The Modern Antiquarian. Stone Circles, Ancient Sites, Neolithic Monuments, Ancient Monuments, Prehistoric Sites, Megalithic MysteriesThe Modern Antiquarian

wideford’s TMA Blog

Post to the TMA Blog


Took the bus to Lighthouse Corner. Had tons of time so went down to have a look at Skaill. The church has only been called St Ninian's since a steamship of that name ran aground in 1903. Going between the farm and the kirk are two steep-sided nausts. One of these has next to it a wooden vessel of the kind I later saw near Balfour Castle. It is mounted on a pair of wheels near the sloping front, which hinges down. I'm sure I should know what this object is, but cannot remember. Lookin past it I see a curving bank between the kirkyard wall and the sea and in the distance the Horse of Copinsay. After a brief walk on the beach I climb up onto the cliff and between the burial ground and the sea is a broad flat area. I feel that I am walking some early modern farm track (perhaps to the gravel pit on the 1st O.S.), with the bank cast up to protect it from the waves. However it would seem I am looking at part of an ancient sand-dune called Howan (HY50NE 21 at HY 5889 0633) that had produced Iron Age tools long before a trial trench was was excavated. In 1964 the OS reported a thin layer of dark silt in a grass-covered "inner circle" bank that would have been about 7m in diameter (which seems smaller than what I saw). Visible in the cliff-face, the deposit included a little domestic midden but produced ard marks of possibly Late Bronze Age date. So despite earlier finds not Broch Age. However I just cannot believe that this bank came about simply at the hand of Nature. Knowing how ancient Orcadians loved to use the natural to form structures etc I wonder if this could be a ringwork like that hypothesised for Campston/Venikelday over in St Andrew's. In 1982 Mr Foubister found fragments of prehistoric buildings between the Howan and the kirkyard's (present?) SE corner.

Retracing my steps to Lighthouse Corner I turn left onto the road running along the base of Esnaphy Hill. On the lower slope a whole heap of hedges and shrubs sit below the buildings at Copady (I presume it is called that still). Up ahead is a dirt track. I quickly establish that this isn't the way to go, it simply turns back to the farm slightly upslope of Copady at Diamonds. At the next corner I turn right and past Watermoss before turning uphill on a bearing for Seatter. A ruin on the right is Millfield. As far back as 1880 the Orkney Name Book records that stone tools had been found at various times on this croft. There were two mounds (what is now) two fields to the east, west of Nether Stove, in what are now two fields. And to show that one should always take reports of site destruction/loss with a pinch of salt - especially out in the field - though supposedly gone by 1930 through cultivation they were only hidden by pasture, one sited at HY57450693 and the other surviving as a low mound at HY57430704. This 9mD 'eminence' is only 0.6m high, so probably hidden by grass until you're right on top of it - what with climate warming the grass never stops growing in winter even in Orkney now, so glad I managed some slight sites before this happened as you can barely make them out now even when you remember where they are !!
Seatter has quite a lot of buildings. I suspect some to be wartime as the structures on top of Ward Hill are the remains of a Chain Home Low radar station called grandly R.A.F. Deerness. On top of this Warthill, at Deerness highest point, is a burnt earth and stone mound of uncertain date. It is suggested that this,HY50NE 7 at HY 5689 0739, is the varda 'beacon' itself rather than something truly prehistoric. Nothing to stop it being both, like e.g. The Wart on Hoxa Hill. The mound is aligned E/W and measures 23 x 14 x 2m. Near the northern side of the road at HY56910705 an old well is capped at ground level by several thin slabs. I suspect not all are original. At some stage late on a primitive (?concrete/conglomerate) covered drain has been made from this to the road, where the end is capped by a single thin slab. When this field is waterlogged the water will discharge over the road. Probably always has, as the field on the other side coming up to the next turn contains two burnt mounds of similar dimensions, some 10 x 7 x 0.4m each. They're both covered by grass and I only identify the further one because of the visible stonework. Go under the names of Millfield or Greentoft, HY50NE 3 at HY56860698 and HY56920699. One, hopefully the further west one that I spotted, went by the individual name of Koffer Howe. The archaeologists are puzzled by the name. However it could be coffer as in a burial or perhaps Khaffir as a reference to dark burnt material. Turning the corner all of the previous mounds are dwarfed by another mound on the same side of the road with its longer side facing it. HY50NE 41 at HY56700682 also goes under the name Greentoft, stands over a man' height at a little over 2m high and is 50m long by 17m high. When under the plough not only burny material comes up but red stones too. The grass-covered slopes appear gentle to me, with the faintest hint of a cresecent face. The rusty gate to the field stands between erect stones. The left one is marvellously gnarled. Before you come to the corner the Denwick road branches off upslope on the right. Either side of the road is the site of Bloody Quoy ( HY50NE 6 at HY56670696, also Anglicised as Blood Field) which preceded its creation by millenia, going by the polished granitic cushion mace-head found here, probably on the northern side, measuring 4 5/8" long by 2¼" wide by 1¼" thick. Also called after nearby Greentoft. I think the record is a little confused about the other find - at Delday a G Delday found a long cist whilst ploughing, 5' long, 3'6" deep but only 1'8" wide. The heaped bones of two skeltons were found at either end. A later farmer reported near the cist site an ~20mD cairn-like feature straddling the road included burnt earth and shells. Amongst the rough stones of which this was composed one strongly resembled a trough quern, which is another indicator of a Neolithic date.

Coming to Noltland it is a fine tidy piece appealing to the Romantic view. Part of the enclosure is a curving stone wall by the road. There is a short tree with sparse spreading branches making it wide like some pollard, which I'm sure it isn't. Next to that ivy shining brightly the day fills the space between two doors either side of the end of a stone block building that looks to be free-standing. The romantic ruin comes after that. Or maybe it's two ? This blends seamlessly into a roofed bit. Finally there's the present dwelling by the road clad in white. Taken altogether it does have the feel of buildings mostly enclosing the central space. At the crossroads I turn left again. Here we are, back in the formal 19thC with a church, manse and school [the Free School House started off as Rosevale].I am intrigued by a place called Malisburgh about which I can find nothing. A grand two-storey house but not a mansion house. From the main road it appeared to me to have a low walled garden in front and to the sides, however this is an illusion caused by dark bushes bordering the fences of a ?field and other pieces.
Looking up to the former United Free Church of Deerness there is a long natural mound called Howan Blo (HY50NE 5 at HY571060). It is some hundred yards south of the kirk but looks closer from the main road. Here over the course of a few years Mr Aim, the farmer at Blow(e)s, came across internments near its crest in 1929 and 1932 (the record says 1933, but Callendar's article from that October refers the discovery to "January last"). On both occasions he covered the finds until the archaeologists came. In early March 1929 whilst digging into the clay his plough lifted the coverstone of a short cist containing an eight inch high dolomitic steatite urn and potsherds from a small urn. The cist was hollowed into a circular depresssion 4-5" deep in the centre, floored with stone flakes averaging some 5" square and ¼" thick. In plan it was approx. 20" by 16" with sides of bluish Orkney sandstone slabs each 18" deep and 1½" thick. There was a layer of burnt human bones 5-6" deep. After excavation the farmer put the remains back and covered the find. in January 1932 Mr Aim made another find only a few feet away. This consisted of a Bronze Age cinerary urn and fragments of a smaller one, both of clay. The large urn held bone ash and potsherds. When the archaeologists came and did their excavation they found an urn-shaped cavity under a coverstone just five feet away, though it had never held an urn. It measured some 15" deep and 12" wide diminishing to 5", and was almost completely filled with the dark greasy remains of bones. Though the urn passed to the museum the rest was re-buried as before. Later attempts to locate these proved unsuccessful. I'd love to know when the church was built, because with names such as Millhill just to the east and Little Millhouse not far to the SSW this could be a candidate for the Milldam Farm site.

Reaching Lighthouse Corner again I find myself with time still before the next bus. And even though it will be the last of the day I decide for a quick walk, sort of, and head down the Aikerskaill road for the coast. Only one corner survives intact of a drystane building near (I think) Grundigar. Apparently this was Steinflett. There are piles of stones in proximity, only they come from several sources. And there is a modern standpipe by the corner. I love that corner honeyed by the low light. The next ruin is probably of Howes, near Aikerskaill if I remember aright. It survives roofless but pactically entire, with several stone block buildings of different sizes and some with high pitched gable ends. Finally reaching the coast I thought about going east, along the track that conceals the foundations of a linear settlement to the Point of Ayre, because it looks as if you could continue anti-clockwise and on to the Ayre road. But owing to my uncertainty I opted for the safer, if longer, walk west. Along the way I pass the How(i)e o' Backland, most likely a broch. Presently divided by a farm track there must have been only one field once as for the site we have the name 'enclosure of the broch' Quoyburing, which, or was, pronounced Quoyburrian (a Quoyburray is close to Round Howe in Tankerness). HY50SE 8 at HY58040402 is a 3m high mound covering a little over half-a-hectare even now, covering a broch and probably outbuildings. A Dr D Brothwell excavated an almost full height curving wall when digging a trial trench. There is only room for such at the west side as the east is lower and dips down to a pool, possibly modern. In the NW a portion of external ditch mentioned in the record can be made out by 'the eye of faith' and a little further west by a jagged little pool is a suspicious small bump.
At Newark I made my way back to the main road, I think using that nice Oback road. If memory serves I reached New Lighthouse in time to catch that last bus back. Phew !

wideford Posted by wideford
15th January 2014ce

Comments (0)

You must be logged in to add a comment