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Castle Bloody


<b>Castle Bloody</b>Posted by RavenfeatherImage © Paul Kesterton
Nearest Town:Kirkwall (10km SW)
OS Ref (GB):   HY53581644 / Sheet: 6
Latitude:59° 1' 57.7" N
Longitude:   2° 48' 31.8" W

Added by C Michael Hogan

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<b>Castle Bloody</b>Posted by Ravenfeather <b>Castle Bloody</b>Posted by Ravenfeather <b>Castle Bloody</b>Posted by C Michael Hogan


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Visited 4th June 2013

I spotted this place from the Mor Stein last time we were there, Castle Bloody’s cairn just being visible on the horizon, but was unsure as to what it actually was, and besides the weather on that day was not conducive to a trek across peaty moorland for a visit.

Today I’m approaching from the other direction, having come from Burroughston, back down the B9058, and taking the lane for Frustigarth. Nearing the coast a small green sign handily signposts the path to Castle Bloody. It’s also interesting from this direction just how the Mor Stein stands out across the flat landscape, being continually visible on the horizon as I follow the path, and I’ve no doubt how much of a major landmark it would have been back in the times these sites were constructed.

The path seems to take forever to reach it, making me wonder if the name of the place derived from people wondering when they were going to reach the bloody castle, but on a day like today the walk is pleasant, with the sun beating down, and just the calls of the seabirds wheeling overhead for company, and on the way you pass an interesting sea stack, a bit like a mini man of Shapinsay.

Soon the path leads you through the heart of the moorland, and you sometimes have to pick your way through the clumps of peat, but always the cairn of stones atop the souterrain is beckoning you on. It’s finally a relief when I reach this fascinating place, a gentle breeze from the sea cooling me down. As I walk around the turf covered mound I’m more and more intrigued. Although the OS map calls it a chambered mound, I’ve read it’s a souterrain, but due to the unexcavated nature of the mound no entrances are visible. From the top of the mound though a fine capstone is visible and uncovered, and although the cairn of stones atop the mound is a relatively recent addition given the overall age of the monument, I really liked the way it now seemed to organically fit with the rest, having been mellowed and worn by age, and with a lovely beard of sea moss.

I sit with my back against the marker cairn in the sun as I have a sandwich and write my fieldnotes, and can think of no finer place to be. Then it’s off to the Mor Stein, this time though directly across the heathland, and coming across one of the small cluster of little cairns, mid way between the two sites, on the way.
Ravenfeather Posted by Ravenfeather
13th June 2013ce

Castle Bloody is a substantial souterrain mound prominently situated on the highest topographic point of southeastern Shapinsay on the island's sole remaining heather moorland. (Fraser, 1983) The structure has been described as a Pictish fort or earthen house, and likely predates the Burroughston Broch located somewhat further to the north along Shapinsay's east coast. Earlier records of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) classify this site as a chambered cairn, although more detailed analysis place the structure in the category of a souterrain.(RCAHMS, 1981) The interior geometry is comprised by a principal subterranean cell with multiple other cells or recesses branching from that central structure. There are two passages leading to the principal cell. Other nearby prehistoric monuments are the Mor Stein standing stone (about 1.3 kilometres northwest) and several cairns (about 0.8 kilometres north-northwest). The findings herein are based upon review of extant literature and my field visit in July, 2007.

EXPLORATION HISTORY. Since the site has only been examined in an elementary manner, the overall structure remains mysterious and has yielded an incomplete understanding of its architecture and function. Earliest noting of the site was in the 1880 Name Book and on the 1900 six inch Ordinance Survey map at HY 5358 1644 (OS, 1900). Sometime prior to 1928, M. Work of Newfield Cottage removed some of the massive upper slabs, which subsequently was determined to be roofing for the principal chamber. (RCAHMS, 1946)

ARCHITECTURE. The overall geometry is that of a turf covered stony mound approximately 13 metres in diameter. The mound height has been variously reported in the literature at 1.2 to 1.8 metres, which outcome is not surprising given the unexcavated nature of the monument and its position on undulating terrain. The mound classification can be likened to Ham, Caithness (ND27SW 1) and Midgarth (HY32SE 6). The principal chamber is offset somewhat east of the mound midpoint, with a north/south axis. The chamber's a roof is capped with of large flattish stones; thie approximate chamber dimensions are 1.5 by 0.9 metres. This main chamber has drystone sides with corbelling in evidence. There are apparently other cells or recesses on each side of the principal chamber.

The main entrance to the principal chamber is a slightly curved lintelled passage approaching from the southeast direction. A second and much lower passage, now blocked by debris, leads from the north end of the chamber, and thence turning northeast after the entrant reaches a short distance. (RCAHMS, 1987). The smaller north end passage is traceable for about one metre and appears to lead to a depression or cavity, filled with loose-packed rubble with voids, which may be another chamber.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS.. As in the case of Burroughston to the north the siting of Castle bloody served as a defensive lookout for sea marauders coming from other islands or nations. The structure is set back approximately 150 feet from the shoreline, sufficient to provide the Pictish inhabitants a buffer zone from the sea which pound the surrounding lands with salt spray driven by fierce Orcadian storm winds. Besides this buffer from surf and ocean noise, the situation of Castle Bloody is much more sheltered from high wave action than the cliff areas at the island's north; for example, a site selected near the Geo of Ork would have similar cliff defences of the Castle bloody site, but would be subjected to much higher wave action, making fishing and seal hunting unpromising.

Significantly, Castle Bloody is near fertile lands that are even today producing grain crops, as they no doubt did for the Picts inclined to farming at the ancient settlement, even though the immediate locale is moorland. A further food resource at hand for the ancient picts was the abundant birdlife at the immediate coastline situated near Langavi Geo a scant 150 from the doorstep of Castle Bloody. A further factor favoring the selection of Castle Bloody by the Picts is the rich seafood resource on the western shores of Shapinsay. (Hogan, 2007). There are two brackish lochs, Lairo Water and Vasa Loch, respectively 40 minutes and 1.3 hours walk respectively from Castle Bloody; furthermore there is a biologically productive estuary, the Ouse, adjacent to Lairo Water.

* David Fraser (1983) ''Land and Society in Neolithic Orkney'', B.A.R.
* RCAHMS (1981 ) Ordinance Survey visit (JLD) 18 May, 1981 (Confirmed by A S Henshall).
* Ordinance Survey of the United Kingdom {1900} 6"map, Orkney, 2nd ed.
* RCAHMS (1946) Original Name Books of the Ordnance Survey: Book No.18, 145, visited 1928
* RCAHMS (1987) ''The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Twelfth report with an inventory of the ancient monuments of Orkney and Shetland'',
3v, Edinburgh, 277, No.786,
* C.Michael Hogan (2007) ''Burroughston Broch'', The Megalithic Portal, ed. Andy Burnham
C Michael Hogan Posted by C Michael Hogan
15th January 2008ce


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Castle Bloody first appears as the site of a Pict's House or Fort. This mound (NMRS record no. HY51NW 4 at HY53591643) on a moorland summit in the NE of Shapinsay had been partly explored by a local prior to 1923, when a newspaper describes it as a gallery grave i.e. a souterrain like Grain and Rennibister on Mainland. Later it is called a chambered cairn. Finally, for the moment at least, it appears as a variant souterrain. This appears to mean a monument type where a mound covers one or more passages, each ending in one or more chambers built on the o.g.s. Unfortunately in or after 1972 a capstone blocked the single certain chamber here.
This 13m diameter grass-covered stony cairn has a modern marker on top, despite which from being nearly 1.7m high in 1928 the height has apparently eroded to 1.2m. The removal of several massive capstones, east of centre at the south side, revealed a N/S corbelled irregular chamber roughly 1.5x 0.9 m in plan. This is entered from the south-east by a 4m long curving lintelled passage, roughly 60cm wide and a minimum four drystane courses high, through a 90cm square chamber entrance. Below the level of this passage another left from the cell's north end. Though blocked it could be seen to turn north-east after about a metre, where what looks to be a hollow packed loosely with debris could be a second cell - it is believed there could be yet more cells in the mound leading off similarly. The certain chamber is itself now choked with debris and has become blocked by a displaced roofing slab.
If one pictures a corbelled chamber of rectangular plan with side cells leading off surely the image conjured up is that of Maes Howe ?? Right time of year for miniatures.
wideford Posted by wideford
1st January 2008ce
Edited 1st January 2008ce