|Once on board the bus there were warning speckles on the windscreen, and then as it came to the foot of the Old Finstown Road the rains came. Going up out of Finstown I was glad I had not chosen the lighter jacket as otherwise I'd have been soaked to the skin (made up for it later as it turned into a greenhouse and steamed me). Even got inside the binoculars, which takes days to dry out. After the houses there is a field on the right with a pile of assorted stones - always wondered if this might be a site dug about the same time as the Cuween Hill tomb, but the distance is only given in reference to a grain store I cannot place. Managed only one shot from the road of the quarry (on Pastmap running from HY36351271-36341276) on the hilltop. Went past the beginning of the track up Cuween Hill to look into the burn that rubs under the bridge. This on the offchance of another sighting of a mystery creature, about a foot long and looking like an eel with external gills. No sign, so slogging uphill in the teeming rain next. The two pillar cairns that greet you up the top aren't like the 'follies', being cuboid and very shoddily built of loosely stacked stone, like extra-tall gateposts. Looking around this quarry there are also 'follies' (only the tallest of which appears on NMRS, Buckle's Tower), though I prefer to think of them as conical cairns (albeit with flat tops) as they are not the product of barren time or lifeless money. As usual they occupy the high parts of the quarry. Being damp and already having photos of this quarry I left it behind, so do not know what constructions may or may not be evidenced within. From the northern end a slight track goes to an old farm track beside the motorscrambling piece - there is another heading westwards, but this only disappears towards Orphir. The broad track takes you to the Heddle road, with Heddle Cottage down a track from the S side. On the W side there's a disused quarry. It only has one 'folly', above the north-western corner, but on the photo I took I noticed that it still has the flags that stuck a little out to form steps during the construction. Looking back at Heddle Cottage there is a conical mound (HY35831257) only a matter of metres from the surrounding walls that is my candidate for RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY31SE 14, described by RCAMS as a much disturbed pile of mostly stones in a rough heap - though what I saw is greened over at top of the southern side (where there is is another building) a large patch of gorse that gives a strong impression of an excavation scar. Down in the valley is HY31SE 63, once an unroofed structure with three enclosures but on the 1972 map a roofed building only. I have seen the building before and it is very late 19th or?early 20th century and now itself roofless. Despite being unmapped the enclosures are still evident due to being mostly still pasture. On my photo I see a slightly mounded enclosure to its northern side, seperated from it by heather, with further patches of heather seperating the ?house site from a ?smaller enclosure on the southern side and that from a third larger. Nice to have identified these after having observed them on previous walks between Firth and Orphir. Through binoculars the green on which the building sits appears to be a settlement platform as it comes straight out from the hillside and has a curved western side. Which reminds me of the features around the Cuween hillside, though they resemble more cultivation terraces in size.
On the Heddle road I started uphill. A man in a car stopped to ask where I was going. Told him Buckle's Tower but it took a while before he realised I meant "that pile of old stones" - to most Orcadians land is history, moderns think property instead. He suggested my best bet lay the other side of Heddle Quarry but I persisted my way once he'd gone. Couldn't get by via the open field so had to continue around to a gate by a palinged building that is set back into the slope where ther were once a pair of teeny quarries. My way ran through a line of quarries on the SW side of Heddle Hill - a pair shown as unequal lines above Upper Springrose (HY35341287-35471282) and a third nearer to Ouraquoy as a kidney shape (HY35051305), though all of roughly equal size in 1882 when Ouraquoy was Oweraquoy still. Overall thes pair are rather amorphous (didn't much notice the pair as seperate entities myself), basically small ravines cut into the hillside with a humpy-bumpy floor and the downhill pieces not much different. As I came to the inner end of the first I saw a length of drystane wall against the top, half-a-dozen courses or so. Which I thought nothing of until I climbed up and found a square structure of drystane walling sunk into the earth. Admittedly only two sides are completely exposed, roughly a dozen courses high. The piece where a track came up into the two quarries also shows remains of a drystane wall at the top, not so well preserved. Using the photos as an aide-memoire the second quarry itself is more clear-cut as the eastern end is a sudden drop and you would have to come in by the western end, which is now blocked by a drystone wall of relatively recent construction (having a top course of vertical stones). At another end a short drystane wall arc backs against the earth between two natural rocky streches, over twenty courses high but tapering noticeably to the bottom. I believe I have seen them in other places in Orkney where burns issue underneath but don't think that the case here. Close by the largest drystane
wall is set over two-dozen courses high into the front of a ?mound. I wonder if it has been part of a structure as two vertical lines in plain sight look like the result of blocking in and there are a few courses of smaller stones on a level with the top further back that could be either a side or another wall (with the ?mound's top a bit above that).
Now the pitfalls became less obvious as I entered an undulating realm of rough heather and rabbit holes and sodden moss. The first two quarries almost felt linear and seem to have come from a time before quarries ever had 'follies'. Similarly lacking is the third. It definitely presents as a mound with a gleaming top from collapse with a smaller lower grassy mound a few metres uphill and by that a few almost buried orthostats. But these stones are more exposed than any of those lying about the quarry pair and look lighter and in the photo might include wall remains of a structure or structures. Make that nearly a dozen courses standing at the top of the western end. And up on the mound there are the remains of another wall of similar height cutting across to the top of the quarry's eastern end where the walling survives best. Bestest is down inside. Here are three contiguous stretches of walling that arouse the brochaholic in me, two complete and semi-circular and the third surviving less well but probably similarly shaped. Above them only collapsed stones and turf. Rather small but ?roundhouse tradition or Pictish figure-of-eight. And it this didn't have the label quarry you might think two cultures seperated by time. Wouldn't surprise me as what are now seen as quarries
can be places where prehistory has been quarried initially and then they just continued digging. At the far end is another straight section of drystane ?blocking wall set against the back. On the mound above there is perhaps the corner of another structure, though it could equally be one wall set against another as that against the mound (perhaps itself a corner) is about twice the height of the other and the stones seem thicker.
Having found these surprises proceeded on until I glimpsed Buckle's Tower seperated from me 'only' by the corner of a field. Only I would have to pass through two barbwire fences as there were no gates anywhere I was. And they were the up-to-date taut as a drum fashion. Did find enough give in the top two wires of the one I was at to swing my leg through. At least until the gluteus maximus intervened. Tried desperately for a minute or two to wiggle the rest of me by. And then another minute trying to scrabble back without leaving my T-shirt behind. How embarassking ! So I followed the boundary through minor streamlets passing the new Heddle Quarry, with hunting spiders fleeing before almost every step. It is very strange how all the old quarries lie about the sides of the hill rather than trepanning mother earth the better to eviscerate her. If the stone is so much better why did the pre-moderns leave the top alone ? White walls wash down deep but not dirty. People greet about how the modern quarry interferes with the skyline but from afar its pristine purity is a thing of beauty and gives one an idea of how the prehistoric tombs would have stood out in their quartz cloaks (later, when cremations were the rage, folk contented themselves with a single lump of the shiny stuff, the hael-stone of folklore). Eventually came to a spot where a modern stile has been put to let the quarry folk cross over a drain into the field I was in. From the other side an internal quarry road would have taken me down to the Heddle road. Not wanting to 'invade' I stayed in the field to find another way out. There are several erect stones here that I assume are the boundary markers of the 1st OS map. My way only got slushier as the drain dispersed downhill after the fence took a turn, and in the end a roadside fence forced me back to my original point of entry. Back on the road I sat down on a modern arrangement of large stones and looking across the Bay of Firth saw a few bright lines running across. Despite being about three hours short of low tide these obviously show where sections of the 'causeway' from (the island of) Damsay ran west to the Skerries of Coubister - in recent times a local walked this, albeit in full-length waders. You might think it simpler to reach Firth from Damsay by the way of the Holm of Grimbister but there were many more folk in that part of the parish and the skerries [land subject to tidal cover] were once holms and plain old dry land. From here you look down on the virtually buried broch, simply The Hillock, at the south side of the bridge across the Ouse [cognate Oyce]. Reaching that part of reading the local papers where I went through WWII it came as a disappointment not to find a report of what they found when they put the road through [not a matter of security as the papers mentioned both Hatston Aerodrome souterrains].
Coming down into Finstown on the west side there is a new path to keep people off the road. And near where this turns a track runs up to the fields of Stenna Dale took the left 'fork' to follow the fence around Heddle Quarry. The heady scent of parfum de gorse smote me from across the dale like a blissful field of opium poppy. It is a sin to compare the odour to coconut as someone has ont' telly as this is its own thing, a cobalt bomb not mere hydrogen, global not local. And domesticated broom/whin is disgusting substitute for the heaven sent. Soon meadowsweet will bloom once more and I will truly be a pig in clover. Shame you have to get down to violets, but bow one should to every such scent. On the Hill of Heddle a large brown bird flew. My first thought had been skua, however a bird of prey is more likely. Didn't take out my camera in time, raptor in wonder presumably. The way into the field containing my quarry [pardon pun] is by an 'Orkney gate' and immediately the other side is a damp muddy patch owing to a shallow burn, so boots still needed.
There are a series of old quarries inside the Heddle Quarry fence, small and discreet to eke out the resource œconomically (the quarries on the slope of Leeon over the way look mere slashes). Beyond them again the quarry of Buckle's Tower outwith the fence is larger and longer than these. It is like the Upper Springrose quarries writ larger, apparently deeper, and certainly more challenging to walk. Instead of climbing down into it you're mostly climbing up out of it to begin with. From the main road you can just about see two follies on this hillside, Buckle's Tower (NMRS HY31SW 59 at HY34971235)merely the larger. Maybe twice a man's height [roughly 70 courses compared to the other's almost 40], a tapering truncated cone of fine drystone construction (as they all are). Could they be related to the circular walling in the kidney-shaped quarry, imitation the sincerest form of flattery ? Perched above the quarry beside it a small roofless rectangular shelter with a long flag slipping out of the back wall for a seat. Had to stand on the top of the
quarry slope for some pics, so watch your every step [and take someone with you for I am a hardy fool]. On the hillside below is a circular enclosure formed by a drystane wall several courses. This I believe from my limited knowledge to be a small pund for livestock. What looks like a short length of paving leading to it is probably part of the scatter about the enclosure wall as it is around from the well-formed entrance.
There are the remains of a few isolated walls down on the quarry floor. At the first place where the natural rock at the quarry back forms a corner a wall of maximum height nine courses runs across to form an acute angle with the corner, behind which is a very small (not quite equal in height) mound quadrant (likely a fall from above). To my eye it looks rather a modern piece put together in a hurry but in a very quiet place to be that casual surely. Can't really tell how straight it started out. By its western end an erect slab looks to be earlier as the turf has grown in front of it and there is a space behind where its angled top [?broken] leans against the quarry back. On the ground between it and the wall is a slight gap on which I see something black. Even though [or because] I doubt it is plastic I cannot bring myself to touch it to ascertain what it might be. Wussy. Coming to the western end of the quarry my pictures show a zigzag cut of right-angles defined by a drystane wall perhaps a dozen courses high - from R to L at least half-a-dozen (mostly obscured in the photo) stones wide at the near end [A-B] then about half-a-dozen stones to the next corner [C] then three or four stones to the far end [D]. Except for the near end there are stones scattered behind from collapse - you can see there has been an interior, the top courses clear in places. At the far end of the quarry there is another mess of walls, apparently a structure's corner with one wall half-a-dozen courses high (and about the same long) and the other across the quarry floor barely showing, then behind the latter (roughly half of the better wall's length distant) another partly buried wall four stones long five or six courses maximum height with its top level with the former's bottom. So taken in all the clarity of the structures in this quarry compared to what can be made out atop the Upper Springrose quarries (not mentioned as so slight and muddled up) hasn't helped me to any conclusions as to either age or function.
The gentleman who put the Buckle's Tower photo online said he had considered going on to the Leeon tumuli and chosen not to. These are at the western end. And you can't get there from here. Perhaps you could before he published. Now, however, besides the light steel/iron gate plugging the gap there are rolls of fencing and all sorts stuffed behind. Almost as if to block the way for humans specifically. A few metres away I did see a girt big gap in the fence t'other side of drystone dike, which were reduced at that spot, but I would be clambering over onto the downhill slope and could see my leg being caught up by misjudging how far beneath me the ground lay. Have to come up the Leeon track from the main road to visit the mounds after all. Not a barbwire fence IIRC but still a nasty predicament if that eventuated. So intead I walked alongside the wall to Finstown, up and down and springy and damp again. Coming near to the houses a short piece of unexpected ford across the Burn of Stennadale delighted me, especially as it is open to cross. Up on the other side of the old travkway is an abandoned piece. The field is Bailliequoy now, the buildings on the hillside Bellaquoy on the first O.S. In Orkney Farm Names some names are dismissed as mere fancy though I have found instances where the fancy name is an adaption of an authentic one in order to be contemporary. Not this is one of those, though I do wonder whether this is one of those cases where names have been changed to match the etymology rather than putting back the Orcadian (if you get my meaning). It certainly had been an imposing farm in its day and I would compare it with Windbreck in St.Ola from what greeted me, several unroofed structures and a boundary [?garden] wall. The first building looks to have been a byre as it has been stalled. Behind that is a smaller building at its upper corner. Then a slight gap and a set of three buildings as per the 1880 survey. Unfortunately there is way too much of nettle here at present to venture a good look at present [I'll add it to orkneybuildings if I do get to it later in the year]. Stiil no other way to Finstown so back over the ford and uphill past the houses through squelchy grass and over a very minor burn to my point of entry.
On the Heddle road once more I kept left downhill to where there is a joyous little garden, quite unmarked, where Stennadale burn runs under the road. Its like a a miniscule woodland walk without the trees ! Many different flowers and very gentle gradients to the peedie path wending its way around them. After a brief respite on to where a car park is marked. Said car park leads you to the new garden space behind the former kirk. Going slowly I would either reach the bus shelter in time or catch the bus as it came by me. There five minutes before the bus from Stromness due at Finstown, me and a lad. And we waited and waited. Several school buses came by. And a couple of not in service and a tour bus. The teen gave up and went elsewhere. Several more not in service or school only. Next due connection that coming from Tingwall. Before then a proper bus from Stromness came. Not the usual minibus that comes for a public schedule either. Very pleasant. And no passengers inside. Passing strange. Sped off to Kirkwall. What good Stagecoach.
Posted by wideford
7th June 2010ce
Edited 7th June 2010ce
wideford's TMA Blog
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