|Last of the Scottish Archaeology Month guided walks for this year was the Skaill Bay in Sandwick, where the Weem of Skerrabrae was not to be mentioned. Being pedestrian I took the bus as usual, giving me loads of spare time. From the previous occasion that I was here my objective was to reach mounds south of the Knowe of Geoso only glimpsed then. So I sped past Skara Brae's visitor centre and across the front of Skaill House. Crossed the field alongside to reach the farm road. In front of me was the track uphill to the Brockan quarry pointing the way to the knowe. From here I knew there were three fields to the point where I needed to strike up for the last of those other mounds, the Knowe of Angerow. Easy-peasy, just follow the track that goes back by the Loch of Skaill to Gorn. Unfortunately there were livestock in the field I wanted. Normally this wouldn't have mattered but here the track being set some distance from the field boundary would allow the kie to surround me completely and thus hinder, if not block, my progress. So I took to the top of the field above me. The cattle here were all on the northern side, so all that I had to do was climb over the gate in the middle of the fence and continue on. Thought of traversing the rutted old track to what I took to be the ruins of Yeldadee before coming back for the apex of fields that was my target.
Coming to a four field junction and looking ESE across it I saw in the northern corner of one where a pond is shown now several black-and-white cows lying down. These were at on one end of a depression (very approx. HY236170) that seems to hold the remains of a ?prehistoric structure at the other, represented by a low rectangular outlined collection of large slabs at various angles. In the 19th century there are in this field no map legends or freestanding water. What the 1882 map shows is a slender marshy margin to the eastern field boundary. This margin is more noticeable on that map in the next field north, where to its west a rectangular ?enclosure is shown occupying the SE corner of the field (roughly a third of the field's length long) with the Knowe of Angerow beyond that. I can think of two possible periods for the stones off the top of my head, pre-Pictish and late Viking (any later and I cannot doubt a name would have survived for antiquarians to note), though I am strongly inclined to the former. The simplest solution is that the stones were uncovered during drainage works last century, certainly an atypical clearance heap if it were otherwise.
Near the top of the field past this reared the double hump of Angcrow and I followed this eastern boundary up to aforesaid field meetings, all angles. They meet so thinly that I was able to climb over one gate onto another without entering the land between ! On the 1:25,000 you can see a squarish sub-field here in a corner of the northern one, and Velzian after which various sets of mounds are named lay somewhere the other side of this. It struck me as a good idea to approach the Knowe from downhill. So once inside the field I walked a little south.along the boundary. Looking up there is what looks like a fairly level mound below the doublet that represents the Knowe. The NMR for HY21NW 20 besides the Knowe Of Angerow at at HY23521720 mentions a slight swelling ten yards to its south and at HY23471715 a much mutilated barrow with ? cist slab, but the other half of the hump is to the east of the knowe. So I am still a little confused. Any-road-up apart from a possible long bank stretching around the back of the levelled section before me with an exposed section I can see nothing that might hint at exposed stonework. These earthworks could be the remains of a dwelling connected to the enclosure I suppose, being halfway between its upper end and the Knowe. Certainly this platform is not the ?purely the work of nature and once up on it you are certain it's centre has been excavated. Nothing at the northern hump as far as I could see, so on to the knowe itself. The slab arrangement at its top, where a cist lay opened in 1882, puts me strongly in mind of the enigmatic Stones of Via or maybe the dolmen fancifully constructed from the inner stones at the Stones of Stenness. It comprises two slabs each (over a metre square) resting on one another at an angle to the ground at the very top of the mound supported by just one blocky stone. The other visible stones are much smaller and lie mostly around the eroded soil or on its surface. Most curious is a low earthen platform, roughly a metre across, beside the principal arrangement with several of the smaller stones lying in and on it. I am reminded of geological photos where a softer material is being eroded from under a harder one and so undermining it. But I can't for the life of me work out what other than wind could be doing the eroding, unless this is connected to the excavation. Looking from the mound's perspective there appears to be a bank/ditch about it - could this have been a terminal bell barrow ?? Though you can make it out all along the ridge from here to the Knowe of Geoso the Broch of Borwick on the coast to the SW is even more obvious from this highest vantage as an actual structure. About the same distance south a tumulus marked above South Seatter has to be the Tirlhowe mentioned by George Marwick, but I didn't think to look for this.[An alternative is that this was Angerow itself, named in the 1946 Inventory as simply South of Velzian, in which case the other Velzian mounds of record would be his Hangihows ?= Hainger Howes].
There are tumuli shown in the SW corner of the field containing the Knowe of Angerow but I continued along the boundary to the NW corner. Here one of the Velzian HY21NW 27 tumuli is shown. At the right time of year it should be fairly obvious at ten metres across and nearly half-a-metre high but I didn't spot it. Instead I continued into the next field where mounds A and B are shown, the former on the same contour having additionally stones in its makeup and is a fraction higher, the latter of similar earth makeup a little lower and only six metres across. Though I must surely have been stood on the latter when I chose the highest point in the field to take a pic of the distant broch looking about me I could distinguish nothing in the stubble field. From where I was the Knowe of Nebigarth/Southerquoy (HY21NW 18) in the field opposite merged with the background. On first entering the field its location had been visible to me in profile as a green precipice, like the spur below Sandwick church cast up high. It is this that gave Nebigarth below its name, from the fancied resemblance to a duck's bill. To have a proper appreciation I would have to approach it from below sometime. Even then the barrow is said to be barely traceable - I imagine they dug it out for the cramp found there. The next feature I came across was the Burn of Ramna Geo. Though not archaeological in origin the deeply cut curved burn has a suspiciously higher south bank, it does look passing strange.
Finally to the Knowe of Geoso again. Their is no such dwelling about here, and as Geoso is a personal name I expect it belongs to the excavator (like Craw Howe). I felt drawn to the cutting that bisects the mound. In the 'banks' either side were dinnerplate-sized white mushrooms. This has been a good year for finding a grand variety of fungi such that even the novice could tell them apart at first glance. I saw some the same in the Caldale valley, nothing to tell them apart from the flat mushrooms on the supermarket shelves really. Climbing down (slight exaggeration) to photograph them I saw one exposed stone in a bank, peering from behind the grass. Scraping away uncovered a redness that hinted at burnt stone. An unusual elevation for a burnt mound but the hillside is fair full of burns. And in 1906 "The Orcadian" of December 15th speaks of consderable quantities of 'boiling stones' regularly found at Blossin half-a-mile to the south of Ward Head. This would be about the right place and I have not yet found a Blossin on the map.
Decided it would be good to go straight down to Skaill. Well, straightish, as there isn't an unobstructed track all the way. Coming down the northern edge of the fieldwall my attention was drawn to mediaeval remains on my LH side. This is made up of two sections. Nearest to me low foundations enclose a rectangular are of grass and behind this the real structural remains. Though this looks like a walled garden with the farm behind it could just about be a large hall with living quarters and such behind, though you'd expect to see some sort of supports in that case (unfortunately the camera's eye view doesn't show the height as the mind's eye interprets it, so I shall have to go again). This is Rowhall at HY22861807. It is not shown on the modern map (there also used to be a Westfield to its west and a little below - maybe I should look for that too) but in Orkney any hall name is important in late and post-Viking times. Skaill House is a late building where there used to be a kirk and graveyard, whilst Skaill House Farm in the 19th century was simply The Mount, so I suspect this Rowhall to have been the original local seat of power. There is nothing red for it to be named after so the name would appear to be from the Dutch loan-word in Orcadian for a "heap of stones" referring the Blossin and/or the Knowe of Geoso. Of course if the latter produced reddened stones the meaning could be dual. Hugh Marwick book on farm-names gives the meaning of many places with this element as of unknown meaning, so perhaps they also have been named from the Dutch. It would certainly apply to the Knowe of Angerow (I suspect that either Angcrow or Angerow is a misreading of a map - similarly the Gothic lettering of the Stones of Via has been given the false reading Stones of Dia).
Further down the mish-mash of Cuppadee shows as an irregular triangle of turf-covered foundations, almost lost amidst the banks of the burn after which it is likely to have been named. A bit too mixed-up for a quick survey. Instead I was drawn to Garricott ('dwelling on the dyke' ?) way over my left i.e. NNE of Cuppadee. One corner survives to almost the original height like the attached circular kiln in which my interest lay. But once there my breath was taken away by the sight within of two long massive horizontal timbers inside the wallk remains. These are at a very slight angle to one another, held together by an equally impressive primitive joint then secured with a few bolts. Surely late mediaeval or early modern. Coming back across to the farm I looked for any trace of the feature that led to its being called The Mount, but found nowt obvious.
Now I crossed to the other end of the Bay of Skaill and joined others at Sandwick parish church waiting for the guided walk to begin, giving me time for refreshment. Below is the snout of land (HY21NW 23) I reckon gave its name to Snusgar. With its roughly circular look I would fancy it for a Celtic llan precinct - legend locates the best known of the Mohr brothers here, those early Christian "Missionaries of the Bright Morning Star". Apart from the ring of erect stones fencing it about I could see no signs of anything internal however. When we went inside the kirkyard I had hoped we would be shown the well against which a stone inscribed MOBHR has been connected with the missionaries (according to George Marwick the area centred on the church had been known as Mobhisland and Moarisland, though this could be a reference to a graveyard instead). Instead the subject matter was the rejuvenation of the church and the local bigwigs involvement in archaeology. Then down at the base of the spur we were shown the place on the seaward side of the road where the Viking burials had been found (and midden from a probable settlement - dense anomalies also recently noted under HY21NW 54). Finally I saw the headstone put up at the site of their re-burial and wondered how I hadn't spotted this when I looked for it on previous occasions. At one time eggs collected in Sandwick were taken by boat from the shore near here. One of the folks asked about the inscribed stone that showed where this took place. The assumption being that this stood somewhere along the clifftop it came as a surprise that this lay instead along the shoreline, being only visible at low tide.
Turning the corner the topic of the Castle of Snusgar came up. One of the guides spoke of the large amount of building material excavated there. Which isn't strictly true, for the Norse structures were actually excavated nearby at what I call Snusgar East. I remember how disappointed the archaeologists were to find the 'Castle' mainly composed of alternating sand and midden apart from a flat platform at the NW nothing making a match for the description of a place still surviving in 1795. So it is interesting that an eyewitness account of the finding of the Skaill hoard published in a newspaper this year tells of it being found in a sandy hillock called Muklehae (Muckle Brae in 1910), which tells against this being the Castle of Snusgar despite that being marked on the 1882 map in this location (and the association of the Castle of Snusgar with the Skaill hoard came a long time after the original reports). To my mind neither mound is right for the latter appelation. As I have intimated before my candidate for the Castle of Snusgar is the other 'Castle' in this district, the one by the farm road to Lenahowe/Linnahowe, which is known to have been quarried for stone to build the 'new' farmhouse sometime after the original account of said site.
Down on the beach the local geology took us up to the point at which there used to be a mill (RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY21NW 43). There was a big lump of machinery there, but the lack of mention means it has to be from something else I suppose. That we were looking at where the mill used to be and yet this had been a field back from the cliff gave a good example of how bad the erosion is. In the 19th century occasionally storms removed enough sand from the shore below the mill to reveal a submerged forest beneath. In 1853 a pupil found the leaves of trees and a small branch in this 'moss', said 'moss'' burning like peat. Unfortunately she did not say what species the specimens were from [source "John O' Groat Journal" of July 22nd]. We were shown how much better the original sea-wall protection survived the recent storms than the modern additions. At the other end IIRC of Skara Brae we saw where an excavation had found the place where only non-domestic animals had been butchered and processed. If the forest still existed back then perhaps this represents its edge, is my take on it. In the sea the party saw the head of a seal and another seal that hauled itself up onto Hellia Gibb. At the cliff near here a 7th century cist and possible prehistoric remains have been found (HY21NW30.02 at HY22941876). An early map shows what appears to be a large mound just a little further out and the guides believed that this may have been where the folk from Skara Brae buried there dead, as there are apparently no other candidates for them.
Then we left the shore and walked through the Neolithic village. A Viking long cist came from under the boundary fence in 1930 and several secondary internments were found in the midden when the Weem first began to be explored. In the late 17th century or earlier foot-square cists with black earth were found at Links of Skaill, but I cannot find these links marked on any maps of any era alas (besides the 1882 O.S. on old-maps.co.uk I tried http://www.nls.uk/digitallibrary/map/index.html extensive collection).. Looking at the Voydale burn on the map I wonder if the Loch of Skaill emptied into the sea through this in prehistory. And where the stream meets the visitor centre some structural remains were found smack against the latter. The guides said that a disused pit amongst the probable mound remains to the north here might well be a pond used for processing cloth (IIRC). The guided walk at an end I scurried back around the bay to visit the Broch of Verron. There's a stream comes down past the church until it comes to a full stop next to the snusgar, and you climb over a stone stile in the drystane wall in order to proceed around the coast. This is a likely candidate for the Burn of Rin. It is assumed that the kirk's dedication has always been to St.Peter, but my opinion is that Rin=St.Ninian and the first church was pre-Roman and dedicated to St.Ninian. After a few minutes you have a choice of walking down near the cliff edge or fording another burn at a point where there may have been a small bridge or other structure formerly. Look up from here and you can see the sloping Castle near Lenahowe. Unfortunately the silage pit exposing the interior at the higher end has also been used to dump modern stones and concrete from elsewhere. I don't even know if this end was originally higher or comes about through the agricultural adaptation. George Marwick mentions both a Mohr church and a monastery in his newspaper articles in the area but it is difficult to be certain which precise localities he is referring to. It is quite possible that this Castle is one or the other. If it is the church then the monastery by process of elimination lay by the broch, and I would then connect this monastery with the oblique wall remains running from near the field boundary down and over the cliff. Brochs simply don't have strict linear boundaries. The Knowe showed no signs of further erosion then. Coming down the broch's landward side I saw a stone of most peculiar aspect protruding from the slope. It is about a foot long and a few inches thick, arc-shaped - think of a stone from one of those wells you drew as a bairn. Would love to think it a small section of broch walling except for the fact that it curves the other way round. Looking at the photo there appears to be an incised line running inside the edges. Not much below this I unveiled a near horizontally projecting slab. Felt quite pleased to find these two, even if objectively they amount to little ;-)
Thought of heading up to Birsay or Dounby to meet the last bus but decided to save a few pfennigs by continuing down to Stromness and have it come to me. Also fewer roadside distractions that way - wouldn't want to toddle off-road and risk seeing my transport leave me behind. On the east side of the road past the sandpit there is a road marked "private". This leads to Millcroft where several cists with skeletons were found amongst the tumuli and sand-dunes (Millhouse HY21NW 15), though all that remains of the skelly-wegs is a skull under the capstone of 'D' at HY23941915. Not being a vehicle I should take a peek sometime ! Not far beyond where the road begins to skirt the loch there is a disused quarry a short distance up Kier Fiold hill, a decent-sized one for Orkney. Further on I looked in on my little rock feature. Or maybe it is archaaeology. My compromise is to call it a niche. In appearance there are two leaves of rock in the near vertical rise beside the road projecting like corners, and between these 'slabs' is a triangular 'cut' about a foot tall back into this small exposed section. You could almost imagine an idol set back into it. Just a foot or so away is what I take to be an O.S. symbol cleanly incised. Like I said there is only a small area of rock exposed.
When you come to the B9057 junction there is/was an "underground dwelling" in the field to its right according to the records.. About where the map shows a well beside the loch you can see a shallow area with a few stones in it. This I take for the remains of a structure. A short jetty perhaps ? Next you come to the B9055 junction. Up the hillside there is a phonebox placed picturesquely by the building by the left of the roadside. Above this you come to the Hurkisgarth mound (HY21NE 43). I was sorely tempted to take a gander except that it is kangaroo-proofed with an outsize 'Orkney gate'. Even from the roadside this is a grand view to match that of the Knowe of Geoso, though unlike Wideford and Cuween hills they may not be quite inter-visible.Of course this could be just my addled dream but it fits the topological requirements for a major cairn. The site is a sub-circular ?chambered mound about 15 yards across and a tad over four feet high where the 1882 map has a.cist marked as found in 1828 (not 1829). Howkinsgarth>Hurkisgarth being also known as Hurtisgarth reminds me of the placename Hurtiso, so perhaps the modern name is a result of folk-etymology ? Alternatively Peterkin records it as Thurkiosgarth, which brings Thor/Thur to mind. Further along is Trinnigarth, and this is surely the Trimmigarth at which "The Orkney Herald" of February 3rd 1909 reports a collection of underground passages. These were explained away at the time as being the result of lightning strikes. But they were many times longer than known fulgarites as well as being in totally the wrong geology. So perhaps there has been some conflation of features with the Hurkisgarth mound. On the other side of the road The Howans, a dual site (HY21NE 44) once held to have been a broch (in which case the Loch of Skaill must have once reached further south) sat on Howand Brae (sic) below where the name Hurkisgarth appears on the O.S. 1:25,000 now, the next field south. All in all it strikes me this has to have been a significant area in prehistory.
A very good day for photographing distant views. First up the broch on the shore of Clumly loch and then the islets at the top of the Loch of Stenness, subject of a crannog survey (HY21NE 85 Loch of Stenness Orkney Crannog survey). There had been a Scottish Archaeology Month event regarding the latter but unfortunately public transport ruled it out for me. Which was a shame as the water level was low enough at the time that those who did go got to see the causeway between one of them and the shore. George Marwick records a legend that the king of Voyatown had a battle with the ruler of Borwick and there are plenty of Voy names here. This battle he asociates with the discovery amongst other things of an urn in one of the South Gyran tumuli between the two districts, the bowl barrow atop the Gyran hill for which he records the name Righ Knowe (Gyron Hill HY21NW 9). Further down the road I noticed for the first time another small islet at HY26451411 near Redland Farm where the loch takes a bite out of the land. It isn't shown on the 1:25,000 and though there do appear to be features on this mind but I would put them down to vegetal simulacra rather than structures, too peedie I guess. This appears on the 1882 map, which also shows a smithy at Redlandhill after the road bends that I must remember to look for the next time I'm there.
At the A965/7 junction I chose to take the road from Stromness rather than head into town for the bus. At Deepdale ?Villa I went over and looked at the low loose grouping of stones there. No, not that Deepdale. There is nothing shown at this place in the 19th century, not so much as a quarry or earthwork in the vicinity to explain away this collection on the lower slopes which looks more obviously ancient every time I see it. Decided to finally try and get a picture of the remaining Deepdale Standing Stone. Fate intervened in the shape of the Kirkwall bus before I could do anything about it. Not really the last bus on a Saturday, but I felt that carrying on for another couple of hours as the sunlight flitted would be a walk too far.
1858 "a young man found some pieces of silver rings lying near a rabbit hole in the vicinity of the parish church of Sandwick... On Thursday the 11th inst., a number of persons were down near the church... and one of them suggested they go and examine the spot where the silver had been found the previous week. On arriving at the place one of the men thrust a "ware" fork into the rabbit hole"
1859 "found buried between the Parish Church of Sandwick and the Burn of 'Rin', and a short distance from the shore of the Bay of Skaill" ;
1862 "accidentally discovered at the remains of an extensive ruin near the shore of the bay"
1910 "Skaill Bay and vicinity. Along the beach... On the left hand stands the "Muckle Brae", where in 1858 a large mound of silver relics was discovered... The brae rises abruptly, and in all likelihood is a building blown over with sand." name Muklehae and sandy composition noted by eyewitness
Posted by wideford
24th November 2006ce
wideford's TMA Blog
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