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April 10th & 18th 2008

Following the same route to the Head of Work as before, turning off the Work road onto that leading to the Water Board works. I think that the Loch of Carness is mostly a human product of mediaeval times and that formerly there was an oyce (tidal inlet) here - there is a large L-shaped bank of earth and stone (HY465131) below Blackhall that lately I have started to wonder if it might be a simple 'Danes Pier' [that at Mid Taing (HY42950790 legend just 'pier') is all impressive stone, but then it is exposed out along Scapa Bay]. From the junction looking over the ayre of Carness loch past the farm to the long profile of a fresh green Thieves Holm looking mighty fine. From here it appears to be directly alongside the ness as it is only as you walk the ouskirts of Hatston that its full isolation is revealed, reminding me of how long it was before I realised the high hills over from Stromness were actually the island of Hoy [regarding which the archaeo-zoologists still have no reason for why the Orkney vole didn't even reach the low lands of Waas, no sites to their theory's rescue yest]. The wonders of Orkney perspective ! Despite a fleeting reference to witches and criminals in exile and executions (related by antiquarians in differing fashion but obviously stemming from one unknown source or group of sources, probably oral) the only fact I know is the trig cairn and that there is a well somewhere along the low clifftops facing Carness - perhaps a survey was done for the 2003 navigation light but there's nothing in the papers and DES 2003 isn't online for me to look there. At low tide I have noticed along the taing (shorelevel rock tongue) at the end toward Shapinsay something sticking up partway along, and there is another similarly placed at the head of Carness. I suppose these could be remnants of stronger rock but with the amount of erosion they could be man-made (though this no more than my fancy realistically). Back on the edge of Carness a pillbox or somesuch sits on the cliff. There was a camp here but it is difficult through my binoculars to make out the remains from more recent farm-related large sheds the size of ye olde Nissen huts. I assume that it was from this vicinity that the Carness coo ferry once left, taking Orcadian cattle destined for the Scottish mainland, though there is no SMR for this AFAIK - certainly no NMRS. The same lack goes for other evidentiae. For also from somewhere on Carness have come stone tools, B.1914.633/1-8 & 634, of which two are stone axes (or possibly clubs) and the rest more imprecisely hammerheads/hammerstones/clubs, and 'rude' oblong sandstone ones, AC272-280 {or are these the same items as both sets total nine, J.W.Cursiter having gifted his collection to the Hunterian Museum after the NMS catalogue].

In the bay is a 'salmon farm', and as this road turns there is a yard full of the paraphernalia of the submarine cable on the LH of the road and then a wide track to the top-secret waterworks on the right. Ahead the tarmac road turns to concrete, more WWII evidence I guess. A drystane wall that it dissects has on the left a gap left by, as far as I can make out, an elaborate gate (shown by wall thickening &c). Then comes the metal gate barring the road to vehicles, a chain repelling would be dumpers or the further ingress of car-lovers. Despite an adequacy of dry weather there is still water over the road at one point, where about the road are several stones that may have been something once. The open gate further own shows me there are presently no livestock on the Head of Work itself - the long cairn's stoney litter look so much like sheep at a distance in some lights. Again I walked along by the northern shore where several 'burns' empty to stop the land being even damper. It is likely these date from the Agricultural Improvements epoch or its predecessor. Or perhaps like the Langadae mounds the waters were trailed about the long cairn. Certainly it has been sat in marshland as is now postulated for the Ring of Brodgar after the latest paleaoenvironmental discoveries. Kind souls have laid stones in the water courses broad outfalls to assist in their traverse. But it is still more a matter of hopping stones and wondering how slippy they might prove. Looking towards the beginning of the ridge is a big old dyke from some long-forgotten boundary that on the ridge itself resembles an odd mound, though I should have guessed last time from the line of erect stones there its purpose if it weren't so much higher on the ridge.

The coast rises till it forms a more recognisable cliff just before the Castle {odd that just as this is near Long Cairn there is/was a Castle by the Burgar cairn in Evie]. This is where the cliff is shaped like an ear, with Castle at the west end that I intended to pay more attention to than last time. It is connected to its mainland by a neck a couple of metres or so long and has on its top a ?marker cairn of pebbles the height of an outside waste bin and obviously of recent date, by which I mean 20thC. Though closer two the neck is reasonably wide [several feet !] I don't like the look of the sides and experience has proved it is often much easier to climb up a thing than to come back down, and there is no further on to go. On the east side of the neck there is a structure (HY48331394) of drystone walls comprising of slabs that look to have come from cliffs and shore, rounded rather than angular, and on the structure's south side steps of the same construction showing the way to the beach below (I had mae sure of a really low tide for my visit). Coming down them and looking back up at the Castle revealed not the slightest trace of owt man-made there. I felt that less of the steps showed than before, though they certainly run past the visible bottom of the structure, but they are way up so the memory is faulty here. Did they ever come all the way down, the rest of the way is large shore pebbles and these could have been placed to render the way up more easily defensible ? And the top of the steps is level with the top of the structure, which makes me wonder if the latter wasn't higher once or perhaps it replaces something earlier that was higher. This structure hs two 'sides' formed by geology then a made south side longer than the made east end to form a rectangular appearance. You can't see what supports it beneath, the floor inside is obscured by 'rubbish' and a wooden cartwheel almost as big as the breadth. I wonder if the wheel is intentional, to cover a well perhaps {there was a story that a passage lead from a Clettigeo to Work farm but cannot find the former). On the north edge by the east wall a slab of rock say a foot long sticks out a few inches, but I cannot say whether this is by the hand of man or a single piece of co-opted natural as I don't trust to going inside the structure (on my ownsome leastways) with that untested floor.

Last time I immediately crossed over spongy ground to the cairn (the map gives a false impression of direction to my mind), this time the brilliant weather drew me on. A few metres past the east end of the 'ear' a line of spoil runs back at right angles to the cliff, and behind this the big scraped rectangle that produced said spoil. It doesn't look to relate to anything so that this must represent some relatively recent project that failed to come to fruition [which reminds me that the square cut (?quarry for stone) at the western end of the Newbigging ridge above the present Orquil Farm was filled in last year, the large circular wooden posts above this gone and the whole ridge now ploughed]. Offshore I saw a large flock of eider, ducks and drakes, that seemed afeart o' me.The map shows a 'visible earthwork' on the 1:25,000 slightly north of east of Long Cairn which I shall look for another day. I had the idea that this route would make a good public footpath until the steep-sided chasm of one of the Campi Geos disabused me of this idea, for unlike the Gloup of Deerness it creeps up on you and some bairn in haste could slip in all too easily. The actual tip of the Head of Work is a series of uptilted planes of rock strata with pockets of rainwater, meeting the sea in places. With care you can edge down these for a closer view of the dashing waves. I used these slanty steps to creep closer to a flock of shag standing in wait on the spray splashed rock above the sea's edge.

On the headland's south side the shore becomes accessible again. Also there are large areas of grass, visible from far away, one rather regularly shaped in my binoculars on other walks. Much of this proves as damp as the ground on the north side despite being on slopes here. On the south edge of the ridge I found my geometric patch - though I could not see anything like the whole it continued to give an impression of circularity as I circled it. This struck me as a likely barrow with a slight rise exaggerated by being on the eastern horizon, as if it were on the brow of an ordinary hill. Slightly inside the western perimeter is a single upright stone, the only one apart from those in the long cairn and the larger boundary dyke. Continuing a little further up across the ridge I came to a more obvious barrow. Then a few yards in I finally looked up and saw that this was part of the putative SE horn of Long Cairn (HY41SE 1 at HY48341382). So it could be that these are satellite barrows. Which doesn't rule out the incorporation of one or more within the final long cairn to form horn-like features. Coming at the low end of the cairn the grass now picks out a line along it, whatever that signifies. I wish now I had taken photos of the chambers of the high section of the cairn again as I thought more detail has been exposed in the chamber adjoining the west side of that seen by Davidson & Henshall. On the north side of this higher section I found a short exposed bit near the bottom with a possible void at one end, but I couldn't get low enough to see without a torch.

Now I headed for the slab pile (HY47881382). On the way I stopped off at the unroofed structure (presumably mediaeval) and was happy to find it relatively free of vegetation, allowing me to enter the interior and look at the few features there. Going along the coast there is a real burn before the pile is reached. The large irregular slabs struck me as resembling a slumped Stones of Via. I am certain they haven't come from a feature elsewhere as they are only a few metres away from the low cliff and if it is correct that meterial from the Work Broch (HY41SE 2) was dumped on the shore (at HY47691354, suspiciously close to where the 1882 O.S. has a well) then there would have been no problem doing the same with much less. On a digital photo I noticed that two of the slabs that lay together looked as if they could formerly have formed one side of something (stall? chamber?) ]. The pile is a few metres away from the intact drystane wall that cuts off the Head of Work. I would love to find that broch material even though I haven't found it in my binocular's site from the headland or from by the south end of the Work ayre (this one purely natural, a long thin strip fairly low between the beach and a small lochan behind), because experience teaches some features only reveal themselves when you actually walk over a site. At the wall's base is a very short ladder-like piece of wood that seems to be, or have been, a stile. If so either it has been rather reduced or there is a specific place where it is used to go over the wall, but unfortunately I cannot see over the wall to see where. So I follow the wall up. There are stock in the field by the steading, so I still haven't gone that way. There's another gateway further along where one lovely tall stone has been a gatepost. This way is very damp, I should have crept tight along the edge of the wall like before. The water beside the wall isn't merely standing, the burn/s make it practicall a mere. Eventually I make my way around to the concrete patch used as a storage area and onto the wartime road again.

Coming from the direction of Orkney College as you pass Weyland Farm there is a junction with a dirt farmtrack leading off the road to Work, and this is the route to Head of Holland. The first thing you see after the junction is a reminder that this is the way to THE quarry, large red sandstone boulders roadside left. Coming up to Seatter the visitor paases through the middle of the farm and you can only go on foot - there used to be a sign banning vehicles but I haven't noticed it lately (academic anyway as a gate blocks the way further on. On Seatter Farm a spindle whorl, B.1914.657, was found and, probably of more interest, in the Hunterian there are also scrapers (B.1914.655/1 & 3-12) and an arrowhead (B.1914.655/2) from here. Could they be from a settlement to go with the putative Holland BA barrow cemetery - three earthen mounds (barrow 'C' at HY47731121 dug. Ah, Nigel of the flying hat), a burnt mound and two hollow circular enclosures are all cited under monument record HY41SE 13. Coming through Seatter Farm at the far end of the field on the left there is what appears to be a concrete imitation of a bothy beside the road at HY47081143, looking like a WWII decoy. It doesn't appear on CANMAP but further back HY41SE 167 is the record for square blockset, a possible wartime "Road Block" that used to be at HY46891142 across the gap in a dyke but has since gone. Follow the east edge of this field and the Cleat B.A. cist (HY41SE 15 at HY4698175) was found in the second field up in 1982 - unfortunately despite the recent date the cremated bone finds have gone astray. The 1:25,000 map shows the burnt mound component of HY41SE 13 south of the road and the 1982 souterrain [which I placed way over in a previous blog, mea maxima culpa ! ], HY41SE 24 at HY47721138, was found in the same field but close to the road itself.

Further on there is a long modern single-storey house on the left-hand side of the road, and the chapel ruins lie in the field prior to this. Kirk Do (HY41SE 12 at HY47951171) supposedly shares its St.Duthac dedication with the Pickaquoy kirk (St.Duthus stouk bringing up the matter again of missing sources, as we know that Craven picked up from the surface several pieces of carved freestone including two apparently portions of narrow windows but whence the factoid that it was built of materials from the burnt mound settlement ? I suspect the latter to be deduction rather than observation}. Or, my fancy, could it instead possibly be doo 'dove', referring either to the Virgin Mary or the Holy Ghost. Based on his 1870 visit Dryden describes a paralleogram with internal dimensions of 11.25m E/W by 4.65m N/S, metre thick gable walls and the N & S walls 0.75m (the SAM map shows it as not fully cardinally aligned). You cannot tell the site from the road, only after you have climbed the gate into the field and started down the slope does it become visible on yor right. As you come down on the kirk the south wall is on the left, with Dryden's neat plan showing near this wall's western end a doorway (of which he was only sure of the start at one side) beyond the internal barrier he labels a ridge of rubbish. I am less certain the 'rubbish' is not over an original partition as the northern side has such clear bounds (} whilst the northern side by contrast is rather undefined and is littered with stones.There are three main possible explanations ; that there were two functions of the kirk, that one half remained longer in use (whether as a kirk still or no), or that some yet earlier antiquarian cleared a space and created the 'ridge'. Such a pity Dryden left no notes of the apparent kirkyard. I find to my own satisfaction that the kirkyard is defined by only two long dykes, earth and stone banks close by the north and south ends. Part of the north dyke right of the kirk is formed by large pillow-shaped stones of red sandstone lining the south edge of the bank, impressive even now. I shall mention right now that the largest surviving stones of the North Taing cairn are of this same type. So co-eval with the kirk or earlier ?

On the hillside above the kirk, south of the road, there are many stones of differing sizes scattered on the ground. Next up is Holland Farm. At its eastern end there is what should be a fine large silage pit. Despite the name these nowadays these tend to stand above ground, large rectangular spaces surrounded on three sides by steep banks. This one seems rather overbuilt, too much stone in the left side bank as if it started off part of something else (the Lenahowe cairn in Sandwick had a silage pit carved into it). Could a structure have stood here - I think it possible but I am sure I must be wrong. Where the next short stretch of sandy beach is access is by a long and impressive grassy slipway that starts at the far end. This is used by the pisciculturists. Nearby on the same side is a dense scatter of middling stones that I take to be the denuded remains of a broad boundary dyke, though it's anyone's guess [I suppose my general failure to ask the locals is nearly as bad as the archaeologists tendency to, at best, ignore what they say]. It is from about this point that the farmtrack starts to be damp much of the time. Which is as nothing compared to the usually muddy state of play where it turns to go for the cathedral quarry (I'm sure I don't remember it this bad back when folk used this walk for a Sunday outing. The LH field is ploughed again, and again three sheep have chosen it for their grazing - I don't ever recall seeing the fieldgate shut in recent years. The gate across the track I climb over as per usual, taking the pivot end as farmers advise.

And there it is, the huge bare red sandstone mound quarried for centuries at least. Very imposing and yet making no appearance on PASTMAP let alone CANMAP. Large blocks litter the landscape from the mound over to the west. You can climb right up round to the top of the mound, which forms a fairly level base for a panoramic view if you don't get blown over. By the left-hand of the mound a large incline takes you down to the sea and has likely been a slipway for the material's transport elsewhere. If you are careful you can skirt the mound's northern end and continue to the eastern coastline, always having a care to which way the breeze blows. In the field just beside the mound are several large rocks that must surely have been part of something, these pale stones have obviously not been quarried here, implying effort. Perhaps they are connected with the vanished "unroofed structure" whose blue dot on PASTMAP previously I mistook for the souterrain Seatter way. But they are more of a broch-builder's massive material - has the mound always been bare one wonders. Alas, not only is there a breeze and possibly erosion next the northern end since last time, but also there are a gang of sheep roaming the cliff outwith all field boundaries I would fear to stampede fatally. So west instead. The clifftop here is a mass large red sandstone blocks left over from quarrying. And the neat ordering of a recent stonemason's work, neat pieces for repairs to scheduled monuments as I have not noted a workman gere. Three ravens call from overhead. Alright, I'm on my way again.

Where the cliff turns out is the obscure North Taing Cairn (HY41SE 4 at HY48971233), which in the early 20thC was a circular segment some 25' across the chord and having a semi-circular earth-and-stone wall in excess of four yards thick. So you can see why some have adduced it as an example of the hypothetical semi-broch, such as some have contended the Riggan of Kami in Deerness to be [incidentally this latter site is best approached through the farm rather than from near the Gloup, the farmer being additionally in favour of such we have been told]. However red sandstone isn't yer typical Broch Age material and I could imagine a similar origin to that of the Yinstay cairn near the head of Tankerness. The construction is likely similar to that of the north wall at Kirk Do - there are two of the pillow-shaped red sandstone blocks lying several inches before the exposed section inside the cliffward arc, and there is another red sandstone boulder of similar size roughly where the arc's chord lies or perhaps on a line that may have run through where the first two could have fallen from [or have I made a balls-up and these are part of the slight bank recorded as 10m to the cairn's NW in 1928 ??]. Looking to the RH side of the section there are one or two smaller pieces of red sandstone facing you, one faded and decaying and the other garish bright at the top of the section not so flush, then another piece level with the latter showing in the grass right of the exposure. The height of the cliffs here says they are made of hard rock but the cynic would say that the semi-circular feature is a little too close to the edge not to have lost something to the sea since it was built. Actually the two erect 'pillows' are a foot or so in front of the exposure, which is at one raised end of the arc (there is another such raised bit at the other end where the cliff turns in at the east end).When you walk over the area you get the feeling that there are internal features and that is certainly the impression that the grass gives from uphill, of circles and/or curves in the grass within one another or overlapping. Oh for the days when grass died off in Orcadian winters, I started my archaeological visitations late, just as those times ended. There are lichen-covered stones in the grass of the eastern side, but as they appear to also go down the cliff these may be the natural. I agree that you cannot make out any walling now, let alone one 12'+ in thickness, but grasses obscure all nowadays. I'd take its use as a Great War gun emplacement with a pinch of salt and look for this at a small mound of earth and loose stones found continuing on north around the coastline.

wideford Posted by wideford
8th May 2008ce

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