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Head of Work

July 21st 2007

The straightest route to the Head of Work is the road that goes by Orkney College and Weyland Farm, uphill past the turnoff for the Head of Holland. Instead I took my time going from Kirkwall harbour to Weyland Bay then turning left at the housing estate to go up the hill and turn right at the top. Near the steading of Blackhall a Viking presence was apparently deduced from the finding of a whorl and a serrated stone disc. I think it may have been in an area just north-east of the main farm where a modern structure stands now (HY468127) but don't quote me on this. Along from Blackhall on the LH side of the road, where it widens ever so slightly, there is a stone socket at HY47031301. Not a very big one, but there you are. Nothing beside it, however on the opposite side is a short stretch of the remains of a drystane wall in the field. Next comes the warning about water-board property ahead being private, however folk do drive to a spot overlooking the Loch of Carness, so the road up to their demesne itself isnae. Anyway wanting a photo of a cliff on Shap at the junction before Work farm I did take the LH turn towards the waterworks. The beach you see between here and the start of the Carness headland is the result of man's works (I'm sure there used to be a tidal oyce between Carness and the Head of Work once). Behind this the first O.S. shows a place called Washinghouse. Which sounds rather strange, but rather than referring to bleakness the black of Blackhall could refer to bleaching.Earl George of Caithness in 1614 made first landing at Carness in the campaign against our Earl Patrick. Until modern times all cattle headed for the Scottish mainland were ferried from Carness past Shapinsay, but the ferry point is unknown AFAIK.

I could never figure out why there is no prehistory on Carness but I now think this is because it was always a jump-off for sailors, like Ferry Point for the pharisees leaving for St.Adomnan's isle (Damsay) and Holm Point to go to the Holm of Grombister. To the east of the cairn is the Head of Work with North Taing and whatever is hidden now by the quarry mound, then Yinstay Head having Yinstay cairn and the Howe of Langaskaill burnt mound. That is as far as I can certainly see from here. Over to the west (past Carness and beyond Kirkwall) on Quanter Ness were the 'Ramberry' cairn and Crossiecrown settlement. Wideford Hill still dominates and obstructs further views after Ferry Point comes Rennibister with its sepulchral souterrain and a burnt mound, then Ing(a)showe with its broch [in between Rennibister and Ingshowe is there any truly ancient archaeology beneath the mud and sand of the oyce that is almost dry land at the very lowest of tides ? ] and another gap before Holm Point.

At the turn-off for Water Board property the wartime road continues up to the headland. You need to go through two fieldgates, the first of which is chained against vehicles, then along the north coastline keeping to the coast edge. It wasn't truly damp - there are numerous small drainage deltas, however they all have a smattering of what amount to stepping stones. As you come to The Castle geo (not quite a rock stack yet) you see Long Cairn across the moss to your right. The long horned cairn [Yarrows type] is 47m long by 12-17m wide, on which is a 15-17m oval mound (Davidson and Henshall report that the ruined chamber was dug before 1928, in which case when RCAMS in 1946 give the mound's height as 11'9" this must have been prior to that as later authorities give a total height of 2-2.1m and the RCAMS Inventory side elevation shows nothing above this chamber) an Orkney-Cromarty cairn. It is generally accepted with a site such as this that the chambered cairn was completed long before its incorporation by the horned cairn. This site, the Helliar Holm cairn (above the lighthouse to the north of here), and that at Haco's Ness (on Shapinsay away to the east as you look there), are all intervisible - from which some intended guardianship of Shapinsay Sound has been inferred.

Along the higher ground on this northern side of the headland as well as the various purple orchids I was delighted to see Grass of Parnassus. What most struck me, though, was a darker form of eyebright mingling with the usual form - it appeared that they both grew on the same plant, the same coloured throat but violet instead of white elsewhere on the flower. I expected The Castle, a geological feature, to be difficult to recognise. Plain as a pikestaff really, a future stack with a low modern drum of a cairn (possibly hollow) of brown stones on top. I could have climbed down up the narrow neck... coming back might have been trickier. In the neck's 'valley' there is an angled wall, of the same material and equally modern looking, at the eastern side. Beside this what resembles a solid cartwheel is apparently covering a well or something. The other side of the wall a large slump of water-worn rocks goes to the rocky beach far below (only after seeing a picture I took have I seen steps on the southern side of the wall that go down to this [or I would have myself !]). By the clifftop the other end of the narrow beach is a bank of soil where the earth has been scraped off the patch of ground ahint it fairly recently. After passing The Castle I crossed over mushy ground to the long cairn, soft-going but I did avoid damper patches.

On this side of the mound I could see middling-size stones, presumably from the small late structures referred to by Davidson & Henshall others perhaps connected with the reported rectangular hollow (west of the chambered mound) they also believe prehistoric but not original. In my initial approach from The Castle circling clockwise the south horn of the western hornworks was very visible as a long broad grassy strip with a rounded top, looking like a pseudopod or starfish arm. Coming to the western end the inside of the eastern hornworks my first impression was a sharper, less obtuse angle than shown on plan. I wonder if they have eroded back where these 'end' as this appeared higher than the reported height to me (however the O.S. earlier did report this end of the mound as of greater height). Up on the mound not much more than a step from the back of the hornworks I found a feature [my A] surely not previously noted, as D&H state that turf covers all except the high mound. It takes the form of an oval, 4.8m wide by 3.8m front to back, on which lie many slabs. These are in a slight depression but as I looked back from its eastern edge a very low bank was visible. Perhaps it is a chamber of the later long cairn, but if instead this is from a second original mound it would help explain why the later cairn has appeared too long hitherto (the Roseness cairn also has an apparent satellite, even lower than this). Next along I saw a slab projecting a little, distinct from the glimpsed 'wall-faces', then further on again the base of the main mound. The latter is about 12m across. Continuing to the back there is a 0.68 long angle topped slab projecting 0.3m , and a little distance on at the high point a hollow [my B1] filled with stones and slabs that is is 3.1m wide. At 1.4m from the western edge by the back end of the hollow (2.1m front to back in D&H) is 0.6m of an orthostat 1.1m wide was plain to see - I think this is in D&H as 1.5 by 0.65, wary of getting too closeI may have missed a bit. It is unfortunate that though the RCAMS Inventory shows this chamber on side elevation it is not indicated on the plan view, because half-a-metre to the right of B1 is another slab- & stone-filled circular hollow [my B2]. This is 1.7m across and fractionally lower on the hill (there are orthostats in B1 whose level is given as 0.65m below that of the rear slab). A second stall or possibly another chamber I would imagine (I suppose it might be that the turf between the two is simply the result of archaeological methodology). Then, just behind this, the other side of an imaginary line from B1's largest orthostat is a depression [my B3] 2.3m wide and 2.2-2.6m from front to back. Despite there being not much stonework poking through B3 I would hazard that this represents a robbed stall/chamber (hence its apparently more downslope position) resulting from digging prior to the 1920's period in which B1 is likely to have been excavated. At the eastern end of the long cairn the S horn survives over twice the height of its NE counterpart making the latter less eviden on first viewing. At the moment the forecourt is very clearly defined by a singular display of a bed of reeds. Those distances and dimensions that are mine were taken in a stiff breeze and so have give and take on such as the hollows where I chose not to step and so doled the tape measure out from one end to the other.

Though the ground about the site is mostly damp and springy this is boggiest on the southern side where it slopes down to the cliffs. I tried to get back this way but it was way 'boggy'. When I kept to the drier portions this brought me to a 'mound' which is presumably the western end of the ridge, and less than a metre in front of this a bank or dyke, both apparently composed of earth with a few stones. By the northern edge of this there is an upright setting of a few low stones. The 'dyke' is rather bulky here (about the size of a hedge) and would seem to emphasise control over the approach to the cairns. It looks as if it may continue much lower to either side as I had the impression a water channel goes up to the headland's northern side. Along most of the Head of Work what some call rough pasture most would think of as approaching shallow bog (Roseness is similar though heathery), alas this is the route from Work farm, once site of a broch and perhaps a souterrain. [About 1855 the sinking of a barn floor at Work Farm turned out to be owing to the presence of a large undisturbed circular chamber of compact masonry beneath the floor and foundations. The chamber was part-filled with the to-be-expected shells and a large quantity of bone - especially noted however is a large antler from the centre of this. Subsequently flags covered most of it and the 1890 newspaper account says that a passage from this led to a hole in the old farm-steading's kitchen through which wind was wont to blow ! In 1885 "The Orcadian" describes work on the corn-yard as leading to the discovery of a 44' diameter tower with walls 7' thick that survived to a height of seven feet. In 1963 construction of a new barn at HY47471350 removed all the surface material, some being dumped on the beach at HY47691359. The circular wall became the base for a mill. Field investigations found broch-type pottery. Because both kinds of quern were found at the site this would have been a middle period broch at least. The first newspaper account mentions that there had been many underground structures "in this neighbourhood" (? other than those in the 1890 account), which sounds very much like a broch village].

After heading down across to the cliffs I went along the clifftop under the watchful eyes of two seals, but came to stop at HY47881373 where the drystane fieldwall reaches the cliff. At this spot there's a girt big pile of slabs 3-5' long and maybe 4-6" thick, like a fallen stack of dominoes - could this be other material from the Work Farm site ? Followed the wall back up to a gate, but with the field having kie in it I left well alone. This would seem to be the normal route to the headland. Further up another gate had a sloped top 'standing stone' over five feet tall as one of the gateposts. Then I was back at the military road again.

wideford Posted by wideford
1st August 2007ce
Edited 5th August 2007ce

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