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Cool To Trotty, July 10th 2004

Along the main Kirkwall-Finstown road to the Dounby junction and up to the Stoneyhill sign ( instead of following in my footsteps this day you could take the road up alongside Maeshowe, but this way is less confusing signs-wise). This day was arranged around a guided tour by OAT of the Knowes of Trotty, and not thinking I could link up to the Dounby junction with a later bus meant I had two-and-a-half hours on my hands. So having transferred its location from CANMAP onto the O.S. I was fully minded to investigate the Staney Hill Long Chambered Tomb. It is very very roughly the other side from the standing stone - having previously obtained decent roadside pictures of this I opted not to take a close-up look of this lovely work. Yet further downhill I went, expecting to come to my leave point ahead of the minor junction. But even CANMAP is ever so slightly misleading, for the fence that was my guide is actually smack opposite the Grimeston signpost (additionally the Grimeston and Stoneyhill roads are confusingly intertwined if you come from the Maes Howe end).
There are meant to be three tumuli in the first field (Feolquoy barrows HY3174155) but I only looked for the two which I found. Silly me ! Quite nice fairly low grassy mounds. Not expecting anything I still went over them and was pleasantly surprised by the presence of a few small stones within them, though no structure could I detect. Next on my list there was a tumulus in the field opposite the one behind them (probable barrow Feolquoy mound HY317157) which I don't think I detected. Probably this was because immediately on entry into the next field I found many stones, loose and otherwise, underfoot. I turned back round I saw they extended back to the gate, and seeing some huge specimens about (more especially some several metres down towards the loch resembling the fallen remains of a giant castle with, on the surface, loose foot-deep slabs left over from the giant's dominoes) thought for a moment I'd hit the barrow too soon. But mostly I took it to be an unmapped rock outcrop. So I passed on to the next field where the true mound was topped by one of those cattle-feeding ring thingies. Unfortunately I was unable actually to go into the field with the tomb as there is an electricity line on either side of the fence. Actually if I'd had time and courage there was a spot some way down the hill that I could have snuck through the many unelectrified lines of the fence. Either that or find some other way entirely into the field - there may be a farmtrack to the far corner .So I went back up. Luckily even from outside the field several decent areas of stonework are exposed. This tomb (HY316159) is an heck of a big 'un and so actually continues uphill, straddled by another electrified field boundary. Alas, there appears to be damp somewhere in my SLR and so the slides may not show anything when I get them. On the way back I had another look at those boulders downhill. It felt like it should be the remains of a truly megalithic fortification. But though at first glance it appeared to curve about a line the straightness of the individual pieces of rocky outcrop gave the lie to this. The 'knocked-over dominoes' lay atop this and the romantic in me says that surely at some stage nature here has been added to by man. What can be said safely is that someone thought at some stage to remove a few as the one uppermost has a smooth-bored hole about an inch diameter that has to be fairly modern. As I re-entered the roadside field I gained a retinue of skittish bullocks, nowt to be afeared of trust me.

Then I went back to the top of the road and continued up towards Harray, passing Andrew Appleby's pottery along the way (he only recently gave up being chairman of the Friends of Orkney Archaeological Trust and once upon a time excavated a few cists in the area before passing his report on). My intention had been to view the Netlater broch ( 200m south of the Harray Manse at HY323174) over the other side of the road because the western arc and a chokedup well survived. But on the ground I felt less sure of its bearings amongst the many bumps, and as there appeared to be kie on most I felt it best with my time restrictions to go elsewhere. My objective the next junction on the left , the piece of road down to Ballarat House, as far as the broch at Gullow (with what should have been an easily recognisable tumulus along the way if I'd only gone that level further with CANMAP).
What I came across first were a pair of flatface-aligned stones at HY318171, the left-hand side of the road short of where a disused pit is shown on O.S. and before it turns to Caperhouse. Not as slim as the ones at The Round but similarly placed. The distance between them is 3.6m, both have elaborate settings , they seem to be about the same height of 1.3-5m and are similarly shaped though not mirror images. The stone setting of the one on the right doesn't seem to extend in front but along its outer edge are several small slabs on end like the top of a drystane wall. It struck me that perhaps such pairs of stones were the termini of the very first field boundary walls, representing a gateway before we moved to the use of permanent gates and the usual orientation of stones used as gateposts. At The Round (HY503063) the track edge along which the stones lay could similarly be the line of a very low wall. Also coming naturally to mind was Leafea (HY231093). As far as I could tell from a distance at Leafea there isn't anything like a wall and it would have to have vanished before the first record. Also the stones are much closer. But I may have something - could these arrangements have been of the same age as the 'standing stone fences' and a similarly symbolic style of space management.
Around the bend there is another set of these 'gateposts' that might rebut my idea. Only the feel is totally different, and try as I might I was unable to find any settings for these. Looking across the road whilst walking I was intrigued by the bulk of a mound I thought was some kind of humungous spoilheap. Turns out it was the Knowe of Burrian (HY308168). There are several brochs called Burrian, this one is a.k.a. as Garth Farm (RCAHMS NMRS no. HY31NW 2) and it is famous for a Pictish Symbol Stone now in the Orkney Museum as is, Tankerness House as was.
Coming towards Furso I was on the lookout on my left-hand side for several tumuli but only saw modern agricultural mounds. One in particular (HY312166) has a sandpit on the top with several stones poking up. Couldn't find it (though 9x7m it is only 0.7m high); apparently did but my map addition proved false. Thought I detected it in a couple of stones in summer vegatation beside the road at HY311165 and didn't realise my error until my return. These were in front of Maesquoy to the right of a wooden direction sign for Furso itself. The nearer one, 0.54m high and 0.44m wide narrowing from a knee to 0.2m, is about 30 degrees offset from the road. 0.4m away is a taller stone, 1.2m by 0.3m, that nearly parallels the road. They are alone as far as I was able to ascertain. On this side of the Maesquoy buildings there is some nice evidence of features from the previous farm structures, both in and at the front of the wall. The lined stream leads to a decent-sized bridge, albeit burdened by a more recent superstructure. Early industrial I think you'd call this area.
Rounding the farm complex I had my first glimpse of the very regular shape of my end objective here. A decent height to it and what was there looked fairly complete. What a disappointment upon reaching it to see no features of any kind, only vegetation, not even the modern cairn of 'broch-like stones' noted on RCAHMS. The Knowe of Gullow (HY307163) is also known as 'The Castle' and I certainly must agree with the NMRS that this lovely mound surely covers a stone structure of considerable size. Perhaps I should mount it in a wintertime expedition in case it should prove less featureless then.
By this time it had started raining somewhat. I considered continuing to the end of the road just in case I could get over to the Stoneyhill road, which I now see would have been a bit silly ! No time, too damp. Reversing my steps I was sorely tempted to essay the Knowe of Burrian. Binoculars confirmed an appearance feature-full. But by now it was raining badly and I didn't want to miss that guided tour either.

The Howe road, where I needed to be, is not far off the top of the Stoneyhill road on the opposite side of the Harray route. On my way I would pass the location of the only other standing stone acknowledged by the NMRS for the HY31NW 1:10,000 map. The Appiehouse Stone (HY32621620) is 2'9" high and 3' high and sits on a natural mound. It should therefore have been easy to see, but I didna.
I was fairly certain I was on time. We were to set off from a car park with Jane Downes, the archaeologist in charge of the 2002 excavations, as our guide to the Knowes of Trotty. First I past the turnoff for Howe Farm itself. The first car park that I saw was on a small rise that I would say must have been roughly the location of the howe after which the farm was named even though not all that close. I say this because CANMAP shows no alternative in the region (and the same goes even in Orkney for a few other farms that aren't on mounds but are named after one - cases for investigation in the field methinks). There were a few cars there. Looking over the top of the rise I saw down at the bottom a far longer line of cars, a much bigger turnout than I had expected. There were several groups of people strung out ahead of me. Though it still lacked a few minutes of two o'clock the forerunners had been going maybe ten minutes already. As most people had turned up on time I thought it was a pity she had chosen to jump the gun and leave most of us playing catchup. No problem for my haste but unfortunate for those past middle-age. It is a bit of a yomp - because the area covered by these 11 cairns is now under management (hence the falling through of funding for further excavations this year) by agreement you can no longer reach here through the Netherhouse byre so we had to go this way round. Eventually the road takes a turn to the right, with a house inside the bend, and it was here my final adventure lay through a rough and intermittent route leading to the 'cemetery' (which isn't signposted so it is fortunate that they stand out on the left). Actually more a series of off-and-on trails you blaze through yourself. Owing to all the moss and heather it is a very bouncy walk -thankfully duckboards have been placed along the worst patches of the swampy bits now. Very good for naturalists such as I of course - I love grass in my hand but sometimes nothing beats a hardy hike.
The Knowes of Trotty themselves (HY341175 and the rest ;-) aren't much to look at - I would have been content to take a group picture at the first suitable place and gone back, myself. Close up the tumuli's only distinguishing features consist of differing colours of vegetation at the points of excavation and areas of soil exposed by the burrowing of rabbits.The cairns were constructed using natural drumlins as platforms. Though many were excavated by 'barrow-diggers' only the one with the golden discs was in any sense recorded. The 2002 excavation by Jane Downes, our guide, besides numerous cists in one of the cairns revealed in a flat area between two of the cairns some kind of building - perhaps a mortuary structure. In the Bronze Age the settlements were tiny and usually within a kilometre or two (so look about you if you visit). I think that from here you can make out the Knowes of Trinnawin tumuli on the west side of Hindera Fiold. From the highest point of the cairn nearest Netherhouse two of the hills almost form a continuous flat skyline.
On coming back to the main road I had another look for the Appiehouse Stone. Unless I completely missed my bearings still all I could find on the hill was a large flattish stone near the base. The rightful stone should be at the top. I went into the field to have a look at the stone I saw but it looks like just a piece of outcropping rock.{Here is the Appiehouse Stone's position according to CANMAP for anyone who wants to take a look for themselves: coming up from the Stoneyhill junction there are the Boardhouse buildings on your right with the field the stone's in next along, the O.S. map shows Appiehouse further along (on the opposite side of the road) and before this it shows two buildings (called Bellevue on CANMAP) with the Appiehouse Stone being atop the hill over the Harray road from the first of these}.

Temptation struck again when I came to the track that leads to the Loch of Wasdale with its possible crannog and then the Howe Harper Cairn. I fancied the waters could be low enough to cross over to the Wasdale site for a few photies. Only if I missed the bus I was 'aiming' for the next wasn't for a couple of hours alas, and I had already been on the go for over four-and-a-half (the Knowes of Trotty tour from the Howe road end being a little over an hour-and-a half of that time ). It might have been a tight thing but, having seen one person hiking in front of me getting a lift the other way and a couple behind me getting another lift, within sight of the Harray junction I gained one all the way to Kirkwall (the two lassies were in the junction bus-shelter, so I could have done it - or got there just in time to see the bus pass on its way more like !).

wideford Posted by wideford
13th July 2004ce
Edited 14th July 2004ce

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