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HOWE TO KNOWE July 10th 2005

This year's open day at the Knowes of Trotty I would be a little early because of the bus timetable. Only Kirkwall-Stromness on a Sunday so set off from the Dounby junction and up to the first crossroads, the one before Appiehouse Take the RH off. Coming to the side road that goes up by Howe (built on a natural hillock) and Manse when I had a thought about the Fa'an Stane 0'Howe. This large stone on the Howe lands was broken up and removed sometime before 1882 (for I don't see the O.S. missing a named stone). It is said to be a standing stone of which there is no trace. Only it struck me as it was already fallen when named maybe they should be looking for an artificial mound, perhaps like the Stanerandy Tumulus having been called the Stanerandy Stones till (IIRC) modern times. There were and are tumuli over by Winksetter, I rather imagine we can ignore the Knowes of Trotty. Or maybe a natural hillock would do, like with the Appiehouse Stone. Further along the road lie a disused pit and a quarry - perhaps it got in the way of workings. Wish I knew what precise area the Howe farm lands covered on the 1882 map.
Saw a mown track before the route used last time and presumed it to be a newer better way to the Knowes of Trotty. In this I was wrong. Continued across fields anyway. Very tough going but did get to see a nice bridge out there and became intrigued by a flattened area of burn that I guess was the ford marked on the 1:25,000 in a now isolated spot on the track to the tumuli. Getting to the track my trousers were soaked all the way up from the vegetation, strangely I didn't become thoroughly drenched until the knee-high grass where the farmtrack underfoot becomes a not-quite footpath. Not had squelchy feet for ages, must have been sock osmosis ! So know not to come hither when rain is about. But oh, all about the bright dainty butterflies seeking mates and the siren calls of parenting birds.
When I reached the place of excavation, about the middle of the day, I found out that I forgot the open day started not till two. There was no-one about, only a notice for when the tour began. Thought I to cross the field and while away the time perusing sites about Dounby - for one I have never yet gone down the Howe side road to seek out the broch and well of Nettletar that lie on the Burn of Nettleton below Manse. Unfortunately identical notices bounded the field on all sides, blocking my way [once the season's dig was done the public were informed that besides the scattered amber beads had they discovered three gold fragments, one being about an inch long even still rolled up]. So I wended my way back fully along the proper track and pitied those to come later whom I could not warn of conditions (no notice at the track's start !).
So it was that my feet found there way to the farm road that skirts the Loch of Wasdale before heading for Berstane, cars going only as far as Wasdale Farm. There are a few 'standing stones' on the way to the northern end of the lochan. Before you reach the waters a tine goes to Setter, and in the angle sit a set of picturesque ruins above road level that NMRS calls a farmstead, though using a query in so doing. Just above Setter Farm are shown mounds, and in the far end of a field to its left a burnt mound. I saw the waters of the lochan lower than on any of my previous visits - there were several areas of ground just about breaking the surface and I am able to see the tops of at least one side of the short causeway to the artificial islet (though later I see a poor photograph in an hardbacked thesis shewing its entirety laid bare, a drought year). Mostly what you are aware of is the 'modern' cairn atop this creation. Like the Holm of Groundwater on the Loch of Kirbister in Orphir used to there are the traces of a wall round it at the (winter) water-level. Here, though, there is a causeway from the southern tip behind which are the remains of a massive stone rampart. Of the suspects it does sound more like a dun than a broch or any kind of roundhouse.
Along the grassy track to Berstane and the Howe-Harper cairn still looked impregnable in an unenterable field. The map shows tumuli a little further around the hillside. On the farm road above Berstane Farm I looked back at the cairn and noticed a second area of exposed soil on the opposite end to the first. Only when I looked at the digital photo back home did I notice a gate in the fence alongside the field. Must be up at the level of Berstane House or I'd certainly have noticed it before - ah well, there's always next time. From this point I looked across the the pass and the Kirkwall-Stromness road to the Hill of Heddle and for the first time really noticed the mounds on the slopes. The 1:25,000 confirms these as tumuli. I am struck by their resemblance to the hillside above New Scapa Road and finally convinced that the mounds there too are man-made. Back down to the main road the wood on the right is a plantation and a cairn is shown on the hillside above its east end. More evident is the Snaba Hill Cairn up around the hill again.
Last visit of the day is the Cuween Hill Cairn. Fairy Knowe indeed. Orkney has no faery, it has Finns and huldu-folk, dwarfies and hogboons. Finally I added the cell that lies to the right of the entrance, an easy one to overlook by the fact of being on the same side. Climbed on top, or rather up around the back. Here can be seen a circular back to the mound. Not sure whether this is original or a post-excavation artefact. Does feel somewhat like a platform, and a similar feature has been said to be part of the Howe-Harper Cairn.

wideford Posted by wideford
4th August 2005ce

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