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HERSTON CIRCUIT August 20th 2004

Took the mid-day bus to St. Margaret's Hope then carried on towards Burwick, briefly still considering whether I could get all the way down there. Erred on the side of caution and took the other end of the Herston road, the one marked Sandwick and Herston. My plan was to look for a standing stone three cairns and Weems Castle broch there, then come back to the main road and a little further on take a right a longer way to the Stews Standing Stone - which I didn't).

On the Sandwick road attempted to locate the Kirkie Hill Cairn ND43849223, a 0.7m high turf-covered 7.5m diameter mound that had proved cist-less, only there was too much activity up there (felt like a quarry but isn't) to make it out from the road. Saw a big mound beside the road's downhill side. As I came nearer I could see it was simply a farmer's spoil heap, a proper cairn with an obviously excavated top lying shyly not many yards ahead of it being of far lower height. Looking towards the cairn my eyes swept back and saw the standing stone to its right and slightly further downhill. These are the Clouduhall cairn and standing stone. The former being right next to the road and close by the field entrance (open - as I've seen it in other such places I often wonder if this is done for the tourist season).
Virtually at the fence was a 0.7x0.5x0.3m boulder that appeared definitely shaped, not sub-rectangular but with several straight edges - anthropologists have nature v. nurture and we have geology v. anthropology. The circular depression at the top I worked out to be 5.5x4.4m internally and you can walk around it. Inside it I could feel stones underfoot and it felt like there were stones beneath the feet over all the rest of the mound too. The rest of the visible ones were about the depression though, at the west another boulder 0.4x0.4x0.3 and to the east another three of which one was 0.3x0.4x0.3. In front of the three was a rectangular area of excavation 1.6x0.9m. In the 0.6m deep vertical section I only saw a few small stones embedded in the soil, nothing to look at. Went around downside of the mound and then uphill till I felt I was at the base. Here the mound loomed over me to at least head height. Once back home I read it is a metre high presently, so either I got it wrong or perhaps it is built on something else. I'd love to think all will look clearer come winter, except that the obscuring vegetation is all grass.
From there I went across the field downhill to the stone, 8'2" high and 4'6" at its widest part. It appears to sit in a hollow and have an annular ditch in close proximity as shown by the ring of darker green grass. I am minded on of the Comet Stone and 'my' Grieves Cottage site (though the circle is far tighter here). Nearing it I see a large boulder to my right. Hidden amongst the grass I think I make out another such boulder, probably a fraction smaller, just downhill of the stone. At the Clouduhall standing stone itself I cannot see a stone setting. It has a small bulbous bit a little above the summer vegetation, too low for a shoulder and not sticky-out enough for a hip.

Next I went to find the two cairns on the downslopes of Nev Hill. Nev Hill Cairn ND42928931 (NMRS record no. ND48NW 5) is a round cairn 9.5x1.2m, now surmounted by a modern cairn but with the central cist (excavated 1926) still in place under this marker. More impressive would be The Nev chambered cairn ND428892 (NMRS record no. ND48NW 10) as it is described as denuded and a cist was found in it early on in the 20th century (no finds came from the chamber's exposure in the centre of the cairn in 1970, so maybe gone now). 44' in diameter and 4'high, it is probably a tripartite Orkney-Cromarty tomb and has sides of drystone walling. The chamber is oriented north-south and lacks a back-slab, though there was probably a semicircular wall to the rear. Anyways my chump orienteering skills found neither and the tracks are many and convoluted. If you read the NMRS don't let the description of Somerset fool you or you will stay much too close to the jetty as I did. It is a fair collection of farm buildings on the hill, not the peedie croft above the shore as I initially thought. Rather than go in front of this, drilling down through CANMAP shows I should have gone up between it and Bayview and then followed a track across the back of the Somerset buildings and go with a right-hand leg and straight on. Whereupon the round cairn should be seen at a field edge and the chambered cairn downhill from that about the centre of the field bottom.

When above the jetty I longed to go around the small stretch of coast in front of me to the broch ND434889 on Castle Taing. Knowing how deceptive it can be estimating distance from these kind of views I regretfully declined the invitation. And the Stews stone would have to wait its turn another time too, it wasn't close to a road or even a track.
So I continued along the Herston circuit. Soon the Oyce of Herston inlet appeared below. A burnt mound around one end was too good to pass up. It lies in a field corner along from the mission church with a low concrete wall cutting into its roadside edge. People have said all burnt mounds look alike. Mostly they look like grassy hillocks, at least the Oyce of Herston one ND42059072 looks burnt ! The centre has been quarried away. Nothing tempted me to continue to Herston (though I should mention that despite Harra Brough over on The Altar being said to be mediaeval the NMRS mentions some loon up there once shoved a five foot stone down into the sea from the wall and a pile of bones with it), so I retreated to the circuit. At the circuit corner I looked back over towards Nev Hill and Clouduhall and saw a big ole lump of land jutting up in a gap between the Kirkie Hill and ?Ball Hill. Thought at first it was archaeological, but whatever it is makes an outstanding view if you're out this way. Sorry, no photo, my flabber gasted I neglected this time.

Coming on the straight stretch I noticed the placename Big Howe. Trust me to be going on the road that I hadn't researched. Nothing marked on the 1:25,000 map. Still I had a song in my heart. Expected nothing or a big howe. What I got were what looked like lines of well-quarried mounds and/or banks. Possibly short on time, and seeing heaps of confusion, I walked on whilst making a note to look them up. Back home what I find on RCAHMs explains much. Actually there are two places here, there being a Little Howe besides.
Big Howe itself ND42999087 is a natural rise. In 1926 a cist with crouched burial was found at ND43009082, and in 1945 burnt bones were found in a cinerary urn.
At Little Howe the former presence of cists has been deduced by non-local slabs having beentaken from there for use in a cow byre. More importantly this is the site of actual artificial mounds, a complex Iron Age settlement ND43129081 (RCAHMS NMRS record no.ND49SW 18) also known as Widewall or Newbigging Farm.

At Kirkhouse I simply had to follow the shore this side of the Oyce of Quindry to seek out the stone seen in the mists of a previous visit to the Hope. All I had seen so far through binoculars didn't stand out as my memory. On the shore from the road you could see a long straight ridge of rock with a few stones on top that made it appear non-geological, only end on did I see it curve a litle around the back. In a key position along the length the long bulk of a pale seal presided alone.
Where the sands were revealed they were not dry but let the feet sink in an inch or so. Some of the shore resembled a gravel beach with its covering of discoid mini pebbles. Along a section of inward curved coast around there ND436918 it felt as if I was looking at the nibbled edge of one or more land surfaces in the cliff section. Lots of angular stones. Some of it put me in mind of the cliff section immediately right of the Scapa Distillery outlet. Except this had to be geological in nature as nothing so extensive could have been unobserved otherwise.
Coming to the Oyce of Quindry itself all of substance I could make out along the inlet was a big lump I had already seen through the binoculars. This resolved itself to a mass of seaweed over a boulder. Not quite as impressive or distinct as it had seemed on the day of the mist. As I neared it I could further see that it was a stone rather than a natural boulder. It was only as I came up to the end (albeit on the opposite shore) and passed by that I saw at least a long straight edge and made it out as not a broad stone but a standing stone leaning over at an acute angle. It lay in an even bigger patch of sand than the one I watched it from, but though I fancied taking measurements I did not trust my luck so far to extend to visiting these sands over the way lest they prove quicker.
So I made my way past the howling dogs of the Ronaldsvoe kennels and back to St. Margaret's Hope. Only a few weeks ago it would have been certain daylight to the eight o'clock bus. Today this was the end of my peregrination.

wideford Posted by wideford
24th August 2004ce

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