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March 29th, April 3rd 2006 CISTMET - Crantit,Newbigging

At the border of Kirkwall if you take the Old Scapa Road to Orphir is the welcome sign on your right, and in the fieldwall corner in the 1st O.S. a stone is shown. But there is no trace there anymore. Same thing with the well( HY44181007), probably a wellspring, shown in the centre of the field, though there are several possible dips for it site there. Must have been of some importance as in 1882 there was a track going from the road to it alone (going out the other side of Kirkwall there was an actual coaching inn - the building is still there but curiously lacks any signage for the visitor, it would be a tourist feature elsewhere in Britain surely).
In the next field along a central patch is unploughed. IIRC on CANMAP not long ago it was still down as an unknown building, but despite where it is shown now this is the Crantit tomb (out of deference to the farmer or safety I asume) of lightbox and "Time Team" fame. Still thinking it to be an abandoned dwelling I now visited it, having only perused through binoculars or digital camera before, whilst the lower half of the field remained unploughed. Pile of stones around the edge of the rectangular 'wasteground'. Then in the middle some more organised stonework and a slab. Hoping I had found an unmarked well I gingerly lifted the latter. Took a few seconds for it to sink in that this must be the tomb. Almost too neat-looking. I suspected a re-built top but a look at photos on the FOAT website re-assures me all is well. Unfortunately there is no way outside of your own ladder to go inside, and even lying down and leaning far over the edge I could only see a matter of inches along the floor past the area of the opening. Probably not a tomb to enter, during the dig it had to be well propped up and the excavator is pleasantly surprised it still survives. After a snowfall blown from an unusual direction there were several interesting indications of features in the tomb field.
A long mound at the edge of the next field along looks promising, for the field boundary diverts around its northern end, but the geofizz performed in 1988 showed nothing there. The Crantit cists (a single and a double) came from the field's southern edge. The old map shows an ?earthwork (HY43880997) uphill near the western edge, and by the corner before the St.Olaf junction is a rough hollow several yards long that the farmer never touches.
So up the St.Olaf cemetery road. Along from the corner property there are modern houses along the rise at the field edge, and CANMAP shows the cists (HY40NW 3) as having come from here rather than further along as it used to. I assume that this is because it was found out that though the locations were given in terms of yards N of the road but so many paces along the road. However at school I was taught that as a measurement a pace consists of two steps. I paced out accordingly and came to the previous spot, which better matches their being on the shoulder of a hill. And this pacing shows them being at the end of two different moraines. You come to the track up to Glenair, Tofts Cottage on the O.S."Explorer" but simply Tofts in 1882. The first of the cists was next to where the top corner of the newer houses are and the next a few yards further up above the track. If the NMRS is wrong about the Newbigging (now Braehead) barrow's location (being 11 chains from the Crantit cists according to a newspaper report, rather than 22 as per the monuments record) then on the given heading it (record HY40NW 4, a 30'D x5~6' mound with a single and double cist) came from the field in which Tofts Cottage sat, just above it, making a tighter grouping. CANMAP places this site instead in a field above the first half of the cemetery [above this position used to be Warbister/Warbuster (record HY40NW 28) that gave its name to a broch that used to be by the burn below].
It does get even stranger because the two Newbigging sites, records HY40NW 4 and HY41SW 8 (a cist with urn), according to the P.S.A.S. article both came from the same field ! Swinging round from Tofts Cottage only slightly N of the given WNW direction to the field of the Crantit cists of 1909 and 1924 would bring you to the earthwork on the 1882 map. As record HY41SW 8 position is only given as a 4-figure grid reference my suggestion is that all three sites come from the one field we have now. In 1855 a farmer found a cist containing an urn with burnt bones and ashes. Seeing several barrows in the area, and knowing the neighbourhood had produced a human skeleton some time before, Petrie had the man open a few and tell him when he found a cist (one wonders if anything else was found in these ?). He duly reported when some graves were found. On excavation the clay bowl barrow gave up a single and a double cist. In 1882 we have a circular feature in 'our' field. In 1909 another double cist came from this field. In 1924 a single cist was found close by. That is my interpretation of the information from the various sources.
Down the brae some of the broch of Warbuster (which is, alas, no longer) was used to build a new steading at the east side of Tofts Farm i.e. at the left as you see it from the cemetery road. However only Tofts [Cottage] appears on the 1882 map. There is a large building where Tofts Farm is now, but with no name or other map legend attached to it. One set of co-ordinnates would seem to place a Borwick here at an earlier time, a direct reference to the broch of course. Going past the cemetery and the cottage is Orquil Farm, entirely new since the 1st O.S. (perhaps arising from the saw mill, likely where the millstream type walling is) - Peedie Orquil used to be plain Orquil (there was a dovecote near it, a good indicator of mediaeval origin I imagine).
Anyway, just before you reach the Orquil Farm a wide track goes northwards, and I followed this uphill and through fields. In 1971 a souterrain (record HY40NW 7) was found in the field a little behind the farm. Actually the newspaper report uses the term gallery grave, which was once applied to the likes of Rennibister and Grain, but as a comparison with the Taversoe Tuick tomb for being "two-storey". Perhaps it was an indeterminate, like Petrie's Lingrow tomb that was overmuch dug into before his time and sounds like a possible earth-house instead (or, like The Howe, as well). I looked without seeing any indications of where this had been - the site was apparently levelled, but as is often the case you are left unsure whether in practice this meant rendered safe by filling in or simply being demolished.
A very damp and muddy walk not good for the shoes. At the top of the field a straight water-course runs across the hill. Fortunately a level bridge crosses this to allow you into the next field. Walking along the edge of this I am suddenly surprised on my right by a hulking long mound, nothing on the map indicating this. It occupies most of a field, going nearly diagonally roughly between the 50 and 60 contour lines. Much too big to be man-made and missed by archaeology, much too tempting not to have been used for burials and such. Definitely a place you can inagine as a natural theatre for ye olde ritual activities, this towering aspect missing from any other viewing (as I afterwards establish). Not much space left for any barrows. At this western end a great rectangular bite has been taken out of it with two very thick wooden posts to either side in front. Through binoculars I glimpse large stones in the cutting, and at this time I was still looking for Newbigging stuff in this area. But with sheep about I left without entering the space. Followed the field boundary towards Kirkwall and found myself near the riding centre then passing at the back of Walliwall Quarry. Had to climb a gate, mud churned up here but still a better way to come than the way I had done !
Next time I came by the quarry first, the 'mound' is practically invisible until you are almost on it. Coming down it is obvious that this track once was a set of burns, wider and deeper and more complicated than the likes of Orquil or Lingro in the valley below. Probably not held water since before the arrival of man - an old cart road from Groundwater in Orphir joined the public road at the quarry. Perhaps a traveller's way at least as far back as the Viking period, for after the cortege with Mansie's body (St.Magnus) left Caldale this would make a good route for Kirkwall to avoid 'living' burns. That said there is a large pond by the central portion of the 'mound's uphill side which momentarily put me in mind of Kongarsknowe in Orphir.
And finally I am able to enter the 'mound's territory. Disappointed to find that the cutting's sides seem mostly rock outcrop. Still puzzled as to why the 'bite' is there, apart from the posts there is no sign of activity and the larger loose slabs don't particularly speak of antiquity up close. Could be something was planned but the geology put a (?temporary) halt to this (reminded of the silage pit at Linnahowe). More luck after I clambered atop the thing. Next to the 'bite' I observed a depression. On closer inspection I saw two, one of 2 by 2.5m and the other less clearly defined 1.5 by 0.6-1.2m. Or perhaps rather two halves. Standing between them could see a rim 12.5 by 6.5m that appears as a rise from below, whose long axis does recall that Newbigging mound. Towards the other end was another possible excavation pit.
Next I walked around the base of the feature. Near the lower end I spotted a distinct circular bump a metre or two across with a flat not quite central slab showing inclined within. Going to, it definitely lies in a very shallow depression, and there is a protruding stone just within or without the rim. Went for a closer look at the pond the other side of the 'mound' and as well as a couple of small rocky outcrops there were also about it other stones whose nature I was unsure of. The pond is only one end of a larger feature defined by marshy plants at the other, thus more resembling what I take to be the Goosepow 'goose-pond' of Knarston - at HY426084 near Lingro.

wideford Posted by wideford
18th May 2006ce
Edited 19th May 2006ce

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