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Orcadian boundaries, old and new

When I was growing up I thought dykes were field-walls. The commonest field-wall in Orkney is still the drystane wall. Unfortunately there are still one or two folk who when it comes to building one of these, or repairing one, do not use the local vernacular but instead use styles imported from areas outwith Orkney (such as the Pennines). Roadside above Swannay house there is a drystane wall that has in the upper courses tall slabs set across the walls and each having a hole bored in an upper corner have they been re-used or did they serve some purpose ? Earlier than these field-walls (I assume) are slab fences, which mostly date from the Agricultural Improvements period, say 1840-70. These are made from erect slabs whose long sides are planted in the ground with no space between them. Examples can be found opposite Swannay farm in Evie and by the east side of the road between Orphir village and Gyre. Earlier still must be the features I call "standing-stone fences". I have found no references to them. They consist of lines of erect stones a metre or more apart and about the same in height. They tend to be found in the less-frequented parts of Orkney e.g. there are several in the NE corner of Tankereness. Unless these were connected with rope (heather or seaweed, say) they must be more of a symbolic boundary as I see no signs that they have ever been subject to the wire. I came across a magnificent specimen when heading from Yesnaby carpark to the Broch of Borwick, a sturdy line of rusty-brown monoliths (of exceptional construction and not of everyday stone). Probably related are the pairs of aligned stones that can be seen functioning as gates. Parallel stone pairs are modern, designed to suit the ordinary barred field-gate. I think it possible the others were used for the traditional 'Orkney field-gate', which is made of a rope or (nowadays) wire framework fretted between two posts.
Ditches can also be called dykes. But in Orkney we have three kinds of 'proper' dykes. Nearest to us in time is the hill or feelie or vollgrun dyke, built outside the tunships from sods of earth (feal/feol). Further back [it is thought] is the gairsty or treb/trave or steethe dyke, a long and broad earth ridge. I think a smaller version forms the seaward boundary of Kirk Do, a foot or two of earth clapped between thick slabs/stones (Dryden's interest lay only in the kirk itself). Oldest of all are said to be the Picky/Pickie dykes, originally made of strips of stones but subsequently covered by soil. I wonder which of the three types is Gorse Dyke, which presently (leastways) runs from the slope above Quanterness Farm down to the parish border ?

wideford Posted by wideford
2nd June 2011ce

Comments (1)

Fascinating stuff about Orkney walls and stones Wideford, each area of UK must have its own traditional method.. I noticed in the high banked hedgerows in West Wales, that the 'inner core' were large stones then covered by soil for the hedgerow, a lot of prehistory disappears that way.. moss Posted by moss
3rd June 2011ce
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