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DESSO TO MISTRA November 12th 2011

After the Out and About to Gurness it proved necessary to go back for a more leisurely photographic documentation of the broch and Viking settlement that had been buried beneath the Knowe of Aikerness. Inside the broch tower I found at least a couple of 'objets trouvé', being slabs with petrified mud tracks over them. One of these had at the top a rayed sun simulacrum, a most delightful find. Coming up from the Point of Hellia I finally spotted the Knowe of Desso. Like many early Orcadian kirks it had been built by water, a burn in this instance. At first all I saw was a small pointy mound, then another angle showed a long depression attached to this. In 1852 the Knowe of Desso (a.k.a. Denshow) was trenched by George Petrie, who found a 4' by 2'6" by 2" blue slate slab incribed with a cross in the style of the Papa Stronsay cross (which came from an early chapel dedicated to St Nicholas like the former Orphir and Holm parish churches). However perusing the map I may have seen the site other than where marked by others (though if so this would not be the first time one has been 'mis-placed'). At any rate I did capture it in low light, and there is a connection later.

Following the track alongside the Bight of Bundy there are several grassy hollows. At first I only felt curiosity, but after climbing down I was gratified to see that these were nausts for hauling up boats into. The NMRS doesn't mention boat nousts but there is a record for old winches that may relate. A heron took flight from who knows where and passed close by before settling on the Sands of Evie. Coming to the PC I prowled around looking for old bridges/culverts to little avail. Then on the southern side of the small building now used by fishermen I spotted drystone walling. And when I came closer these were part of a pair of obvious nausts, with most of the stone walls still surviving. These appear slightly smaller than the grassy ones seen earlier and I think are relatively modern.

A few skeins of geese flew overhead. By now the twilight held full sway and even the nearer of the broch mounds stood barely visible. So I took the path up to the main road. Along the way I turned right and took the broad track to the older graveyard. I still find that straight pile of stones by the entrance, the same white as those of the graveyard itself, highly intriguing. I climbed in over the devil's gate, slowing down coming down the other side to avoid slipping, and decided on a counter-clockwise perambulation in order to peer back out over the wall where a large linear mound of soil and refuse lies against it ahint the stone pile. Placing my hand on the wall I felt a snapped off stone and found that there had been another devil's dyke on this side of the entrance just as with South Ettit Kirk. Outside the next wall there were a few stones that looked to have been brought up by the plough but went as far as the soil pile where there appeared to be a few dark slabs sticking out. In the graveyard I saw a narrow linear depression that didn't match any gravestone - I nioticed several other miscellaneous anomalous depression elsewhere as I went around. A most peculiar thing is that most places along the walls there are stones that lie across the tops and project somewhat beyond the line. Most exciting of all is that there is another devil's gate near the NE corner which I somehow missed on my previous visit - and it seems that its lowest stone had been either level with the graveyard mound's surface or even below this. Fortunately my camera's flash proved up to the job of filming it. Jo Ben said that the mounds in this area were often seen playing host to mysterious lights. The graveyard is the site of St Nicholas chapel. This "poor small house in Stenso" had a thatched roof renewed every year. Sometime before 1778 it fell into disuse, and then one Sunday shortly after 1788 the walls themselves collapsed. On the odd occasions when a new grave is dug foundations have been known to disturb the spade.
The farmtrack has not always been there. On the first 25" O.S. a track comes straight up fom the shore to the NE corner where the third devil's gate is, then goes around to snake into the present entrance whilst going up to a field edge and across to where the path down to the beach bends. The map also shows a rectangular structure central to the graveyard and a smaller square one in the SE corner. It is a safe hazard that the formerly upstanding remains of these now form part of the linear mound and the stone pile respectively. I think also that St Nicholas chapel took its dedication from the Knowe of Desso [though you could possibly argue Dens = St Denys] when this went out of use. The physical connection between kirk and graveyard has not always been. Earlier there could be several hundred yards between the two like there could between kirk and kirkhouse 'priest's house' (as with Houton). So it is not beyond the bounds that this was first an outlying burial ground - there is still a ford to the north of the Knowe of Desso. Both could have lain along the course of the Man's Body. St Magnus body was brought onto Mainland south of the Point of Aikerness. Two places spring to mind, the Noust of Aikerness and the Port of Aikerness. The first is north of Aikerness (near the field end S of Reeky Knowes) and the second to the south (just ENE of the Howea Breck legend on the 1:25,000 map). My bet's on the former.

When I reached the main road there was still an hour before the bus. Fortunately unlike one small shop in Kirkwall the Mistra is open until six, so I had a cherryade to drink and a trurkish delight bar to eat and saved myself going to Tesco by buying a pint of milk. Anyway, it is always nice to take a gander around a new shop you come across or even one where I haven't been for many a year lke Mistra. Continued north on the road, then took pics of a golden moon on Rousay's skyline from the war memorial before heading back. Great relief on finding the bus shelter (I have a poor memory). Sat and saw the full moon swiftly and visibly rise until she hid her face behind a veil of cloud. For the most part the sky remained bright and clear. High up one of the planets twinkled at me throughout and after. Probably Venus. Not very good at night colour I had for a while confused this with Mars until this gleamed a more obvious red to my left, low over Dale. Better to be too early than too late I walked onto the verge opposite after the bus left uphill. Now I could see some stars - not many but enough to dazzle. High up above me the W of Cassiopeia shone bright on her throne. Over to my left the Great Bear's plough had an immense presence, Callisto superlarge this night. The cold was well worth the visions but I was glad to climb aboard the bus at long last.

wideford Posted by wideford
13th November 2011ce

Comments (1)

The Sands of Evie is the likelier landing spot wideford Posted by wideford
18th December 2012ce
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