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FINSTOWN TO TINGWALL November 13th 2010

FINSTOWN TO TINGWALL November 13th 2010

Took the bus to Finstown then went past The Hillock and over the bridge across the Oyce (a tidal inlet, same word as ouse). It is the first time I have walked this way since they built the walkway alongside the bridge, so I took the opportunity for some photies using wide angle because it is so close to. On my way again I stopped at several places for shots of (the island of) Damsay in the distance - there's a large high building by the lochan on it that doesn't appear on Canmap at all, no NMRs, no schedule that might obviously relate. Very odd. Before I have gotten even as far as Norseman 'village' I see a very big curved bank on my left in a roadside field but couldn't work out where I was at the time. It being a bit drizzly I am thankful when a couple in a camper van give me a lift. Quite surprised that they were in a position to take me onto the Gorseness Road (marked for the Rendall Doocot).

Fortunately my map is to 1:25,000 and I could work out where I needed to be. Breck Farm stretches either side of the road with Breck House uphill beyond it at the top of a junction. A sign points the way to the doocot and church (unfortunately the latter turns out to be not one of my intended targets). The side road takes you down to the Hall of Rendall. Looking across seaward the three NMRS comprising the Tammaskirk site are the church HY42SW 11 at the LH side (HY42492102), the broch [IA settlement leastways] to the right HY42SW 12 (HY42502097), and behind these HY42SW 34 which includes these but mostly the cemetery (HY42622099). I imagine that this must once have been of comparable size to Wass Wick to the north, also a triangular coastal site. St Thomas Kirk itself was excavated by Clouston in 1931, when he found it comprised a 23x14' nave and 14x9'6" chancel - measurements internal, the partialy exposed footings were some 3'-4'6" thick. He suggested a 12thC date but two different construction phases (his trenches and spoil heaps remain for future generations). In addition it is now thought that there was an earlier ecclesiastical presence in this area too. He held the chancel to be reinforced in order to support a short tower whilst later authorities opine this had been for a vaulted ceiling - myself I think the former to accord more with the vernacular ecclesiastical practice of that time. At some time the east gable remains became the west end of an unroofed hut-like structure likened by him to "a kind of inland projection" from the wall skirting the beach. A later resistivity survey indicates the S side of the kirkyard boundary some ten yards from the footings then coming back round to the north wall of the nave. This backs up Clouston, who noted wall traces at the east end of the kirk's south side and a 2'9" thich wall striking out due west from the kirk's NW corner then making a bend before ending where it has been robbed of stone. In 1983 the kirk remains are said to be on the cliff-edge with entry to the kirkyard by what is known as a devil's-gate, a stone style built into a drystone wall [I assume he isn't thinking of the 1837 chapel of South Ettit on the other side of the manse regarding that]. My photos taken on the road down show a long wall (the distance between seven fenceposts at least) by the far end of the site and probably at the cliff edge, beyond the fieldwall and rather higher than it, that is two unresolved walls of said 'hut'. Drilling down for an aerial view on shows the 'hut' at the very tip of the north end of a complex arrangement of walls.

The 1983 article mentions skeletal remains eroding into the sea from the oldest part of the cemetery as does a 2000 survey. However when an emergency excavation took place in the last week of February 2005 into March it was said that Cristopher Gee had found the recently eroding burials five years before, which indicates a short memory or distinct multiple areas of erosion. Ronald Cook of the present Hall of Rendall gave permission for the dig to take place. Out of twenty-one bodies found at the east end of the kirk five were simply recorded and left where they were as being (comparatively) safe under stones and turf. Those burials fully excavated came from below shallow shingle either on the foreshore or under collapsed wall rubble, and of these eight were missing their lower legs. Stones were laid over the heads and others acted as pillows. The excavators also had a topographical survey made of all three areas of the site i.e. kirk, kirkyard and Iron Age settlement. An archive is to be given to the NMRS.

The settlement has been assigned to the Iron Age from Broch Age sherds and a bone comb (this from near the site's north end). But it should be noted that a decorated stone ball (AS 180) has also been found here so that like Brockan in Stromness it could be multi-period, and indeed it has been compared to other chambered settlements such as the Knowe of Nesthouse. A domestic midden amongst other items contained blackened stones and pot fragments and a flat stone disc (?potlid). Early reports are of a broch with a 60' by 24' rectangular enclosure to its south and traces of a structure of unknown age a short distance to the west. At least half the site has been lost to the sea and/or 'mined' for building material, though the mound is still surrounded by a substantial outwork. In 1946 the Royal Commission believed outbuildings were shown by N/S aligned drystane walling in an eroded bank parallel to a shoreline wall close to. Erosion has revealed two sections of hefty walling such as would belong to an Atlantic roundhouse [let's call it a broch for old times sake], and as well as possible occupation on the seaward side further coursed masonry and vertical slabs suggestive of external buildings.

Unfortunately I only had shoes on, not welligogs, and the open gateway stepped into a mess of mashed up mud and puddles (too deep even for the high-sided walking shoes I had on) that completely blocked entry. So I betook myself across the way to the doocot via two peedie duckboard bridges. HY42SW 2 at HY42242073 is a beehive dovecote eighteen foot high on the ootside (in 1957 that is) but 12'3 internally, with walls some four foot thick. In 1946 the deteriorated structure no longer had a roof, and in 1957 the diameter at the top is roughly ten foot. After renewal some twenty years ago [source Orkney Live website] it has a roof once more. It is a thing of beauty that towers darkly over you as you approach, with four levels of drystane walling (nd some blocks are quite big)seperated by thin flags and a final ring over the top. The lowish gated doorway is on the far side. Externally the door had a lintel - the inner doorway is a few courses higher. Inside is, naturally, covered in squishy bird poop. Straining the neck up the interior is liberally spotted with small niches for the birdies themselves. I wasn't really aware of how much water passes by here until I saw the broad and fast-running stream that runs to the shore, making me wonder if the doocot replaces an earlier mill.

After visiting the dovecote I tried where the [?mill]stream goes to shore, but the waters were too deep to cross. Away from the shore, though feeling close, there is a small islet. Much longer than it is broad and having a noticeable curve. This is the Holm of Rendall HY42832074).Technically there are two differences between a skerry and a holm, not just the most-remembered one that the latter is always above water but also that the holm can graze seven sheep. I am not sure whether this one could still do that. On the first O.S. 25" map it is shown a having a cairn, but its only NMRS is for a ship that went down here. My feeling is that this could be a slighter version of the burnt mound 'crannog' at Voyatown.

Following the track that runs from the Hall of Rendall to the South Ettit graveyard I came to a modern water-trough in a field to my left that played host to a large number of stones, varying in size and some apparently modelled by man. I wonder if these are the remains of the empty cist found in 1969 whilst ploughing. Not that these would necessarily be in situ - the findspot was a ridge in what is called the 'manse field'. The Ha' cist, HY42SW 19 at HY424203, was trapezoidal (1.12m long by 0.92m and 0.76m) and aligned NNE/SSW. I think it may have been re-used, or have been constructed from re-used materials, as the difference between side and end stones has had to be made up with thin slabs. In any case the only contents are said to have been an even layer of clay and water had been seeping in for some time - would we have done any better nowadays ??

Between the old manse and the graveyard I saw that my next target, the Knowe of Dishero/o [aka Discrow 'mound enclosure], has a new fence around it and no easy access evident. On the 1st 25" O.S. several slopes are shown. On the map the site aligns NE/SW, with at the eastern side a rectilinear half (having a sub-rectangular pit [or perhaps stone] at right angles to the longer side half-way along), at the western side an arc of the same length, and at the northern side two arcs of almost similar sizes (the west one less curved) with a gap between them due north. The RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY41NW 6 describes a broch tower of internal diameter nearly 30' [POAS says 22'] having a 19'6" long section of inner wall-face visible on the west side to a height of some 4'6" with an opening of over 2'6" blocked up in modern times. Inside the east ditch it mentions faint traces of the outer broch wall. According to the POAS there may be a doorway on the SE side. Due west of the broch, up the hill, an underground structure with 5' thick walls lies under the North Ettit houses - a "small ancient quern" came from here sometime before 1927 and it is believed the site might be another broch (HY41NW 4 at HY42051996, slight rise where tusks found in kitchen midden).

Determined to find some way in I decided to see what might pass at the graveyard. So I continued along the tourist track as the farmroad became a farmtrack. Coming towards the burial ground, which sits between the farmtrack and the clifftop, the South A/Ettit Kirk remains (HY41NW 7 at HY42451976) pointing towards me are the parts of 3' thick walls from the remaining east gable and north wall - when another batch of rain passed by this angle proved an adequate shelter as I pressed my back to it. A date of 1732 has been derived from a stone stuck in the later graveyard's gate pillars, and when the graveyard was renovated about the fin-de-siecle old tombstones were unearthed. Perhaps these include the hogback supposed to have been here. I think in 1732 this was a greenfield site as the ground does not have the feel of an Overbrough or even the grounds of the Holm parish church. The kirk may have been dedicated to St.Laurence and had been re-thatched yearly until its last use for worship in 1794 when deterioration led to its abandonment - the walls fell down one Sunday around 1800. Now even the old kirk's interior has been taken up by burials. The devil's-gate here has three steps that come out a long way from the wall on both sides and two vertical slabs either side coming up from the level of the second step and a rectangular gap starting two courses (or is it one thick stone) above the third then ending level with the wall top. This is on the LH side of the 'modern' gate, which is formed by two large square drystone pillars. The seaward wall runs right at the very end of the clifftop - I had hoped to reach the Knowe of Dishero broch between here and the old manse from here somehow. The tradition is that devil's-gates were made as a way of thwarting the devil's attempts to follow the coffin, but I know of at least one that is nearly half-a-mile from any church site and I believe they date instead from the turn of the 19thC at most (probably associated with the Agricultural Improvements then).

Foiled again as the graveyard wall runs right along the clifftop edge and there's literally no getting over it. So I retraced my steps to an open field and approached the broch on a long diagonal. Coming from the end facing the kiryard I was just able to make out one big broad stone about halfway up that looks to be in a depression that I think lies just outside the broch tower. On the side facing the old manse is a broad ditch that seems quite deep and heads for the cliff-edge. It is from this direction I made out the various levels i.e. the ditch, the outer broch, and the broch tower [possibly a fourth can be made out]. From here through the clifftop undergrowth you can see what looks to be a mix betwen a sea-wall and a structure back against the cliff, age unknown. So I took my photos and video from within the field. If I had had longer (and it had been a weekday) I could have crawled under as the grass wasnae too damp. Did not want to miss a bus.

Followed the Gorseness Road round the hill. Then where the road goes down again the mysterious site of Wass Wick lies against the shore. Nothing can be made out of the place despite this being thought another likely broch site. HY42SW 10 at HY41202198 is yet another triangular site. The POAS mention of several stones protruding out of a grassy mound (about 40 yds square and rising 6 ft high at the south and 9 ft on the north side and some forty yards 'square') is backed up by the crofter a couple of decades later telling the Commission there were many building traces scattered over it. It still holds on to its uncultivated state (very rough country) and has not been dug into in modern times. The 1st O.S. and even aerial views from are no use at all - a strong case for geofizz methinks.

I am sure that somewhere over this side of the hill I have been on the bus when it has made a detour, but even if that had been official it doesn't always and I didn't fancy becoming lost up there trying to jog my memory. Eventually reached Tingwall without sighting the bus I had been hoping for, so it must have taken the strait route along the main road. A couple of hours until the next bus so I decided to walk towards Finstown in hope of catching a ride on. Still light enough to snap a few shots of Tingwall. There are actually two thing-volls here, the major one and another 250 links east of this and five chains SW (go figure). Thought it must be brighter than I thought, but turned out to be the workings of the electronic viewfinder.

Went all the way in the dark. Anytime I heard a vehicle coming I either crossed the road jumped onto the verge or pressed myself hard against the edge. Oh fun and games. Heard and occasionally saw large flocks of geese take flight with a whoosh and a cackle at my approach. Eventually had Finstown in my sights. For some time Baalit had been putting on a fine show with a large bright halo around the moon. This side of the bridge its diameter encompassed almost the whole of Finstown right out to the edges. In town a police car stopped and explained there had been several people calling in concerned about my safety. Forgot my jacket wasn't its predecessor with the orange stripes, nothing to see. Strange no-one of these guid folk had thought to offer me a lift or simply warn me (at one point a big rig had approached me on the opposite side of the road, the type with masses of lights including above the cab, flashed them all on as he came up then switched the blinders off again a he passed me - definitely unfriendly). Told them I was going on the next bus. The other side of Finstown a hurry up to the shelter had me there just seconds ahead of the main bus (the next from Tingwall not due quite yet).

wideford Posted by wideford
30th December 2010ce

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