Scouring the OS maps for obscure Orcadian sites I’d not yet visited, I spotted a promising looking standing stone at Spurdagrove. So parking up at the nearby Loons RSPB reserve, and armed with some binoculars, we took shelter from the biting wind inside the bird hide, and scoped out the landscape looking for the stone. A plethora of fence posts and tufty grass made it hard to identify our target, and despite spotting some Tufted ducks amidst the wetlands, and a very cute gaggle of goslings with their Greylag goose parents, the lesser spotted stone of Spurdagrove continued to prove elusive. Checking the O.S. map it looked as if the stone should be fairly close to the road, so braving the icy breeze we walked along the lane from the hide.
Just a short way along the road we noticed a newly tarmacked layby, next to a short path which led to a seat looking out over the Loons and sheltered by a semi-circular concrete wall as a windbreak, the whole structure looking newly built. From here Ellen spotted the small stone, tucked away down by the fenceline.
A nearby gate gave access into the field which sloped down toward the stone, the ground becoming more wet and marshy as you approach the fence and the wetland beyond. Marsh marigolds lined the bottom of the field, and amidst the wonderful view across the flat marshland plenty of birds could be seen.
Approaching the stone the small ‘recumbent’ paired with it becomes visible, although at first I didn’t realise it as such, thinking it was just a natural stone outcrop. I’d been gingerly picking my way through the boggy ground, and now reached the fence, the small standing stone tantalisingly close just on the other side.
As I’ve said before in many fieldnotes, when I visit a megalithic site I always have an urge to touch it. Somehow it just doesn’t seem as satisfying if I don’t, it’s hard to explain. I think somehow it just gives me a sense of connection, touching the stone, my hands making contact with the same surface that, thousands of years ago, another pair of hands, those of a distant Neolithic ancestor, had toiled and struggled to move and set up the monument in this place for their own unknowable purpose. So I’ll often go to great lengths to have that physical connection. On this occasion it takes little more than donning some wellies, and carefully stepping over part of the rickety gate which is gently sinking into the marsh, in order for me to get up close and personal to the stone.
Practically abutting the fence, it’s a small and wide stone, with a sloping top, of a grey rock with cracks running diagonally across it and pale lichen growing over it in bands. The stone itself reminds me of a stunted version of the Comet stone at Brodgar.
Hunkering down near the stone out of the wind I watch Lapwings wheeling overhead, the sound of their mournful cries carrying on the wind and giving the place a melancholy air, but still I love it here. The earth smells rich and loamy down by the stone, and out of the wind even the sun has some warmth. I’m glad to have found another of Mainland’s standing stones, they’re all different in their own ways, and though Spurdagrove won’t win the award for most impressive, it’s got a great atmosphere in a lovely location, and I know I’ll be back!
There is considerable dispute over whether the two stones here (HY25492444 and 25542442) are the ones originally described, and if so as to to whether one or both moved since then !
In the Proceedings of the Society of Orkney Antiquaries John Fraser describes a 4'x3'x1' standing stone at the edge of The Loons with a recumbent nearby. Fuller details are 3'6"x3'x10" and second stone 12'9' away that is 3'x1'x8".