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STROMNESS September 26th 2008

After a long absence I felt the pull back to Stromness, thinking to continue my documentation of coastal views {and maybe to visit the Brochan mound and thence seek out the location of the nearby standing stone (if it still exists mislaid)}. Then I discovered that having remembered the slide films I had left my recently acquired SLR itself behind ! Bona Dea obviously meant to keep me on track with Tankerness as the next step in the project. Consolation lay in the day's wonderful view of Copland's Dock on the opposite shore, so I walked back and took several shots as I walked along to the pier once more. At one time this was a boatyard and it survives as a large grassy enclosure with walls still standing well over head height. Very slightly north was the house of Pirate Gow.

As far as settlements go before modern times the action lay not in Stromness itself but elsewhere. Several brochs and early mediaeval burial grounds were built between Garson and Howe. More fragmentary evidence [some only newspaper accounts] of even earlier times comes from the coastline itself. East from Copland's Dock at the sharp headland marking the south end of the Bay of Navershaw the corner of a structure showing at low tide takes us back to the Early Iron Age at least [Quoyelsh HY20NE 73 at HY265089] and Neolithic flints have been found from the bay's midpoint [Garson shore HY20NE 24 at HY268092] up to the Sands of Congesquoy south of The Howe with its chambered tomb (now deeply buried).

So it is disappointing to find nothing known from the two tiny islets around from.Copland's Dock. Inner Holm [once Cairston Holm] is accessible by causeway when tides permit , and the big house is still used. My attention was drawn to a dark structure on the landward side. This my camera later revealed as a stone building with sloping roof as if it had abutted an earlier house. In order to photograph both holms I continued through town. There are so many nifty little alleyways taking leave of the main road/street to convey you to a piece overlooking the shore from above, old ways for peedie boats from when Orcadiand were still very much farmers who fished. As Stromnessians have noted the life of the place seems to be ebbing away more and more - every visit another piece is missing. Considered going to the old style barber to do something about my unruly scraps of hair but I think this had gone even on my last trip. The delicatessen is gone too. It is my belief they should have stayed as a general stores with specials rather than going over to cater more for visitors and tourists [and ferryloupers like me, I confess]. At least the bookstore is still going, albeit with a slightly different focus now there are fewer archaeology bods about. If that went there would go the town for most of us as his breadth of books is the only real advantage Stromness has ever had over Kirkwall to draw folk in. From the bookshop up the narrowing road past the (part-time) library and past the museum where you can get to the shore easily [the Stromness Museum isn't free, and by some strange logic if the "Orkney Museum" achieves charitable status neither will they be] eventually you leave behind houses on the road's seaward size and there's a couple of decent benches set high looking across to the holms. The low cliff at the inner end of Outer Holm seems to me to have been regularised by man, rather faced. I'm certain it too was inhabited in mediaeval times, though what looks like some kind of dock is presumably what is left of one of the wrecks. On the outer half there appears to be a low mound or platform - natural ? Viewing the islet from the caravan park at the ness I am for the first time noticing an out-of place wall at the seaward end. I could be wrong, it could be a field-wall remnant, but to me this is some ruined structure with a curving wall. There's a trig pillar and (a) boundary marker at the southern end of Outer Holm, but on none of the maps I have seen is a wall shown. A slightly higher viewpoint for looking down on it can be had on the road coming down from Brinkie's Brae but there is an intervening play area so I couldn't take a closer look.

The golf course has lots of lumps and bumps and ridges. Unfortunately the place has been landscaped so I don't know what age the feature is that cuts across in one place is of any great age, a turf and drystane construction in large sections. In the last century. In 1924 two cists were found by one another in a next door-field which were mentioned as resembling ones found a few years before in Warebeth Churchyard {the only clear reference to these latter). Along the coastal path there is a broken wall on the seaward side that has always intrigued me, and a sort of hollow. Slowpoke that I am it is only yesterday that I noticed the Noust of Netherton marked on the 1:25,000 - a noust/naust being where they hauled up boats from Viking times on (similarly I only found the nousts at Mill Sands in Tankerness after several years when I was doing something else, at least I knew about those at Hurnips Point in Deerness beforehand [I have a fancy that there are maybe the end bits of some near the St.Ola-St.Andrew parish boundary outside the airport] ).

Leaving the wartime structures behind you come to Warebeth Churchyard. It is difficult for me to believe that the broch at Warebeth was the first in line facing Hoy. If there was another between here and Stromness it would have been lost to fiersome erosion before mediaeval records (of Warebeth and, along from there, Breckness there is precious little left, even less than at Borwick where at least its plain to see still !] - one can't help but wonder in this regard if the site on the Point of Ness where the lighthouse sits has always been so rocky and far from the cliffs. Here near the corner is that odd bump in the coastal path that continues as a short linear feature inside the cemetery, where it sits against an even shorter section of wall still standing tall. This wall is a little bit of a hotchpotch or else has been restored at some stage if I read the evidence aright. It is certainly more decorative than the rather longer 'blank' wall further inside the cemetery that is all that remains there from the auld kirk. I had hoped that the two would be in alignment only to be disappointed. Coming to the far end and perusing the map I saw that the Brockan mound and Brochan s.s. were rather further away than I had thought, so left them for another day. Rather than go through the cemetery I went around. Looking back into the cemetery over the landward wall along those two walls inside they look as if they might indicate inner and outer wall remains [perhaps inner and outer faces even ??].

My real target was a holy well. So now I traipsed up the hill. On my left livestock revealed in the field roadside the contours of a low flat mound which I think must be where the old settlement on the 1st O.S.referred to by CANMAP was. Then on the right the road makes a queer turn left. From this point you can see a broad track take off southeast, overelaborate for a farm track as the stoney dyke on its upper edge gives it the feel of a hollow way. Looking through binoculars to the further end it comes to a complete stop with nothing visible there, not even the faintest of cropmarks or other indications. But in the eyepiece it struck me hard that the direction of the line went straight to the edge of rocky Citadel like some Watkins' ley line. By where the road turns uphill again.another track goes to Brinnigar (presently being worked on). So it's like a very slightly staggered 'crossroads'. There is just enough to show it as no continuation of the farmtrack to Brinnigar [though I suppose it could have once gone to the small square ?enclosure attached to the modern farmhouse on the present 1:25,000].

Reaching a proper road I crossed it and took the lovely deep steep track shown left of the Sandy Hill legend on the map. At the top of the first turn below a brow of the hill the open garden of a small new-build house has a track heading right but it's very narrow for what I'm expecting, so I carry on. Finally there is a clear view in front of me across a large shallow amphitheatre of rocky outcrops constituting the slopes of Mewie Hill (including disused quarry). Not seeing a road I take the broad farmtrack to my right as the way to the well, Haley Hole which gave its name to Hellihole Road (according to Hugh Marwick - there are plenty of other wells/wellsprings hereabouts). Should have gone on, as I quickly see the structure across from me. Still, rather than risk being pixy led I went down the track till it met the right road and tackled my target from the other end. The Brownstown well is a structure of brown stones like a quaint municipal toilet, seperated from the road by a small roadside ditch, but with the addition of (full-height gradually reducing) gently curved walls coming out either side about the same width as the main body. This is marked as a chalybeate well at HY2478109320. Its fame was only as a mineral well when a wellhouse was built over it in the middle of the 19th century and early in the following century it fell out of use. By 1968 the door and window had gone and by 1984 the surrounding wall had collapsed (surface water was also a problem). Somewhere during that period iron bars must have been fitted as there are badly corroded ones where the door and window were. Which meant that having stepped across the ditch entry was easy. Had to clear out a fair bit of rubbish (the usual cans and packets, and some coins that make it a wishing well now I guess) and a triangular stone before I could gain a clearer view. The well is a square opening lined by slabs and 'decommisioned' with several large curved sherds of ?pottery/ceramic. Too many for me to move quickly, couldn't see owt below them. Went into the field to look at the back. Here a small barbwire fence is placed to keep out livestock. This is a little slack, however my short legs couldn't get over it as there is some sort of platform there, probably the wellhouse base (or perhaps to keep it above the surface water if this is remedial work). Considered following the road below Mewie Hill to the other end of Stromness but headed back the way instead. Eventually the road comes to a junction at the big hoose with the big walls and trees I think is Mackay Brown's house of Brinkies Brae.
[iwellhouse at]

wideford Posted by wideford
21st October 2008ce
Edited 21st October 2008ce

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