Neolithic tomb found in garden 'extremely significant'
WHEN Hamish Mowatt decided to investigate a mysterious mound as he tidied an Orkney garden, he had little idea he would uncover a hoard of bodies that had lain untouched for around 5,000 years... continues...
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.
Visited on July 6th, finding the site greatly altered since our first visit in 2012. The tomb has seen no great changes.......just a large and thick sheet of fibreglass forming part of the roof, and a iron grille with padlock for security purposes.
The Skerries Bistro is now housed in a large modern steel building at the "front" of the site with adjoining visitor centre. Carol now handles the indoor, hands-on part of the visit, with Hamish showing you around the tomb structure (between bailing out water from the floor!) They continue to resist attempts of a "takeover" and thoughts of a raised false roof. No desire currently to excavate further any of the chambers.
Both Carol & Hamish are very open about the very blinkered approach of the local authorities which has strengthened their desire to leave well alone for the moment. A visit now costs £6 and the bistro fayre is even better!
There is (or was), in Lady Kirk, at Burwick, South Ronaldsay, Orkney, a large stone which, according to the Rev. G. Low, tradition says St Magnus used as a boat to ferry him over the Pentland Firth, and for its service laid it up in the church, where it is still preserved.
[...] John Bellenden, archdeacon of Moray [in 1529], states the legend to this effect:-- South Ronaldsay is an island inhabited by robust men; it has a church near the sea-shore, where there is a very hard stone called 'a grey whin,' six feet long and four broad, in which the print of two naked feet is fixed, which no workman could have made. Old men narrate that a certain Gallus, being expelled the country, went on board of some ship to find an asylum elsewhere, when suddenly a storm arose by which they were exposed to great danger, and at last were shipwrecked; he at length jumped on to the back of a whale, and vowed, humbly praying to God, that if he was carried safely to shore, he would in memory, &c., build a church to the Virgin Mary. The prayer being heard, he was carried safely to the shore by the assistance of the whale. The whale having become changed into a stone of its own colour, he placed it in that church where it still remains. (Barry's Orkney Islands, p. 443.)