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Took the bus as far as the Harray junction. Going up the east side of the road between the first two houses,Craigielea and How(ie)glen, decided to try for a shot of the Loch of Wasdale crannog/dun/IA west side. From the road managed as far as a moundlet (that seemed to have held a fencepost) carefully then it became a little too boggy and treachorous for my dodgy foot. The moundlet made a fine vantage point anyways, about four feet across and perhaps two-and-a-bit high. Climbing down I saw right next to it a small deep square water-filled pit surrounded by the remains of barbwire - lucky I hadn't fallen into it. I am fairly sure it is not an old well as there are only quarries shown between the junction and The Refuge on the first and subsequent O.S.

My secondary excuse for coming this way is that the archaeologist-turned potter Andrew Appleby had found a teeny portable idol and e-mails exchanged with him had brought knowledge of another discovery by him, of a larger idol, and I fancied a look at both. My primary reason was that the Harray Potter had several times said I should come by sometime and this was long overdue on my part. So I combined 'work' and pleasure. Though named after Fursbreck the pottery is now in an old school beside the road. Before entering I looked across the road as In the field opposite the Fursbeck Pottery are the two Harray School mounds (RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY31NW 37). These were first recorded as a much lowered smeared out mound [in a rectangular ?enclosure in 1882], 200 yards E of what is now the pottery at HY32141711, and the possible site of another noted in the same field in 1946 (and depicted on a marsh field edge on the 1st O.S.). Now the first shows only as natural, a large hillock at the back of the field, and the second is tentatively identified with some kind of swell 40m nor'nor'east of this at HY32151715 . From where I stood I thought I saw the slight rise of the latter framed against ?Melrose (still Millrose in 1882), but I am rubbish at perspective. A more intriguing piece of land lies at the back of this in the crook of a modern drain offshoot at HY32161723 where after passing the Melrose track you look E and in the next field see what to my eyes is a mound sliced through by the drain. And on a large-scale map it is obviously a feature modern man has made a way for, though perhaps rather relating to the old quarry ahint it on the first maps.

Coming up to Rosebank it is a standout place, same name as the feature where Highland Park House stands now but a whacking great bank here on which the farm sits what I'd guess to be 2-3m up. And behind Rosebank there are several similar banks in a chain going towards Firth. Trouble with Orkney is that it is difficult to tell the archaeology from the natural even when these are seperate. Same thing with Appiehouse where N of the mound on which the stones stand are several arcs that could either be banks and ditches or the banks of a lost burn, though I am certain one matches the ditch on the S side.

Despite his wife Ingrid being at work outside she directed me to Andrew. When I mentioned the possible earthworks at Rosebank he let my tires down gently by relating them to glacial moraines. Sigh. The first item I photographed was the larger figure, which he kindly wetted for me. He informed me that he found it when only 15, at the Springfield quarry, on either his first or second visit to Orkney. To picture what I call the Springfield Quarryman take away a gingerbread man's arms and join his legs into one big one and you basically have it - a roundish head and a decent size neck above a sub-rectangular body. There is a slight curve to him as if leaning slightly. You can make out the left eye for certain and the other less so, but on the digital negatives both eyes are distinct, as is a flat rectangular nose betwen them with just the suggestion of a mouth in the space between that and the neck. The dimensions are 38cm high by 5cm thick, from base 26cm to neck which is 8cm wide, eyes 2.5cm wide. There is the slightest of bulges near the base close to one side. Seen from the side this area has the most obvious tool marks - perhaps from pounding with a stone - and the neck appears worked smooth. Several idols of not dissimilar size have been found in this Grimeston district and Netherbrough next-door, but these are not full-bodied but more head and upper body alone. Added to which they are more abstract, using comparatively sharp geometric shapes, a closer match to Broch Age figures from Orkney, whereas this makes me think of items brought up from Danish or Irish bogs.

After a break from me to finish the pottery batch I had so rudely interrupted, Andrew showed me the pleasantly decorated mini casket in which the wrapped idol lay along with the shell of a pet tortoise. Fortunately this box was still out from his interview with Radio Orkney. This was part of an old collection of his stored in a bigger box [otherwise unexplored awaiting review someday when he has enough free time]. He found the small idol in 1976 whilst looking at land dug up by kie in an area called The Whins near the layby HY32171567 (this findspot later turned out to be close to an outlier of the saucer barrow subsequently called The Henge). Andrew calls it the Grimeston Girlie [shortened by some to Grimeston Girl], the Whins Wifie or the Venus of The Whins. Her dimensions are 45mm high with body 32mm wide measuring 30mm to the neck, which varies 21-27mm wide - the body has pecked circles 14mm diameter. Unlike the Westray Wifie and her near double (whose wedge-shaped bodies put them more in the line of the Broch Age idols) she is a fully three-dimensional figure, resembling globs of clay stuck together, and the two pecked circles are like dimples where a potter pinches the clay - buttocks ? One of the facets has an occlusion. It can only be balanced upright with difficulty so I wonder if it has been used like a puppet with the dimples allowing it to be presented to the audience/participants front first and unobscured.

On leaving the pottery my next target I had been putting off for years. Whilst deep digging in St.Michael's kirkyard, in order to prepare the ground for a Great War memorial, workmen found the foundations of a possible broch. Overbrough (aka Harray Churchyard), HY31NW 36 at HY31361790, put thusly sounded positively underwhelming but would be very easy to get to. Soon after reaching the old manse, now called Holland House, you turn to your right uphill and then left at the top of the brae. The mound is a lot bigger than expected at 33m by 30 m and one-and-a-half high. Indeed it seems to me to have been squared off by the old kirkyard except on the w side where it flows out under the walls a metre or so, and the gravedigger in 1966 found flints, pottery fragments and animal bones around the edge of the mound. Though these finds remind me of Holm parish church the elevation is greater and the ground far from firm. Coupling this with the information that the then gravedigger, J.Firth, despite finding the mound stony had never found actual wall faces I come to the conclusion that this is a chambered mound. You can't imagine subsidence occuring on a site with those massive broch walls but here it's all over the place, with one gravestone leaning precariously back over a gaping hole. And those graves are mostly something else. Definitely not your usual. Dozens of long flagstones covering individual graves and/or acting as steps, some supported on a few thin courses of drystone walling. On my next visit I noticed close to one another inside the kirkyard's WSW the vertical tops of two otherwise buried flags of an apparently similar order of size to these grave-covers. Near the NNE is a place where two graves have been cut into the mound and at the cut side are several stones projecting vertically that could be of the chambered mound. Outside the walls the edge of the mound looks intact, as mentioned, and you can see the tops of several rough stones that appear to be the mound base. And in front of a change of height in the wall (a different construction phase) two stones stand up, one like a Toblerone piece (roughly 0.5 by 0.3m) and the other more round less regular (say 0.3 by 0.1~0.15), with a much smaller stone behind the space between them. I am sorely tempted to associate St.Michael's Kirk with the Fairyhowe where the Man's Body rested, but this is no heap of small stones ! Possibly instead Cup Howes (HY314176, suggested as a quarry for the kirkyard mound) next east from Runar.

Now gone is the (N of) Harray Church broch, HY31NW 49 down as at HY314179, the hillside (Brae o' Dunsoo ?) nearly opposite the other kirk, the Anderson Kirk. Only three problems with the NMRS site candidate - it is due E of the kirk (not further N in latitude), isn't a rise (at most brow of hill or false crest ), and desn't sit at the bottom of a hill (hill itself goes down to road at two junctions). Coming back from St.Michael's Kirk turned left and at the near junction took the other leg of this road, the northern one. This goes through a remnant of a ?mound centred HY31451799, starting about 35m from Harray road with a linear spread of about 20m of biggish stones hard by the northern roadside - definitely not a tumbled down drystane wall. Looking back from the main road you can see the grassy rise that the southern side of the road cuts through in profile. My reading of the map in "Harray - Orkney's Inland Parish" is that the field in which the stones are is that named Lingawheen [long? enclosure]. This contained Killopeter, a well traditionally named after a man who drowned in it, though I might suggest a reading 'rock well' as this is my choice for the true broch site. Still, that is for the blog of a later day.

When I worked decorating Nisthouse for NoSAS the mounds I saw left of the track always struck me as likely to be archaeology even though they did not appear as such, not even a name. Then from the Harray parish book finally I knew them to be the Knowes o' Congar/Conger [?conningair 'warren'] or St.Magnus Resting Place, stretching up to the junction where you would turn off for the Merkister Hotel. At a knoll here about St.John's Eve a year's-worth of grain from a field of one acre was given to the church by Mychal, a man in honour of whom St.Michael's Kirk may have been named. These mounds are not to be confused with the two called the Knowes of Conyar/Coynear (according to HY31NW 44 leastways) that used to be N of Conyar, as those were in Sandwick parish - one 32'D the other 20'D [indistinct even in 1929 so not necessarily vanished altogether]. The mound nearest the Nisthouse junction I later realised has now the seperate name Knowe of Browsky but that will be named after the unknown excavator. These are all long mounds gathered about the lochans Shunan and Parro Shun (pronounced Chinyan, meaning 'the loch', and Peedachin/Padachin i.e. peerie/peedie 'small' chinyan) on heathland. Several are painted purple by the heather, though the tallest one (possibly excavated) only at one end. I'm not sure if this latter is one mound or two as it seems to have a 'saddle' behind the heathery portion. Beside the mound's northern side are a pair of large erect stone 'gateposts' - a shame as I had hoped to find a single Mansie's Stone for St.Magnus. However my reading of the Harray book is that the purely Congar knowes were only between Parro Shun and the road, with this mound in a field called Daman (?'twin hills' if Celtic).

North of the junction for Merkister and still east of the Harray Road are more long mounds, the grass-covered Park Knowes, and apart from the nearest one to the road none looking excavated from where I stood roadside. There's one of the Park Knowes behind the next dwelling along from this and the rest west and south-west of that IIRC (centred HY303196) to Brown Brae. Something in me sees the mound by Laxhowe [lake mound] at the head of the T (HY30361943) as one of the Park Knowes though it would make a good candidate for the knoll where the Man's Body rested. And it has definitely been dug. At first glance this seems to have been purely in road-making. Then on second viewing on the dug side is a circular appearance that would result from antiquarian investigation. Indeed a closer look brings the possibilty of this being part of a petite hornwork, helped by the few exposed stones being high up at its back, threee standing against the present face of the mound. One small stone lower down of brick proportions could be a rectangular block. On my later visit zooming in on the knowe behind this one revealed another pair of large erect stone 'gateposts' like those mentioned earlier, so might there have been a broad track passing through the two sets of knowes at some time.

Now I crossed the junction. Between where Russland Cottage and Lynfield are now is where the 'Knowes of Coynear' are, or were. The road continues on to the lochside Merkister Hotel before turning - the hotel and anciliary buildings are post 1882, an old 'new build' on a greenfield site. Turning away from the Merkister past the two dwellings on the N side of the road is the field of the Fairy Howes (HY299190), but it's difficult to make much out when you're looking on the wrong side !. The next turn is around the modernised Mill Cottage (for sale to some lucky sod. From here almost due south a teardrop of land sticks out into the Loch of Harray. This site is Burrian (Russland), HY21NW 29 at HY29611834, much favoured by early antiquarians. Despite being much dug into it has been identified as either either a solid-based broch or a wheelhouse (though it strikes me that wheelhouse is now replacing broch as a stock answer). From here on I grew less and less certain of my location, difficult even on much straighter roads owing to most places having no nameplates. The most confusing bit I eventually found out is called Man(n)aneeban. Here the land looms over the road and drops down to the Burn of Netherbrough. On the downhill side of the road here a big stone wall loops around and (I think) hides the waterfall called The Forces that I found out about afterwards. Above the road feels like my idea of a creek. Or a huge excavation. Further on looking back along this at an edge of the land above there is a tall stone 'gatepost' with a very short piece of drystane wall a few feet away very out of place. Perhaps these relate to the nearby well (or wellspring) at HY31071731. A little further on I pursue a sidetrack heading north to Runas as far as the burn. More shots of tree shrouded settlement. Returning there are large stones made into a low wall along the steep rise on the E side of the track- most likely from the footbridge shown on the 1st 25" (stepping stones in the Harray book) if the present bridge isn't it.

Not long from there to the Harray road. Further to the Harray junction to await the bus back home.

wideford Posted by wideford
15th September 2010ce

Comments (1)

Interesting blog that, Wideford.
Obviously, the remoteness of those places has preserved the archaeology, due to the lack of development or "improvement".
Those figures must've been great to handle. They seem to be more peculiar to the islands of Scotland. I might be wrong.
I also find the Gaelic pronunciation fascinating, compared with what you would assume, judged by the spelling. It makes you wonder how the language of the Neolithic/Bronze Aga/Iron Age differed through Britain.
I'm going there someday, mark my words.
The Eternal Posted by The Eternal
18th September 2010ce
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