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ST.MARY'S TO SOUTH DAWN December 30th 2011

Took advantage of a forecast few hours without rain to go to Holm again. Coming down to St Mary's just before the turn between the road and the loch you can if you are lucky make out the Loch of Ayre broch. This is well camouflaged by grass but you can wander around inside. The archaeologists say the walls survive to five feet high but it is a little higher as standing in the centre (and other places) you cannot see over the top. Many brochs were only ever a storey high, so it strikes me as silly that one website refers to it as a "destroyed broch" along with others that survive equally well. Can't all be Mousa! Over at Skaildaquoy Point there are the remains of a Great War battery, which I only found out later. I think Skaildaquoy is probably named for skeldro 'oystercatchers', though this is simply an educated guess. There are boundaries left at this side of the village. Further along are some named 17thC houses. The storehouse by the shore doesn't look to be as big as its predecessor at the Greenwall grange. I had to get off at the edge of St Mary's as the next fare stage, the Italian Chapel, starts here and my return ticket did not include that.

East of the Churchill Barrier there was until very recently two winches and a small hut. These were all that remained of the fishery here, not big enough to have been marked thus in 1879. I imagine this got shifted to make the way clear for the road sign a few years ago. A pity. Not many metres further east there is still some kind of small machine at the base of the low cliff, possibly ?? a pump. Graemeshall has a mound or mounds beside the road. The first of these has a circular drystone structure at the highest point that looks like a well but on the first 25" is labelled Sun Dial. I think it is presently down as being the site of a flag, though if old it would have the legend Flagstaff (there are both Flagstaff and Sun Dial at Manse in East Holm), so it must have replaced the 'dial' after 1879. There has been an 'excavation' in the mound beside the road, just inside the wall, like a small rectangular sandpit but this is of recent origin. Still would like to know why it is there, however. Going up the road between the buildings the sun beams down on bands of green and yellow and brown. The yellow is the reeds/rushes lining the loch and pushing across it, the green the hillslope pastures behind. Across in the distance I saw what appeared to be the just visible prongs of a tractor where I thought the road to be. This turned out to be a pheasant racing across ! Where the road turns to Graemeshall Cottage there is a big modern shed. For some reason Pastmap places in the field here, NE of Tighsith, a record relating to the cross-slab from Graemeshall Chapel - perhaps someone had an inkling of something but didn't want it official. The only thing I can see is a very small mound lochside, and even if this were artificial it is surely too peedie even for a private chapel. Tighsith sounds very Irish, not Orcadian at all, in which case could the second element be sidhe, the Shining Folk ?

Now the hill starts and it is only by peering over the east roadside wall that you can see the disused twin quarries belonging to East Gr[e]aves. Looking further up you can see Laughton's Knowe from which a Bronze Age razor came. This is the first of the mounds shown behind Skaill. The others are named for Hall of Gorn - on the earlier map this appears correctly as Hall of Gorm, someone later didn't see the curlicue on the 1st O.S. that makes it an em, a not uncommon occurence with flowery scripts. I'd love to associate this with the hell-hound Garmr but odds are it is the Viking personal name (there was a semi-legendary 10thC King Gorm). At Biggings you can go left and reach the main road. As it continued dry I carried on instead. Incorporated in the north wall of the entrance to Craebreck is what I have taken to be an old milestone painted white. When I first saw and photographed this back in 2006 the writing still remained fairly legible, though I couldn't work out where it related to. This time I noticed what might be a smaller version standing at a field corner before that, also marked but unpainted. How very strange to have milestones so very close to one another. The unlikeliness stood confirmed on finding another at another field corner north of the entrance. These three marked 'milestones' appear to mark Craebreck's boundaries, or at least the farmhouse grounds.
The road turns again at Mosshouse. West of here used to be a large pond and a lochan called Laird's Loch with a small islet, Lairdshill being the house north of Mosshouse. Where the map shows a well that marks the western end of the loch. From the road I think this is a high point with two pieces on top that at high magnification reveal themselves as two tall slabs on end facing one another. My guess is that these were used in bringing up water, they might even have been part of a simple wellhouse though that isn't likely here. In 1962 men laying water mains on the NW side of the road near Roma found an underground passage with possible stalls. They ended up blocking off both ends.

At the road junction I turned right and passed the old schoolhouse that is now a private dwelling. Below the place called The Loons a big marshy area used to be a millpond. Now the rain started. In front of where the Graemeshall Burn crosses the road is a mound with an almost terraced appearance. Before it has been a mystery, it looks like something prehistoric or some winding track. But now I know that this is a lade, the channel taking water to the former mill on the southern side of the road. In the sumertime the 'valley' over that side is breathtaking. There is a nice bridge crossing the burn. By now the rain had really started to fall heavily. Just left of the farmtrack to Little Millhouse you come to Becky's Well which I had hoped to photograph with my Casio digital camera. It resembles a large roadside drain composed of slabs. Unfortunately to take a picture I would have had not only to uncover the opening but then also kneel on the ground and place the camera inside the entrance. So no go this time. Fortunately I have pics from previous cameras. Despite the rain I did manage a few shots of the Holm/Clett Battery from this direction. I also took pictures of the flooded fields below Netherton, with the flooding going all the way to the roadbridge. Reaching the war memorial at the junction I was glad of the partial shelter of its walls until the rain went away.

Having already taken a few more very distant shots of the mounds below Hestakelda (the farm to the south of Hestamuir at the top of the unnamed burn) east of the geo. Though the bases seem natural enough they do draw the enquiring mind. Especially the lower mound that has obviously had a great big scoop taken out of it at some time - mind you the barrow bagging barons of early antiquarianism would excavate any pimple even ! There was a well alongside the ravine that is not on the 1:25,000 so it's always possible this was dug out. From downhill part of the mound can put you in mind of Maes Howe, in that you have the distinct feeling there is a large door you could enter the mound by. Very evocative of something visited by folk in the past. The ravine or whatever ends at the top end of the Mass Gate track without seeming to go anywhere. I'd have to blame the rain for forgetting to look for the stone at the knee where the track meets the tarmac road so I still don't know if this survives. Missed chances. Speaking of which, thought I had a second chance to have a clear shot at a solitary pheasant when I saw a bird by itself in the middle of the field where the hill flattens, except that it turned out to be a lone cockerel. Good photo though.

Nature presented me with masses of lovely sculptured white clouds, with cloudscapes filling the horizon across the barriers. Also took a couple of pics of Skaildaquoy Point in the distance.Glad to reach the village toilets after a couple of hours walk. If I had known about the WWI battery I might have gone on to the ness on a look-see. Did think about taking the farmroad over towards the Taing of Westbank (now I know part of the St Mar's circular walk) to see new horizons and see if the camera took to them at this time. To do so I would have had to take the bus after next, but not only could I not trust the weather turning again (the gods had accomodated me enough I felt !) even more importantly my body had only signed up for the walking I had done and my legs were starting to sag. So instead home and, yes, shopping again.

wideford Posted by wideford
10th January 2012ce
Edited 10th January 2012ce

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