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Field Antiquary

A Day in the Life JAN 10th 2007

A downpour occupied the night. Radio Orkney first thing predicted coarse weather, wintry showers and very blowy but clearing mid-morn. After breakfast had additional coffee to start my system. Always takes ages to cool down enough for me so I thought I would check the weather meantime by a brisk trip to the jobcentre. Cold was fair perishing out, so once back after sinking the coffee I gathered up my stuff and put gloves on. Up townhill and off. Opposite the Wideford cottages is a promising field. There was a fair collection of stone came up during the last ploughing but earlier in the year the furrowed soil came up a tapestry of colour - distinctive regions of yellow and white and red and black. Whether the variety is the result of artifice or nature it is strikingly 'abnormal'. Near the lower corner but the other side of the burn I found a large stone with a commensurate concavity, a quernstone with a piece knocked off or perhaps simply more geology. Fascinating myself alone alas. By the Wideford cottages by the old road bend is a small copse that incorporates the lower courses of some old (but not ancient) cottage-sized ruin. Here the point of inerest is a rectangular niche built into the wall nearest the road. A very small fireplace, a bread oven, a kiln ? Though it is above the present foundation a wooden floor could always have been there when the place was in use. Ah, mystery.
The burn I spoke of is by the next old road bend that has been turned into a lorry layby and was either transformed into a drain during the 19th century Agricultural Improvements or lengthened by adding one. Certainly it is natural from the headless flagstone-constructed bridge of (?) this period that crosses between the fields either side of it. Where the water passes under the road the bridgeheads either side are of more recent vintage. Unfortunately I have been unable to access the southern side bridgehead to look for signs of an earlier bridge, and there certainly isn't one at the other road edge. Downstream is another bridge of similar construction to the first except that the lead-ins to either side seem to have been built up to corral the burn rather than simply bridging a gap. Further downstream again, by a lone small tree, is an earlier piece comprised of stone blocks thoroughly lightened with lichen which looks to be a more substantial bridge reduced to only its sides. Actually I have in the past believed this to be associated with the mediaeval mill un-sanctioned by the authorities. Certainly I have felt similarities from the first bridge on with features upstream of Eyreland and Tormiston mills. But if so the milldam alongside the present Wideford Farm (uphill from the original wide ford) must date from a later time, after the farmer received permission to build. Between this structure and the bridge upstream there is what looks like a fording place on the far bank, or somewhere to take stock down to drink - a flat low spot flanked by curved 'arms'. Not a ford though as the near bank opposite this is so much higher. And on the near bank between it and the roadside, so obvious once you see it, are the overgrown remains of the foundations of some structure. Two incomplete banked walls about a rectangular depression. Whatever it was the name even was gone from memory by the time of the first O.S. map-makers in Orkney. Down at the Burn of Wideford the land is swamped by the recent rains. Here there is a big high-sided open 'reservoir' that presumably performed some other service last century, you can get to it over yet another bridge and past a disused hut that I presume went with the grassy 'reservoir'. In the thicket over from the burn no birds greeted me today, usually there is either a reed warbler or a stonechat to tease me. This is the kind of spot I expect to be left by earlier settlement. It is said that the ancient Orcadians seemed to have a preference for wet places but I think they mix up cause and effect. And it can take only a century, ruins like Spot and Hardhill in their own private copse.
I considered taking the nature path over to the Deerness Road but in the current conditions it would be potentially 'lethal' to attempt. Not because of the tall stiles (when designing a piece all are meant to be able to go these are as much a deterrent to the young, old or less able as the spring-loaded gates seen elsewhere on similarly designated tracks - including the new Scapa way it appears) but the narrow slippery sections that are hazardous at the best of times. And then the open area by the foed where the kie were let loose on so it is now mostly mud [I've my own notion as to how pollution reached the burn's outlet]. On the other side of the road is the Grimsquoy mound or mounds. Having seen two small goalposts appear near the top of that field it must be out of the airfield. Needs a very dry period before I attempt to reach that site past all the channels and marsh, though. Going past the main airport building what I take to be a WWII tower is always worth a look Up the road the other side I heard some strange noises near me that turned out to be the schluck of sheep legs in a sodden field ! Back on the other side just past the service entrance you can make out the line of an old 'standing stone fence', several homes came off the map with the airport's wartime creation, including Grimsquoy that left us the mound. Despite the predicted weather having failed to take I thought to take in a differing view of Staneloof, from the north, anyways. This time there were dark Shetland Ponies amongst the earthworks opposite the Tankerness junction that I didn't want to disturb. These earthworks comprise the main keyhole-shape and a 'line', both with steep banks and some small stones in the make-up. The evidence is that despite the simple appearance these were wartime constructions later taken back by the farmer, though there could have been something minor here before as some bigger stones show in the makeup of the single line's roadside end. My idea is to pass through the earthworks and into the field beyond for my new look at the cairn and maybe recognise the other that marks the next nexus of the parish boundaries from the Hillock of Garth. Fortunately I saw a gate before the banks which meant I could leave the ponies in piece. However the roadside gate had a great pool presently the other side of it and the next stood in a clearly bemired patch so yet again my plans were shattered (there must be an easier approach for this cairn that I haven't essayed yet in order for this to have been deemed suitable for a flagstaff). My next thought was to go up the track where the Nissen hut lies and take the track that should lead to Craw Howe. Having seen the sheep's problems a short while before I opted out for now.
Leaving the puzzle of Ston Loe behind I crossed the road and headed for Tankereness. Beyond Longtownmail on the road I saw that the wintry showers must have already been and gone, seeing a distant island covered in snow (Rousay I presume). The showers must have been patchy as Gairsay stood a dark shape before the cloud-like brilliance. Took two shots to photograph as I could only achieve focus by using a nearer landscape - a fault with using the same size cell and fitting in more pixels, meaning my current camera seldom works on distant views and rarely on any cloudscapes. There is a house called The Mount at the minor junction and a collection of flints came from a field ahint this late last century and were identified as Mesolithic, though the record calls them after the Slap O'Valdigar (a gap in the hill-dyke).The collection donated in 1931 besides "flint chippings" had a "polished grey flint implement", which sounds later [there were Mesolithic flints in the Long Howe cist, however]. At the road bend there are ponies in the fields either side. They will often use your passing by as an occasion to come and say hello to one another, though this time they were already there. One had a very strange-looking face like a mottled black inkblot. The only Shetland Pony kept away from its group, continuing to graze. Long blond locks and a fudge-brown body. Goldf(l)axi my thought. Below Ellenfield are a mare and her foal. The foal is nearly as big as ma now and has a lovely face which is reminiscent of the odd one I saw before. like before and after pics of a teen with extreme acne, so perhaps related. I intended to take a photo on the way back but failed to keep that promise. Next comes the junction where one road branches off to the Yinstay district. Here by the junction is the Bossack landfill. Five 'clay hillocks', whatever they were, were taken from this quarry several centuries ago. The assumption is from that side of the road but was the road there then.
Down by Whitecleat there has been a hole dug just the other side of the track from the now buried Iron Age well. Nothing other than the natural however, but then my suspected extension to the latter would have been downslope if it existed. Momentarily considered attempting the mound by the shore which is still much of a mystery to everyone, including even such elementals as whether it should be considered by itself - perhaps there stood an earlier manse nearer the loch to which the linear features now associated with the Howie of The Manse actually belong. Either that or the latter is a name of relatively recent vintage (certainly Little Howie of the Glebe used to describe the discovery of a cist is). But it is a beggar to reach even for me, especially as there is taut fencing blocking the longer route I think. Pity as the digital camera will prove more useful than the slides I shot last time and back then I was simply looking for a broch not out for a cist. At the top of the next incline after Tankerness Mill stands the apparently derelict old manse and its grounds, with a lovely boundary wall covered by spiky ghostly green lichen. From here to the pair of large gate-less posts is a long hedge on one side of whitethorn with fulsome haws of several different hues from dark cherry to almost scarlet. They positively glow ! Here a lady's dog barked heartily at me, which she told me was most unusual. Interesting how animals that one day ignore you can take fright on another. The apparently ornamental gateposts are what I term phase 3; large, square and composed of cut blocks. On the one by the hedge a block facing the road looks as if it has faint runes on it, but their appearance is probably illusory. From this gatepost the farmtrack to the field runs parallel alongside the road, and along the bank there are two erect stones a metre proud of the grass.By the Loch of Tankerness shore the Gothic revival boathouse sits like a sailors chapel (further along the burnt mound's faint swell faces off to the submerged Bronze Age settlement, from somewhere not far beyond the top of the lochan came the Waterhall cist). In the field the other side of the road at the Hall of Tankerness junction the solitary standing stone is unaligned, at a slight angle to the row and every surviving line of humanity. Was the piece of land beside it always prone to hold water is my only question there. From here the uphill zigzag of the road was picked out perfectly by the posts of the modern fencing.
Before reaching the base of the next uphill piece, and not far from 'level' with the loch's top end, is the field that goes down to the shore. Finding the gate open I thank Bona Dea for showing the way. Usually I climb over it, but now the puddling mud across the space meant I had to cling to the stone post and swing myself gingerly around and in. There are signs underfoot of there having been a wall this side of the drainage channel in the shape of hidden stones and others. Lately I have observed that some of the present drains along field boundaries give every indication of having once been tracks - let's face it, after extended periods of rain it can be difficult to tell the difference in some places ! Some of the stones that lie on the surface are a reasonable size. I stand on a big one to take a gander about me, only for it to almost topple me into the ditch before my bag balances me back to safety. Hopping happily along just about keeps my feet out of the worst muddy bits. The other end of the field the gate is open but there is even wose ground ahead where the gap is. Queue more sideways stepping around that section then back on track. One step to golightly jump and my shoe goes shloop in the glup, almost going under. The boot's not on the other foot.
Go over to the land's edge to check on a culvert in the 'cliff' that discharges onto the shore, see the slab below it still erect and know the storms have left it alone. A couple of places the farmer has brought in pebbles to firm up the track. Only he's on a loser here as the drift from their stations with the rains. Still wonder if the lochan here dates back as far as the time of the Taing of Beeman settlement, there are stones by the edge and in the water that look out of place. The piles of rocks between it and the fields look like clearance from somewhere. This time I spot a couple of stones low down the slopes of the lesser of the mounds, that closest to the pool. Nothing to excite though, at least with the mound of the settlement furthest along you have that clump of stones on the apex set up nicely. Then there is the main mound. The one with the goodies initially thought to be a broch from the aerial photography that Raymond Lamb percieved as a pair of Bronze Age houses. Beeman being a Celtic saint I once fancied the idea of this being, say, an oratory. If the taing is called after him perhaps the connection should be made with one of the scarcely noted sites in the nearby fields. Looking at the site this day and seeing the size disparity of the two parts of the mound, with the divisions between the two, I am inclined to see a figure-of-eight house, which takes us to the Picts. Perhaps the broch idea wasn't too far out and it was built over or in an earlier roundhouse. From the shore with highish magnification you can see into the mouth of Deer Sound (once locally called Dirtsound) and past St.Peter's Bay make out Dingieshowe by the isthmus tonsils - can you do the same the other way I mean to find out one day. On the shore I have never found the settlement walls that Raymond spotted in the cliff-face in line with the house division. I have a feeling that the settlement boundary was formed by two burns emptying into the sea. The one nearest the taing shows more stones either bank than in the rest of the cliiftop, but I assume this is alluvium from when the stream ran closer to the surface.
Turning back the way I realised that the tide had come in and walking the coast round to the Hall of Tankerness might not be on. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, there I headed now. . Soon I sensed in the corner of my eye movement that took a while to trace. Then on the cliffs I saw pale lines of light travelling slowly up their faces. A whiles after I realized this liquid motion came from the low sun shimmering off the sleeh heavy waves. The Goddess name for the day comes to me ; Stella Maris or Stella Matutinae, am I random or what Diceman. The sodden fields' waters percolate to the cliffs and trickle down their faces. But one particularly noisy flow comes from a small hole part hidden by turf. Taking great care I am able to cling to the side of this low cliff and hunch over for a peek. Surprised to find another 'culvert', about a foot square. Can see two square-ish flags forming the left-hand side and am surprised that they photograph well (am having to keep the battery in my trouser pocket as its latest failing is to tell me its running on empty just because ther's a chill in the air, bummer). The other one is a piece larger. Interesting to note that the tops of both are approximately level with the change in geology. Above them is a uniform band of very dark material, and a fractionally lighter silty looking layer above that as if from some flood. Pull out a chunk of the black material.and when I snap it there is no trace of internal structure. Most curious. Has to be related to the reason why this parcel of land hasn't been part of the Agricultural Improvement's fields I suppose.
Past the small sandy beach there the tilted strata re-appeared, lovely waves crashing heavily on the shore beside me - I love to tease the seas by staying one step beyond. There were also several level rocky plates still standing proud of the incoming tide. These are several metres across, and I went from one to another in an arc until my giant's hopscotch brought me back from the limin. This may have occured after I had been forced up to the clifftops and returned, however. The way up resembled a track coming gently down to shore, perhaps a smaller version of the slipway near The Jetty on the south side of Head of Holland. But there are several rocks across the upper half so perhaps it is an old stranded breck . In the field-wall is a gateway which has a tall stone forming one post - there looks never to have been a matching one. Also I forget where the thickset sea-walls stand tall, double-skinned with the insides exposed in a few pieces. I presume there is a reason for them being where they are, with none elsewhere hereabouts they are so out-of-place. They date from two periods. One section is formed of slabs on edge and looks to be done in the fashion of the first sea-wall built to protect the ruins of Skara Brae (on the clifftop at Beeman there is a two foot long set of much thinner orthostats, but they are surely the product of natural cleavage in situ). If I recall correctly a skeleton came from somewhere about this region, sometime after Raymond's survey of sites. Between here and the Tankerness harbour there are a couple of slight fences of no great age going down to the shore. Nearing the first one I saw a figure in the middle distance. Expecting a farmer I wated to see what they wanted. Then I saw the figure in the all-over hooded garment was younger and took it for a fair-haired lad out for a run. Only close to did I see this as a lady in her early twenties. Very unexpected. Obviously familiar with the way so I looked to see how she proceeded. It was the obvious I had already seen, a bowed gap in the barb-wire fence - not swinging around the clif-edge post - so I thanked her. Only after she went did I wish I had warned her about the mud. So I watched to see how she got on but she went further round the coast instead. Kept looking back and there was a figure in red which it took me a while to realise was someone else. Strange during the working week. After getting back to the shore I sat down on a flat stone and ate a biscuit bar. Through my binoculars I patrolled the land across the sea. Last time I could have swore blind I could make out Eves Howe and Hurnips Point and wondered why my photos looked so different, now slowly I worked out that I had in front of me the top end of Deerness (sort of around the corner from them). In looking at maps I always figure north is uphill, and in similar manor always think of Tankerness as due west of Deerness when it is more above it.
Coming round to the laird's place the Hall of Tankerness looks less of a mish-mash of styles when viewed from the coast, just a courtly house and garden. At first I thought one of the garden walls had a rounded corner, making it a candidate for late Norse / early mediaeval status. However as I came into line with it this proved not so. It felt like looking in someone's back garden, rather awkward, so I looked with unaided eyes and took no shots. Serves me right for not going to the open day ! On the coast here are the varied ruins of a fishing-station and a decent pier. The man in red caught me up. I could have made my way onto proper land through concrete walls but decayed seaweed or summat had created a sus looking green-brown smelly gloop. Instead I clambered carefully over a short barbwire fence over rubble by the start of the pier. On my left a 'modern' building appealed to me apart from a much later concrete pillar stuck obtrusively down the front of it, so no photo. A house the other side of the pier has been re-furbished and become a home once more, explaining why there is no longer a gate across the road. From a suitable wall by it I looked down on the bay to where a shadowed seal lay full stretch like a fat violin bow. The manny came and had a chat with me - I reckon he knew a better route off the cliffs. He had been working on on his house until he realised this was too good a day to be stuck inside. My jacket fully unzipped I'd been sorely tempted to remove it, such a change there had been (didn't stay overwarm long thereafter I admit). Asked if I had seen anything, only I could not figure how to convey the fragile magic of the sun beaming sea's havering lines onto the cliffs. I said I didn't expect the lassie got far and he informed me that folk often went as far along the shore as Rerwick Bay before turning back [could understand that as the man at Beck is most unwelcoming - when I'd been that far I had thought his animus against me until back home I found about the archaeological potential his farm buildings sat on, which for some is good enough reason to not allow visitors, not even for going direct to the Tankerness road]. Looking a little along the coast from the pier is an orthostatic building resembling slab-sided pens open to the sky, several feet high, and as magnificent as any stalled cairn. Perhap to be associated with the old fishing-station ? Turning to look at the ha' I realised that I could spend half-a-day minimum photographing the buildings and grounds. Before me I saw circular wall. My first thought was post-mill. When I looked inside, though, there lay down inside a well-pump. Going away to the Tankerness road I found another well-pump built into the fabric of the wall. Inside the field was a water-tank for the kie that I presume is why it's there. I tried the handle only to find it siezed up, some more minimal plumbing doing the job now. The man, in front of me now, went hame up the hill.
Having time I decided on snapping the derelict manse. I think of this as the Tankerness manse, but the NMRS calls it Old St.Andrew's Manse (occasionally mis-named for Deerness). The grounds seem full of the trees that mask it. This mid-eighteenth century building stood tall for its times. Either that or the building had another floor added, perhaps to convert it to an agricultural use. A single-storey structure is stuck on the front of it. Along the road I looked at the house-road and it continued as a track to the go behind the manse. What a disappointment to find it mostly gutted to be some kind of storage. I looked up at a window on the highest floor and the bottom of the stone window-sill had a steep slope as if meant for sliding things down. I'm probably wrong in thinking (?tithe) barn, but it doesn't feel ecclesiastical to me.
By the time I approach Bossack the light had faded just enough I was glad I had decided not to go to the Yinstay district. Looking out to sea the hills that had been covered with snow this morning this had mostly thawed. Took a distant shot that took in the islands and Long Ayre (think shingle bank with a lagoon behind) on the coast here, with the cathedral quarry on Head of Holland between these two lanscapes. Turned out I had Balfour Castle in Shapinsay on the same shot. Wanted to take photos of the near-full-grown foal except I only saw the mare until I had climbed the next hill. Took the road by The Mount that goes down to the shore and then onto the airfield. On the right-hand side there is part of a 'standing-stone fence' beside the road. At its top end is a flattened stone I like to keep clean when I can. This is on a cut off bit of land where two fields meet. Away where the field boundaries bend there are several more erect stones just visible that I mean to have a look at some time. The junction on the right as you go downhill leads to Weethick where once were a set of mounds called The Roondles of which there is no sign now.
Where the road meets the airport boundary is a culvert and the coastal walk. You have to be sure of foot to go on all of it from here to Inganess, and there are often pools of water that force you nearer the cliff-edge than some might wish. With a sufficiently low tide there are stretches of shore you can use instead. There are places that streamlets come to the sea and they aren't always obvious. In one place several occur in close proximity and have dips. Last time I came I observed that the backs of these were curved like scoops with stone linings, and this reminded me of the boat-nausts at Long Ayre and the Point of Buckquoy, though even peedier than the latter. Of course the tiny size may mean that what remains is only the very inner ends and/or that these were for smaller boats. Now they looked natural again. There is a place where the coastal path is only about a couple of feet wide and the drop is long, and this day it was rather slippy, so that I held on to the barbwire fence. Sort of thing Health and Safety are agin, surprising there are no warnings as the fence needs moving back a peedy. Nearing the other end to keep the shoes reasonably dry it is advisable to tread the heather either side, though even this hides squelchiness somewheres. Coming to Inganess the path is very broken up and narrow through the last few metres, where it is also very far from level. So beware. The bridge here contains something. If you look over the other side there is a lighter block of stone with a double incised line like to another built into a wall near Long Howe, and which I am of the opinion came from St.Ninian's Church. The one at Inganess has inscribed lettering apparently co-eval with the decoration, but too faint for me to make out what is written from this position or by camera.
Climbing up to Tower Hill there had been a JCB working all day on a ditch or something running down the outer edge of the field on the downhill side of the reservoir track. Beside the road sat a piece of stone a metre or so across, like the cap to some monstrous mushroom. I sat on that believing it to be some unearthed antiquity. As I felt the smooth bevelled edge it bore in on me that this capped whatever works the workmen had been doing. Oh, I felt such a fool ;-)

wideford Posted by wideford
26th January 2007ce

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