The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

Castle Bloody



Castle Bloody is a substantial souterrain mound prominently situated on the highest topographic point of southeastern Shapinsay on the island's sole remaining heather moorland. (Fraser, 1983) The structure has been described as a Pictish fort or earthen house, and likely predates the Burroughston Broch located somewhat further to the north along Shapinsay's east coast. Earlier records of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) classify this site as a chambered cairn, although more detailed analysis place the structure in the category of a souterrain.(RCAHMS, 1981) The interior geometry is comprised by a principal subterranean cell with multiple other cells or recesses branching from that central structure. There are two passages leading to the principal cell. Other nearby prehistoric monuments are the Mor Stein standing stone (about 1.3 kilometres northwest) and several cairns (about 0.8 kilometres north-northwest). The findings herein are based upon review of extant literature and my field visit in July, 2007.

EXPLORATION HISTORY. Since the site has only been examined in an elementary manner, the overall structure remains mysterious and has yielded an incomplete understanding of its architecture and function. Earliest noting of the site was in the 1880 Name Book and on the 1900 six inch Ordinance Survey map at HY 5358 1644 (OS, 1900). Sometime prior to 1928, M. Work of Newfield Cottage removed some of the massive upper slabs, which subsequently was determined to be roofing for the principal chamber. (RCAHMS, 1946)

ARCHITECTURE. The overall geometry is that of a turf covered stony mound approximately 13 metres in diameter. The mound height has been variously reported in the literature at 1.2 to 1.8 metres, which outcome is not surprising given the unexcavated nature of the monument and its position on undulating terrain. The mound classification can be likened to Ham, Caithness (ND27SW 1) and Midgarth (HY32SE 6). The principal chamber is offset somewhat east of the mound midpoint, with a north/south axis. The chamber's a roof is capped with of large flattish stones; thie approximate chamber dimensions are 1.5 by 0.9 metres. This main chamber has drystone sides with corbelling in evidence. There are apparently other cells or recesses on each side of the principal chamber.

The main entrance to the principal chamber is a slightly curved lintelled passage approaching from the southeast direction. A second and much lower passage, now blocked by debris, leads from the north end of the chamber, and thence turning northeast after the entrant reaches a short distance. (RCAHMS, 1987). The smaller north end passage is traceable for about one metre and appears to lead to a depression or cavity, filled with loose-packed rubble with voids, which may be another chamber.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS.. As in the case of Burroughston to the north the siting of Castle bloody served as a defensive lookout for sea marauders coming from other islands or nations. The structure is set back approximately 150 feet from the shoreline, sufficient to provide the Pictish inhabitants a buffer zone from the sea which pound the surrounding lands with salt spray driven by fierce Orcadian storm winds. Besides this buffer from surf and ocean noise, the situation of Castle Bloody is much more sheltered from high wave action than the cliff areas at the island's north; for example, a site selected near the Geo of Ork would have similar cliff defences of the Castle bloody site, but would be subjected to much higher wave action, making fishing and seal hunting unpromising.

Significantly, Castle Bloody is near fertile lands that are even today producing grain crops, as they no doubt did for the Picts inclined to farming at the ancient settlement, even though the immediate locale is moorland. A further food resource at hand for the ancient picts was the abundant birdlife at the immediate coastline situated near Langavi Geo a scant 150 from the doorstep of Castle Bloody. A further factor favoring the selection of Castle Bloody by the Picts is the rich seafood resource on the western shores of Shapinsay. (Hogan, 2007). There are two brackish lochs, Lairo Water and Vasa Loch, respectively 40 minutes and 1.3 hours walk respectively from Castle Bloody; furthermore there is a biologically productive estuary, the Ouse, adjacent to Lairo Water.

* David Fraser (1983) ''Land and Society in Neolithic Orkney'', B.A.R.
* RCAHMS (1981 ) Ordinance Survey visit (JLD) 18 May, 1981 (Confirmed by A S Henshall).
* Ordinance Survey of the United Kingdom {1900} 6"map, Orkney, 2nd ed.
* RCAHMS (1946) Original Name Books of the Ordnance Survey: Book No.18, 145, visited 1928
* RCAHMS (1987) ''The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Twelfth report with an inventory of the ancient monuments of Orkney and Shetland'',
3v, Edinburgh, 277, No.786,
* C.Michael Hogan (2007) ''Burroughston Broch'', The Megalithic Portal, ed. Andy Burnham
C Michael Hogan Posted by C Michael Hogan
15th January 2008ce

Comments (0)

You must be logged in to add a comment