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A Side Jaunt - July 17th 2004

Thought about continuing my journey Harrayward from last Saturday, but even getting off the bus before Dounby to seek Fan Knowe might have extended my day a little too far. So I alighted at Dounby and took a left at the crossroads. Expected to see nothing between there and the Via road as tumuli mapped on this stretch are reported so low as to be often mere undulations in the ground. There is an Easthouse Burnt Mound at HY290206. This can be seen on the left of the track to Easthouse behind an unmapped little new abode in a field. It didn't look likely to repay a visit even though I know many sites only reveal themselves when you are actually on top of them, because thiis felt no Hawell but just the plain jane sort of burnt mound - I saw no features through my binoculars. A cist was found in a field attached behind Dounby Farm (about where the 1:25,000 has the first vowels of Hourston) and could even still be there.
Down at Hackland I found a solitary stone in the field alongside the road, no nearby quarries or outcrops or structures to explain its presence. The stone at HY27691936 is 1.1m long by 0.5m high by 0.6m wide, one end manages not to be quite square and the other is simply irregular. Just around the next bend is Bankhead. The Burn of Vetquoy crosses the road and runs along the farm's right-hand side. In the angle this forms with the road there is evident a quantity of stones in a very slight mound. This aroused my attention as possibly some very old (pre-mediaeval) structure's scant remains HY275191. CANMAP shows nothing in the vicinity, not even a rocky outcrop to explain it. (Travelling around Orkney it is curious to note how many triangles of land are fenced off or otherwise closed in. With some it may be a really boggy bit, a bend in a stream or a road cutting across. But in most cases the reasoning is not fathomable by me.).
At the next junction I turned left again, the road passing between Harray Loch and the Mill Dam of Rango. The Rango Mill looks to me to have been unsympathetically restored. Either that or a work in progress. Don't like the mill bridge, too 19th century for me. And the stream concurs because on the other side where its hidden by bushes its sound continues in a line with the much older and smaller bridge you can see on the mill side of the road. In Orkney some people have mock megalithry done poorly in their gardens. Near here on the left someone has made a country idyll in miniature, complete with a wonderful drystane cottage most petite.

Coming towards the next junction there is a bend at the hill summit. Just before you get there opposite a field of bushes is Skeldarquoy that used to have the 18" high Hestwall Barrow behind it. At the downhill end of the bushes is a gatepost pair of flat-face aligned stones HY26411695. But their bases are concreted in so I thought this might not be their original position, the photos wouldn't have looked right because of this and I took no details. Fickle me.
There are just so many stones in Orkney that you could fire off shots all day long even if you restricted yourself to those that seemed to have been in place forever ! You pretty soon reach saturation point during a long walk. When I came back there was a picture of a standing stone from south put up on The Portal and I thought to myself how lucky it must be to have so few stones that anything left is necessarily of import. Up here stones looking just like that one are a dime a dozen. So you hardly ever know if they are purely utilitarian, whether they have changed position or function, even the age is problematical now some are being newly 'planted' even in out-of-the-way places (even by farmers who otherwise uproot them - look e.g. in the two quarries between the Via junction and Brodgar). I found at least a dozen fine specimens between here and Brodgar, simply none stood out enough from the others for a picture.

Now I went across the junction for my first task. Not having realised its full authenticity before I needed to take measurements and further photos of the cist at Via Mound, work out its position with a proper pacing out. I see Via does B&B now. Coming up to it there is a large and vaguely triangular block of stone sitting in a depression by itself. But with the quarry literally just the other side of the road... Alas since my last visit a crop of grass several inches high has taken over the field with the archaeology. There is no law of trespass here but there is one against damaging farmers' property that includes crops. The Stones of Via were plain sailing, no danger there. However I could not see where 'my' cairn was and without being able to make more-or-less a beeline for it I couldn't guarantee not harming the ?pasture.
On my way up the hill I had noticed, on looking my right, a field with a building next to a standing stone (unfortunately an illusory combination) and a close-knit standing stone pair in a feld wall. So in spite of changeable weather I went for a looksee. They stand at HY25771588. They abut but the one on the right is rather loose. This has been the result of a recent knock, especially as its right end is in line with what is either a blocking pair or a stone setting 0.4m high. Both standing stones are 0.4m wide but the one on the left is 1.3m high and the other 1.1m. Why the query about the stone setting. Because the stones at right angles to the pair are before them. The LH of the ?blocking pair is shorter but thicker, 0.3m by 0.1m against 0.6m by 0.05m). A boulder fills most of the space to there left and could have arrived there only recently. So perhap this area originated as something different. Almost finished measuring when it bucketed it down. So I waited until it eventually went. Whilst I waited I looked up and saw on the summit what seemed like a square arrangement of standing stones amidst many modern stone pillars in fencing. Possibly another trick of the point of view. Then I chanced to look to the right and saw several more standing stones along the line of the hill. Suddenly it struck me that this was a mirror of the sites I call Breck spine and track near the Mine Howe complex. Hmm.. When I got back home I looked again for something on the building in the field between the pair and the 'standing-stone fence'. Instead I found out that this Fiddlerhouse field is probably the site of a barrow as no less than six cists have come from here. All are reported removed (4 about HY25821581, one at 25821575 and the other at 25831582. Plus a pile of ashes from 25901570. Makes me think a little of the Breck urns). Is there a connection with my that day's find you wonder. Coming past Via and looking to the house you see that singular block sits in a bite out of a hill against which you see the house, making me see it as a settlement mound. Only on my return did I find this as Via Barrow HY25841609 from which a cist came (now missing of course)

Went back to the junction for my second task, to go inside the field of the Stackrue-Lyking Broch, take photos of that multi-period settlement's other side and perhaps look for the passage entrance the downhill side of the road.Coming down from the Via junction at one point when I looked to my left I saw a broad standing stone. This was on the horizon half-way along a barbed-wire fieldfence. Too far for a picture. Not much further along there was a pair of standing stone gateposts, and at the top of that field was another broad standing stone in the same situation as the last (no, not in line with the gate at all). So you have to ask yourself is this the preservation of ancient stones in position or a farmer making a statement with recently placed ones ? I had already seen what looked like at least one standing stone in the rubble over the quarry on the right and now saw another in the quarry before that on the left. It had been used as a gatepost in modern times with more than one site of metalwork. Thing is I'm not sure that this one wasn't still erect here on my previous visit. By now I was getting a thorough whetting again, saw cycling through the rain a fellow unfortunate. As I took the turnoff for my second task (the junction indicating Voy) it started to ease off a little. This target was even worse than the last, the sides and top covered by herbaceous plants so that only the larger blocks of stone wall remained visible. So no go. I did consider going on to visit the sites at Redland, only I knew this would be no better. [At the Knowes of Trotty last week the point was made about how its being so difficult to reach meant it was not reknowned despite its importance (and un-signposted I would add). I think many sites are in this position purely because in the summer when visitors might seek them out all but the present major sites (i.e. for the greater part HS guarded) are completely obscured by thick vegetation during the summer months when most visitors are about]. So a little reluctantly back to the junction to go down to the Brodgar peninsula and an earlier bus.

Coming to the Buckan hill you would have difficulty recognising from the road that the Ring of Bookan is anything of import, an unobtrusive mound whose most obvious feature at this distance are at present the few tall plants around its top. Looking at the Ring of Brodgar below you see the visitors swarming it like erect ants on a honey trail. As I past the point where a track goes up to Bookan Chambered Tomb I took note of a standing stone gatepost pair on the left HY28921406. A mirrored knife-shaped pair probably relatively modern, though who knows. The standard 0.4m wide and 0.9-1m high, the RH one of the pair now eaning sideways. Despite the continuing rain I was troubled by flying insects as I past the Ring of Brodgar, a first for me. Not the black midges one would expect but smallish flies of some pastel shade. Brushing the hordes off most of the way to the main road. Opposite the Stones of Stenness the waters were low enough to show the large boulders that the seals are apt to sun themselves on. None there now, but I was fortunate enough with my binoculars to see them slightly further off but still by the shore. Being very inconspicuous on the boulders there I wondered if anyone else had bothered to make them out ?

wideford Posted by wideford
21st July 2004ce
Edited 29th August 2004ce

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