As anyone who’s read some of my previous fieldnotes will know I’ve got a pretty blasé attitude towards trespassing in order to visit an ancient site. Of course I always make sure never to cause any damage to anything and act in a considerate manner at all times, but there are some occasions where I would draw the line, and one of those is where I feel I would be infringing on someone’s privacy.
Quanterness is one of those cases, the mound of the barrow sitting in what looks like a small walled garden next to a farmhouse. In these situations there is nothing for it but to either settle for a view from a distance, or knock on someone’s door. I’ve settled for a distant view before, and as I’ve written in the past I never feel as if I’ve had a satisfying visit unless I’ve been able to set foot on/in or otherwise touch the site. I can’t really explain why, I just need to feel that sense of ‘connection’. Now being a somewhat reserved and unsociable type there’s nothing I dislike more than having to ask a stranger for permission to visit part of our cultural heritage, but knowing that in general the Orcadian folk are friendly, and not wanting to appear the worst kind of ferry-louper, I man up and approach the farmhouse, getting ready to try explain exactly why I would like to more closely examine the undistinguished grassy lump in their garden.
At this moment I’m saved by the arrival of the postman (no not the veteran TMA contributor!) who on attempting to deliver a parcel to said address quickly determines that there is no-one at home. The gate leading to the mound clearly stands open, so I decide to take a closer look, vowing that if I see anyone returning to the house I’ll come out and ask for their permission.
Through the gate the mound sits in a clearing surrounded by trees. Bluebells and wildflowers are scattered around the perimeter, and the dappled sun under the branches casts a warm light over the area. It’s quite wild here, the fact that it’s not a manicured garden both puts me at more ease about visiting, and also adds to the atmosphere of the site. The perfect mound ringed with flowers looks like something straight out of The Shire, and as I approach the grassy hump, and happily sit on its flank I almost expect to find a hobbit sized door in the side. There’s nothing more to see than the green mound nestled amongst the trees though, but it’s nice to be here on a sunny day, experiencing that sense of connection again with our ancient past.
When compared with the embarrassment of megalithic riches on offer just a stone’s throw away around Mainland, Quanterness is probably unlikely to top anybody’s list of must visit sites. You can catch a glimpse as you pass Quanterness farm on the main A965 near Kirkwall (just look for the trees and you’ll see the mound peeking out) which will probably be enough for most busy modern antiquarian’s, but I’m glad I’ve finally stood here, at just another reminder of these isles rich Neolithic history.
Look up at Quanterness Farm and the site is at the sub-rectangular plantation off a corner of the house just to its left (a plantation that I mistook for pasture when I looked on CANMORE the morn). The way I went was up a track before the farmtrack itself and then turning right at the modern little house. The plantation gates are scrappy and if it had not been attached to the big house a looksee might have been in order. But I figured there would be nothing to see under all those trees and left. Retracing my steps as I went round the corner I took a last look back and thought I saw the mound peeping through the trees at me. So if you're desperate to notch this one on your belt you can.
RCAHMS NMRS record HY41SW 4 . A twice-excavated site on the lower slopes of Wideford Hill , on a natural rise above the Quanterness Farm off the main Kirkwall-Stromness road . In the Iron Age a roundhouse was built through the E side . No internal structure can be seen as the site was sealed .