|Reaching the edge of Kirkwall I saw a cock-sparrow amid some bushes. Then I noticed how totally black the crown was, and quite sharp in outline. Either this house sparrow had somehow missed out on the grizzly grey streaks or this is a late autumn migrant, the blackcap. A fleeting glimpse though. Up the townhill road, around and past the Wideford Cottages. Here is another of those triangular pieces of land that abound in Orkney. In the copse here are the foundations and lower courses of an old building. Low down on the inside of its roadside wall is what looks like a diminutive built-in oven niche. However, of late I have been wondering whether it could be a peedie kiln instead. Definitely more than a cupboard. But whatever it is why this positioning for it ? The farmland about here being so great in extent meant it being split up between a North and South Wideford [Wideford Hill is Wester Wideford]. The present Wideford is ? what used to be North Wideford, so either the farm of South Wideford changed name or it disappeared. When ploughing took place earlier in the year it exposed various colours in the field opposite Wideford Cottages down to the burn, red and black, white and yellow. Ploughed again there are many stones in this field, though if from something it has been spread too widely to make sense of this from the ground.
Turning the corner and heading down to the Wideford burn on the right either side of the 'drain' is the white stonework that I have in the past associated with the illegal mediaeval mill because it is so well constructed and is a strange place for a bridge when there is already an adequate crossing only a little further uphill. But there is a milldam marked against the other side of Wideford Farm. Perhaps from a later mill that was allowed by the earl or whoever ?? Upstream from the stonework down from the road level is a rectangular depression with a few stones, having what seems likely to be the overgrown lower courses of some structure comprising its upper end. My attention having usually been on other things it took me some while before I noticed this feature, despite its now looking so obvious. Perhaps it had been subliminal. Out over the threshold this time came a low roughly rectangular depression on the bank opposite, like the remains of an entrance earthwork. I may no longer be so sure of what used to be along these banks but it certainly arises from the hand of man. Down in the valley I,m now reasonably sure that Grimsquoy isn't on airport land as two miniature goals have been set up near the top of the field. Saw someone there last week but lacked the courage to ascertain the situation. Still, would need to investigate when winter dries the land out.
Red helicopter at the airport. A lovely bright yellow plane on the airfield made me think Saab. Probably wrong. Out in the bay a red and white ship slowly making its way across felt official, a lightship or coastguard vessel perhaps. At the top of the road a still white van near the Tankerness junction. The water board I thought. But the man down the hole is simply another man from telecoms. Sometimes feels like every other vehicle is BT ! The Hillock of Garth can be seen most places from the townhill near the Tradespark junction down into the Wideford burn and up almost as far as the Tankerness junction, overlooking the Bay of Inganess with the Hillocks of Garth below it. Opposite the Tankerness junction an earthwork is one of my mysteries - it isn't on the 1882 map but doesn't look like your average 20th century fortification abandoned after the war (I hear tell a lot of previously sensitively located sites are being put back on record sometime in the near feature and perhaps this is one. Definitely think the campsite out at Carness holds secrets, because there must be something there from when this was used for shipping cattle south in the early modern period). A few days before I'd glimpsed an open gate at the back of this beckoning me to go look for Staneloof beyond, even if only for another distant view. Then the field had been empty, now occupying sheep kept me from this route. So this left me with the farmtrack that starts by a Nissen hut. It looks to me as if this had been a wartime road to provide a quick connection between St.Andrews and Holm parishes, now it is back with the farmland.
Two fieldgates across the track one after the other. Both of them chained to close gaps, so had me a bit of climbing - remember to always use the hinging end my dears. Down at the road I had assumed that a low mound I could see from there was Staneloof. Disappointed to find it an unnoted narrow hillock instead. A wide farmtrack on the left leads to the field of Craw Howe (presumably named for the excavator J.T.Craw). I thought I might go there after, to see if I could detect more on it and look into the two lesser supposed mounds to its east. Next came the big farmtrack on the right that I hoped would be my passport to Staneloof. Where this came to a stop entry lay with several gates linked together across the overlarge field gap. Rather damp inside, so I held close to the field boundary as I went toward the area containing the obvious Staneloof mound. From a distance this looked like a long green barrow with a yellow ribbon about halfway along and a small bush near that at the north end. Unfortunately all the fields are now seperated by wide deep drainage channels of modern vintage, with these 'drains' themselves lined by their own fences. And still the area is marshy where I sloshed about - peats hereabouts can be four or five feet deep in places. No way to be found into the next field, at this end leastways. As close as I could get revealed the ribbon as a cut across the mound where a flagstaff stood in WWII. Looked beyond the "cairn" (NMRS record no. HY40NE 20 at HY48330698) for the one at Howe of Staneloof (NMRS record no. HY40NE 23 at HY48240699) proved useless even though this is over twice the height at the uphill end. Strangely RCAHMS describes the former as the Howe of Staneloof in their notes it is the latter that is given the name. Only finding the "march stone and two witnesses" would resolve the matter. Tried to go down the other end of the field to get into that one but is even more marshy than ground about the Brymire mounds, with some possible old peat diggings. Hopping over the shallower pieces only got me a liitle past thea low circular mound close to the "cairn". With the waters weaving I wonder if this field held a burnt mound or funerary mounds like the Burn of Langadae. Couldn't even get to a cutting with stones further along. Crossing back up to round mound I noticed a low dark cutting on the lower slope. Not to my mind black earth but definitely not peats either. Closer inspection revealed a certain granularity to much of it. Rolling some between my fingers showed this to be hard material the shape of fine small beads - only a few days later did the possibilty of carbonised grain occur to me. If this had occured to me at the time I should have taken a sample. I can only hope that the cutting is evidence of presently unnoted professional sampling !
If I couldn't even reach Staneloof from here then the Hillock of Garth is definitely out. Looking on the !:25,000 now I put a visit to Craw Howe to one side on seeing that the track from the Deerness road looked to take me all the way over to Holm. Still marsh-looking stuff and heather on my left, and another of those drains at the road edge. The other side had been ploughed and contained many stones. Which might explain the apparent lack of pasture or settlements on this expanse of higher ground. I think this exposed geology is more of that deep ploughing that has started in Orkney these last few years. Further along on the left (before I went to Heathery Howes IIRC) I saw a heap of large stones in a pasture. In the field these could be seen as being in close proximity to a blue exposed corrugated plastic pipe. No sign of the stones being from anything archaeological, so must be from the digging for the pipe.
On the right I came to another short stretch of wide farmtrack going NW in the direction of Heathery Howes. None of the tracks in this region so far have been shown on the 1882 O.S. [then again, though I am used to the map being a little adrift on co-ordinates, in this region old-maps gives them wildly out - transferring them to CANMAP would have the howes coming down to the Loch of Loomi Shun even though the 1882 map shows the correct relative position !]. Where a large pool appears on the present map there appears to have been quarrying last century at either side of the track. On the northern side of the track I walked over to the base of a small quarry cliff. Nowt archaeological. However very good show of the underlying geology in section, a relatively thin layer of soil over a stratum of fractured rock. Which goes some way to explaining the lack of settlement over this area. After walking over the top of the quarry and down to where the track and up to where it became swamped, checking on the upcast hillocks to make sure that is all they were. Almost straight ahead sits the Hillock of Garth, which oversees the area like Laughton's Knowe does further into Holm. Later on the map I measure almost equal steps from several landmarks : Five Hillocks (the St.Andrews ones), Staneloof, Hillock of Garth, Heathery Howes, Muckle Hunclett, Hilltoft. Though of the next to last of these (know partly hidden 'neath a byre) is now believed natural and the last comes from the placename (toft = pre-Norse structure) the spacing is rather compelling evidence for some kind of divying-up in my mind. Coming back from the sodden ground I completed my counter-clockwise walkabout of the quarried hillock or hillocks at the pool that has appeared since the first O.S. map. Not as much above the pool as the cliff the other side is high. But then the water does represent a sunken former quarrying perhaps as much below ground as the 'cliff' is above. Further round there is a relatively shallow depression and the ground circling is sodden, or at least at the moment it is. The hillocks here show a fair amount of black material such as I had observed near Staneloof. Its nature appears different, showing more as curves in the exposure. I pulled out a fragment one of these and it reminded me of pulling charred wood from a dead fire. If it is from ancient logs I do not know if this represents an archaeological site or purely preserves palaeobotanical material.
Back on the main track looking to the east I saw the loch of Loomi Shun but couldn't make out any birds - it is named for the Great Northern Diver or 'loon' (sic) as are several other bodies of water in Orkney. It lies in the White Moss and I know there is another White Moss in Orphir where a 'fort' was quarried clean away. Though I doubt I could see it, past the twin waters of Loomi Shun the now un-named Black Loch to the south has had the Black Burn drained that used to run SE from it. On the map you can see a curving boundary about the White Moss region, presumably a product of the mid-19th century Agricultural Improvements. This then passes south of the now un-named Burn of Blown before meeting the main road at Groatster, formerly Grotsetter to the north of Sandy Howes. All a-propos of nothing, simply pixie-led ! So back to my walk.
Ere long I came to a junction where I could go to Muckle Hunclett or (Little) Hunclett. I chose to left to go north of the former then keep following the track around to behind Northfield and round to a farmroad down to the Holm road. This way was much damper than my former track and I found myself having to jump all over the place to keep myself somewhat less wet. Unfortunately as I neared where the Graemeshall Burn crosses the road became flooded out beyond my footwear's utility and forced me to retrace my hops. Past some concrete buildings the track turned to go past Hunclett. About midway between Hunclett and Scomuir/Scomer, where the Graemeshall Burn is guided under the road, the track stiffens into a farm road. After Scomuir there is a corner with two erect stones on the inside, opposite which is a small thicket on one of those triangular land offcuts so common in Orkney. From this latter I can see a 'standing stone fence' proceeding eastward. There may be more of it in the other direction but I only went a little on the small bendy track to Cockmurra where the road corners again.
Between the second corner and the 'B' road is Hilltoft. According to Hugh Marwick the Norse applied the placename element toft to the structures that they found on their arrival in the Northern Isles. Just north of the house in the garden behind I saw a grass-covered wall standing a few courses still. Most likely the remains of a mediaeval building, perhaps even an earlier house. If it hadn't been for the full washing-line a picture would hav been in order. Looking back from below the farm buildings showed up an edge of a neat low house platform, which may however be modern. Midway betwixt the buildings and the present burn is a very shallow ditch that looks to be the line of an older burn. Unfortunately a low battery had the camera stuck on wide. On the other side of the farmroad is a wet patch of ground by the levelled pits where you can usually be certain of seeing a couple of different birds flocking, another area that doesn't drain well. On the other side of the main road to East Holm the mound where earth is meant to have been dumped looked good in the fading light.
Now I headed home on the Holm road. Roundabout here is a long stretch with magnificent views over Scapa Flow to Orphir then along to Hoy and other islands. When I reached the point where the other Five Hillocks (Rashieburn) are just below the horizon the setting sun lit them up, but the camera-holder couldn't keep still enough and the battery virtually dead to boot. By the time I reached the place where a small group of reindeer are housed the camera would focus on these but stop in a fingersnap immediately, so despite a few attempts no joy there either. Now down the Holm straight to Kirkwall
Posted by wideford
12th December 2006ce
wideford's TMA Blog
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