|Took the bus to the shelter at the Brig o' Waithe and then turned back to Onston Point. Climbing up near the fishermen's watery enclosure could see a line of stones (HY28271140) in a peedie inlet to its south. These looked to be part of an old wall a foot or three offshore made from small stones. In the same area of water are a few larger boulders, without pattern as far as I could discern. The fishermen's private piece is a mini harbour formed by steep banks of grassy soil, a modern item. My reason for going back to the Unstan Tomb was that my recently acquired camera does the equivalent of 26mm compared my old one's 38mm eq. Neglected to take another photo of the fish depiction on the west chamber's lintel (my other being shaky) but IIRC there are many more modern graffiti since my last visit. Unfortunately this chamber has no lighting, nary a skylight. Fortunately a couple that came in then lent me a slim torch and on full wide the Casio's flash done good (they had used the torch on small recesses in Portuguese churches). Clambered on top of the mound to take shots of distant archaeology, because when you have a new and greater zoom that's what you do. Brodgar, Seatter, Deepdale [darn, forgot Maes Howe which probably hidden this far back]. At home saw that from Unstan one of the largest Broidgar knowes is framed by two of the remaining stones. Probably accident rather than design. I'm fairly sure if other stones still stood full height this would not be so. But what if this were intentional and how the stones are now isn't simply the product of erosion and some vandalism ??? Makes you think.
Back on the main road thought about taking the hillside road through Clouston for further distantly viewed archaeology, maybe see if the stake marking a proper standing stone is still in sight. This is the Kethesgeo Stone (a.k.a. Kethisquoy), pronounced Keithesgeo on the evidence of the first 25" O.S. map. Instead decided to see if I could gain a new perspective on Cummi Howe from the coast across the way over the brig. On the way looked at the stuff on the north side of the bridge. Perhaps they are to do with a quarry marked on the first 25" map. Later on the map I saw saltings marked there and thought "aha" but then noticed saltings down either side of The Bush (as the 'burn' running from the loch into the Bay of Ireland is called) as far as an islet/eyot called Harbasue, whence they continue on the east shoreline into Dead Sand. Though the only saltings I have seen are those in Waulkmill Bay the standing wall remains don't look like anyway.
There is a path runs from near the bridge but from memory it doesn't go far enough, ends with a choice of dropping down onto the shore or going through a field. So partway along I went onto the shore. Past the big bulge (opposite the Howe complex, everything from longhouses back to a Neolithic tomb, of which only the latter survives under the flattened ground) on the east shore (which surely hides unknown archaeology - I may have seen a small mound if it wasn't a far-off Cummi Howe, being bad at perspective and direction) lies the promontory of Cummi Ness between Dead Sand and The Bush, with its southern end at the Cummi Howe broch. There are actually two other known sites on it. Cummi Ness (RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY21SE 101 at HY28201061) appeared on an aerial photo as the cropmarks of two structures of dissimilar sizes aligned E/W parallel to one another but has yet to be located on the ground. Gorrie Knowe (HY21SE 76 at HY28091508) is traditionally named after a farmer whose house on it was still pointed out in 1882. The report has the site as including a partial wall arc of an oval or sub-circular structure. Walking along I could see a mound in line with one of the telegraph poles, initially appearing as if smack up against it. To me it looked straight-sided and what I might expect from a ruined house foundation in spite of rising to the southern end [from where I walked profile same as Cummi Howe in the distance]. Gorrie Knowe is lower yet, though perhaps longer, almost at the land's edge overlooking a shingle beach. In the low cliff by its southern side the camera shows me the collapsing remains of a wall underneath the turf that is tumbling over the edge of the cliff - could it be the last of the Gorrie Knowe house, the rest eaten away, as it looks straight in my distant view. In my final image of it I can see a building to its right with a corrugated iron roof but I think that could well be Vasmire near Cumminess Farm as the latter appears on other shots. In my opinion it still seems possible that the Cummi Ness structures are Gorrie's house as otherwise we have them not appearing on the 1st 25" whilst the Gorrie Knowe house did survive then to be mapped, albeit as a single unroofed structure on the knowe as stated. Wish now I'd used the camcorder I carried, forgot to use it at any time. Hey ho !
Now I found myself drawn onwards to essay as much as possible, perhaps even to Stromness all by shore. I was lucky to have chosen a good low tide as high tide would have stopped me short of the Bu of Cairston. However it must be do-able often enough than in the old days folk would regularly walk the whole way, and it is even longer than the walk to the Head of Work that some Kirkwall folk still considered a normal Sunday outing even in recent years [my old landlord from Eryldene as a lad walked from the Bloomfield road to school in Kirkwall every day]. Of course for this one you have to have a liking for rocky shores and slippery taings. One place mushy ground tends to swallow your feet - I then moved towards the cliffs where there are the grassy remains of an older shoreline. Usually you hop between the standing clumps through which the new shore thinly winds, but this time even on top one had a hidden hole. So be careful following in my footsteps. Fortunately it wasn't the leg whose ankle I twisted last month that shot down. Advice over I'll get back on track.
I found the Sands of Congesquoy ['King's enclosure'] rather a disappointment - I had expected so much more after finding out that a few of my fellow volunteers at Howe used to come here dinnertimes. From the shore I could see Congesquoy (a.k.a. Konizquoy) itself. Once upon a time this was a manse with associated glebe land. The building I saw is all done up and not sure how much survives of its heyday. In 1909 a N/S aligned short cist, containing the bones of a ?doubled-up young person with head facing S, was found by farmer John Paplay about 10m from the cliff-edge. He recollected a mound having been removed from over the find-site and that the same field had also produced primitive tools and weapons [the Konisquoy flints HY31SW 68] and in one spot ashes (ashes were also found on the now vanished farm of Kettlun between Congesquoy and Feawell to its SW).
At both Skatelan Skerry and Black Skerry there were big (for Orkney) packs of seals in varying shades of grey and brown. Far away as I was coming in sight of each some would dash off. Before I knew they were there I heard the tremendous splooshes as they splashed into the sea, like snipe that would pass unnoticed did they not fly off straight before you. At the back of the larger Black Skerry pack a handsome bull lay resplendent in his grey and white spottedness, eyeing me up, safe in his majesty.
This brings me opposite the Bu of Cairston complex, best known for the castle (site, now a chicken run, was a piggery-cum-henhouse when excavated in 1927). The Norse fortification, HY20NE 10 at HY27200956, dates back to the 12thC but in 16thC the NW corner was updated to make it into a mansion house. More resolutely mediaeval are the burial ground (a drystane enclosure centred HY27240970) and in the stackyard the site of the old Stromness parish kirk (HY27220965), both HY20NE 16. However in 2002 the burial ground at HY27250950 was excavated (HY20NE 294) and besides the mediaeval there was also a Neolithic gully with postholes, somewhen 3360-3530 BCE. Dave is inclined to see the remains of a small chapel in a "solid paved stone platform ...running back into the cliff" from the rounded gully between the northern limit of farm dumping and the S end of a broch mound. The ?solid-based broch with settlement [not to be confused with the Bu (Navershaw) broch in the region] was built practically onto the natural (HY20NE 71 at HY272096). An area close by the paving yielded M.I.A. pottery (though two earlier sherds were amongst those found on the site) but the broch is thought to have been short-lived as a thin occupation level is in its turn succeeded by rubble infill and the central court was much overlain by unrelated walling that that finished it off in antiquity. As well as the settlement surrounding it to the N there is later complex of features eroding out to the broch tower's south. A track through the cliff and a modern drain damage much of the southern continuance of the extended broch, which has to be the 'geo' I saw and possibly the hollow noted during the castle dig. Whilst this broch lies mostly under the barn but extends to the cliff-face 50m N of the present Bu of Cairston where it was first noticed in 1985. There are much overgrown structural remains along over fifty metres of coast, and the 3m high section includes orthostats and domestic midden. Two wells are shown by the cliff E of the Bu of Cairston and in 1937 Marwick relates hearing from a local about "a passage on the face of the shore near their well into which he had crawled ever so far". Could it be the drain takes that route ?
Down on the shore without this knowledge I saw less. What first caught my attention first was a large square drystane 'gatepillar' atop the cliff-edge on its lonesome without even a stone gatepost for company. This show signs of having had the top portion rebuilt, but even so it surely post-dates the 16thC rebuild of the 'Castle' and as the graveyard fell out of use in the middle of the 17thC I would tentatively place it in the 18th. Throughout the cliff below this for metres to either side are lots of horizontal stones peeping from behind grass and verbage, at least some of which are parts of closely fitted drystane walls, especially to the south of it where a rather better piece of fieldwall ends by twa bushes. Directly below the pillar at the base of the cliff are two courses of an especially fine wall with thin slabs above them, one of which is rounded. Seeing a thin white line running across I am momentarily deceived into thinking it the mortar between the stones, but it is part of one of the stones itself. At the south end of all this there looks to be a way up to the Bu of Cairston. However this piece is all hidden by vegetation and I didn't fancy tackling what I might find underfoot. On the south side of the gap there's a patch of one tall grass which might have concealed a burn but starting through it all stays out of sight, so I back down. Tried to find a burn and/or geo on any map to help with a grid ref. except nothing like is shown here. Now I know this has to be Dave's gully and the broch excavator's track+drain, probably the antiquarian's hollow too.
Also I wondered if there might not have been a naust here. Perhaps not, but not too far away on the 25" Muckle Noust was still shown between the Bu and Bu Point as a rectangular feature ending at the cliff/shore. NGR approximately HY27340936 with eastern end a little NNE of the wellspring above the high tide mark at HY2731809371. Peedie Noust also still appears as a legend below the high tide mark but will have been swept away as only the name appears even on the earlier map.
A path ran between Congesquoy and the Bu of Cairston. A narrow one ran due west from Bu of Cairnston and then south to a sub-rectangular marshy area called Brimhouse before a short section ran nearly SSE to the coast by a piece of non-rocky shore at HY26930921. Brimhouse would seem to include the knoll on which a cairn lay even though it wasn't shown. Then an emergency excavation revealed it as a broch settlement, Bu (Navershaw). After this broch (HY20NE 11 at HY26979933) went out of use a souterrain was inserted. After a quick and dirty dig the site was levelled. Which isn't to say there may not be earlier stuff under the soil as Dave thinks most brochs are not greenfield sites ("Is Howe of Howe an inconvenient aberration for broch excavations?" unpublished ms).
The Bay of Navershaw cliffs looked stunning, sawtoothed with triangular projection like the piers of an old bridge like some giant's barcode. At the near end the rocky shore includes thin slabs. For an instant I mistake one for portable rock art, then close up see it is a fossil negative heavily covered with, not cupmarks, but the depressions where some antient group of molluscs hunkered down. Wishes were horses I would had taken it with me for the Stromness Museum. Many of these rocks at the east end are dark gray crazed with light brown, from a muddy beach drying up in the geological past I would hazard. Going by these I think nature came up with the Celtic knot first. Took a photo of a slab of this and the fossil, both about a foot across. A week too late I discover that near the eastern end of the bay from 1985-90 a likely Neolithic settlement produced various bits of pot (including a rim sherd of ? Unstan Ware) and a worked flint. This started in 1985 with the discovery of five single-faced walls and midden in a cliff exposure and finished with the flint being found in the section 10cm above natural roughly three-and-a-half metres E of a passage (HY20NE 24 at HY268092). Must have passed and not taken it in, for sure I had a quick gander at some gaps in the low cliff under the drystane fieldwalls.
Noticed a line of animals going up along a fieldwall going uphill from the middle of the bay. Couldn't be 100% sure they were dark cattle and whether they were moving or not. Only after a few more sightings as I 'swung in' did I realise it were folk. Must have been a big field trip or summat, using the track to Garson Farm. A few in diving suits had stayed behind larking about (or so it seemed). The other end of the bay Quoyelsh sticks out. In 1941 Marwick speaks of a wave-lashed structure of square stones on the Point of Qu'elsh [sic]. In visit's 1979-80 D.Lynn and B.Bell found pottery and stone finds at Quoyelsh, with a body sherd giving the site a date likely to be no later than the Iron Age, and found the surviving corner of a ?domestic structure (RCAHMS NMRS record no.HY20NE 73 at HY265089). Dave describes the site as about two-thirds of the way up a cliff section below a slight surface rise, adding that there is also grassed mound set back from the cliff edge nearby. The site was easy for me to see high up in the cliff directly as I rounded the point. If you come here there is a rocky shelf smack in front of it you can clamber up on for a closer look. A triangle of grass divides the cliff section as if the rise is tipping over, with most of the remains next to its LH side and along the RH side of the section. The left is a few horizontal slabs and small rocks jutting out, mostly horizontal. The other side of the turf ?collapse there are few spaces and the rocks are chunkier and very obviously set one on another. From my photos Dave believes that the deeper masonry at the LH end of the grass triangle is new and suggests better survival than originally thought - his original opinion of its survival owing to the bedrock below - suggesting much erosion since his last observations.
Looking back at the spine of the Point itself I notice a couple of feet of erosion near shore level with some nice looking stones. Fairly certain it wasn't archaeology (surely too low to have been part of anything like the official stuff), and not wanting to risk my legs again even in case I was wrong, I satisfied myself with a single distant shot. Then when I viewed the digital negative later no longer so sure. Besides the bright rocks like the natural also some mid-brown, and the "eye of faith" might possibly discern a very slightly sagging horizontal of three or more incomplete courses and a possible vertical. Might the apparently natural below and before it relate to Marwick's square stones ?? Not my field, needs a Dave really. Have to go again I guess.
There's a lovely stone wall this side of the inner end of Inner Holm. A little pool of water nearby remembers a pump nearby. The visible mound on Outer Holm is also where there was a pump. The circular arc I see from this side is part of a circular feature best seen from up on the Point of Ness. I had wondered whether it might mark the position of maybe a broch but a recent newspaper article shows it to owe its existence to a mill, even though this is not showing on the 1st 25" O.S.
And now I'm at Copland's Dock, the site of Whitehouse (HY20NE 8 at HY25860907) where the pirate Gow lived after wedding a local lass (they handfasted at the Stone of Odin). Dave says the OS 1902/3 1:2500 shows both boatyard and house, with a cross symbol for a (private) chapel next the house and a slip runnig over the cross - a total of six structures. He has half a mind that George Mackay Brown referred to the house as Whiteladies. Basically what you see now is a large enclosure formed by high stone walls with several pillared gateways (mostl on the N side) of differing entrance widths. Most of the interior, going by my feet, is a grassy platform with a couple of items of abandoned machinery. At the SW corner attached to the walls are the remains of a square stone 'hut' behind the gateway there. Along the S wall close to the SW corner a long plank sits lintel-like in the lower third with the gap underneath mostly plugged with thin slabs (apparently subsequent to going out of use). Inside the E wall near the SE corner another stone structure survives almost intact - a fireplace or kiln. This is square with a thick lintel just over half-way up, sitting on a slightly shorter iron plate, these supported by an angled inner wall of brick. The interior is also brick. The N side of the dock in the main gateway you can see huge square sockets for the gate. Either side are narrower gateways. The shore here is horrible and squidgy and the shore path from Stromness stops short of passing through. There is talk of developing this site for the town's needs. They clearly haven't thought it out - first you excavate the boatyard, next any remains of Whitehouse, and I'm certain that wouldn't be the last of the archaeology. Stay with the other options I say.
The coastal path takes me all the way to the lorry park although I think it only used to go as far as the farmtrack to the Garson farmroad. Some of the fieldwalls bounding the houses of the new estate are being attacked in the name of convenience, probably without permission. On the hillside up above Stromness a line of cattle creep along the (I think) East Brae. Don't know what it is about animals on the skyline that is so attractive, doesn't matter if their livestock or geese the sight appeals (to me at least). Getting to the Stromness Travel Centre so pooped I decide not to go for a shop or tea in Julia's Coffeee Shop. Bus arrives shortly. Waithe to Stromness only three-and-a-half hours. Wowsers !
Posted by wideford
19th August 2010ce
Edited 19th August 2010ce
wideford's TMA Blog
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