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

wideford’s TMA Blog

Post to the TMA Blog


Been meaning to get back to Orphir parish for a few weeks now (went last week to Horse Rock at Hesti Geo bay below Foveran restaurant but that doesn't really count as apparently its now in St.Ola, though did take some pictures of the NMRS-less nausts [HY424074] whilst there). Instead of the originally intended long walk to Kirkwall (taking in Congesquoy) doing a circular route between Houton and Orphir 'village' as recently I have been photographing vegetation-bounded tracks and farmroads and this is a good area for them. So a Houton bus return it was. The bus stopped in front of Houton Lodge, just east of the present pier. The next pier along is the old one and down below the road end of this pier walking on there are boat nousts [HY3187804029] in better nick than those at Hesti Geo, though equally without a NMRS record. I think the reason why only a few stones poked out there is that they were in the grass at the end of the ravine whilst here they are down on the shore itself and I think thicker walled. Also they look to have been in use (until?) slightly more recently. One of the two here is in excellent preservation with all the drystone walling surviving that enclosed it whilst the other only has that surviving that seperates it from the other. Both can be seen if you drill down deep on Pastmap, in spite of having no record there. The next pier along is shorter, of stone and comes out from the back of a small house, so for the householder's use I guess. Looking uphill one of many Orphir quarries (Quoybanks?) is right at the tippy-top, limned side on against the skyline. Probably this is the one that is to be re-opened to supply flagstones for Stromness. Look left and a little further down by a cleft are several ruins, some associated with the quarries.

At this point I decided to follow the road going towards Head of Houton and try and follow the track up to Clowally. On the left is Little Howth, the small place with a walled garden. Next is Howth itself, a proper two-storey house on the shore side of the road. On the other side of the road is a rectangular ruin sitting edge on to the road but several metres back from it. Perhaps this was the original Howth or perhaps somewhere that lost its name before the O.S. Perhaps simply a mill belonging to Howth. Certainly it is a mill. You can see the circular structure at the back third like Millquoy in Finstown.On the 1:25,000 you can just about make out the short line above that which was the sluice diverting a burn into the path of the mill. After Howth the minor road turns left and up, then turns left to Quoy of Houton, immediately before which it takes a final right to the last property Keldaquoy. Then the farm track starts - pleasantly surprised there are no obstacles to surmount. Look down on the Holm of Houton from a new direction with the whole of this island set before me. A lovely broad track with high and wide verges full of flower. Further up the hill on the left I see a solitary erect stone, around five foot high at a guess, edge on to the verge. Angled top with crisp lines cut machine straight. Also on the left is a side-shoot of the Clowally track fenced off. Same dimensions it heads northwards down the valley some distance and then what looks to be a continuation makes an angle and goes some more. Can't see its whyfore or end point - would love it to be going to Orakirk in the same manner that the 50/50 road took folk from Orphir to Stenness Kirk for services. In the last field before the road, again on the left, there are two more large erect stones. Tall and triangular but slightly less mechanical in feel, especially as one has a 'broken' not quite flat top. They stand perpendicular to one another a metre or so apart - my ankle still dodgy so I don't take the gate for a closer look [anyway, that is what zooms are for :-) ]. They are well beyond the field corner but perhaps the boundary shifted when the built the main road. Any road up the farmer has chosen to leave them there, which must make some kind of statement. Near these Clowley stones [HY31110439] up on the verge is where I went for a blistering panorama. The best ever view here of the whole of Stromness (from Warebeth right over to a mast t'other side of town [Maraquoy above the Howe road ??] ) and Graemsay, Hoy and most of Waas (the other half of Hoy). The higher hills may give a broader view (yet from further away) and the coastline be closer (too close to get all) but this is full on bliss.

Onto the main road and swooping down over Houton and across to the west end of the Bu/Gyre road. Here begins a smaller circular route that can include a smaller one still if you choose the coast. At the corners sits Grindally House. This rather grand private house (crenellated a la Hall of Tankerness) is rather late for a mansion house, being built 'only' in 1910 on a green site. It sits on a grassy terrace with a few steps of pale stone steps going down to ground level. There are a few small buildings behind it and a nice little wood on three sides. I think the new owners have finished the renovations now an its a bonnie house with a lovely clean profile. But, like I said, strictly private. Today I decided to take the uphill side first, following the main road up to the Scorradale junction and beyond. Sitting on a bridge and looking across the Congesquoy mound is framed by two rises like a setting sun mid-roll. Its almost as if this view had been designed. However there doesn't appear to be anything prehistoric this side of things, so most likely Mother Nature at work. Somewhere betwixt road and sea there are a pair of phase 1 gateposts [large, circular, of drystone construction] with a ruined house offset beyond them (Gerwin perhaps). Coming up to the edges of Orphir village in a field on the left is a small mound that could have given its name to Cairnton on the other side (the house with a high wall that appears to have been built over the inner end of a small stone hut thingey, leaving the rest outwith the grounds). Finally reach the church down the side of which the Gyre/Bu road begins.

Had intended to take shots of Congesquoy with the digital camera but the way there choc-a-bloc with sheep, too many to risk scattering. Anyway the mound is sporting too much undergrowth now (though the scrapes are visible though binoculars still). At the corner after this one is a piece of ground that looks to have been cut off by the road. Continuing the line of the road on the other side of the burn is drystane dyke going uphill towards where Windbreck (RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY30NW 27 shown by aerial photo at HY33810516) used to be. At the top of the rise can make out the top of a phase 1 gatepost. Rounding the corner going down to Gyre looking across I see that its companion gatepost is not a drystane pillar but an ordinary erect stone. So has half a pair disappeared or was it always thusly ? Down at Gyre go a little down the hill on the Bu road to take photos looking up the way (at the bottom of the hill on the Gyre side were once the remains of a kirk and/or graveyard, in Norquoy field over the millburn from the Round Church). On the north side of the road is the triangular patch of land where cinerary 'urns' were found. At its NW edge entry to a field is by way of another pair of those fine gateposts. From here a track runs up the inside of the fieldwall to where Windbreck stood then on to Morton (HY30NW 16 at HY33760530). There are two more pairs of phase 1 gateposts along the way, a set across the path and another at right angles in the field wall (for long-gone Gossaquoy before Windbreck I suppose). All these gateposts of well-fitting stones. Beginning to think Gyre is later than what I take to be a threefold tunship of Morton+Gerwin+Windbreck.

Still not having the nerve to look for the last discovered cist in the farmyard - I know the owner of Orphir House is the archaeologist's friend, but others work here, and the right to roam is one thing, haunting a man's kailyard another ! So back and walking the coastal circular starting with the road to the small set of houses at Breck. As mentioned on another occasion the stretch going down to Gyre Burn has the feel of a hollow way, a steepish incline overshadowed by trees. Diverted myself along the woodland walk. Quite nice but you're never quite certain which bits 'belong' to it and someone has been seemingly deliberately churning the ground with their boots. Near the burn below Gyre an area called Moss Park was renamed Nutfield after a find of hazelnuts in the myre that must surely have acted as a beacon for the earliest settlers. Up the other side over to Swanbister Bay can be seen two buildings that are the remains of Piggar after which the sands and another [supposed] chapel site, Cairns o' Piggar, are named. Reaching the houses the coastal path itself starts to the left after the small walled enclosure (a plantie creugh I think). Plenty of insects milling about on the umbellifers beside the path. Saw two bumblebees new to me, a peedie one roughly a centimetre across that escaped my camera and an extra-large humble bee an inch-and-a-half to two inches long I think.

Turn right at the cliff. Took distant shots of islands other besides Flotta, but frankly it is rather difficult to tell these from parts of the larger islands of Burray (Hunda possibly) with the windmill and South Ronaldsay (Hoxa) behind. Left to right must include Calf of Flotta (in front of east end of Flotta), Fara and Cava (lighthouse on Calf of Cava at west end). Easiest to identify from here is the smallest and nearest, with what looks like a tiny lighthouse on it. This is called the Barrel of Butter. The given explanation is that there may be a revenue or tithe connection, but you feel their heart's not in it and the name has been jumbled over time then [re?]englished. Last time I came this way a pair of ravens had cornered a piece of clifftop real-estate and I hoped for closer photos with the Casio. They were a no show, only some fulmars flew past. Then a dark shape flew real close. However, in the brief time it took to register that it wasn't an immature seagull the skua was ahead of my camera's start-up time. Saw another a while later which whizzed past further away. Ah well. All too soon the walk came downhill to the millburn. Coming to the bridge in the water saw some fry, one of which kept to and froing in the deeper water on the upstream side of the bridge. Big beggars about four or so inches long. Probably enough depth-of-focus to get them except that surface sun took the limelight for itself. On through the kirkyard and by the Round Church and Bu onto the main road. If the Earl's Palace had been here surely the Earl's Bu would not have that name but be known as the Earl's P(a)lace instead. I believe the Girth house to have been a priest-staffed infirmary with a chapel attached, a hospice set up in thanks after the visit to Jerusalem. End of coastal walk and out to Grindally House.

Arrived at Houton a few minutes ahead of the bus. Good low tide exposing rocks between Holm of Houton and land. Johnston contended that Orphir started out as only Orfira's-ey i.e. the Holm and the land about. Because once the rocks of Swinchitaing [aka Kirkhouse] were part of ground connecting with the mainland. Which could give us The Head of Houton as the first earl's place and chapel on one side and a [later] kirk priest's house on the other. So I was obviously delighted to be able to make out the line from Holm to Houton. Alack and alas. like most digital compacts there are way too few f-stops and the very bright day outshone even the Casi's talents, even at a thousandth. Sigh.

wideford Posted by wideford
28th July 2010ce
Edited 28th July 2010ce

Comments (1)

Wideford just found your blog post when trying to search out some info. We spotted those possible gate posts when on a drive the other day and took several pics, but couldn't find them or Canmore or anywhere. Interesting to read your thoughts... summerlands Posted by summerlands
22nd February 2011ce
You must be logged in to add a comment