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


Took the bus to Stromness with set itinerary. Went as far as Stromness Library then struck up the hill by the Braes Hotel, my old haunt when I lived at Garson with the archaeologists. On the right hand side there is a cupboard sized niche in the wall beside the road by St.Peter's House. Struck me as strange, but perhaps there used to be a postbox here. Coming up to the Outertown road junction below the road is a craggy place like an everted quarry. I notice at the part near where Sorpool is now what I take to be an old broad path heading northwards from a low point but fading before reaching the next modern road, possibly built up across this, though I think it would have continued in front of Castle.. At the big house I took the left-hand fork that passes Dale as a change from the right road to the Haley Hole well, the Brownstown road I think its given name. At the high point where a road goes down to Warebeth instead of going down I decided to see how far to Outertown I felt like going.

Going over the top of the hill on my left I noticed a drain going down the north side of a house's boundary wall. It's not unusual for a roadside ditch to be in this position. But this is going away from the road under an old-fashioned drywall culvert, and peering under I could see disturbed stones. The boundary wall at the mouth is curved, which is usualy a sign of being Early Mediaeval (in Orkney a.k.a. Late Viking). Once past Dale Farm and approaching some modern houses I could see a ginger cat by the road. Not sure if this pusser was a small adult or a large kitten. The tail must have been in some sort of accident, only a few inches long but not docked and rather stiff. As the cat looked lonely I felt called upon to offer comfort (no hardship involved). After a time it is necessary to break contact to avoid attachment. Plodding along ignoring the cat and yet still followed even as I turned east again in the direction of Leafea. At the top of the small stretch of road turned north again as I thought about going over Brunt Hill via the reservoir or mayhap to Breckness.

Then a long way ahead of me I could see large heavy rainclouds approaching at a crawl and so turned back. Coming down the small stretch once more I saw that the gate of the field heading towards the Breckan mound lay open and followed My Lady's
prompting. First I followed the path, being refurbished by the farmer for his use presently, shown on the 1:25,000 until I could head for the Leafea standing stone pair. Nowadays a barbwire fence seperates them but the 1st 25" map shows the field border looping around the south of them about twice their area, like a toecap with them in the top of the left half - too big an avoidance to owe its existence to the stones alone and there is a local report of human remains being found here [some say dog bones instead, though I cannot find that reference]. Perhaps they were the final blocking stones for the portal of some long lost tomb. But much more likely is that these mark an underground site, whether still present or lost. Previously I had taken pictures of these stones looking east from the 'drain' to the north and had seen a small rectangular boulder a yard or so to the north and this time by the fence saw a few small loose ones lying flat as well as another rectangular block against the west end of the eastern standing stone. I imagine that these are the granite stones mentioned as not belonging here. What struck me most was the site of the corner of a rectangular slab/block projecting from the ground at a shallow angle a matter of inches from the western stone just slightly off axis. From where I stood what look to be a group of stones between the pair are the small block against the eastern stone, the projecting stone corner [orthostat or ?block] and then the very top of thin orthostat to thats left (the last reminding me a little of the circular grassy are at the head of work). Perhaps these constitute the remains of a cist from (?above) which the bones came [and were perhaps re-interred]. Finally, finally, I struck off for the nearest point of the field to the Breckan mound to see if I could gain access, taking pictures as I went owing to the oncoming shower. Unfortunately there is no gate along this edge of the field, though there is a lovely culvert/bridge across the N/S 'drain'. This site was investigated when the local naturalists still considered archaeology within their sphere. Following the excavation the mound is considered to be domestic. There agreement ends as though the excavator considered it to be similar to the Hawill burnt mound (Bronze Age) later opinion considers it either like a small scale Skara Brae (Neolithic) or a secondary broch settlement (Iron Age). It is certainly rum in the plan, two chambers side-by-side with a rectangular stone slab enclosure in front of them whose stones are the ones I can seeI think. Looking at the Breckan mound on the map a spring is shown adjacent and a well to the east. To show how things change, on the 1st 25" map the former doesn't exist and the well is a spring. A short fence runs below the well. From its east end a fence runs up to the road. The 1880 survey and RCAHMS record no. HY20NW 3 show this as the location of the Innertown long cist, just north of a field boundary. Its discovery came about through digging a boundary ditch between the farmlands of Wester Leafea and King(s)house in a mound of loose sand. As other graves had been found in its neighbourhood previously I am reminded of the Pierowall Vikings. The three skellywegs were put back into the cist and then closed over. Watt's account also mentions the finding of half a polished granite hammerhead a few hundred yards away, which if not from the 'cemetery' could well relate to the Breckan mound and rule out an IA date for this (I have been unable to find a reference for this hammer/mace in any surveys unless it be one of the those whose findspot remains lost like AH119). Or is it no coincidence that non-local granite still remains at the Leafea Stones ?? The heavy shower hit as I reached the 'bridge', fortunately on my back as I went off again.

Back up past Dale and down to the coast. Brennigar on the map is where the manse used to be (Innertown and Outertown not referencing Stromness but Warebeth kirk). As I have mentioned before its farmtrack continues over the road for about the same
distance again, for no apparent reason. Beneath it is a piece under water that appears to be based on something rectangular, like there might have been a 'settlement' there. Nothing appears on the 1882 map but there is always WWII. By the time I reached Warebeth my coat was already dry, thank goodness. After a trip to the loo I followed the path that leads to the 'picnic area' whilst perusing the depression that runs alongside where the remains of an old radar station are, though I had an eye out for older remains. A few nice birdies there didn't want their pictures took. What passes for a good sandy beach in Orkney had a fair number of folk in attendance in spite of the weather. Several went a little north along the cliffs, presumably for the dogs to do their 'business' as I doubt any knew their path took them to the top of the unproductive old Clook lead mine (a.k.a. Burnside). Another possibilty is that in the other direction a small part of the clifftop had collapsed where it ran in front of the graveyard walls. Navigable with care anyhow.

Went into the graveyard to take photos of the old chapel. On the 1882 map only the long wall is labelled chapel (no mention of the [ha] "gable end"). This has the monumentality of a micro Wailing Wall with nothing to show it has ever done anything but stand solitary. It is nearly three times the width of the wall remaining against the graveyard edge to its west and it is difficult to imagine what it could have been part of (and why it survived) or how large this chapel must have been if all else had been proportional. Several incomplete gravestone slabs sit against its north side, then along from them at the by the east end is a large section of (?sub-)hexagonal moulding almost completely covered in white lichen - the wall itself has virtually none. The supposed gable end stands a course or so higher apart from a lower bit of wall that has been used to close the gap with the more mode graveyard wall. On its south side a niche occupying roughly half the 'length' runs from a few courses above ground level and is open-ended, slightly narrower at the bottom where there is an 18thC mural tablet with skull and crossbones. Probably of the same date are other carved stones placed above the tablet as these include classical capitals. I am not totally convinced these are of the same date as the wall despite the close fit of that tablet, and in front of the wall sitting on the ground are three plainer capitals that look earlier to me. In a photo I see against one is a triangular piece of stone with 34 in arabic numerals, not Roman, so perhaps later instead [i.e. 1834], though 1634 would place things at a time of much building in Orkney. Rather than a tomb I see this wall as the commemorated remains of a shrine to the legendary founder. Perhaps he is buried, or thought to be, under the bump outside the
graveyard at this spot. On the other hand this small bump could be broch age like the broader bump further north surely is.

After the graveyard there is a way down to the shore and again I went in bare hopes of seeing something of the broch revealed by erosion. The small stone passage I have noticed before appears on the 1882 map, and even there I can see nothing to say why it is there. There is a layer of stones under the turf both sides of this way down, the kirkyard side and opposite, but it is difficult to make a case for this being much. However the kirkyard side ends in a very suspicious curve. Looking back up you can see a manufactured slope heading up to the south which must be an old slipway like that near Breckness - there there is offshore the legend The Noust and here rocks labelled Noust of Netherton and additionally the remains of the naust itself up on the cliff. Near the end of the road to Croval and Stromness three large thick slabs across the seaward half of the path cover where the water runs out beneath. At the bottom of the field directly opposite you can make out some of the 'drain'. Peering over the wall I saw a small pool with a corner of slabs a few courses high, north and east walls a slab's length each with water coming under the east side. Not far away is a new stone seat up which I clambered gingerly for a better look and was disappointed to see the water issuing from a modern pipe. I assume the drystane walls are what is left of the old well/wellspring as the second wall serves no purpose now. Further along the coast road loops round a patch of humpy grassland but a sort of track goes clean through. From this I watched a heron down in the shore in the gathering dark. Hesitantly I walked to the cliff edge and managed a video clip with my digital camera. I did try to do more but couldn't get a focus on it bar that once. When I thought me of my proper digicam by the time I looked up again the bird had flown and left The Ness locale entirely.

wideford Posted by wideford
14th December 2010ce

Comments (0)

You must be logged in to add a comment