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Farm Museums, Auld Krks and Broughs


Although I had been to Kirbuster Farm Museum before with my brother I went with the Blide party so that I might look around for archaeology more 'up my street'. Arriving at the farm I first sighted the Burn of Kirbuster corn mill (HY22NE 38 at HY28382535) across the road from it. All that is there now is a low lying mill mound with a few lumps and bumps visible from here to the left of a small roofless building on the opposite bank that might be connected, having a door-sized aperture facing the burn.

A pair of Egyptian geese in a small field to the left of the main flagstone path greeted us vociferously. Passing the custodian's building the farm's corn kiln stands at the junction of two structures, a walled yard adjoining the path and on the slope a small building with a low ptitch roof of small slates having a peedie chimney of few courses. Entry into the kiln was through the yard. The down slope wall is really deep walling because there are two deep openings about 5' high next to the kiln, though one has been
filled in with small slabs and stones. Their lintels are thick curved wooden beams with one a deep arch. The rest of the folk were in the hoose itself. In the centre of the roof a large hole illuminates the interior and lets in fresh air. This is directed by a primitive fan, the vent and controller being called a liora and kylin board. Below this is a short wall with slate top. Opposite one end an exterior wall has two tall slabs framing a narrower and even taller rectangular aperture behind which lives a big stone 'box bed'. Then
there is another long building pointing downslope. Through a side door I see a shallow channel running across the building formed by a paving of two flags and edgeset stones. Either side the floor is slab-lined, so which came first ? Inside is a floor-standing hand-operated churn, a large tub and other items of similar vintage.

Coming out I only then really notice that along the outside the path is the same mix of materials as the 'channel'. The open space taking you down to the present lawn is a rounded triangle. Two broad paths of edgeset stone meet, one crossing the slope and the other going from the main path downslope, surrounded by flag paving. The 'garden' corner by the path looks ready to fall. Not sure if its about to collapse or simply not of the same build but it is very roughly keyed in. Between the downhill wall and the more modern building level on the lawn is a narrow angular space that lets you see to the far end, near which is a stone- and smal slab-lined square aperture. I guess this 'window' gives the lie to my garden hypothesis ? The later building has walls of very regular structure and the roof is of smallish square tiles of pastel and brown mix colours. Standing between this and the long 'toolshed' lets you make more sense of the buildings between. Actually a hodge-podge of three plus the corn kiln behind the furthest right. The last has, as mentioned before, a low pitched roof going across slope. At its high side is a doorway with a much broader lintel than necessary. A wall coming forward and abutting the left side is part of a walled yard in front of the middle building. There is a gateway at the yard's LH side and a tall aperture/window in the middle of the building's facing wall. The roof's pitch is lower again and there is turf among the slates that point downhill. The last building starts between the middle building and the yard's front wall !

From its left another short wall comes forward but doesn't perform any function, as if there were an earlier and slightly larger building that has been replaced by this mish-mash. Its downslope pointing roof has the greatest pitch and is made of large thin slabs arranged as long truncated tapering triangles alternating. The walls have the most regularly appearance of the three buildings, the middle building is slightly ramshackle with stones of varying sizes and colour. The one on the right has neater walls but composed of larger stones than the other two with strong colours. My strong feeling is that unless it dates back to the 15th or 16th centuries this has been built of material from the mediaeval/prehistoric structures that once stood nearby.

Having taken plenty of pictures of the farm I turned to my first love, prehistory. I went back onto the road and walked west until I was past the burn. Look to the loch margin and you might be be able to see a solitary erect stone left of the burn. This is the Loch of Boardhouse Standing Stone, HY22NE 10 at HY28052520, facing E/W. Its antiquity is doubted. Unlike the Wheebin Stone at the other end there is no tale of its coming down to drink. However its far too close for that, though I assume that like the Loch of Tankerness this lochan's borders have increased since at least the Bronze Age, and there are marshy areas abouts. The stone is much smaller at two foot wide and only showing to a height of 3'2" - probably never stood much higher as the packing stones are visible. Of course in Scotland or England there would be fewer doubters of its antiquity, we just have so many candidates to accept more than a few. Perhaps the antiquarians thought it might be more than a standing stone, because some think there are more stones in the depression in which it sits. Stone circles aside not a few of our acknowledged standing stones have turned out to be the remains of cairns or parts of tombs.

Up on the east side of the burn, near the farm, was the site of Kirkie brae HY22NE 12 at HY28222537 (known to the locals more prosaically as Kirk Hill, as the NMRS admits). When the ground was broken up for cultivation though a number of stones were found there was no indication of burials. But then from an indistinct west gable foundation it is estimated that the chapel may not have been any broader than four yards. It is likely that the kirk was demolished in the Reformation as a 16thC red freestone font with an unidentified coat of arms was recovered from the loch. This had an octagonal plan, stands just over a foot high and is 1'8ΒΌ" across with a 14" basin (it is now in St Mary's Episcopal Church in Stromness). Kirkie Brae also had a burnt mound - St Duthac's Kirk in Kirkwall was built with material from Pickaquoy Burnt Mound. From the road the site is AFAIK a long slight rise atop the bank, and a close look at the burn reveals that this has changed course until it almost undercuts the site as seen and
probably removed other remains previously.

On a small promontory a few hundred metres north of Kirbuster are the remains of a prehistoric settlement which produced Iron Age tools etc The Knowe of Nesthouse, HY22NE 6 at HY27942568, is [IIRC] near a small caravan park. Very small. The two metre high mound occupies most of the promontory but has been heavily quarried, and now the two best surviving chambers are in the northern half.

As I made my way back the others were finishing their first visit. We had all become so engrossed in Kirbuster that it was felt not enough time had been left to visit Twatt's wartime airfield at Skogar, which is a fair size with much surviving architecture. Before Iceland was finally chosen for this purpose Skogar and Skeabrae airfields were to be united as a NATO base ! It is now looked after by a charity IIRC. So off to Merkister we went, everyone except me and Patrick and Star going in for high tea.

From our walk along the Rus(s)land road its Burrian broch only appeared as a convex mound of rough vegetation on the loch edge after we passed North Bigging and looked east, though on the map it appears as a neck and head jutting out. HY21NE 29 is given as either HY29611834 or 29641835. When the Knoll of Burian was partly excavated in 1866 they found a large "brough", but though the rest was being laid bare the outworks were left alone. Farrer found "underground cupboards, partly beneath the floor of the main circular chamber" and three steps he thought to have been part of an (?intra-mural) staircase. A sketch and plan by George Petrie show what are interpreted as a hearth and tank in the central chamber with a built wall dividing this from a long curving room on the north side and 3 small cells ? sleeping-quarters. Now some think it a wheelhouse, which is a round house divided into compartments by radial slabs, though.the few features have been compared to Burroughston on Shapinsay and Bu in Stromness. Not much remains standing.

When the road turns again I see a big lump of land sticking out into the Loch of Harray. Kirk Quoy on the map, HY21NE 28 at HY29511774 was another Marykirk (though a fellow Brochaholic has been and thinks it likely there was a broch here before that, and he's a professional archaeologist). Apparently nothing survives. But most of the stone had been quarried for use elsewhere some 50 years before 1923, after which the land of Kirkquoy was broken up in order to be taken into cultivation, so absence of evidence is not evidence of absence here. From the road it presents as two long mounds of middling height and angular appearance and one small circular one, possibly with a lipped ditch around one at least (in fact it does resemble MacKie's photos of the broch, so I just might have them muddled up - in which case what's my other mound).

The labradoodle, Star, shot off into a field and ran around it several times before we spotted the rabbit it ran after. A few more circuits and bun escaped, leaving Star to make some half-hearted attempts at a couple of cleverer rabbits. All very amusing to the superior humans. Patrick left after calling her back whilst I continued on to photograph the last remaining complete building of the WWII ground intercept station, a small but beautiful structure composed of the familiar multi-coloured wartime bricks. Not plain walls but having columnar projections from the ground to the thin concrete roof. Three concrete steps lead to a vestibule (with its own thin concrete roof) attached to the side that is the door to the inside. On the opposite wall is a small narrow window. There are other relics of the station about, like odd bits attached to farm buildings or built into walls.

Peering up the burn before turning down to the Mill of Harray, now converted into an artful dwelling, I can see a part with large stones straddling the burn sides where the water drops down a little that could well be from this having been a millstream (in which case possibly earlier as not mentioned in the monument records for the mill)). A field E of the road between the mill and the hotel appears crammed full of large stones that have the feel of a broken-down old boundary, perhaps even prehistoric though a
mediaeval tunship dyke is more likely.

As I neared the Merkister I saw the others getting into the van and ran hell for leather to reach it. I was able to convince Patrick to drive the rest of the Rus(s)land Road as this is only the same distance as going back whence we'd come and down the Harray Road. If it had been up to me we would have gone on to the Lyde Road and down through Rendall to Finstown. Again this would have taken about the same time as going via the Harray junction of the Kirkwall-Stromness Road, or even less. To me a trip to see sights should always include those one passes through on the way as part of the whole gestalt. Much more interesting to go back by a different way to that which one came by - coming from the farm museum there is a nice road heading from Dounby to Evie that is equally attractive.


The way to Corrigal Farm Museum from the Harray Road is easy to get lost on as it includes other minor roads and several of these junctions are at sharp corners. At one point Patrick almost took us on the farmtrack to Quoy Christie but we caught ourselves just in time. At the first junction turn left through Upper Appiehouse, at the next turn right and up past Nessbreck on your left to Corrigal (Mid House was the middle house of Corrigal). I shall describe what I saw in the order I took photos, so might stuff out of order. And really I should have bought the guide book !!

When you come to the museum there is a fine display of colourful ploughshares running down the lawn facing you and the building with the corn kiln has a distinctive turf on the roof. The areas around and between these are paved with slabs for the most part, though some has kind of linear cobbles like Kirbuster. One building looks to be a byre, with a finely built shallow channel running down it and tall erect slabs down one side as stalls. At the far end of these is a tall chicken coop. Now the stalls contain stools, buckets and horse gear. on the other side it houses a lovely old cart/wagon of sumptuously burnished woods. Another building has a low walled enclosure attached. I'd take this for a planti-cr(e)u(gh) or mini-garden if it weren't for a purposeful lintelled rectangular 'hole' near the building's end wall. Curious. This side lean two small rusty spoked wheels and a squared off slab mostly occupied by a rectangular hole with rounded corners like a primitive loo-seat ! Peats are stacked outside its end wall.

The next building along has more of a domestic feel. In one room is a chest-of-drawers surmounted by a tall plate-rack [is that what you call them?] filled with vintage dishes, both circular and oval, of various designs. At the front top of the chest is a writing slate beside a game like Nine Men's Morris. There are also a few cups, ?condiment jars and some metal containers resembling Brasso. Alongside the chest is a plain box chair with rectangular panels carved into it. In another corner storage space has been created by placing a large flat stone across some erect slabs. Here be buckets, tubs, a barrel and a large metal cauldron (amongst other things).

Leaving the best until last I reach the corn kiln. Except it is more than a kiln. Facing you is its own seperate dividing wall. You can see daylight streaming into the kiln from outside. On the left two rectangular niches, one above the other, are lintelled by very thick stones. You step up to the high kiln entrance and the way is narrowed in the bottom half by walling of disparate heights, perhaps as an aid to moving heavy bales. And another wall blocks off the lower part of the entrance a little further up again, capped by
a thin flag like those 'side walls'. Finally I can peer over the edge. The bright summer sun comes in through the roof's central hole. I am wonderfully surprised to find that in front of me a corbelled floor mirrors the corbelled roof, though the very bottom is flat. Near the kiln straw is stacked in an irregular half-corbelled niche standing over head height like an angular bite out of the wall.

Going behind the buildings I can see my ultimate goal, second time I have been here and I still haven't gotten any closer because again I've been with other folk - on the north side of the corry behind the farm museum are the remains of the Corrigal Burrian (broch), NMRS record number HY31NW 33 at HY32351937. From here it is mostly presents as a long grassed over earth mound with lumps and curvy depressions, here and there I see bits of bright wall and in front of the far end a broad sweep that might be the burn or something else. Which is a shame as I'm not seeing the best of it. The stonework survives highest on the NW side with six drystane courses of the outer wall-face standing to 4'6" for about 8' distance. On the N side you can see the inner wall-face (giving a wall thickness of some 16'). Foundation courses visible elsewhere lead to an estimate of 53' for the tower's external diameter. Whilst acquiring stone for building work a previous owner came across a 2' wide passage which he then filled in, alas. Exposure and erosion at the north and west and east have revealed the walls of outbuildings between the tower and an eleven yard ditch which surrounds it at a distance of some 40' for about half the periphery. What appears to be an outer earthen embankment lies on the west lip of the ditch and varies in height from 2'6" up to 5'6". All at last report of course.

This broch is "on the steep right bank of Corrigall Burn". Downstream is the Knowe of Haewin, also known as Howen Brough and Howan/Howen Broch. Monument record HY31NW 32 at HY31801914 also appears as Gorston Brough, but Gorsten should read Corston for the tunship and anyway is more properly the Burrian in Corrigal tunship (from where it can be seen) as otherwise this is inexplcably missing from George Petrie's list. It is described as at the brig (bridge) below Garth, and on the map is near the south side of the burn and to the west of a loop in this. IIRC there is a tradition of there being a kirk here, which is more likely going by the flattened summit, the shape and its orientation. In 1923 the pear-shaped mound is said to be undisturbed but the perimeter has been altered and material removed from the E and W ends. Its main axis runs 48' E/W, it is 32' from north to south at the W end and 12' at the E. The mound is steeply banked at the east side (5'3" high) and the south side (2'6" ht.), but they think this may not be its original state. I know that I must have been looking directly at it, but knowing it lies on the opposite bank of the burn is no use if you can't see the burn there from here. Smiley face.

Due north of Haewin and half-a-mile from Upper Corston antiquarians placed the Quoys of the Hill standing stone. Most of the brochs would have been visible from it. The modern monuments record has a standing stone at HY31832301, three-quarters of a mile from Nether Corston. It is about the same size, 0.8 by 1.4 by 0.13m as against 1.2 by 0.5m, explainable by continuing erosion (in Orkney stones can decrease in revealed height also). Though the former was aligned SSW rather than WSW/ENE that was an approximate bearing. The distances are certainly the same.

To end our trip we went to the Merkister again, this time to celebrate a Blide member's birthday. Sheena had bought some dreamy bakeries, like a cross between a jam doughnut and an iced cake with a strawberry on top (which we ate after she explained the 'do' and asked permission). Yummy. The others had tea and coffee whilst I looked around.

Between the boathouse and the pier a man in waders fished, as did two men in a small boat a little further down the loch. On Harray Loch's opposite shore what might be taken for another broch mound attached to the land is instead simply another of Orkney's green islets, this one the Holm of Kirkness.

From here I could look straight down over the Burrian Broch and Kirk(a)quoy. In front of the two is the small moundlet with drystane fieldwall (and a central dent from some directions) that I mistook for the broch. And in front of that is another even tidgier spur ending with what might be the remains of an even older wall (or pair of like many another sticking out our lochs' edges - fishing stances ?) level with the lochan's top. There are outstanding views of the surrounding hills as per usual. Below the lawn area steps lead to an ornate sheltered lower garden defined by a low drystone wall, circular with a central bush eye, paving of large slabs and two curved stone seats on carved uprights.

Slightly north of the Merkister Hotel is the Harray-Sandwick parish boundary. to the NW, behind the sewage plant. a rise is all that is left of the Wasum mound. On another day we took the Swartland Drovers Road that comes down from Sandwick to end (as a trail leastways) at the Russland Road just east of the hotel. From here I could see Wasum appears to have an answering rise on the other side of the loch. To the south the 1:25,000 has the legend Stepping Stones connected to an unnamed islet. You can tell that Pastmap is no longer being fully updated because this now has a NMRS. HY21NE 93 at HY28891954 is Hourston, causeway and island. So another causewayed island like Wasdale in Firth. Still an incomplete record as (presumably) no one has looked at the island itself for archaeology, and both from the 25" and modern aerial photography this oval islet [??crannog] has a line of stones. The obvious explanation is an enclosure like Wasbister on Rousay, but what about the edges of a flattened mound instead. At first glance I thought someone had missed a peedie broch, but the outline only goes up at the ends of the profile, so maybe more like what the (traditionally) graveyard opposite the Wasdale 'dun' would have looked like, especially height-wise. In between Wasum and 'Hourston' a bite out of the land is shown on a map with stones too. These fill a circle - perhaps there is a submerged cairn here ? It's smaller than the islet for sure. On the same aerial image there is a dark circle maybe the same size as the islet on the loch bed and another less certain one. Perhaps these were more islets, but I am reminded of the circular shapes revealed on the loch bed when I was walking Wasdale one very stormy day.

wideford Posted by wideford
26th June 2012ce

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