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SKAILL August 7th 2005

Third open day, Castle of Snusgar, and finally the weather came good. All the live long day ! Good job this is the season buses go to Skaill, but this still meant a long time before the visitation. Keeping my perambulation tighter around the area this time around. A few check-ups and another attempt to reach a site. Six pounds to get into Skara Brae - no, thanks. Any way I had my own fish fry.
Straightforth from the visitors centre, then passing the church and on to Linnahowe. Not expecting much at this time of year and so pleasantly surprised to find no rank vegetation here to veil the scant archaeological evidentiae. Coming down the turn in the track you see a few stones in the northern end of the mound. Not much to show structure really, these could be the exposed back of a big shallow excavation. As you pass by the side there are even smaller and fewer stones to be seen near to the southern end that possibly curve in a line through to where woody plants such as nettles line the silage pit cut. According to the farmer responsible for the latter there was no trace of any structure found during the operation, only scattered stones and bones. This end is much higher now but may not have been so before as halfway up the cut I could see thick wavy black edges like plastic wrap, as if material from the cut had been used to build up the sides above this level. Unfortunately some modern stone and concrete has also been brought in so that one cannot from the totality of material even make a guess as to what really was there in the gap. The present-day farmer was even more interested in me than the kie at the site were, and it is difficult to relate your attraction to such an apparently bare spectacle. Eventually we grew bored with the silences in between !

Next stop the Knowe of Verron to check for damage. On the way thinking yet again about the middling hillock below the church. Presumably simply a field cut off by the modern road, or how else to explain the arc of 'standing stone fence' about a thing that has no name or history ? No damage done to the broch thankfully. I looked at little bridge under the drystane wall etc. the cliffside section of the church road. Obviously at some stage the road has been widened, for as at the grander one by Lesliedale (in St.Ola) close inspection reveals halfway along the passage a stone going clean across. With above road bridges you can often tell road-widening by the totally different structures about the stream either side., the original other end now buried under the road surface. To the other side of the stream there is a kind of pit with a few large stones which I suspect to be connected with the Viking burials - or simply a kelp-pit !!

My last target was the Knowe of Geoso, once thought to be a broch but no longer (wrong kind of place doncha know). At the end my last failure I had finally worked out where it lay from the Skaill House Farm (formerly The Mount) track. Most obvious route is along fieldwalls direct up from the farmhouse,.but there was some kind of horsey do going on. Instead from Skaill House you can see a farmtrack going all the way uphill to a large depression marked as a disused quarry, and this was my chosen route. For Orkney this is a fairsized quarry in area at least (not all that deep). Must go back when the grass dies down as Oldmaps does not show this as a quarry but does show a well by the lower lip. The depression is in the top right of the field and the adjacent field corner is where Brockan was (HY23041798) that led to the earlier broch identification, the knowe being visible by the diagonally opposite corner (could it have been the original Mount ?). No entry to that field from here. So I passed into the next field. At the top of this is the ridge going up to the site and along it in the other direction somewhere are other tumuli of which the named ones are the Knowe of Nebigarth (possible barrow atop an eminence) and the Knowe of Angerow (a cist reportedly taken from it and a possible cist slab on a more mutilated mound). A brilliant view from here over to the Yesnaby area including looking down on the Broch of Borwick (so many indentations in the coast you think yourself miles from a place when really you are, in vehicular terms, 'next-door'. Which is why in the Northern Isles boats were the thing). Magnified look at Geoso showed what at the time looked like a small man-made mound by a flattened hilltop. Snuck in to the Brockan field via a crumbly wall with old barbwire fence. Worked my way along to the end but no ingress. Back was a place with a gap twixt fence and fieldwall to step between. Barbwire fence attempt but electric uh-uh. So down across the field I went. Remains of a modern building and possible old farmtrack. And the obvious signs of a multiple watercourse to explain the name Brockan - it is another 'broken slope'. Over a gate and up along the fieldwall of the preferred route.
Up on top I could see that what I had seen previously was one site, a large flattened mound with the gap seen as a curving hollow carving its way across the width of it. There's supposed to be an earthfast stone in the exact centre but if it's only just protruding it is too well hidden. On the mound I can feel shallow depressions under my feet that must be part of the quarrying done out of it. Even if the 'passage' as we see it now is the result of more of said quarrying they obviously followed the path of least resistance and it is evidence for the underlying structure (chambered mound a contemporary update of Picts-house). Looking down to Skaill you can see the whole bay and most of the land below the surrounding hills and it is obvious that the Birsay Bay Project will be incomplete without a proper modern survey of the Knowe of Geoso. This side three drystane walls make a field junction, only made into a meeting of four by a 'standing stone fence' that starts atop the mound and heads towards a coastal waterfall.
Alongside the mound on that side are several large stones which the NMRS describes as an arc of earthfast stones. Those I can see don't feel like any kind of arc but instead form discrete clumps, a triangle of stones of disparate form and material and two in a depression roughly triangular but disparate in size. Perhaps if I come back when the grass is lower more stones will convince me that an arc does exist.

Rather than going down to The Mount I followed the dyke at my left. Felt like another 'broken slope' with the evidence of several watercourses and stonework in various places. I would have spent more time investigating this lovely landscape. Somewhere near my route was a well (HY22781821) and later I found on the 1882 map Rowhall (HY22861809) and Westfield (HY22831815) used to be in this area. After continuing to a fence corner I turned to head over to Skara Brae with a tight squeeze to gain the coast. An intriguing lump over by a farm and just before I scrambled down to the beach the jumbled remains of a drystone building between path and cliff edge. It is only a month later I discover that in going along the cliffs I must have passed by the sites of the back of a prehistoric structure (ruined wall at HY22921877 with midden) and a cist (HY22941876 with prehistoric stonework still close by), then by a bend in the Garricott farmtrack facing the coast a settlement mound (HY22941874).

Back up to Snusgar in time to be part of the second batch of visitors. This year they had moved onto the other side of the Castle of Snusgar mound. Even fewer signs of structures than last year. But some beautiful stratigraphy thanks to the regular influx of sand even this far from the shore, delicate layers of light and dark. Near the present base of the mound there is a stone construction. Only it is likely to be a kelp-pit from operations that the excavations have shown took place on the site in fairly recent
times. This side of the hillock there is a deep sand-filled ditch probably several feet deep, and if only they had the resources they are sure something much earlier would be revealed beneath it all. Much clearer results are coming from the new mound that they are starting on. For now they are referring to it as the east mound, though I think Snusgar East would be a more appropriate nomenclature. On the way there a bairn kept piping up to ask about burials and I considered mentioning the rock-cut tomb (HY21NW 35 at HY24221955) found in the edge of Sand Fiold opposite, somewhere in the sandy hill reveal visible from here. Finally on the new mound they have come up with a proper building and perhaps another stucture as well. Must be Viking or early mediaeval as the foundations are so regular and the details so clear even to the casual observer. Unlike last year here was something worth photographing by mere mortals ( It is probably relevant to bring up the discovery (at HY23691962) of the the Skaill silver hoard from yet another sandy hill, this one between here and the Castle of Snusgar if I have located Snusgar East correctly.

With more time to fill before the bus back to Stromness I went down the road by the Loch of Skaill to get as close to the peedie islet as possible. At last I had some decent snaps. Not much to look at, and when doing some other research I found that it is a modern artifice laid down by one of the Grahams of Skaill. Or so the story goes. On the way back to the visitors centre popped off the road near the northern end of the loch to have a shufty at quarry. Nothing really to report. Had a look for the well shown close to it on the 1:25,000. Struck out there. Later I was going over the 1882 on Oldmaps and noticed that it did not show said well but did mark one on the opposite shore at exactly the same easting. Shurely shome mistake. Considered walking up to the Knowe of Geoso to take measurements but decided with the time left to have my packed lunch on one of the big circular picnic tables beside the car park road the other side of the stream instead.

wideford Posted by wideford
5th September 2005ce
Edited 5th September 2005ce

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