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JULY 25th 2008

Pish awful weather being predicted for the Open Day at the Ring of Brodgar excavations [and boy did it ever) I went on the Friday before. First I visited the Stones of Stenness, but this early in the morning I looked for the seals over in the Loch of Stenness. And I was not disappointed because there were several there. Not many people see them as you have to peek over the roadside and they can look indistinguishable from the rocks on which they lie - a certain water level is needed to expose the few large single rocks on which they sunbathe (with upturned ends, which is how you first know they aren't rocks). Not close to shore but close enough for them to us ! At the ring I took several wide-angle views from various directions. Then on to the Watch Stone - with the eye of faith you can visualise the putative third circle using surviving arcs of shoreline. If there had been a third circle here where did it fit in the sequence of them. Obviously it was too low in the landscape, the one to disappear as the reedy marsh turned into lochland. Perhaps this was the incentive to build up the land on which the Ness of Brodgar sites are situated ? On the other side is the chambered tomb once thought a broch, though first known as the Kokna-Cumming (which some claim was a burnt mound, having lost its location), gummi = mound as with Cummi Howe. I still say it could have been re-used in the Iron Age, that as we have brochs and such almost totally destroying tombs at the other end of a spectrum could lie tombs that needed little alteration for later purposes.

Passed by the Ness of Brodgar dig as I reckoned it to be too early for new structures or structural detail to have appeared yet [Aug 19th A few days left on the dig, seems rather understaffed Some lovely walls around. They have excavated some of what is said to be the largest completely stone-built Neolithic structure yet found in Britain, a few tombs apart, at some 20 by 80m. This has its far end somewhere under the Lochview cottage - I mentioned the two standing stones there but Nick Card didn't bite, its south end falls short on geophys. You can see one long northern exterior wallface fronting a feature two/three metres wide, a lovely great lump of architecture. They think that they have found the entrance. With this massive construction rearing its head they have turned previous thoughts about the Ness of Brdgar on their head, with this area as the focus and the existing stone circles as coda. I have a feeling that present developments could force a rethink on the great wall as a dividing structure with the circles representing antitheses. Nothing against things yab-yummy but I feel that idea sounded a bit too overtly Claude Levi-Strauss for its own good]. So on to the Ring of Brodgar then down to the coach park, where I failed to spot any rangers. But it was glorious weather, and coming to the official car park Sand Holm and the islets alongside were irresistibly photogenic, sparkling in their clarity and greenness. I took so many pictures of these because I read that in the 19th century they were still together enough for cattle to be put there, though I must confess I now realise I could have got them mixed up with Reed Meadow and/or the Ling Holms further up this side of Harray loch. So back to the circle alone. I hope they removed the portable fencing for the open day as I couldn't see into the bottom of the trenches myself. Fair impressed by the depth of rock that had been exposed, you imagine a smooth surface but it was heavily jagged - every strike of the 'pick' left for posterity. Glad to find the stone the diggers had exposed still visible along with the fairly obvious concrete repair from last century. This last is above the fragmented rock surround that had been compared to a 'pavement' though it seems fairly obvious that this is simply the top of the ring's aforementioned rocky layer. Took a few pics and left for a few more shots of the holms. These islets sit on bases of small stones with the odd possible orthostat around the edges. Going back to the main road it did think of raining a couple of times [unfruited potentiality] and coming to the Stones of Stenness it were right overcast, not good for the visitors there then.

Once past Maesowe I turned onto the Stoneyhill Road. Looking across you can just about tell the low mounds north of Maes Howe in the same field. Decided it had been a long time since I had visited the Viewpoint mound. I am sure there are more tracks here than before. I followed one of these down to the shore of the loch arm on the west side of the promontory the mound sits on, the levels low enough I could follow the shoreline dozens of yards in either direction. Emotionally satisfying but nothing to report. Nothing else has shown up atop the mound, though I still believe it to have been dug and listed as an anonymous Stenness site in early antiquary [possibly even a find or two]. On the promontory's east side.there is a new designated coastal path, which immediately you're over the coast style turning left is a rather bumpy walk unless you walk the actual shoreline (as I eventually discovered). Coming to it three birds flew over and wheeled about. Thought at first these three were rather large raptors. The realised they were three herons, a pair and their wain I guessed. Along the path are collections of stones at various points, not clearance cairns but probably the jumbled remains of older fieldwalls, though one (or two ?) might be other things. A lone fisherman had waded 'behind' the bigger holm here to try his arte. Around the loch there are thin stone lines leaving the shoreline, often diagonally. Surely too many for old field boundaries they make me think of boat docks. The stand out one here is more likely a causeway, being quite broad and of lighter-coloured stones. On my way back I made a closer inspection. The northern edge is a matter of inches above the loch bed but the southern one has a 'ditch' alongside. Makes you think of wave action but has to be the work of man. This causeway comes to an abrupt end without reaching anything as far as I can make out after having walked the length of it. Back on the Stoneyhill Road the field with the 'Vola' mound was empty of livestock, but not only was the vegetation too rich now but I had spent rather a long time about the loch and had a fair distance to my next prime target. Also the Feolquoy mounds were simply swamped by vegetation.and kie held the Staneyhill standing stone field again, darn livestock. At least I'm fairly certain now how to get to the stone, going up the Germiston road the fieldgate by the second mini-bend in the road. Coming up to the Harray road it was good to see the Woodwyn mound untouched in a ploughed field.

Once on the Harray road I went down to the junction with the track to Wasdale and Binscarth. It has just struck me now that the settlement called Refuge might relate to the heathery ridge called Rivage/Rivi(a)ge "along the confines of Harray " that ran to Binscarth - at/near Rivige another Good Man's Stones could be found (this near the NE corner of Harray unfortunately). The SE parish boundary once lay on the Slap of Setter and the 1881 O.S. shows a boundary stone at HY3388115463, on the present 1:25,000 follow the field boundary north-east from Refuge and it lies on the other side of the old road. Coming down to the north end of the loch on the right is a round protrusion into it, an islet on the 1st O.S., was said to have been the site of a graveyard asociated with the main Loch of Wasdale site's kirk. "Countrywoman" (Bessie Skea) reported edgeset stones on the side facing the loch as supporting evidence for it having been at least partially man-made. I thought I recognised these in a few brown slabs along the south side just away from the froth-edged shore, except on viewing the digital images back home the froth is actually bright stones and matters are less certain (which is why you should always take photos, though binoculars seem to show plenty when you are at a place the cameras capture more). My fancy says two islets isn't a coincidence, thinking on the Voy crannogs recently investigated and Swannay loch with Stoney Holm & Park Holm (Muckle Holm is isolated further out in the loch).
Below Wasdale farm I followed the shoreline to the 'causewayed island dun' and was emboldened to board her by seeing how exposed the stepping stones are (a feature shared with Park Holm) - Scalpay>Scapa supposedly alone has ey not meaning island but there were stepping stones in a burn where the sea had been pushed back, in a process started in Viking tims and only finished at the end of the 19th century (at the town end they simply built over the sea, hence current problems] [rant over]. It is strange that Dryden shows a broad neck of land connecting the island but not the stepping stones. However this could well be because of his focus being the kirk - a kind of period tunnel-vision is the bane of archaeologists (or even folk like me ;-). Enough lay above water for the crossing, though I still took care to test as many stones as I could ahead of each step, balancing on the uptilted edge of one along the way. The large stones noted at the front aren't obviously Broch Age, I think better data would be found by a transect of the arcs revealed (by the grass that thrives on them) in the loch either side of the islet. Away from the rectilinear features atop the mound are the walls that have led to its identification as a broch/dun, surviving to a good height on the south side especially. Going around this the impression is of a circular feature with a 'walkway' varying from two to a scant one metre wide at the back of it. The site may have started as a crannog but underfoot I felt large flat stones that would likely be from the Iron Age in my opinion - the majority of islets in the on a base of small rounded rocks and pebbles. At the rear of the islet is what I take to be a chamber in the wall, unfortunately the vegetation obscures all and I can't get far enough back to be sure if it is an 'inny' or 'outy' as regards the general wall line. Having completed my circuit I stepped onto the top. It seems that the ecclesiasticals everted the landward side of the earlier structure to form their kirk/kirkyard. Dryden shows an elongated trapezoid form in his measurements, with the cist marked at rear right. Inside and somewhat to the left of the entrance the low walls of a sub-feature survive. The 'modern' cairn at the highest point is of small mid to dark brown stones that have been brought in from elsewhere. It looks to have been built upon something earlier and from one side an older wall runs down to the back of the circular feature. This seems to run directly to the chamber. If this were the top right corner of the kirk you would wonder if the cist weren't a reliquary holding saint's bones or other relics and whether the chamber might have been re-used for a sanctuary. Alas I did not have Dryden's plan on paper to hazard better where on it I stood.
On dry land following the shoreline again revealed a mating pair of skuas. These were less flighty than the ones on the Head of Work, fewer birds to threaten their nest (I presumed there was a nest anyway), and allowed me within a few metres before taking full flight away. My reason for going here was to find an old track that would take me within striking distance of a more anonymous stone [both stones are on CANMAP], at an acute field corner at HY3405414520 slightly east of Duntroon. But when I climbed up onto the loch banks I espied a clutch of cows by the Binscarth pass whose curiosity could have messed my plans. And so I re-traced my steps and climbed over a fieldgate onto the old road, up here more a farmtrack. Howe Harper still taunts me, I haven't found a way over those forbidding stone field walls and their gorse companions. Having always thought it to be totally fenced in I noticed now for the first time a gate in the field's top left corner right by the mound. There must be a way in by coming over from above Binscarth House [Aug 19th after the Ness of Brodgar whilst returning to the main Kirkwall-Stromness road I saw 'thing's' at the Odin shore I had to photograph, thin grassy lines and arcs. Mebbe a boat noust ? On the south side of the road there are a couple of places with slab fences. These date back to the Agricultral Improvements of the 1870s and consist of thin slabs in a continuous length. However the second set I saw, not by a house but a couple of feet up on the bank beside the road, rouse my suspicions as the first few metres the slabs are thicker and more regular as if taken from an older structure (one also has a semi-circular bite out on it that could be deliberate). Certainly there are plenty of mounds either side of the road amongst all the moraines and defunct burns, including the tumuli none too far away this side of Heddle hill. At the Binscarth junction it should be noted that when you reach the farm there is now a notice banning vehicles from using the farmroad to here or Binscarth house. At the top the road turns left along the hill, to where the plantation track starts, then left again uphill. Here what looks like a narrow opening in front of you this time of year is the other end of the Wasdale track. As the road makes the final turn for my old stomping ground there is a neat farm track veering off to climb above the house, so I went over the gate. First chance I got I crossed up into the gorse and tried various narrow paths. All of which came to dead ends in the bushes whatever they might have been once. Then on the left side of the track I came to fairly modern ruins in a space like a quarry, with that natural stone cliff at the back. With their highly slanted roofs they could have been dwellings, but the vision that came into my mind was of old glasshouses in a man-made windbreak. Where the gorse cleared a derelict cottage sat on the hillside and I could finally traipse up and mosie over to the cairn. The hillside is fairly cut about in places. First thing found was a large low mound with several large flat stones lying down in it. Then there's a place with a big chunk out several metres high like someone's used an icecream scoop. At the top edge sits a smaller mound than the first. Near the top of the cut, and about level with the mound's base, flattish rocks protrude. Scooting across I see that this is a natural stratum, roughly a metre high and densely packed - perhaps this was quarried in the long ago. But I would love to identify it with the almost destroyed mound, HY31SW 16 at HY34721429, where the placing of an incinerator in 1900~1905 revealed a 3' by 2' cist with burnt bones. But my other mound wouldn't fit the NMRS then, as its other mound is the other way round at HY34661432. The NMRS has the first as eleven metres across 0.8m high, with a seven by five metre flat top and merging at south with the hillside, and the second smaller at eight by 0.6m and a flat top only 0.4m across. Anyways, on to my other target. The gate was open wide and Howe Harper sits hard up in the near corner. Immediately there's a rather obvious wide ditch about it. Though this fades out on the downhill side this accords with simple erosion more than a platform on which the mound sits. Looks like Cuween or Wideford Hill, but more like the latter precisely in the manner of its fitting into the hillside (palpable as you come down onto it) and the semi-marshy situation (if that is original, rather than like the manipulated streams girdling the cremation mounds of Langa Dee). On the near side of the mound is an exposed section showing earth with a few small stones, and on the opposite side another exposure with no stones at all but in one place some dark dusty-looking material. I don't remember anything on the (excavated) top attracting my attention and was wary of walking over those exposed bits (Ii this were a chambered tomb one could expect a settlement nearby. In the valley below is a fair-sized circular cropmark in a grassy patch, normally a pond). From the north end of the field the ditch is wide compared to the diameter of the mound, the word that came to mind [rightly or wrongly] was berm. Spotted a stone style in the bottom left corner of the field and headed over. A very novel variation on a style, the stones not only very much bigger than any I've seen before but circles to boot, brought to mind a spiral staircase. So over into the next field. Which is a heck of a bumpy surface, lots of little bumps like a grassed over pond bottom of fractured rocks. I make for an 'Orkney gate', crawling under to save time, then went to a fieldgate overlooking the loch. This time the kie are standing around the spot. The 'causeway' is fully aired, but the herd is on to me so I content myself with distant zooms whiilst one cow gets a mite too friendly through the bars].

Time for a walk through the plantation of Binscarth, the cool shady wood for once dry underfoot. A good place for the gardens archaeologist, including plenty of paving and stone-lined paths going every which way. A wide stream runs through it in wild meanders. One stretch has a bank faced with a fine stone wall, reminding me of Yairsay. Perhaps there was a millpond and/or milldam. This I would have thought therefore to pre-date the plantation as it is. You can only go so farm before needing to go up onto the plantation track. Where this crosses the stream there is a thick drystone wall on the southern side. This has a purposeful square gap in it where large slabs have a slight gap letting you see the stream below. And there is easily enough room to crawl along on hands and knees for a clearer view, but I didn't fancy the drop and had to content myself with views from the one side. In front of the slabs are several more stones, perhaps on edge. So perhaps two periods are represented. Not that that explains why the passage is there (sluice ??). Halfway through heading up the public path to the main road I turned down and headed for the old mill next a corner of the field at Millquoy. Here is the inland end of the Ouse, an Oyce or tidal inlet where The Hillock broch holds tight against the southern shore of the entrance. Took photos of an unfazed goose, not sure whether it was an unusual breed or an isolated wild bird. Up the road into Finstown and on to the bus stop at the far end. Arrived half-past three and the timetable listed a bus leaving Stromness five minutes later, so sat down. Then after a little rest had another look and the bus only went schooldays and therefore had to continue on my way. Shorlly after leaving Finstown what should come my way but that darn bus. So much for school holidays. Grrr ! Good view of a sunlit Damsay some consolation, with its enigmatic two-storey ruin. The fact that nuns lived at what is called a monastery would speak to an early mediaeval foundation or slightly later. And how do you excavate a broch and believe it a castle ! After a while heard another bus, scrambled for the purse in my rucksack only for this bus to hurtle past anyway. Later I saw a bus in plenty of time but having past Quanterness simply couldn't be bothered. Did my shop and got home half-six. A record nine-and-a-half hours out. Fool to myself, eh

JULY 29th 2008

After success at Wasdale thought I'd try the Loch of Tankerness again for Raymond Lamb's double BA house/settlement. The stone in the field by Grieves Cottage is now down. Would have liked to know if anything was thereby revealed but new fences were then being set up in the field. Between the loch banks and the loch itself is a very wide flat margin, and though the water level appears to be now lower this margin has dried out considerably. A not quite row of rectangular features has come to light (or at least become more obvious through 'drainage'), long ends facing the loch. Coming south from the gothic boathouse the first one [A] is totally dried out and would seem natural with low opposing linear rocky outcrops/walls forming the long ends with big brown slabs covering three sides and a short line of erect stones coming from landward to the northern end of the long east side. There are two stones that look to form a smal circular arc. The next depression [B] is like a cross betwen semi-circle and rectangle, it is filled with grass and there are only a few of the large brown slabs. The third feature [C] is still a pool, has well-formed sides of that low rocky outcrop (the north side is definitely untouched natural with very long rocks as has the lochward side), no large brown slabs. Its south and east sides are fairly unformed. What is most fascinating, however, is the way that the pool is sub-divided narrow-ways by angled 'causeways' of mostly small stones. Not all of these visibly go all the way between the long sides. They remind me of the stone rows I had seen around the Harray loch. Why not perpendicular ? My thought was fish traps [?fishponds], though I had no idea why this was sectioned up. The next dried-out pond [D] is distinctly L-shaped and regular. The last feature [E] also still holds water and almost has a complete division. With these last two you can look across at the burnt mound and [groan] ponder connections. At the Waterhall end is a drained arm of the loch, the bottom revealed by nature or artifice, I know not which. So after the Blessed Raymond's drought did the loch levels never recover in the time since or could his features now be permanently exposed but unseen ?

JULY31st 2008

With low water levels in mind I decided to follow the eastern shore of the Loch of Kirbister in Orphir to investigate the Holm of Groundwater from the nearer side, albeit at a distance still. On this islet in 1879 Petrie found a circular structure with entrance, the whole coming almost up to the edge. Tradition says a robber dwelt there, which could be a reference to an independent chief like the king of Voystown, else we'd likely have a name (whether authentic or no'). A track runs from beside the old youth hostel to the pier below Harabreck. From here footpaths continue for a while. Mostly I followed the shoreline, partly because hereabouts the livestock are in places outfield on the steep banks of the loch. The 'Orkney gates' along the way are ferocious - you have to have a girt strong hand to go through them. The holm does look to be on a little less natural base than the much smaller Holm of Westquoy opposite, though both are reported to have big loose stones upon them. Coming up level with the Holm of Groundwater I could see erect brown stones along its shoreline at the far side (there is a possible gravestone on this west end). These are easiest observed as you pass being level with the north side. I had a close look again at the waters between it and me and still no likely means of ingress from the shore, though there is apparently a causeway of disputed origin and when the right conditions were right lads would obtain bird eggs on both islets by means of stepping stones. The top of the holm is still hidden by deep bush. The O.S. description would seem to mean that the Holm of Groundwater has had 'modern' adaptions as with the Loch of Wasdale site, but here again we shall invoke the archaeologists tunnel-vision for features deemed outwith their period. For what it's worth the surveyors found on the southern 'half' an 8.5 by 6.5m turf-covered structure of sub-rectangular blocks, oval in plan, rising to 1.7m above the then water level and having signs of an associated enclosure.

Hard though I tried to follow the shoreline there came a point where a vertical bank smack against the water stumped me. The anonymous houses above the Groundwater legend are Nether Groundwater. The tumulus (centre partly dug) shown NW of this on the brow of the hill is NMRS record HY30NE 2, a two foot high turf-covered mound some 22' across with its composition of earth and small stones exposed on the side and around its margin. In the field east of Nether Groundwater were the remains of an early structure that gave it the name of Kirkshed. Somewhere about here must have been the dyke's kirkgate that marked the start of an old road going all the way to Walliwall above Kirkwall [I assumed it skirted above the waterfalls but the second portion starting at a "Ginnerygate", "ginna* = geo, makes this less certain].
To the east the tumuli shown about quarter of a mile above Appiehouse, formerly Upper Groundwater, belong to HY30NE 5. There are, or rather were, six of these grass-covered mounds, all under a metre and in sizes from 6-10.7m across. Two have depressions in their centres and one is a mere 'foundation' remnant. South-east of the group SE of this group was a probably artificial mound some 45' across and five high - as its north side had been dug away and the rest heavily infested by rabbits it comes as no surprise they can no longer find it.
Roughly half a mile NE of the Upper Groundwater farm buildings, on uncultivated ground on fthe brow of the hill ["false crest" makes it sound like a platform, call them brows please archaeologists], four cists were found. The excavator thought that they belonged to a BA cemetery (like a lesser Knowes of Trotty going by the present record), though there was no consistent orientation and the mix was burnt and unburnt burials. The first, in 1928, appeared half-full of earth and bone fragments. Owing to stormy weather they only made a light examination of the contents. Three more were found the following year close by. One was partly filled with earth and ashes, over a floor slab that left gaps, though with no real bone apart from a shrew skull. The next, also partly filled with earth and ashes, was distinguished by containing many incinerated human bone fragments of small size as well as cramp. The last, larger than the others (at 30 by 17 by 15") and much deeper down (below two foot of clay and 9-10" of peat), contained a crouched inhumation. None of the cists produced artefacts. NMRS record HY30NE 14 mentions three amorphous grass-covered earth & small stone mounds (the largest about 11m across) near several depressions in light green disturbed ground. The short cists site (the three being five yards from one another) as only a slight elevation must be represented by these depressions. And all the sites this side of the loch, including the holm, are scheduled ancient monuments.

wideford Posted by wideford
25th August 2008ce

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