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July 29th 2006 FIVE TO FIVE

At the top of the Clay Loan the gallows used to be. Obviously it wasn't for every miscreant but placed as a reminder for folk coming into town from Deerness or South Isles directions (in which case why wasn't there one near the Bu of Corse for those coming from Orphir or along the Old Stromness Road, now called the Old Finstown Road, just a castle ["Spout"] down on Main Street ?). On Thieves Holm off Carness they executed the likes of vagabonds, tinkers and witches. But all references I find to this are terse or throwaway. Also considering its size there is no archaeology recorded or even mentioned about this islet.

Anyway, from above the Clay Loan one looks down into Kirkwall several ways. But it seems from an early excavation record that Towerhill was also known as the town hill. Certainly coming up to where the road to Towerhill (junction signed Inganess) and the Sand of Wideford leaves the main road you look along and have the impression of a huge bank encircling the town, though it is only natural. Between this junction and the top of the incline there is a blanked off 'gate' in the field wall. Meant to impress, this comprises what I call phase 1 gateposts - tall and circular, of a massive drystane construction. There is a corresponding pair along the by-road. But no sign, not the slightest remains, to indicate the structure to which they must surely have provided entry and a similar blank is drawn looking at old maps (though there are a few depressions on this side of the by-road in the fields this is no indication of the hand of man even to me).

Over the hill and into another low valley. Before you go down, on the right there are the Wideford Cottages (in the 19thC the pronunciation was discussed in the local paper because the better known Wideford, the hill, was pronounced as Whyteford by Orcadians). There are the unreported foundations of a house in the small copse here, with a lovely little oven well-preserved in a wall that still stands a few courses high. Earlier in the year there had been ploughing over the way and the field above the water course exposed multi-coloured soil. There was red and black and yellow and white. Didna look very natural ; with no very well-defined patches of individual colour I suppose it is possible, but you have to suspect the remains of an old settlement stood here or else perhaps some very early industrial activity took place.

Still in St.Ola, In the valley bottom the burn runs to the Sand of Wideford, usually referred to as Inganess. There's a footpath running beside the burn with way too many awkward stiles to make it really popular, and the section below [North] Wideford is still hairy in all but the driest weather. At the left the section betwixt road and shore has the Grimsquoy mound on its far bank (airport land - never found out and have no wish to trespass), but this merges with the surrounding grass at the moment. On the right, again if you know what you are looking for, just below the 'ridge' are the Hillocks of Garth (HY40NE 5 at HY46780780, no individual NGRs alas). Look out for a small group of farm buildings that includes an old Nissen hut - it helps if you are a little past the bridge though they are visible from the Wideford Cottages. You may just make out mounds, which from the report seem a disparate lot, so possibly multi-period. I have a few shots at distance and am still trying to work myself up to reaching them ! Further along, on the parish boundary there is the Hillock of Garth (HY40NE 10 at HY47040679) a big long cairn of stone slab construction NNW/SSE. Standing a man's height it should be prominent, yet I still haven't positively identified it, maybe it looks down on the Holm side !! In this area are also a low turf-covered mound and a big but very low circular enclosure (entrance NNE).

A lot further along from the Hillock of Garth near Quoyburray, also marking the boundary, is a Grey Stone HY50150485 - kind of unusual as all the other Gray Stones I have noted are at most in only proximity to the mediaeval and later boundaries rather than on them.

As you come uphill to the airport we enter St.Andrew's with the security of Lamb's ASM to guide us. However, opposite the Tankerness junction (the last place you can see the Hillocks of Garth from) is a massive earthwork that appears on no maps I can find. It's vaguely shaped between a U and an open-ended oval with a couple of small concrete structures of indeterminate age at the far end. Even though it doesn't show on old maps or the O.S. 1:25,000 a World War II date seems most probable as it shows on a 1965 1:10,000, though there are old rocks poking out from a similar but short and linear earthwork a matter of yards away near the road. On the summit of the hill behind Howe of Staneloof are two for-real antiquities. There is a circular cairn (HY40NE 20 at HY48330698) 14m across but only 0.7m high and a 20 by 12m mound (HY40NE 23 close by at HY48240679) of supposedly rather more recent date and rising from 1-2.5m i.e.sloping. Both are mutilated and sit by the parish boundary, but the 'genuine' Ston Looe possessed "ane march stone and two witnesses" according to my reading of the mediaeval text. Alas, in the present-day both are well hid by our old friend peat.

Where the road levels off again I look at Craw Howe (probably named after the antiquarian, who most likely excavated it to leave us his afters) to look again for the two lesser mounds to its east. Are they the obvious ravaged ones to its left next the opposite fence of the same field ? Or are they the two even lower grassy mounds I now observe in the pasture to the left again, bringing me to the first of the long 'pits' roadside that I take to be more of the (Lang Hill) Five Hillocks which even officially have been nine or more in the fairly recent past. How much of the stones in their centres are original would require digging to discover, certainly the heaps have had additions in recent times, modern-looking concrete bits and an indicator of T-shape. And some does get removed. For one day I saw an SUV stop on the roadside and this gent got out and started loading up his vehicle with stones. Certainly didn't look to be a farmer or the owner. In my mind's eye I saw some ferry-louper coming by one day and thinking "Oh, I could do with those, make a nice feature for the garden". In which case bold as brass he was.

Between here and the other Tankerness junction that leads to Mine Howe are a couple of depressions that look to be left by long-removed dwellings even though I can find no names here on the 19th century map. On the left at Groatster a minor road goes past Grind where a silage pit has taken out most of a burnt mound, though the giant slabs now against the sides must have come along later. After Craw Howe and the Five Hillocks the next bumpy bits are the (? glacial moraines) Sandy Howes between Groatster and Brymire, impressive but natural. And the other side of Brymire we're back in prehistory with the Brymer/Veltigar mounds that fade out opposite the other Tankerness junction leading to Mine Howe. Though I assume Mine Howe will be looked at again this year the deal with Long Howe went askew, so we'll have to wait a little longer to find if there are any more tantalising bits of Mesolithic present.

The Quoyburray Inn isn't far from the junction and there were people dredging the burn, bringing up loads of black gunge and leaving a broad and steep-sided trench behind. Much too perpendicular to hold up long - it seems almost every time I've seen a place tidied up to increase water flow the next time rains come the banks overflow the roads or fields ! The Grey Stone that I mentioned is somewhere up on the hills behind it and a mere 1000' from this there's a likely settlement (HY40SE 46 at HY49950454) on the side of Hamly Hill just over in Holm. Back to my journey. On the other side of the road you come to a long field with the floor of some World War vintage building (I guess) roadside and old stones on the opposite side and scattered through the remainder of the damp field - something to do with a quarry marked in the 19th century I guess. This side of the stream where it nears Millbrae are, or were, the scant remains of two burnt mounds (HY50NW 12 centred at HY51320328) that maybe I should have another look out for when winter comes. The Sebay Mill of recent vintage is by the quaintly named Bay of Suckaquoy into which the Burn from Horslick enters. Even for Orkney the coastline here over-complicated and passing strange, you wonder what might have been here when seas were lower.

Here we go uphill again and the road bends. The high mist still diffuses the sun. At the present-day schools junction I turn off to go to Holm, a long and peaceful road on foot, lost in ages past. The Greens behind the school is not that where the symbol stone was found, that Greens is the Deerness side of St.Andrews in the region of Dingieshowe (where Upper Sanday is no island, for this way sanday=south). Now either I am climbing into the mists into Holm or they have came down, perhaps a little of both, for I see them scurry across the hill like a tightly packed army of straight-backed dust-devils. Ooer. Rather muggy despite the lack of sun, otherwise I could have looked down on Copinsay. At what feels like the summit there are several houses clustered at Muckle Ocklester by the LH side of the road. Nearly a mile over the way Swart Howe is another possible settlement (HY50SW 30 at HY50840328). There have been times in Orkney's prehistory when it was more populous than even now, but the people inhabited more of the land, the communities dotted about in far more places than can be occupied now. We have not known villages and hamlets, instead living in isolation or steadings and small townships. {From the B road a minor road from Muckle Ocklester passes through 'plain' Ocklester and is the quickest route to the St. Nicholas Church (on the O.S. 1:25,000 as simply a cemetery) settlement and on to Castle Howe. Soon I passed a newly ploughed field on my right with plenty of red to it. I did see one stretch of black (swart) earth but the area of colours is too big for a burnt mound and there is no sign of waters anywhere near. In the field I see large stones and a few flags but by the corner near the gate small rounded boulders as if from the shore. Down on the left the hipped gable of the church comes into view. Last time I was by this way it had been the field ploughed up. No colours but several large flags that piqued my antiquarian senses. The church has a goat on a rope grazing its grounds, which makes a change from the usual sheepan.

Now down onto the East Holm junction I considered turning left for St.Nicholas except the mist had rolled in once more and even I had my doubts over whether I could manage that extra extra mileage on my tank. Turning right I soon came to the house of Manse, RH roadside. A 1903 map indicates an antique flagstaff before the grounds are reached (on a mound is usual and there's one here), though nothing shows now, but the 1882 map additionally shows an antique sundial past the other end of the grounds but on the other side of the road. From the a previous visit I know that the low circular earthwork left on top of the mound (HY49790186) it is unlikely to be the usual sundial, more in the nature of some folly. There appear to be concentric banks with likely breaks or possibly foundations of a seating arrangement. There may be a large bank lower down the mound unrelated to these remains. Also downhill is a hillock that may be the lower part of this if it is like a saddle with different levels. At the bottom of the field is a burnt mound. A little further along from Manse is the farm of Little Howes, though there is nothing on record or in their appearance to say whether the further hillocks here have ever had archaeology.

Before the War Memorial junction there's a fair sized burn beside Hestimuir/Hestakelda ('horse-moor'/'horse-well') below the roadside. As you look over it winds first past a bank on the farm side with ridges from either former levels or as a result of cultivation, and here on the upper reaches when the light is right are cropmarks that I believe come from earlier habitations, individual buildings it looks like. The other side of the memorial is a burnt mound, being an amateur I'm never sure which parts of the hill are it and which modern water stuff - they seem to mingle and it's no help to me the summer vegetation now. Looking towards Kirkwall you can see Laughton's Knowe on the skyline, it has a pre-eminent position from practically anywhere in Holm once you've seen it and must have been placed to dominate the living. Anyway, instead I take the road down to Graemeshall. On the left the road cuts through the hillside instead of having its level built up. Earlier in the year I saw some likely soilmarks on the hillside between the road right and Netherton.

Down on the left just before where the Burn of Graemeshall enters the sea is Mass Howe. Because of the name this is sometimes mentioned as a possible kirk, though the original name was probably Moss not Mass and in fact the 1882 map shows the Mass Gate (referring usually to a hill-dyke gap) at the section of track that leaves the B road behind Mass Howe itself. This track shows on the map as a straight continuance of the road that points the other way to old Graemeshall. It goes to one end smaller mound than Mass Howe. Said mound is a much likelier candidate for a kirk, has a more regular shape and I have observed strong cropmarks there. If this was a chapel the track as going to Graemeshall was a 'death road' - "The Orkney Herald" of May 13th 1896 reports that there were burials in the vicinity of the old hall (Meall) of which the last dated back three centuries and a cist found on subsoil below the sandy foundations whilst expanding the mansion house. As for Mass Howe itself, I have been wondering lately if the amorphous structure reported on it might not be vitrification - a fort would do me nicely in between the St.Mary's broch and Castle Howe maybe.

Since last I was there, not many moons ago, they have made an (unmarked) coastal path in front of Mass Howe, though unfortunately they haven't levelled up the first few yards where you go up on to it. I do hope they didn't go through any archaeological evidence as they built it up It is narrow and straw yellow tussocks of grass have already invaded. Also there are a few holes and bumps and dips are still encountered. So be careful even now. Nice views down the cliffs, one place there's a stretch of several metres where lies a beach of very evenly matched rounded stones that look very out of place because of the uniformity. Probably in the lee of wind and waves somehow. Past Mass Howe a group of well-preserved World War Two structures hove into view. Most lie in the next field but the path goes between the fence and one that isn't enclosed. This part of the track require you to pass through a pair of wooden flip-flop gates to continue.

The far side of the buildings there is a modern dump of dull red flags and large stones coming down the slope. A few irregular slabs and blocks near the bottom of the heap are on the order of two metres across. This is where the O.S. has a well marked, though from the proximity to the shore I suspect a wellspring to be more likely. Anyway it's well blocked off now. And to its right is the burnt mound I mentioned before in connection with the Sun Dial mound. From there I had seen a fair-sized hillock. But that wasn't it, for the actual burnt mound (Tower of Clett HY40SE 10 at HY4949701654) is teen-tiny - I'm sure I could cover it with outstretched arms ! It's classification rests on the presence of black earth. 'Wedgie' took samples and obtained thermo-luminescent dates back in the Middle Iron Age, atypically early for Orkney. From where I am I can see a few stones in it. This mound looks a little small to hold a 'tank' and for some reason I am reminded of the cist area I observed at the Via Mound, perhaps the Knowes Of Lingro too. Just my fancy I suppose. Without going into the field the nearest I can aproach is an angle in the fence. The line of fence from here to the next turn is shown on CANMAP as where a burial was found. The lack of any further information leads me to suspect an unpublished find of the late 20th century. Looking further on is a stack called the Tower of Clett. It would be nice to think this a site like the Castle of Hangie Bay. But the small lump I see on top of it is merely a bushy clump and it looks to have ceased being arch in the more remote past going by its present amount of seperation from the land. Unfortunately the path can't go that far and instead goes uphill past Newark to end opposite Manse. This section of track consists of loose stone chippings, presumably imported. I cannot imagine this being a secure place to walk upon when the weather has been at all damp or there is ground frost. Anyway I only walk up as far the end of Newark to take a few photos.

Looking across to East Breckan I see apparently near this another interesting mound. Perhaps this was the old wark, I wouldn't swear to it, but the 1882 map hereabouts (as far as my memory can place the mound's position) has an incomplete sub-rectangle (centred HY49460173) with a raised bit below and a short path going down to the coast by the Tower of Clett. That's my take on it. There are two structures along the ends - whatever it was even in 1882 is nameless, but one of these may have become the 1802 parochial schoolhouse now appearing as a rectangle on the 1:25,000 because old maps often don't precisely align with modern ones.

Not wishing to go any further I retraced my steps. For a moment I did think to essay the field the path didn't cross, but the concealed burn put paid to that little idea. Back on track I saw where the cliff pushed into the sea a pillar-box slinking back into the cliffttop. There is a barred metal gate into the field containg the WWII structures and burnt mound. Past that you see another barred gate with a notice. From the other side I know it is a bull bewahren sign, one of Orkney's famous invisble ones that are usually owned by the flying pigs that don't mind folk on their land but spent the several years before the act came into force making this as difficult as possible ! Reaching Mass Howe I had a vague recollection of recently reading something about the bridge, only for the life of me I can't remember what. Something mediaeval like as not. Short of the Barriers I took the road that goes through the present Graemeshall farmyard. On the horizon you can see Laughton's Knowe with the probably much later Hall of Gorn mound to its right.

The loch is looking lovely with green rushes rising high above the linear geometry of their massed yellow stems. I just yearn for somone to enter the water and crop them with a scythe. Sigh. Except that would disturb the various species of bird for which this is such an attraction. Usually I see swans, different black-and white ducks, mallard. From roadside you see them paddling in the waterways. There are reeds both side of the channel in front of you and the bed on the right is above water level enough that the ducks rest along its edge, most usually breeding mallards. Through my binoculars I see several with a bright square of blue exposed along the sides looking quite exotic, threw Dumbo here for a while but they were only the ducks outshining the mallard drakes for a change !

As you go uphill from Graemeshall Cottage there is a place on the right that gives you a good impression of how much even minor roads have altered the landscape. As you reach the brow of the hill the drystane wall of a sudden rises to about twice the usual height, the top being above eye-level and the wall going down some distance into the deeper than usual ditch alongside the road. On the same side next are two long oval depressions several feet deep and edged about with rocks. Opposite the Biggings junction is a farmtrack going up to Skaill with some upright stones along the edges. From the literature you expect a Skaill farm to be something of interest. From the road this one just looks like a big family home to me. On the other hand it is unlikely to be a coincidence that there is nothing between it and Laughton's Knowe behind.

Further along on the left is the track to Craebreck with a drystane wall edging it. I hadn't noticed before a sculpted stone a couple of feet or so long, white, used to top the wall (HY47770272). My first thought was masonry. However the stone is triangular in section and there is a figure 11 deeply cut on one of the sides near the end. So this must be an old-fashioned milestone from who knows where that has been incorporated into the wall. Drat, just occured to me I should have looked at the other visible face for more possible figures ! Past the plant nursery the road curves to go uphill. At the bend a farmtrack departs left. Look to the farm, and then beyond it at right you can just make out one slim object leaning against another on a hillside/bank. From where I calculate it to be this is marked as a well (HY47540304). The first time I spotted this I took it to be the wooden supports of a wellhead. But since then I have made them out through binoculars as tall stone slabs, apparently too regular to be 'standing stones'. A strange wellhead if so. Another for my virtual appointments book.

On the left as you go up the hill the Roma souterrain (HY40SE 22 at HY47830314) was found in the 50's, though there is nary a sign now as the passage was covered again. At the top I turn left at the crossroads and on to the junction with the A road. There's still a way to go yet before you escape the dominion of Laughton's Knowe.

Having passed the road to Little Hunclett before the junction you come to that for (Muckle) Hunclett after. I keep telling myself I will travel both these sometime, for a change. In 1898 a mound at Muckle Hunclett (HY40NE 6 at HY47240531) was inspected and compared to Taversoe Tuick, but if it was the mound between byre and stream a silage pit dug into it much later came up only earth. On the other hand burnt stones, hammerstones and other tools have come up nearby. But rather than burnt mound I remember that the 'souterrain' found at Orquil Farm (St.Ola) in 1971 was also compared to Taversoe Tuick, and think of Yinstay in Tankerness too - both these are close to burns as well. Then above the Rashieburn the Five Hillocks behind Fernbanks really are five, unlike those on Lang Hill. Five is a popular number for mounds in Orkney, there are other Five Hillocks and five clay mounds were removed from by the Bossack quarry in Tankerness (now a tip.. sorry 'civic amenity site'). This time of year the site is deluged by docks.

Next up is the Holm boundary with St.Ola parish. Even on the present 1:25,000 the Mark Stone of Gaitnip is part of the boundary at HY44690606, though the stone itself (unless I miss my march) now covers a culvert at HY458048. Gaitnip is historically where Borgar the Viking lived even though Borrowstonehill nearer Kirkwall is none other than 'the hill of Borgar's stadir'. Midway between the two on the northern side of the road the map shows Dalespot. However the Markstone of Dalespot (HY45690522) is shown in 1882 on the same boundary line as that of Gaitnip. Look on the 1:25,000 opposite the latter and the Dalespot march stone is/was where a field fence bends and the figure 100 is writ. For once things were such that I could have gone along and seen if the present boundary marker on a larger scale map is actually it. Alas, by this time I was fair done in and had to miss possibly my only ever fair chance to do this. And after almost seven hours I arrived home with my bareback broiled (the peelers didn't start for several days, my fault for keeping a shirt on until that day rather than as soon as I became sticky enough on a walk, Fool that is me).

wideford Posted by wideford
10th August 2006ce
Edited 12th August 2006ce

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