|DALE TO MARYKIRK May 3rd 2007
DALE TO MARYKIRK May 3rd 2007
As usual took the Kirkwall-Stromness bus to the Harray road junction. After a short while, before reaching Springfield, I saw an old broad farmtrack on the left heading into nowhere and thought it might give me a downhill look at one of the mounds that I wished to investigate. On the left I came across a similarly disused sidetrack raised above the surrounding land and heading diagonally down to an old building. Couldn't spot the mound. Instead on my right there was a newly ploughed field with an area of pinkish-red soil (there are any number of places in Orkney where deep ploughing has taken place for the first time ever this last few years). Thought it might be a burnt mound but it lacked the palette. Mostly it was against a slight rise, a long low hummock most likely a glacial moraine. There were several stone scatters there too. Only after looking on CANMAP back home did this show itself to be the area of the Dale souterrain, excavated then re-buried - unless I mixed my bearings most likely the site itself. As well as the earthhouse other finds included a long cist, a pit burial and two primitive idols. Hereabouts I had hoped to have an overview of some of the archaeological sites in the area down to the loch. Nothing remotely stood out so rather than continue further into Grimeston I headed back.
Next up is the crossroads, for Staney Hill you go left, for Howe and Winksetter right. On the Peerie Howe & Geroin lands there had been a large standing stone that was destroyed and carted away in the late 19thC, and Gregor Lamb postulates that the Fa'an Stone had been at the junction of the Bimbister+Winksetter+Grimeston districts. In fact it is shown as the Fallstone at about HY332170 on the Germiston map in "Harray - Orkney's Inland Parish" - NE of Howe Farm where a field corner below Geroin Cottage is pointed south like an arrow. Presumably this is where the stone originally stood rather than where the pieces ended up. In years when there have been Open Days at the Knowes of Trotty one takes the Howe road, stopping just short of Winksetter. SE of Winksetter are (or perhaps were, the O.S. may be out of date regarding them) the remains of tumuli, Howinawheel & Howinalim.
Before going down the Staney Hill road I walked a little further along, to the mound behind the buildings on the north side of that road as I attempted once more to find the Appiehouse standing stone (said to be the N/S aligned remnant of a larger standing stone). Its size as given in "Proceedings of the Orkney Archaeological Society I" (4' by 4' ) is most likely only an estimate from distance as the NMRS record has it measuring 2'9" by 3'3" [and 6½" thick] and I don't believe it could have eroded equally in height and breadth. On the other hand research in the Orkney Room finds that the record card shows it as roughly triangular after a little height is reached ,and as one side of the triangle is a curve strongly reminiscent of a rather large bulb of percussion (IIRC the term), loss could have happened in between accounts. This time I was, and wasn't, successful. As I approached level with the summit finally the blessed thing came into view.and from the Dounby side it is plainly visible. At some time it has undergone further damage as now practically all that survives above the grass is the virtually rectangular area lower portion with a little point.
Mission accomplished I went back to the road and down to find my first target mound properly. Soon I came to a garden with a young sapling plantation and what looked like a grid of large square beehives, only because I couldn't think what else they could be ! The Woodwyn mound, RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY31NW 11 at
HY32781594, is 'next-door' close to the field edge. Looking down along the field boundary there was a small rise beyond which I could just make the mound out from the road. The stone and earth mound has lost about 10' in diameter since 1880, being only 8.5m across now, but remains roughly the same height at 0.8m (though I'm sure it is raised more above present ground level than that). Though you can't tell it there was a gun emplacement here - someone did a brill job of removing its presence I must say. As I approached from the road there were several stones this side which looked like they were just lying there, but an attempt to look under found them to be well embedded. Moving from the NE side of the mound to the SW the other side from the fence I saw an exposed area about two metres long in which were small thin slabs of stone set horizontally amongst the revealed earth.
Continuing my walk I soon found myself in the grasp of the pisgies, no idea where I was. Pixie-led I crossed over to another minor road and went up in the direction of the main road without recognising that I had passed the Staney Hill sites, but going by the map perhaps I was too soon upon this area ! At one point there is a stone dump on the left and from the tiny mound a broad old track heads east down into the bottoms, called the Rinners of Breckan (rinner 'small water channel'). Today I tried to follow the track, which had roused my curiosity on previous occasions, only to find there was no way past the gorse that now bestrode the farmtrack. It must have led somewhere once and ends abruptly at a fence, the other side of which a spring is shown. The next item of interest is the twisty burn just south of Breckan.The broad banks are positively littered with very large stones presumably left behind by geological processes as they seem purely natural.
In the Breckan area my head finally cleared and I stopped not much short of the main road. From here looking over to Appiehouse it surprised me how clear the
standing stone stood out from the mound at this distance. Could it be this was never meant to be seen from the other side ? On a later occasion I completed my walk this
way and, finding the roadside gate fullty open, took this as Bona Dea's invite to take a closer examination of the stone itself. Crossing to the mound I had to climb over two or three grassy banks a couple of foot, maybe more, high. As by this time I had this pegged that the field is known as Stenso 'standing stone burn' (there is a Burn of Stenso somewhere in Sandwick parish) I wasn't too surprised at the time. Though the map shows no watercourse could there formerly have been a burn that ran from, say, the well between here and Tufta, through to the Well Park that was below Quoykea and thence to the burn below Breckan which empties into the Rinners ? But if so why did I pass over more than one bank - it does seem a bit sus for a wholly natural feature. I was shocked to find even less remaining, now only as high as it deep. Having photographed this I started to prepare to take measurements, only someone in a tractor interrupted. He asked what I was doing and I told him looking at the standing stone. "You're not allowed to be here" he said. "This is private". Then after a few seconds he added "You should have asked first", though it was obvious from the tone that folk would never be allowed and he was just covering himself. So he bullied me into leaving. If this isn't the stone I must have been concentrating too hard at the ground by my feet and also no-one had noticed that there was here a pair of stones like the Deepdale ones (as distinct from ones parallel to one another).
Now I knew where I was it proved easy to spot the Staneyhill Standing Stone. Only the fence has been tightened up since my first visit or the wires replaced, for I could not find a way through (making it almost as unapproachable as the Howe-Harper Cairn in Firth, though at least I have seen livestock in this field so there must be entry somehow !). T'other side of the road a gate made for an easier prospect. The tumulus in this field isn't easy to see or it isn't up to much. I went downhill then uphill before turning my eyes on the Staneyhill long horned cairn ( which had escaped notice until the farmer brought it to the notice of archaeologists - not even "Harray - Orkney's Inland Parish" shows this). Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I walked along the lower field boundary. Much to my joy there appeared a spot where the ground dips beneath the fence and I scraped through. Good job there had been a prolonged dry period as obviously rain drained through this space at other times. At first several large stones in my view seemed to be new features a little up from the cairn itself. Closer inspection revealed these to be lining the sides of a relict burn, like the Burn of Breckan only a much straighter way and not quite so populated with stones (the Rinners of Breckan are north of the long cairn, about where the 1:25,000 shows the spring.referred to previously [Did the standing stone come from this same geography, was it extracted on site instead, or could it even have come from the same places as supplied the monuments on the Brodgar peninsula these Staneyhill sites look down upon ?] ). Perhaps some were harvested to create the great cairn. Alternatively all part of a bigger site that arching around this hillslope and/or part of the glacial action that I assume to be the cause of those very large boulders being embedded in the banks. several features appear to run into one another, and a few of these also appear to have been trialled for archaeology. Now I moved over to the top end of the cairn. Its probable NW horn enters by the field to the west. By this same western boundary is also the mound with large exposed stones that I photographed on a previous visit believing it to be part of the cairn - though admittedly the long cairn is recorded as having rather better defined sides than ends. The cairn is aligned NW/SE with a probable chamber along this represented by three orthostats by the uphill end and a likely stalled chamber, at a slight angle to the axis, down in the southern half shown by six more. In between these stone arrangement are more prostrates stones and orthostats. Two large blocks close to the northern end are believed to be either part of a revetment or a hornwork's end. Unlike the Head of Work long cairn the survey is as far as practicable a full record of all the features.
Next I wished to go to the rest of the Feolquoy tumuli. Except that there were livestock in the field and it is often difficult to make proper observations under those conditions. I encountered the same proble later with regards to the Vola mound, with the additional problem that the kie's close attention could erode the very archaeology I wished a closer encounter with. So all will have to wait a more lonesome day. So instead I chose to have another look at the Biggings Broch. This is now divided into two NMRS records ; HY31SW 6 for the broch and HY31SW 58 for Marykirk. Naturally I chose the wrong way to get there this day. Finally I made it. The ring of stones that I take to be the broch tower remains is demoted to a sheepfold in a thesis done on early ecclesiastical sites. However the same source does call the hillock it lies on a settlement mound and I remember that another sheepfold, on one of the Point of Buttquoy mounds, was built on and from the remains of an earlier structure. And there's another on a Grimsquoy moundlet. For what it's worth all have close proximity to bodies of water. On this visit I could see that St.Mary's Kirk lay downhill and ahead of me. A drystane wall goes across the headland. Most likely the kirkyard wall, this has a very non-central entrance gap. I couldn't make out any features inside. In 1923 mention is made of a possible doorway at west end with a chancel at the east but no trace appears in the 1980's survey and from the O.S. this does seem rather back-to-front unless there has been a massive amount of erosion of the lochside owing to this being a rather short promontory. The kirk, described as 36' (8m) E/W by 14' (4m), supposedly with walls four feet thick (1.4-1.6m) kirk is reported as sitting on a mound (32-40m across) very low with a few isolated stones. The few stones I saw looked a bit muckle for such a peedie
kirk. The 1980 thesis proposes a broch of comparative size to Midhowe Broch, maybe 9.5m across with walls 2.5m thick, because of a "gulley-like feature around and
outside west gable of chapel ... formed by an inner and outer bank". The author also mentions a landward rampart and writes of "The area enclosed by the bank... and its
possible continuation in the area of the settlement mound to the east". Looking at the survey I wonder if the banks inside the present eastern walls cutting off this small headland pre-date these, in which case it's a dead ringer for a promontory fort. But any massive stonework would still have come later - from the survey it looks odd that the surface stones though outside of the kirk itself do not appear to relate to the earthworks, so could they be rather large grave-markers - the antiquarians found dark material that they thought indicative of burials. In 1922 a hollowed stone found here was thought to be either Broch Age or Neolithic. I imagine this is what led Cursiter to asign this site to a broch. Perhaps it was a quern or an equivalent to St.Magnus Boat at Ladykirk in South Ronaldsay, but with no idea whatsoever of size or material not enough to diagnostic of any particular era..
Coming back I made my way to the Burn of Rickla, which is the boundary between Harray to the north and Stenness to the south (and above the north end of the Loch of Wasdale over in Firth the Slap of Setter marks an old parish boundary). To the east of the road the Harray book has an area marked as the Pile of Stones. I wonder if this was originally part of the Man's route from Birsay rather than the Stone o'Hindatuin (the Staney Hill standing stone) as many places the cortege went past it is reported that the travellers added stones to a cairn. On the Stenness side of the burn in the second field from the road was a site called the Fairy Knowe (a Fairy Howe between Appietown and the Slap of Harray was another resting place for the Man's body, though the antiquarians did not know which site this had been). Alas I can see no Pile of Stones, only a couple of possible unmarked mounds left and further up. Conversely there is no sign of the Fairy Howe to my vision but there are two stone slumps close to on the steep bank near a field boundary !! These do not appear to consist of drystane wall material so mayhap these are the remains of that knowe cleaned out and unceremoniously dumped.
Posted by wideford
9th August 2007ce
Edited 17th August 2007ce
wideford's TMA Blog
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