|Going up the Stoneyhill Road gives a very different look to Maes Howe giving a prominence to the ditch and bank significantly lacking in the guided approach most are reduced to, the horizontal axis re-asserting itself. The soft deep curves surround the pregant mound like the edges of a giant belly-button. Of course whatever place you shoot from nothing brings back the lost majesty, her bathos gone the view you bathe in is a palimpsest by way of the moderns. In the field you would find it hard to disentangle the other recorded sites in all those slight rises and curves. Which is only rite for those pale shadowy acolytes. Apart from the [virtually certain] absence of stone circles the archaeology along this road isn't really too different from that of the isthmus. Keeping to my line again I did not visit the Viewpoint mound, my candidate for the Knowe of Bulic seeing as how no-one else cares. No, my eyes were meant for the uphill side. What a very strange appearance to the land between the road and the Vola mound, a long-dead burn winds between mounds girt with stone piles seemingly assembled from several places and times. Such disparate sizes, form and materials it is difficult to make anything of them but...
The broad ?spruced-up path that takes you past the Vola mound appears to have a new sign [To Stenness and Harray] , a lesser thing you could easily miss. The site is in the second field along the path. Scarce did I believe my eyes when I saw that the fence about this field only had a few wires to it, at first thinking this an optical illusion. But, no, the boundary is only to those who stay upright, barely a scramble necessary for the able-bodied. A quick kneel and a slight roll over and I was in. The ground was virtually dry, and definitely so for practical purposes. Closer to that two-tiered construction is even more obvious, resembling an upturned jelly mould. Compared to Howe Harper the putative platform forms a significant proportion of the height, though this may be because that is on a hillside whereas this is on the level. Dry as it was when I went you still feel that originally it was surrounded by water - except that where the path starts in front of the house you are higher yet so maybe not [this is perhaps the ridge mentioned in the NMRS if you can think of a reason for ignoring the bumps closer to the barrow yet]. The mound proper has a shallow ditch outside and then a low bank. However this could be non-original as the former's width appears less than the given 13-21' as far as I saw. The schedule describes a disc or saucer barrow with a NS/EW oval platform 30x26m enclosed by a low bank [ditch not mentioned] in an area 40mD, whereas the O.S. makes the mound atop the platform a probable bell barrow (some 17.4m across). There you have it, the ditch dimensions must include the bank ! Exposed material is much the same as Howe Harper with a smattering of small stones and pebbles in an earth matrix. Over the other side of the barrow (but perhaps still part of this) I could see some more middling stones peeking out once I 'had my eye in' from a slight rise, either flat to the surface or projecting a little. Also one split orthostat. Not sure if the cleavage happened naturally post-placement or if someone had clattered it, though as the tops were straight despite the slightly differing heights I'd say it has never been taller. The early report mentions a standing stone found excavating the top, so perhaps the reference to digging the top refers to the bank not the actual mound ?? Except the orthostat isn't 5" thick and the rock certainly isn't disintegrating. Should have measured it anyway ;-) Some of the stones present the appearance of being in a short stretch of very low linear bank terminated by one end of this. An earlier parish boundary mayhap.
From here on the hill is 'over-supplied' with boundary markers on the 1:10,000 map and you see the erect stones what feels like every few yards. Some are in the modern way of having another stone diagonally on to them, in imitation of concrete fenceposts - or did these come first. Some of the drystone walling stretches you pass as you go up incorporate comparatively massive blocks in their construction, the likes of 1x0.5x0.5m and more than one in each. Where the road turns uphill at Hybreck there is a level area of the grounds, except for a shallow broad trough-like depression at the back of which stands a curious structure. This consists of two wide wings of drystone wall with a doorway-shaped central piece goiing heigher to contain a wooden frame. This frame's upper end just tops the stone, and projecting above this again a central 'paddle' extends down the whole height with the broader tip at the bottom. At the paddle's top there is a wooden block below which a length of straight metal ratchet runs down a little ways. I have always thought of this as a well. But even on the earliest O.S. the only well is at the north end of Hybreck itself. So presumably this is a sluice for some unknown purpose. Slightly behind and to the left is a line of stones in an intermittent single course, not a drystane wall but the remains of some boundary or walling - for a while I took it to be for a 'Well Park' like that belonging to Hillhead of Scapa. In front of this are two stones of similar nature close by one another, one of symmetrical shape with a face angled towards me and one of less regular shape (seemingly broken up) apparently at right angles to it. But the camera image shows the first as apparently two halves barely seperated by grass. Most curious. And the line does continue, albeit stoneless, to at least where you look across to the structure.This time I noticed at right-angles to the road what looked like a ghost of a wall, a low height of grass behind like a ha-ha for rabbits. On my return visit the time of day wasn't conducive to capturing it unfortunately.
On to the junction of the Stoneyhill and Grimeston roads. Went along the ridge on the left over the Feolquoy mounds to that collection of giant rocks on top of the next field. Still my opinion won't settle between natural and man-made, some monstrous rock outcrop or some extremely disordered remains. If the latter, what is its relation to the Staney Hill long cairn - an outlier, a stranded continuance or a fellow monument ? Then what ? At least the Stones of Via look vaguely dolmen-like and you can just about imagine that there was a form once, probably fallen rather than dis-mantled, whereas the central portion here if the result of artifice has ended up a dense mass. The fellow researching 'Henge' was scathing about the Staney Hill cairn, whose exposed parts are are at least plain to distinguish (and is much bolder in its excavated elements compared to that on the Head of Work, though that is of course a work of two periods minimum [is Vola similar in this respect, circular monument imposed on an earlier long one ??] ). I suppose if you expect a Cuween or Wideford this is 'true'. And, whilst in rant mode, why is it on megalithic websites the tag destroyed attaches to a broch you can walk in and not see out or over (some were only ever a storey high) but seldom to a tomb reduced to a couple of blocks or a circle become one stone ? Pretty, pretty, pretty. Sigh.
Going back toward the road I followed the track (? the peat road) going down through the first mound further downslope to where it cuts over a metre into the ground as if through a flattened mound. It resembles a cross between a denuded stone-lined avenue and a gap made into a scant rocky outcrop. Apart from the near-parallel sides it brings to mind the piece leading up to the Staney Hill cairn, except the stones on that 'burn's banks are mostly larger and the way far broader.
Passing on to the Grimeston road I went along until I came to a fieldgate on the left by which I entered the place where the standing stone is, striking a diagonal by a small dry burn (these being all over and about Staney Hill I imagine one can rule out glacial deposition for the big rocks ?). From the Staney Hill road you can see the stone behind a ledge like a very low cliff, and then coming this way it reveals itself to be standing above one end of a long wiggly quarry. For those looking to find surviving Celtic place-names in Orkney I've always wondered if any of the thousands of quarries marked here might really be corries. Not that this is the case at this spot as locals have knowledge of stone still being quarried hereabouts in recent times. It was a bit difficult imaging the stones downhill side as the cliff is subject to cleavage, but as long as you're careful you should manage. Leaving the standing stone behind I continued my diagonal (only pausing to see that the Staney Hill cairn is visible from there) until I reached the fence above Stoneyhill Road. I was delighted to find a spot where I could get past the barb wire as I'd never managed this from the road - guess it's easier to maintain confidence in balancing going down. So up to the Harray road and down to the old Wasdale track.
The Slap of Setter marked the boundary between Harray and Firth. I surprised myself by finding the Firth-Stenness-Harray boundary stone Countrywoman mentions [though she refers to it as by the road bend]. It leapt out at me by the roadside at my right, other side of the ditch at HY34011536. How had I missed it before - Goddess bless its pointy head - a regular triangle (with hole above fence height) heading it. A tall cuboid 'shaved' to a point and sitting in a much eroded socket formed of slabs. There's white lichen down one side and by the socket two erect slabs and a cube which all have this on them two. Can't see the yellow blurring the placenames she mentions, so not 100% certain, but it just has to be (the 1:25,000 maps only the other boundary stone at HY33881546 i.e. RH of road earlier on). Not apparently a mediaeval 'markstone and two keepers' or Hawell but I have never seen its like either.
This end of the loch where there is a hut is where Countrywoman's sources places the graveyard belonging to the islet kirk, though it could be that the association is actually from pre-Viking times and/or a different nature. I think that I erred in believing that her reference to wading to this meant it had been an islet at that time (as shown on the first O.S. maps HY34211517). What you see is a very rounded protuberance from the lochside which appears to have the remains of stone edging, this most readily seen about the southern side. My plan to shoot slides and video on the acknowledged monument at the other end of the loch ended up being foiled by high water levels, couldn't even see the arcs outside of the islet and the tippy tops of the stone causeway were just a few points. Of course if Dryden's extremely broad causeway was truth then the stony way is more likely to be of 'recent' vintage like that going to the Holm of Grimbister at very low water levels. Contented myself with a walkabout along the shore, panning and zooming Not that I ever got to see it there is yet another parish boundary stone HY34061452 near the loch's SW end. I would love to see this western side of the islet as it is at the back of the mound where the most likely broch material can still be found.
Back up on the track to Binscarth I briefly thought of paying Howe Harper a second visit. From this direction there's an 'Orkney gate' into the field next door, then you follow the roadside wall and coming to the fieldwall going uphill climb the stone style built into it. The cairn has its own enclosure but this is in a field and there were sheep all over so I gave it a miss. Coming up to the woods, actually a plantation in origin, I looked across to where the farmroad meets the Kirkwall-Stromness Road and was rewarded with a brilliant shot of a site I've had suspicions about since I resided nearby on first coming to Orkney. In the field corner by the east side of the Binscarth farm junction there's a very obvious mound above the burn at HY346139. I'd say its size is of the order of Howe Harper, and what with that and the Binscarth and Snaba Hill cairns this side of the road and those across on the Hill of Heddle there must be a very good reason why, as far as I know, no-one has ever so much as looked at it - not even to say that it is purely natural like with similar features that do have NMRS records.
There are two ways through the woods, a track straight through and a set of paths between this and the stream, the former sometimes damp after rain and the latter for some time after. Both are cool and shady - the only native woodland in Orkney is a place on Hoy, so the sylvan-inclined have to make the best of places such as this. The paths are the product of earlier garden design, as evidenced by wall fragments and incorporated stonework. There's a nice bit of water furniture where the wood ends, long stone slabs bridging the burn [there was a Lang Stane across the Burn of Pabdale in Kirkwall. It stood on pillars] with drystane walls on top , like a cross between bridge and culvert. A very nice spot. From the wood's end a diagonal track takes you by a small disused quarry to the footpath gate at the far corner uphill and Finstown. There must have been a something before Finstown centred about Thickbigging at the north end where there were the remains of the Black Chapel [similarly Dounby began not at Dounby Farm as you might think but at Downby where the Murray Arms sits now, not far off the Well and Stone o' Whilcoe (Mansie's Stone) ] though this has no NMRS unless it lies under the old parish church in the graveyard.
Time to tackle new questions and stuff I should have done last time. So took the bus to the Harray junction [of the main road] so that I could tackle Stoneyhill from the other direction. After a little wiggle the Harray road goes N/S until it reaches the Wasdale junction. Coming up this stretch you find yourself looking directly at an isolated hillock (being unremarked it is presumably natural, though a slight dip across the top could represent excavation its rather on the large side) two fields behind Rosebank. I would be inclined to put this down to its providinfg a suitable viewpoint to aim for, except that the farmroad from the junction to the Loch of Wasdale points directly to the Snaba Hill Cairn HY35221470 [and The Hillock broch HY36111415 by the ouse over the hill]. Not sure whether you could actually see this. And it is almost definitely pure coincidence that a line drawn from the parish boundary stone near the loch's SW end taken through the 'Rosebank hillock' continues to a tumulus, the King's Moss barrow HY33031821, by the Lyde road [and stone>S.H.Cairn>Benziaroth burnt mound HY37681488 beyond the hill, oh isn't this fun]. It being not my intention to visit Wasdale this day naturally Howe Harper over by had no pesky varmints about it !
Had a look across to the Woodwyn mound. Didn't feel a need to video it - anyway this stood thoroughly carpeted by green grass [just a thought, if Slap of Setter + Slap of Harray then between this and Appiehouse "on the track of the old road leading to Kirkwall" stood Fairyhowe, traditionally a cairn built of stones by those in St.Magnus body's travels]. Went to my first target, the Appiehouse standing stone. I remembered seeing a possible second stone but the man bullied me off before my investigations - like present dimensions of s.s. - could be completed. Slowly walking the road from the Dounby end established that what I had seen is actually the breezeblock end of a Nissen hut style barn. Ah, well, strike one.Then I made my usual mistake and went down the top end of the Grimeston road instead of past the Appiehouse mound to the Stoneyhill Road's upper end. At the highest point on the right I spotted a very small mound with a sharp peak [or a big clump of grass ;-) ], and thought surely the ancients had placed this for the grandstand vistas. Unprompted two days later Dave Lynn, a professional archaeologist friend, minded me on it and said its apparent insignificance belied its probable early importance. But to him rather than a viewpoint looking down on its surroundings, a traditional opinion of such sites, the mound would have provided a monument for people to look up at. Soon I spotted the Staney Hill s.s. and realised my error as to the road I travelled. Dave finally (too late for now) identified Henge for me. Where the 1:25,000 O.S. has the legend Staney Hill is a cottage and the field there is it. He describes the site as a well-defined circular ditch at the time filled with rainwater, but thinks that the possible entrance has all the signs of being from one of the tracks existing before the road and shown on the ealiest O.S. Looking on old-maps shows these tracks as away from habitation, however, and so subject to errors [a mound (elsewhere) at the end of a track at right-angles to a farmtrack when its NGR is entered puts it in the opposite direction by several hundred yards].
Reaching the Stoneyhill road at last I struck across for the Feolquoy mounds to photograph and video that downhill cut. Only when I got back did I find out that it isn't one at all especially not smallest of the three, its north side is cut through by a peat road, where a local reported that an urn with ashes (not surviving). Strike two. Where the Stoneyhill Road turns I mean one day to go the other way and look along near the coast there, maybe look for signs of the Biggings souterrain (HY31NW 28 a slight swelling at HY30721546) and further brochs and stuff. South of Langamow where narrow field strips are there is a tiny pimple on the coastline. This is a chapel site and possible broch, Kirk of Cleaton HY31NW 15 at HY30191565, but Dave told me that after spending a while there he's sure of its broch-ness. Not enough time, ever. Looking from the road the long hillock before you reach the remains of St.Mary's Kirk has an upper outline of three slight humps, and the piece with the likely broch stones is the lowest one, on the right as you view across the loch. Don't see why this couldn't be the broch if Wasdale has roundhouse-turned-kirk and graveyard at opposite ends of a lochan (both circular). Wondered if I could walk the coast from the kirk to the viewpoint land. If you choose the wrong way off the road you'll never get ther for marshy bits. By a house on the road's lochward side an open gate let me into a field of pasture and I struck a diagonal for the site. Only to find I had it wrong again - the easy way I found once (after returning from the site of course !) will be south of the burn. I have been this way before but after gingerly treading amongst reedy stuff realised I not only wasted time but tempted accidents if I crossed the dodgy fences and wall this time. The map shows a well somewhere about here but this is as like to be a wellspring as not. Enjoying the fine weather all the same. Retraced my steps and headed for the Vola site. Some of the fields were mottled almost completely white, chock-a-block with pink-tipped daisies like a Pointillist blizzard. And, oh, joyeous day that granted me not one but two views of a low wheeling female hen harrier, a symphony in light and pale gray. Shame I had to find out that Vola is not the new 'henge', lucky Maia granted me nature's compensations. So, Vola. The few cattle now in the far corner thankfully stayed put. At last having bought a compass I could now take a reading on that orthostat, producing a NW/SE alignment. I had hoped that it had been the top of the bank, rather than the top of the mound itself, which produced the standing stone recorded. The measurements now taken give the orthostat 50x25x12 cm, and the stone was 5" thick. Unfortunately the s.s is said to have been on the same N/S alignment as the mound. Looking at the exposed area atop the mound there does appear to be a definite back to it, a short straight piece a few inches high that can readily be taken for the spot occupied by said stone. Looking north the regular green mound (HY31731407) in the field next door - which I must admit I hadn't really noticed until I looked at my photos - is on record as the Fairy Knowe where a local said graves had been found, even though the report says this "much-ploughed" mound has little to differentiate is from the other natural monts. It is remarkable how much one can miss on a single visit to a site. Slowly walking around videoing I noticed that there are what appear to be several shallow oval pits along the east side of the platform, and it strikes me that this might then be a better candidate for the Fairy Knowe.
As it stands now Vola is lower than the natural surrounding lumps and bumps. On one of these to the east there is a dump of two lots of big irregular slaps, four lined up flat and then a gap and a pile. Decided I might as well investigate the all the rest that 'line' the wandering dead burn (only a little bit damp if you're careful). Most of them are on the south side. Dozens all shapes and sizes. Glimpse a long wall line running across the level bit. Slightly disappointed to find it to be a ?wartime foundation with a round channel running down near the north end. Don't see the rest of it - must be buried. Climbing on I see another such foundation behind, only with the wall (and some floor) along the burn side showing well too. A very odd site. Over and against and up the steeper bit there are some breeze blocks I feel came from the two structures, though lots of stones and slabs make up most of the mix. And amongst them hard by the presumed buried walls one or two small orthostats that seem damnably in situ. Plain weird. Several short jumps get me across to the 'mound' on the north side of the burn. There aren't that many slabs on this, but virtually all fill a shallow rectangular depression up its side near the top. Tightly packed as well. Probably not a dump either, for on the depression's topside, forming the back, there are stones actually within the 'mound' itself. Very good.
Didn't even try for Harray Viewpoint (regarding the mound,when I was mentioning the Biggings/St.Mary's site to Dave he contended that the former was a strong contender for a broch because of the narrow neck 'cutting' it off. Either that or something very special, which would be my preference from what I first saw atop the mound. On second thoughts I suppose it is no less likely a broch candidate than Howie o' Backland in Deerness) and anyway had bargained that if I didn't reach the broch I would take the parish footpath to the end. So back by the Vola site again. The track is reasonably broad. Unfortunately it is built along the line of an old fieldwall and so isn't particularly level. At the next field the track has its own metal gate. It comes out near Moa, the farmroad coming athwart you. Its more a farmtrack if you go left. That way continues after Quoyer and then I think comes to a stop. Consideration of bus timetables decided me on right, back onto the Stoneyhill Road. After reaching Maes Howe I headed off to Finstown, almost making it to the Harray junction once more before I caught the bus.
Posted by wideford
11th May 2009ce
wideford's TMA Blog
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