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GYRAN GIMBAL September 28th 2004

September 28th 2004 GYRAN GIMBLE

This was the last week this year of buses to Skara Brae. Not that this was my objective, only a means to it. As you walk towards the visitors' centre there is a stone gatepost on a little piece of raised ground on the left, presumably there as ornament. The other side is a lowish bridge. There is a standing stone at its end HY23511876 and abutting it a long rounded stone lying down incorporated into the bridge. But as the drystane walling is of new stones I don't know whether they truly belong here.
I continued past it on the way out to my objective. Along the road I passed several standing stones, including one but recently broken by the vandals it looked like (no trace of mechanical or vehicular damage, simply shoved till it broke). Before you reach the church you have to go around a large flat round mound circled by standing stones as noted last time. On the coastal side by a short length of burn I found a hollow approximately ringed by thick prostrate slabs with a sandy bottom. Having found a piece of plastic piping I assumed it to be modern also. Once back home though I found out that hereabouts several skeletons had been found with midden material, at HY23411971 (skeletons reburied at HY23461966 and marked by a stone with a simple inscribed cross - have to look out for that next time) with a wallsection nearby that was then covered again.
Don't know how I missed them previously, but in the roadside edge of a grassy triangle of land to the left of the cleared area in front of Skaill Church there is a flatface-aligned stone pair HY23431979. They are at an odd angle to the church's orientation, but once back on CANMAP I saw that this is the NE/SW alignment of the rest of the fields to the north of here. Perhaps these are the model for this ? The standing stone on the left is rectangular and 3m from the angled other. That at the LH is 1.3x0.5x0.1m in a stone setting 1.1x0.5m, the RH stone lacks a setting and is 1.2x0.5m. On the other side of the road the last two standing stones are 0.5x0.3m and 0.6x0.4m.

Then I came back down and struck across the coast to the Knowe of Verron, my objective to measure and more fully photograph the pit I found before. Now I observed more closely the hole is most probably two spaces, one above the other (a twin 'cupboard' ??), and I'm not sure they are really box-like. But it is still a thing in itself rather than simply a result of collapsed medial walling (though there is possibly a collapse about one edge at least, where a slab appears to back onto earth). At right angles a jumbled line of stones head towards the excavated area of coastal erosion, specifically to one of the structures. Trying to make sense of my measurements of individual stones in terms of the whole before my film is done and back is not as easy as I thought ! Approximately 0.4-0.7m by 0.3m, the first space overlapping the second a little at the coastward end, and both seemingly 0.3m deep.
Coming down from the mound there are stones poking out of the ground about 15m away. On my last visit I'd seen them as exposed parts of a rocky outcrop but now it looked more like the remains of a (slightly curving ?) man-made line. From where I was it went in the direction of the RH end of the gateway behind which lay my putative stone arrangement one way and off to the coast the other. It stopped being intermittent 4.5m from the cliff edge, then after maybe half-a-metre became the remains of a fairly substantial wall that at the coast turned a right angle left and continued another 7.7m virtually straight. At 0.9m across this looked like the outer wall of some structure. Back home CANMAP showed a line near here that went from a field to the coast and then went on a zig-zag course. Did this show the modern fence line and an idealised boundary or was it this structure (so HY23081980 to 23061976 and ultimately to 23141973) and the intermittent boundary wall I saw further along ? It could be argued that it is simply the large foundation for a vanished drystane wall, but it had a depth to it and the other bits did not go straight, instead hugging the cliff edge sinuously (unlike my 'corner'). For what it's worth, a few days later I saw similar lines on CANMAP by the Grimsay Wheelhouse.

More cataloguing next.
Going back towards Skara Brae the next standing stones visible are the area before the public toilets. Two are up on the roadside at a section labelled 'sand pit', one rectangular 0.8x0.50x0.1m at HY23621943 and the next sub-rectangular at HY23621943 0.7x0.55m. The broken item is on the WC side of the road HY23601934. Beside the 0.1m high stump lies the remainder, making for an original 0.9x0.6m. The roadside about a metre above the roadside here, so it is no accidental breakage. There are no signs of it having been struck by an implement of any kind either. Just yer usual random thuggery then.
Past the Mill Croft lane with its unattainable tumuli a 1.1x0.3x0.1m stone at HY23611914 and a 1.4x0.3x0.1m trapezium at HY23611913. About 40m on an irregular sided 'rectangle' 1.3x0.4m then a relatively deep 1.1x0.5x0.2m standing stone at HY23611896 opposite the start of the Skara Brae road junction with a 0.6x0.4m one just beyond that HY23611895. The junction side of the road an interesting pairing HY23591895 comprised of a pointy-topped standing stone 1.2x0.4x0.1m (technically the shape is a 'barn') in front of which lies another 1x0.4m with rounded sides. Another deep one 1.1x0.4x0.2m just beyond these HY23591894.
Coming back to the bridge I looked inside the field before it and notice a 1.1x0.3x0.1m stone backing onto the wall just past the gateway, and so part of neither HY23521879.Two stones in front made a 0.4x0.3m setting for it. Not waiting for the next bus I continued out the entrance road. On the right by a metal kissing-gate a 0.8x0.5m stone HY23651858 backs onto the inside face of a field wall. Continue along and at HY23661855 is a substantial standing stone across the burn which I was unable to approach. Then across the road is a 1.2x0.25x0.1m standing stone HY23651860 practically in the ditch, backed by a 0.24x0.2m stone now at a jaunty angle. On the road you come to a pair of ornamental stone gateposts. By the RH one a drystane wall goes off and then turns down. Close by its end a drainway runs to the loch. The drystane wall base here is above the level of the field at minimum of half-a-metre. Could it mark a minor boundary, a lesser Dyke o'Sean ? At its end a 1.3x0.4x0.15m stone stands precariously. Back to the road and there is one 1x0.4m at HY23721860 and a pointy one 1.1x0.3mx0.1m HY23731871. On the LH side further up is one 1.4x0.3m at HY23831868. Up where this road meets the main road to the right is a utility-blade shaped one 1.3x0.6x0.1m at about HY23891869 with one 0.2x0.1m adjoining.

There were more stones after I left that spot but I'd had my fill for a while and gave myself a small respite. I took note of two on the precarious hillside alongside the Loch of Skaill that were visible from the road. The first was at the second passing place. This was at right angles to the road and backed by several stones which I weren't sure were a setting or part of a wall.
Past this layby I found my 'niche' again. Had to remove a veil of grass to ascertain it really was the thing. To the right of it a stone is marked with that official bear's-paw 'sunburst' symbol, look for that. Still not 100% certain it is not geological or adapted natural still. IIRC it faces across to a very small unmapped 'islet' in the loch. Stone 'block'; straight 0.7m then 'niche'0.8m across and then it goes behind at an angle. Enclosing sides 0.5m and 0.7m long and 0.35m high, slab above 0.2m deep.
The other stone HY24651814 is before the roadsign and pointy 1.1x0.3x0.1m.
The field on the RH side of the B9057 was reported by antiquarians as the site of a prehistoric underground dwelling, which would most likely mean either a souterrain or a Skara Brae type settlement. Only site of - I saw nary a thing myself on checking just in case.

Next road along, the B9055, is where I felt it necessary to start catalogueing again.
LH past the first buildings HY25061780 pointy 1.2x0.5x0.15m.
Then an oddity, what I would call a flatface-aligned stone pair (very approximately mirror images) except that they are double the normal distance apart and are seperated by a blocky standing stone pillar I'd usually declare modern. 1.2x0.35x0.1m at HY25081781. 'Orkney gate' 4m. Cuboid standing stone 1.7x0.4x0.15m at right angles to road. 4m 'Orkney gate'. 1.2x0.3x0.2m at HY25091781.
1.4x0.4x0.1m At field corner HY25161782. Squiggly field junction HY25181782 1.1x0.4m.
RH side a standing stone at field boundary but not at a corner or junction, several metres away from the roadside.
On the left at phone box HY25281777 with a shoulder at 0.7m utility-blade shape 1.2x0.4x0.15m. Stone at field junction.
Between this place and Hurkisgarth farm look across to the right and you may make the swells of The Howans in the second field from the road. I don't think I did.
Suspects in face of LH drystane wall probably from my objective. HY25411769 two stones side-by-side at bottom, a sweeping triangle 0.5x0.5x0.2m and a square 0.70.7x0.1m. HY25411769 an irregular rectangle 0.7x0.7x0.1m.
May have forgotten a standing stone at the next field corner HY25441767 because of seeing the second of today's targets in the field. Despite the Hunkisgarth Tumulus being described as a flat-topped mound my hopes weren't high of making anything out except possibly a flattened piece. So it was a pleasant surprise to see it as described, unprepossessing but at least obviously there, looking like a low reservoir from my position. The way into the field was simply an 'Orkney gate'. However it was unusually high and so I felt it best to leave it alone. This was probably no great loss in as far as there seemed no evidence of structure. At one time though it looked to have chambers within. My opinion is that some at least of the stones of these have been incorporated within the drystane wall as noted above. The hill may be lower than the slopes above the loch but you do have an overwhelming idea of the mounds dominance of the surrounding area apart from that. This is probably the only reason to belack not having ventured onto it - holding myself tight to the fence not being sufficiently advantageous for photography. Visible was everything this side of Kierfiold, then a big sweep from Skara Brae all the way around to the circling hills and down onto several lochs. Certainly this site lords itself over much of the archaeology herabouts, including several of importance. Lovely views even limited as my position was.

Coming back down the hill there was a standing stone the other side of the junction. But I ignored all stones from here until the quarry above the Yesnaby junction (as far as recording went), instead simply investigating and re-membering them all.
The entrance to the quarry lies between two distinctly 'modern'-looking utility-blade shaped standing stones 13.2m apart 1.4x0.4m and 1.3x0.5x0.1m right angles to the road at HY24711550 & HY24721551. Alongside the road a roundy top one 1.3x0.35x0.1m HY24711553. At the back above the quarry on the edge another HY24701553 too dangerous to reach even for me !
The other side of the road from the entrance I found 4.3m apart a pair of flatfacealigned stones HY24701551 lining the track that led to South Gyran. An angular top one 1.2x0.3x0.1m and a utilty-blade shape 1.3x0.8x0.1m. Along this line are the two South Gyran sites. A cist at HY24021537 was lost by the excavating of a small quarry sometime after 1880 and before 1966. More significant was the South Gyran Barrow, formerly at HY24251543. In the 1880 "Name Book" it was reported several cists had turned up at various times and that stuff turned up nearly every year, which would be a reference to bones or midden material rather than the cists. So naturally one thinks of 'death roads', possibly with the stone at the rear of the quarry as the other end. I just noticed on the map that the line seems to pass through several more quarries between here and the Loch of Harray. More and more I am thinking that quarries held some significance besides the obvious ones.
There are some more standing stones in the region of the road junction which I left.

Because I had time to fill before I went back to Kirkwall instead of following the main road to Stromness I took two side trips. the Cauldhame and Kirbister 'circuits'. Highly recommended just for themselves. On the first there is the Bun of Una Burnt Mound as the only real piece of archaeology noted. The second took me into the back of Stromness, where I looked for the groups of tumuli behind Wardhill.

wideford Posted by wideford
6th October 2004ce

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