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JUNE 12TH 2009

Decided today was the day I would finally reach Brockan (a chambered mound they say is a settlement even though they couldn't decide between secondary broch and a little Skerrybrae) and maybe 'investigate' the missing standing stone on the hillside above [placed on 2 different sides of the field despite not being found the second time, which puzzles somewhat]. As good a reason as any to walk the coast. And this day the tide so low that on the other side from Stromness you could cross on foot not only from Copland's Dock to Inner (or Cairston) Holm but also from there to Outer Holm. Many is the time I walked from Garson to the dock, a set of tall drystane-walled enclosures once forming a boat-building yard, though then I did not know that this is also the site of Gow the pirate's White House (an early mortared house which also gave birth to him, local name perhaps Whiteladies which would relate then to the chapel indicated on an early map). Going yet further east there's a pimply bit (HY265089) called the Point of Qu'elsh at this end of Navershaw bay where Dave Lynn and Bernie Bell found the corner of some eroded domestic building at Quoyelsh, definitely EIA though the pottery doesn't rule out the Bronze Age. First reported 1939 possibly even lost to the sea since 1990. Ach, my journey today goes to the golf course and along that way.

Coming to the outskirts of town there is a section of cliff with two seats on it presenting a viewpoint. From here you have a grand view of the holms and back across the edge of Stromness, a scenic slice of the old places. Last century folk regularly went down to the shore here. Erosion 'took care' of that. There is still some grassy shore left. At the far end is an old quay. In the outer wall (HY25300828) only just above the rocks there is a rectangular niche whose purpose I can't even hazard at. Like Thieves Holm sans folklore, Outer Holm doesn't have any archaeology listed for it. Even less obvious as to why this is with such relative ease of access and the presence of a rather obvious mound from most directions. It is more than a rise and I'd be inclined to term it a platform mound, at the very latest a mediaeval farm tell - there is a rumour that Raymond Lamb, the old county archaeologist, believed this to overlie a Broch Age feature and perhaps the holms were still a permanent part of the mainland back then. Soon enough I came to the Ness caravan site, where I had my last view of the holm, and the golf course.

There are upstanding WWII buildings both alongside the coastal road about the golf course and on the links themselves, and the authorities are now promoting the Ness Battery. Along the coastline there is at least one naust (Noust of Nethertown on the map) where boats would have been laid up, though what with old field walls and new sea walls etcetera it can be difficult to make things out. One place I heard the calls of young duck families dabbling just offshore, two sets of eider and one of shelduck. The latter I have always found shy before - when approaching them at Mill Sands and Messigate loch they scarper from a long ways off. These, however, totallly unfazed by my presence at a time they would be at their most alert, something I can't simply put down to the low cliff I surveyed from. Duck and drake only really differ in the depth of red in the knobbed beaks, otherwise their bodies are a white background with black flashes, a chestnut saddle and a green-black neck and head. Their young are striped in a way reminiscent of wild piglets, quite the thing. The two adults and three well-developed ducklings mostly kept close to the eider rather than completely mingling with them, however one or other of the adults every now and again asserted their dominance, on one occasion climbing out onto a rocky spine to bully the eider (or so it seemed to me). Cists have been found on both the golf course iteslf and the Glebe lands adjoining, these being considered of a kind with those from Warebeth by those conversant with them all.

Came to Warebeth kirkyard. Thanks to erosion nothing left of the broch's cliff exposure, which had work done on it by Dave and Bernie. The 1989 report tells that this may once have been seperated from the sea by a lagoon, with an ayre and outcrops up to Kirk Rocks [in which case, my friend adds, could such a body of water have extended as far as Breckness ?], making it the original Strøm Ness headland. This reminds Dave of St.Mary's in Holm & Verron in Sandwick & Scockness on Rousay, and me of Eves Howe in Deerness (possibly Dingieshowe too) and Taing of Beeman in Tankerness. But I would wonder rather whether there would not have been a current similar to the Burgar rôst then. A piece of the mediaeval kirk comes out perpendicular to the modern wall as a low bump across the coastal track just over from where from where one of two late mediaeval/ early modern survivals lies by the present wall (further within the oldest part includes a shortish section of tall wall, an impressive, albeit plain, isolated bit of ecclesiastical fabric and held locally to be monastic), a partial structure that has attracted other early remains to it (gathered by who we do not know - perhaps one of those intelligent gravediggers who also uncovered the underground passages etc). What is now the east [grave]yard was named after the [?legendary] James Mohr, whose body is traditionally buried at St.James. Monkerhouse, the monastery site, is now contained by extensions to the east yard, in which can be found the gable end of the old parish church. Instead of videoing any of this I finally met the shore, just in case storms had revealed anything more of the broch even though most of what was seen in the cliff-face is now behind the cladding of the 1985 sea-wall.. Ach, nothing. So I climbed up the blocks back onto the cliff by the west corner of the "middle yard". The track is narrow and then widens again in front of an enclosure full of lumps and bumps. Intuition says that in a site of continuing importance these surely relate to broch outbuildings. The known presence is WWII and takes the form of a radar station, HY20NW 39 at HY2365408372, and mast base most visible in the middle of the dunes, and much less obvious a radar mat and somewhere under all a cable trench. Between the track and the Sand of Warebeth the track opens up. Besides the fieldwall there are the remaining courses of (presumably earlier) drystane walls and a flag path. Very pictureskew.

At the track end where most people turn back I carried on. Next up is a knobbly hillocky thing with a central depression. Seen it before and wondered what it was, 'cos I knew it were summat. This time I looked it up and this is the pre-1877 Clook Lead Mine, HY20NW 7 at HY23440888 (shaft HY23440898). These remains are SW of the path across the stream, on the E bank of Baltimore/Baltifor burn, and it is probably the Bultifore lead mine of 1762 [makes me wonder about all those names dismissed so facilely as taken from abroad - are they dandified takes on genuine Orcadian placenames lost to time. Same with the so-called fancy names e.g. in Orkney ros(e) could come from three things beside the flower]. Its a bit of a stretch but could the stuff around the radar station relate to other digging. They never really made the mine a going concern and evidently no-one has revisited the idea and come up with figures to make it worthwhile. Had thought of trying to reach Brochan by the fields to its east but saw this full of sheep now. A couple of fields along a worsening track brought me to the place where 'standing stones' either side mark the drain where I went up to get my distant view of the Leafea stones. Again the burn was dry, though crammed with vegetation. Started up. Half-hidden pole along the stream bed made it a bit dodgy, and as I had had painful feet for several weeks I couldn't risk it. Eventually came to a place where the track outwith the fields gave out and had to walk the shore. Picked up an odd bit of stone, 55x35x25 mm roughly ovoid, reminiscent of a flint nodule except less angular and the outer covering (through which a few bits of dark inner break through) like dull cracked plaster. Probably ballast as suggested, but not flint as I saw tons of that when exiled in Suffolk. About then I came to an odd length of cliff the other side of The Noust from the Breckness sites, roughly below where Winch is shown. Here it is not stone but distinct layers of softer material. As I was leaving this behind I chanced to look back and saw drystone walling in the cliff. A closer look established that the coast here is formed of densely packed granules [? sand-blowing storm events] and that here it has become undermined above and below to expose what could be two sides of a prehistoric structure within the cliff (though Dave thinks it is not and could be 'industrial' connected to the Winch placename). It is lower down than the broch, about a metre-and-a-half above the visible cliff bottom and the same below ground level., but of course that's on proper rock. At first I only saw the most visible stuff, a volume roughly a metre square by a metre-and-a-half long. Definitely walling rather than a fieldwall, the long section of irregular composition or maybe the small blocky stuff had become incorporated later amidst the thin slabs. And then I noticed the horizontal walling continues to the right as some barely protruding stones in line with this for about six-seven metres. Difficult to get to as the material forms a small slippery slope where some of the structure has already eroded, but I managed to see that behind the horizontal walling is a space left by the material. If the structure does not fall by itself then it seems likely that the next strong storms or high sea will get behind and complete its removal, so I told a few people. [Pictures at]

Leaving the seal behind I decided to video the broch and other material in the cliff, forgetting I had no digital shots so I'm still owing another visit. A broad path connects the shore to the farm track, probably once a slipway even if not the noust after which the rocks here are named (the ones before the 'beach' being Stennigar after the field with the Leafea stone pair, though gar seems to rather imply a point lost to erosion). The two-storey ruin is Breckness House, built for a bishop in 1633. Like others this "Bishop's Palace" is really a 'place' as in Place de la Concord, rather than 'palace' as in Palais de Versailles, referring to the main building or courtyard. There are other buildings around it, mostly added later, and a probable graveyard - there is more of the 17thC stuff in the cliff-face, where mediaeval bones occasionally appear, mixed in with broch remains - an 1866 newspaper article talks of the prehistoric cists being at the same level as those of the Keiss broch and the later graves some six feet above that. The Bishop's well still held potable water in 1941. The shore steps down to this had practically disappeared before Beverley Smith excavated it despite being set back deep into a cliff as usual. This well is of the same type as that Bernie found at Warebeth and I observed at Whitecleat in Tankerness (though this last is in an isolated position inland sans other structures). Decide to take a tour of the house to document it for myself. Fortunately the plants growing inside aren't disruptive of the fabric, though humans should avoid the nettles in some areas when photographing there. Amazing how much survives despite the kitchen clearance of 1941, no worse than any of the other 'palaces' though to a modest scale by comparison. The shots I took this day
[] showed why you need sldes as well as digital, unless you use advanced trickery. Only the former did a good job of coping with the bright sumlit background to apertures viewed from inside - light curves can only do so much and contrast range is king.

Difficult to see why this place was chosen for the building. Rather late in the day for appropriating a broch (especially one this deteriorated) for building material and none of the archaeologists note such re-use as they normally would - the 1866 report mentions a chapel as well as the graveyard, could this be earlier rather than contemporaneous ? Amongst the stones dumped before the entrance there is a standout one, long and circular, that looks to have held pride of place somewhere. At this remove I am reminded of a smaller one on the opposite side of the road to the Man's Well in Birsay. Perhaps the "Bishop's well" had some unorthodox tradition attached to it. Brickness is too far to have been co-opted for the tales of St.Magnus cortege and (unlike Qarbit/Wharebeth) George Marwick has nothing for his early missionaries [that I have come across]. On the seaward side there is a long rectangular depression with the remains of low stone sides which I assume to be what some think a garden enclosure. The chapel lay between here and the sea. At the back of building there are a pair of structures abutting the house made of similar drystone walling that I similarly take to be RCAHMS modern steadings on the N wings W side. The entrance is framed by white stone blocks still surviving nearly to the top of the doorway. Similar outline a window on the north side of the upper floor, a few feet further along a solitary block with groove almost to its top [for a garderobe?], and above the entrance another block that would have helped frame a central window. Going through what is left of the stone stairway to the first floor greets you directly, withe the doorway through to the south side at its left-hand side. I went to the north half where there are two large old-style fireplaces on the north end, very manorial. Well, I take it they both are - that at left has an arched top formed of slabs on end, whereas its partner is a little wider and has a slightly deeper arch formed of the white blocks. There's floorspace above the left fireplace with a line of blocks above where the two 'fireplaces' meet that would have outlined the right-hand side of an east doorway and an outlined window on the W side. On the first floor's W side there is an almost fully blocked up doorway (there's an ordinary stone lintel but the top looks to have been block-outlined) with to its right the window outlined by blocks. On its NW corner there's a tall niche [the garderobe??] of door height with white key-shaped blocks forming the entrance, at its back a small shallow niche of brown stone - for a candle or lantern perhaps. Coming into the S side right at the NW corner there's a microwave-oven sized niche outlined by four blocks that have the front edges carved along the inside for something to be inset. A block's width to the left is a vertical array of blocks (for a doorway/niche??) and straight above the niche blocks that would have outlined the right-hand side of another window or doorway [yeh, you're thinking what I'm thinking, why doorways on the outside of the first floor - could Breckness House have begun life within or as a larger structure ??]. At the other edge of the corner there's another niche slap against the other. This one is plain and apparently taller, for there's a stone 'lintel' at the same height as its top, then an air gap and another 'lintel'. With these niches I am oddly reminded of the niche I saw at the old quay near shore level. Just a whimsey. At the SW corner there is another block-outlined door with just two blocks from a lost window above it. Turning to the S side I find myself disturbing a pair of hooded crows on the first floor, parent and child. There is an entrance to the presumed garden this side, with a stone lintel and an inset for the door halfway in. To the right is a tall block-outlined window. Above said entrance is a first floor doorway that has been subsequently turned into a window (just seen I've forgotten another semi-blocked doorway somewhere). You can see a block-outlined top half and then the bottom has been blocked with what looks like cruddy mortar-set small stones. And that is as much as I can remember with the aid of photos - if I viewed my video I'd like as not be hours yet ;-)

I am certain there is more to the grounds not recorded as archaeology than simply late steadings and such, and not just in front of the house either. Darn digital camera/batteries messing me about again or I might have had a better look. Gerry Cannon wonders why the place isn't visited more often, that the OIC could extend the road to here. Problem is the tourists aren't told about the place - could always be the farmer rightly wants it kept quiet and besides HS don't own it at all. But thinking of Stromness desire to hold onto tourists for itself I would kill the weeds inside and promote it and Haley Hole (presently demoted to Brownstown well), then put a footpath through The Loons [not the Birsay reserve] and drect people to Peerie Hill as a viewpoint to [almost] rival Wideford Hill. Perhaps the relevant farmer wouldn't mind having the patch around the Deepdale s.s. taken off his hands if given adequate recompense. There, that's sorted ;-) Coming up the farmtrack I looked down another farmtrack to the left at a brightly coloured rig just offshore, layers of black red white and blue, legs holding it barely above water like a lady stepping over a puddle with petticoats. Remembered about an electricity generator going slowly round the coastline to its final placement but don't know what this is.

Where track joins road I decided against another fruitless search for the cairn marked near Feolquoy for heading back to Innertown. Coming towards Brockan (sic, from brekk 'broken up land' not broch) there is a farmtrack going down to Winch, where it turns to meet the track up from Breckness [if I'd known]. And this track is at one point a couple of fields west of the Brochan mound, so I went down. Looks doable from there. However my digital is low on memory and power and I content myself with gazing wistfully and taking shots and video at distance before wending up again. After Brockan I look down on the mound and the almost adjoining piece of damp land with identical vegetation. Always considered them connected and this time I could see a deep drain (visible along the 'tween bit before going below ground down to the coast) which I believe has caused the apparent disjunction. Not 100% proof that they formed a continuous whole originally. And even if so did the mound continue into that section only to be levelled in later times or is this as it always stood ?

Took the lesser road opposite Brockan uphill to Skank and turned right and down past Hillcrest and Clairmont. In between it turns into a rough and ready track (before turning about to Leafea the place) and where the road ends there is a northerly track and here some migrant birds teased me with their song and kept disappearing whenever I felt secure enough to switch from DV to my ultrazoom digital ! Pesky blighters. Nice wild flowers on the upper side of this short rubbishy stretch. One or two I hadn't seen before but the macro wouldn't power up. No wonder Olympus dropped lithium for alkaline-manganese, where dead battery is almost always precisely that. Past the top of what I call the Sandy Hill track comes a place where you can see the road around Brinkies Brae. Not far into the acute triangle before this track and the road meet looking across the Brownstown wellhouse has one side built into the fieldwall roadside. The well within is the Haley Hole after which Hellihole is named [though I think hole may (also) refer to a sink as early maps show a Muckle and a Little Hole of Lynardy on the Hill of Lynardy]. Carried on to the junction then down past the Braes Hotel, the Old Schoolhouse and the part-time Stromness Library onto the spine running through town. Headed for the
bookshop, a very good source of archaeology books even now. You forget what the weather is like somehow and I felt like a slippery furnace in there and left after a brief survey. Fortunately I spotted a history of Pictish kings before the heat spat me out. Unfortunately couldn't find it again the next day. Ha ha, so it goes and I went.

Postscript. Going through "Orkney Dykes" I see photos of both the Loons area wall repair (I think) and the slab fence, the former billed as a granite dyke and the latter as a flag dyke. What I call 'standing stone fences' he refers to the period around 1880 1890 when fence stabs were in short supply and such areas had sufficient stone 'available' locally. My stone gate posts can also be dyke ends. Also from his book I deduce that the whin dyke above Quanterness was originally a much earlier type called a faily-dyke, a turf feature that had to be repaired annually - it goes down to the parish boundary with Firth (near where it can be seen best from the road looking towards the farm).


1) 1866 Laing and Petrie find some bones of a headless skeleton at Monker's House. Also found are knives, axes, combs and pottery. Great number of skulls found at same place in face of bank.
2) 1889 Many stones removed (under contractors instructions) during trenching operations for turning Monk's House Green into a graveyard. Some used to build enclosing dyke, others allegedly used at Newberry.
3) 1924 cists found on Glebe land resemble those found by J.R.Stout, gravedigger, on three occasions near churchyard sea wall.
4) 1931 In living memory Monk(ers) Green unable to be trenched by W.Irvine due to large amount of structures and building stones, he disposes of all finds (marked stones, weapons, tools) to private individuals.
5) 1931 J.Sutherland, gravedigger, employed on SW side of middle yard strikes many stones before sinking into a hole 2-3' below ground level. Clearance uncovers bird and animal bones and, nearby, vast quantities of limpets in 'pockets' in the ground. Space is a N/S aligned 30-inch square stone passage diagonal to his grave-cut. Tanks of edgeset stones hold the limpet shells, potlids and burnt material also turned up.
6) 1989 J.Wilson, stonemason, related that large orthostats and stones structures are plentiful in the middle yard, with some flags almost too heavy for two people to carry

7) 1903 according to George Marwick traditionally James Mohr, a missionary of the Bright Morning Star, in charge of Quarbith, killed by Hoy folk at the nearby Park of Haarn and buried under buildings in St.James churchyard
8) 1931 old church remains in part of cemetery next to 5, tradition stating that pre-Reformation clergy lived close to it and after their homes were burnt clerical and parish treasures were buried here where the mound's contours are visible outside the wall, some being taken away again afterwards to go elsewhere. Site long venerated.

wideford Posted by wideford
13th July 2009ce
Edited 14th July 2009ce

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