of Feolquoy somewhere. If you go by the number of these gaps in the hill-dykes the Grimeston region had important rank. John Firth's list for Harray shows up to four to be the usual number, like Bimbister where this road meets the Harray road, but in Grim's tunship the four he names are only called the main ones in this region. The Staney Hill Stone is between Grimeston and Bimbister, which probably relates to the legend of the men escorting St.Magnus body from Birsay to Kirkwall erecting a large stone hereabouts. Trevor Garnham sees an alignment from here to the porch of house 8 at Barnhouse and thence to the Stones of Stenness, with it also on a line from the Appiehouse Stone to the Ring of Brodgar. Which doesn't take into account the long barrow as, surely, the main marker. The standing stone hangs above the edge of a mini-quarry - well, at least the authorities attach the label of quarry to the spot directly in front, below a very short vertical face. Though some friendly bullocks occupied the space I saved face and took a couple of decent shots from by the fence.
I was having second thoughts about going to the Ness of Brodgar dig because of how late I was running. Considered going on to the top of the road and over to look at Wasdale again, then coming back and nearing the Feolquoy Barrows really wanted to see the stone up close. But full speed ahead. Passed the white stones. At the bottom of the hill and round the corner to a short length of slab fence ending in one at 45 degrees against the last upright - I always feel these kind of 'stops' aren't really to do with solid practicalities. Near one of the loch side farms I had earlier seen an arc of bright stones, and having confirmed that this was the Biggings Broch and taken a couple of shots of the mound in context I was surprised later to find that I had captured the Watch Stone in the far distance (and its amazing what the camera catches when you can afford to take several almost identical shots, praise be digital). Of course now that the original ley-hunters have abandoned the straight track the professionals have discovered landscape archaeology, so we can make such observations. Decided not to take a closer look as with the deep summer cover I might become all too literally 'bogged down' !
Once back on the main road I thought of looking at the Stenness parish church and perhaps on to see if there were anything visible on the tiny Gernaness peninsula. The last occasion I had looked in the parish church for the carved stones, one in a wall and another against a corner, noted in 1927. Only I didn't know where to look as I hadn't made a note because it was just spur of the moment I went. By the kirkyard gate I had seen two small identical red stone finials, cuboids with one end plain and the other with hemispherical quadrants out and equal-armed crosses in the end-face. Unfortunately the only photos were with a duff camera. Looking over the north wall to a pair of fields by the lochside, and between two concrete posts this side were two big rough blocks of stone (one lying across the other which was stood on end against the posts) that looked like to have come from some even older structure (definitely the larger of the two). At least with that I have a pic of where to go.
This time I only went to the Ness of Brodgar dig. Disappointed to be told again that the supposed broch by the brig is the revetments of a chambered tomb. But knowing that the whole ness had been levelled off in the agricultural improvement ("squared off" is the phrase in this instance) I still hold out for the possibility one was built on top of this. When I'd been the previous fortnight they had found a quarter of the walling of an unconfirmed chambered tomb and what they thought might be another contiguous to it. Unfortunately in the interim they had knocked the second on the head - though they still considered the first to be one they reckoned the rest of it had gone, rubble spread over it and something like a settlement built. Though probably from the same period as Barnhouse it appears to be a different kind of development - archaeologists are distrusting the former paradigm of certain design schemes (e.g. Skara Brae type villages) remaining true to type over long amounts of time from the Neolithic onwards in favour of site evolution and different elements adopted by different folks. They believe that they may have amongst the structures one that is as obscure as the largest structure over at Barnhouse. Ashes were found in various places. In 1925 a famous inscribed stone came from this field above structures taken for cists and in a cist found now simlar markings were found on a split stone. When I heard that this cist was triangular it brought to mind that a triangular cover to a cist was found in a house over at Barnhouse and that another triangular cist had been found at Quoynamoan farm behind Tormiston (NMR wrongly states Queenamoan in Sandwick. Around the walling of the tomb a later wall had been thought to be curving round to enclose a larger space. Now, however, they have found that it starts to straighten out and could well connect to a short wall section on the other side of the ridge. So the current thinking is that this wall had been used to seperate the whole of the ness, from the middle of the field down to the Brig of Waithe, from the rest of Brodgar. Which kind of makes me wonder what role the pair of Lochview Standing Stones plays - they are not that many metres away from the edge of this land-take after all. There had been some almost-rain during the mini-tour, and as luck had it I was given a lift before the rains came finally down
P.S. Upon reading "British Barrows. A Matter of Life and Death" my recent observation of a mini-hump on the Ring of Bookan leads me to identify this as a rimmed platform cairn with central mound, and the disputed 'stone circle' of a few stones observed by earlier antiquaries and subsequently lost would therefore be evidence that this was of the kerbed variety
Norrie's Law :- NO40NW 3 "On the inner side of the ditch the base of the Law was defined by a circle of large boulders. Portions of an inner concentric wall were also observed. Between these walls a quantity of travelled earth was found, and within the inner circle the eminence was mostly formed of a cairn of stones. Here, towards the centre, vestiges of charred wood appeared, and many of the stones of the cairn showed that they had been under the action of fire. A small triangular cist, found in the foundation of the outer base of the Law between two of the stones, and covered with a flat stone," 1819-22
Coed-Pen-Maen :- NPRN 307760 ST09SE 3 Ring-cairn was excavated in 1830 when a small triangular cist found ; "Eight stones, up to 0.5m high, define a kerb circle, within which is a cist, 1.6m by 0.6m."
Quoynamoan :- HY22SE 31 "Another was found to contain a kist of rare form and construction. It was of of triangular figure, formed by undressed stones rudely built as a surrounding wall - not set on edge as is usually the case. It was 19 inches long in the inside, 15 inches at the widest end, or base of the triangle, and one foot in depth. A quantity of ashes lay on the bottom, and it was covered by a large flagstone." Orcadian 1869
Isles of Scilly :- "Antiquaries Journal 34" 1954 Brougham :- Roman Cemetery, Cumbria Excavations 1966-67
Shell Top, Dartmoor :- SMR Number SX 59 SE/62 NMR Number SX 56 SE 68 "A structure resembling a triangular cist"
Posted by wideford
11th September 2006ce
Edited 11th September 2006ce
wideford's TMA Blog
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