Now how have I missed this place before! It was only on a trawl through Canmore, trying to establish just how many standing stones remained in Orkney, that I noticed one on South Ronaldsay I’d previously missed. A further check on TMA showed this stone looked rather good, and armed with Wideford’s directions, on another fine sunny day, we headed off over the barriers towards St Margaret’s Hope.
The single track lane signed to St Peter’s Kirk leads you down toward the sea, the grey stone of the kirk itself soon appearing on the horizon, seemingly floating on the sea like grey stone ship. To the left of the road as we descend the slope the towering megalith of Sourquoy stands proud, furred with sea moss, and keeping its lonely vigil.
Down at the end of the road there is plentiful parking at the kirk, the stone clearly visible on its hillside just up the road. A short walk back up the lane shows the stone stands in a narrow gap between two fields now separate from the fence line. The narrow path seems to form some sort of drainage ditch, a gully running up the side of it, currently dry due to the recent fine weather, and there is just enough space to either side of the ditch to walk next to the fence towards the stone, and shortly the drainage channel ends allowing more space to approach the megalith.
And a fine stone it is, towering above you and with that particular aspect that South Ronaldsay stones have, whereby they appear to be standing sentinel and staring out to the ocean. Like the Moai of Easter Island they all seem to be faced toward the sea, in some way to watch out over the shore and peoples of the island, and perhaps the reasons for their erection were not dissimilar to those of the inhabitants of that far flung island.
There is certainly a fine view from the stone, the lucent sparkle of the sun on the sea causing me to don my sunglasses (who’d have thought I’d need them on Orkney!) and the warmth of the stone on my back promoting an overall sense of serenity.
Pulling myself away we wander back to the car, and just off down past the kirk is the lovely sandy bay of Newark. Sand Martins skim the beach and Oystercatchers nest in the fields along the shore, and I catch a glimpse of some chicks as they run between the shelter of overgrown tufts of vegetation, the warning peeps of the adult birds echoing across the sands as they wheel overhead. Just behind the church on the shore line stands a modern standing stone, erected to commemorate the millennium, a fine memorial carved with a variety of Pictish symbols and well worth a visit. It stands almost in line with its ancient neighbour, a handful of millennia separating the two, but the sense of sacred place remains, a connecting thread through the ages.
We visited this site on September 15, 2008, in the early evening, and were enchanted by the pastoral site as well as the majesty of the stone. It's huge. Down the hill toward the cliffs and the ocean there's a mound that can be seen from the stone (and is located on the OS maps), but it was difficult to get into that field - lots of mud and vegetation and haphazardly tied fencing and gates that made us nervous; too much to traverse for us - so we didn't visit the mound.
This site is well-worth the visit. It's one of the most beautiful, moss and lichen-covered standing stones I've witnessed. The stone was easily accessible, and the location was beautiful. We lingered.
Several initials and names are carved into the stone from centuries back.
The directions left by wideford are solid and accurate.
Coming out of St. Margarets Hope take the Eastside road down all the way the crossroads and pass over to the Wheems Hostel road. The fence beyond Sorquoy carries on either side of the road, the stone is incorporated into the barb-wire fence of the field on your left. Meet grandad. A block of red sandstone 4.4m high, 0.8m wide, 0.45-0.55m thick, with some packing at the bottom.
Lest you think size is important I should point out that the shore below here is like an open-cast mine for standing stones - why quarry when you can simply lift them from the ground, it's comprehensively littered with stones of all sizes above the storm beach.