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September 11th 2006 WEST DEERNESS part B

Opposite the stores I took the minor road to Newark Bay. [Somewhere along the way I had the feeling I had been this way before. I remember being taken to an excavation in September 1986, three pictures of what looks like a long passage remain but not where it was. Somewhere way off the beaten track and past water] There's a junction where another minor road goes east to Quoys where the odd bit of evidence for Viking settlement has been found. A little further down are what look like several disturbed mounds to the west of the road. I wondered at the time if Trowietown was originally the name for these. CANMAP indicates one site, but disappointingly there is nothing on this mound beside Little Cottage (RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY50SE 14 at HY57080448, about where the O.S. has a well).
On the east side coming down to Newark a network of quarried/eroded mounds gave a feeling of déja vu. This is how I felt the hillocks about the Dingieeshowe broch would look if cleared of dunes. Resisted the impulse to take a gander, perhaps they are the original Work to which Newark was the Nue Work of Deernes [sic]? You would expect more of a distinction between the two though. At the coast there are a few dingy white caravans awaiting the next tourist unfortunates. To the left of these Newark humkers over a farm tell over half-an-acre across (including the nearby mounds ?). This site is RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY50SE 3 at HY57460413 and stands comparison with the Skaills in Derrness and Sandwick, more especially the latter I feel. This is the site of a late first millenium chapel and burial-ground, with human remains eroding out of the cliffs fom time to time - a Norse settlement may have stretched a hundred metres along the coast. Deeper digging revealed two probable souterrains, labelled by the excavator "mycoform structures" (a pity this phrase doesn't date back as far as that other smothering blanket term the 'burnt mound' or we would have more on record e.g. the supposed fulgarites found at Trimmigarth/?Trinnigar in Sandwick).
Never looked for any of these features in my onward march. By Newark there is a wooden sign for the now public footpath to Aikerskaill road. Have a vague memory of being turned back by a farmer here, so this is new to me. A lovely broad path, a green road almost. Before long I came to two long side-by-side concrete slabs that take you over a 'drain' entering the sea here. More likely a burn as it arcs around the western end of the next field. Perhaps the slabs are recent replacements for a disintegrating bridge from when the footpath was created in its present state, as they go over two curving drystane walls several feet in height. Against the beach edge of the track the tides have left their mark with a neat line of well-ordered and rounded beach pebbles roughly ranging from six inches to a foot long. Some spill over onto the track. Then there is a change, on the track the stones either side become bigger and blockier and I see more of the same along the line of the barbwire field fence. Very definitely building material. Of course I am prepared for this by knowing that there is there is a broch in the far end of this long field. This is the Howe of Backland (RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY50SE 8 at HY58040402), in Quoyburing, which gives the game away by being pronounced Quoyburrian after the broch. From reading the record I had expected to find no traces but some level ground grassed over. My mis-reading, though you cannot see the broch tower the 3m-high mound shows up well and covers quite an area. Over the other side of the field's east end I see a big pond with a very small mound rising from the middle of it. This is the other half of the surviving site (so, tidgy mound as surviving piece of outworks or connected with the well depicted in this field), divided by the track north to Skea a normal person can use. But I only realise this after I return home. Par for my course, naturally !
From the coastal path I have instead to negotiate the barbwire. Fortunately this is a proper fence, not that steel blue anti-tourist device they go in for nowadays. Push down slightly and swivel oh so carefully over. Make sure not to twist the wires together as I do this. Facing me is the edge of a wall-line at a slight but (now) obvious angle to the horizontal (though possibly not the same inclination either end), two lengths of about a metre with an apperent visibility gap. The RH side is of a piece, an inch or two of depth showing (if memory serves), made of dark pieces of stone. The LH of the line is more fragmented and composed of bigger and slightly lighter stones. This gave me the impression that the site comprised two structures of different design and perhaps age. The stones I could see at that time scattered across the top of this howe seemed also lighter, so I assumed that something dark lay beneath and all the broch tower material removed apart from these odd few. More likely the effect the wall line gave me was more correctly due to differential exposure or there being different courses of wall (presuming that these are not two walls at different distances from the centre that only appear to have a connection owing to the mound being so large). The projecting stones elsewhere could be of other walls. There are several depressions atop the mound.
Where the external ditch may lie a long section of straight 'drain' forms the northern edge of the field. There are cattle grazing unconcerned in the next field up as I walk down that northern side in a vain attempt to seperate ditch from agricultural goings-on. But there is a space at the eastern end of the boundary, and as I look beyond one of the bullocks detaches from the herd to shadow me heavily. Told him he had no business and eventually he got the message. Coming to the western end from below one of these depressions was partly bare of grass by the outside edge. This bared surface covered with square and triangular rock fragments and what looks like earth is surely merely further disintegration. To the right of the exposure I could see another section of dark wall line. When I looked closer I realised there were another two courses. Not as far as I could tell big enough for a broch - the courses were incurving this could merely be an indication that the wall had begun collapsing inwards before consolidation into the mound. I deduce that even if the main part of the mound isn't a broch tower it is a single structure and the rest of the mound trailing this side might be outbuildings. And as far as I can tell from my photos this was at the NW edge of the mound, which is also where a section of remaining external ditch is seen by some to lie. In the last century a Dr. Brothwell found a broch wall almost as high as the mound in a test trench, but I don't suppose this could really be it ?? Though as with Newark it would provide a way for the erosion to have started (and if the height were only a deduction from how far up the walltop was would explain why it has been lost since then). My addled dream ;-)
Considered continuing on to the Aikerskaill road. Instead back to Newark. Luckily enough there is a path from there to the other side of the bay, this one of sharp white sand. Wondered about the mounds west of Little Cottage being thought the troll town until I saw the pitiful settlement that is Trowietown. From the Orkney Library discovered that trowie does in fact mean weak or sickly, which would make a trowie equivalent to the Anglo-Saxon changeling I guess. The ford on the 1:25,000 really is one, which was nice. A cute little one across a streamlet emptying onto the shore. Went past the dock for to see the Mussaquoy Mound once more. This time I would take a pic of the whole of the landward cut standing over it, also measure five foot from the cist-like slab and grope for the other one. The 'Orkney gate' was even harder to unspring this time, nearly didn't manage the task. Followed the trail left by a small tractor. Much disappointed to find the site completely overgrown, the only thing peering out being part of the small exposure facing the sea. Once outside its field enclosure I took the next track up, fully expecting to see a way across some field edge to the Delday road. Instead I came to some houses on the Mussaquoy farm road, then to the Mussaquoy junction and right to the main road.
Surprised to find I had only being going for four hours. Thought about walking to Hurnip's Point again. Hadn't taken shots of the green mound with my SLR and only realised at the Mirkady road I could have used it on the cliff sections - not that I'm sure that is working properly anyway. Still, no reason to go to the other extreme and risk over-estimation of time left leading to my missing the last bus if needed. So through to St.Andrew's parish.


Thoughts on the St.Peter's Kirk site. If it ain't St.Peter's why consider it a kirk at all. Could be a Viking hall, perhaps a notable with their own chapel. Having seen the rectangular Braebuster Mound could this have been of the same nature. Maybe connected to the Comely Quarry in some way. Definitely too big to be forgotten if it was really ecclesiastical, definitely of a parish church size though normal practice would have been to build on or near the excavated broch mound.
Walked as far as the Venikelday farm track as I knew I hadn't taken photos of the Campston broch with one of the cameras. The site looked very dark and I felt sure I was as out of luck as with Mussaquoy. But hey ho. Actually not bad behind, climbed up to the fence and took some shots across the top and then north down on the putative ringwork edge. The other side of the track the settlement remains by contrast hadn't received any vegetative contour enhancement, still not sure whether some of what you see is an old burn. Took photos of a few small low mounds almost a group. Made me think of the pond field at Backland Broch. Peculiar little lumps. Up to the main road in the nick of time to catch the last but one bus, head steaming fit to bust.

wideford Posted by wideford
20th September 2006ce

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