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

Holm of Papa Westray

Chambered Tomb


This passage taken from Amy Liptrot’s book The Outrun – is an account of her trip to the Holm of Papay with the farmer who is delivering a ram over to his sheep on the Holm. Amy herself was spending winter on Papay.

“There are no signs that the Holm has ever been inhabited yet it is where the ancient people brought their dead. There are three chambered tombs, the biggest of which, the South Cairn, well excavated and maintained, is now looked after by Historic Scotland. Due to its inaccessibility, it is Historic Scotland’s least visited site.
I see the cairn every day from Rose cottage and it is strange now to be standing on top of it, the low sun casting my shadow over the island. I lift a metal hatch and descend a ladder into the mound. I use the torch left for visitors to crawl through the long passageway and look into the ten small cells or enclosures leading off. There are carvings of what look like eyebrows on the stone similar to the ‘eyes’ of the Westray Wife.
A friend tells me that the cairn is - like the tomb of Maeshowe on the Orkney Mainland - aligned with the midwinter sun. At Maeshowe, on the solstice and a few days on either side, on the rare cloudless days at that time of year, the setting sun will shine directly down the entrance corridor. Webcams are set up there and one midwinter afternoon I watch over the internet as the golden light hits the end wall.
I had a reckless idea to get farmer Neil or fisherman Douglas to take me out to the Holm one day around midwinter and leave me overnight - for both sunset and sunrise - so I could investigate and find out if there is any sun alignment. I thought I was brave and had no superstitions to stop me spending a night in the tomb but now, after just a few minutes down there, I want to get out: it is cold, damp, dark and scary. There is no way I’m going to spend a night there.”
tjj Posted by tjj
26th January 2017ce

Comments (1)

According to the Henshall plan of the monument * the passage of Holm of Westray south is aligned to 120 degrees and the resulting declination means that it is a long way off the solstice i.e. approx 3 November and 7 February .
However Holm of Westray north is aligned close to the setting midwinter solstice sun .

*You can't trust archaeo plans for acdcurate northing , they do exist but are often way wrong , but , from personal experience and those of others Henshall's northings are usually quite good .I haven't been to either monument so simply relying that they are accurate
tiompan Posted by tiompan
26th January 2017ce
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