|Jo Ben called Helliar Holm by the name Eleorholm and it has been known by several variations of these, such as Ellyar Holm and Elhardholm. The intrusive modern haitch is from some outsider thinking this comes from halye 'flat rock' but it is named after the same person as Elwick over the way on Shapinsay itself. The personal name is thought to be something along the lines of Ellend/Elland, but I myself wonder about Erlend. Though it is said you can still walk from Shapinsay to Helliar Holm at low tide you would need to know the local tides well. Though it is accessible by boat this is now a reserve, and permission should be sought.
On the 1882 25" O.S. several structures are shown to the NW above the cliffs between Whitstanes and the north pier. The largest appears on the 6" too, but not on its modern replacement (this is the unroofed structure HY41NE 42 at HY48231581) despite being still visible. Between it and the lochan is a structure the same length but narrower (this is a perfect ellipse on the 25" but very irregular, even vaguely rectangular, on the 6"). Then east of the lochan, south of the pier, are two slightly smaller structures. The 25" shows (west to east) an ellipse and a rectangle like Whitestanes. This last has sides more nearly equal, and indeed is shown outright square on the 6". They are all within easy walk of the chalybeate well where the pumphouse is now. Jo Ben mentions drelict house-tofts and rigs as well as the chapel. There is a dike running between the [areas of] the two piers which takes on a more noticeable curve near these sites. Perhaps it is this dyke that led Countrywoman to mention that there had been a monastery on Helliar Holm. On the opposite side of the holm there is a low cairn against the storm-beach. South of this is a sheepfold and the traditional site of the chapel - Kirk Geo is offshore. Here there is now only rough grass, and some believe that the chapel remains are the Broch Age structure close by (the 'fort' a possible broch now generalised to some kind of round house). However it has been suggested that this had been turned into the sheepfold (such as happened to one of the Buckquoy sites in Birsay), which sits on a rise. Or it is simply too thoroughly overgrown. Helliar Holm's southern tip is called Saeva Ness. As Saevar means sea-mound was there once one here, long gone before even the time of Jo Ben, a howe [at the head of the Geo of Saevaness perhaps]. Could it even be that when the Vikings first came to Orkney this islet had a more permanent connection to Shapinsay and that they applied the name Saevar Ness, for the surviving chambered cairn, to what we now call Helliar Holm ? Makes sense to me.
The storm-beach cairn, NMRS record no. HY41NE 23 at HY48541588, is a NW/SE oriented not-quite rectangular structure below the later remains of a kelp-stance. It is some 5m by 3.5m and includes earthfast orthostats. Inland the visible wall thickness is 0.4 metres.
About a hectare is enclosed by the dyke, HY41NE 22, which starts on the shoreline at HY48591578 on a hillside south of a 'drain', then follows a while before coming east and then south before finally turning south-west to meet the north shoreline at
HY48171527. All in all a one hectare space is enclosed. It starts off as a number of sub-peat dykes between parallel edge slabs (these occasionally crossed to give a cist-like feel), then on leaving the drain behind it is covered by turf. Raymond Lamb compares it to a sub-peat dyke on the Mouckle Hill of Linkataing in Eday, which also encloses a roundhouse and a chambered cairn but is now seen as part of a prehistoric field system.
No dedication is known for the chapel, HY41NE 3 at HY48141539, which is recorded as Kirk Goe [a variant of geo]. Could it have been lost to the sea like many another coastal site ? Its linking by some with the ?broch arises from the latter's upright slabs being taken for gravestones (I am minded of the Covenanter's Graves opposite The Brough on the north-east side of Tankereness).
The possible broch near the traditional chapel site is thought too slight to be a proper broch. Locals termed it a fort (not a brough/broch), and indeed one suggestion is that this is a blockhouse (with dwelling), one of the earliest forms of fortified gun emplacement (similarly North Taing outside Kirkwall is reported by the farmer to have been used as a Great War gun emplacement). The other suggestion is that this is a 'semi-broch', which has also been said of North Taing on the nearby Head of Holland [the fields here are full of small stones, but as you near this site you start to come across much larger ones either side of the fence opposite]. This problematic label has been applied to several problematic sites where the visible remains have the shape of a semi-circle or circle segment. However I agree with Dave Lynn that there is no such animal, that these are all incomplete or badly eroded brochs or other roundhouses. To show what can happen to our ideas of what a site was, Riggan of Kami on the east coast of Deerness was first thought a blockhouse and then a 'semi-broch' after partial excavation revealed the remains of a ground-galleried broch. You truly can never make a conclusive identification until you've done the spadework. HY41NE 1 at HY48591579 survives on the landward side under tumble as a two-foot-six high NW arc about ten feet long, indicating an interior roughly twenty-six feet across in which some edge-set slabs project up to 18" (there appears to have been erosion since 1972 as in 1986 these are numerous). The outer face, of a likely 9'6" thick wall, survives best. A yard from the inner face a stabilising wall ends on the north with what is either the corbelled end of a cell or part of an entrance passage. Kitchen midden traces were seen in 1928 but have not been observed since.
Apart from the lighthouse and its [over?] large enclosure the most obvious feature is the tall marker cairn at the highest part of the holm in the SE, sitting on top of a chambered mound. This cairn of large stones, HY41NE 2 at HY48431534, is over an area 66' by 60' and is some 8' high. It covers a NW/SE aligned tomb of Orkney-Cromarty type, resembling Hill of Shebster (ND06SW 5), on its south side and an arc of possible revetment about four foot long is just visible on the east side. Rubble covers this stalled tomb's entrance and where the back slab should be, but the rest of the slabs project above the rubble for 40cm in a central depression. Visible are three-and-a-half pairs of slabs 1.7m apart and a 40cm passage runs between the pairs. Henshall reports the possibilty in the most easterly comparment's south side of the top of drystane walling.
Posted by wideford
26th April 2011ce
wideford's TMA Blog
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