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September 11th 2006 WEST DEERNESS part A

Took the bus to the Deerness Stores, partly not to confuse a driver new to this route and partly to avoid any doubling of my way ensuing from a B9051 start. Also I find it useful to reverse the direction of previous travel, because no amount of looking both ways is as good at finding things as simply traversing each direction in turn. So up the minor road that runs up west of the shop. Though I had been here in July, and leaves had started falling off the trees (almost everything berried up), the full flush of vegetation had now arrived and the North Sands well site was rendered invisible now ! I went past the footpath beginning past the Greenhall to where the road turns before I was certain there was no other way across to the B9051. Considered going along to the burnt mounds below the reservoir as at least one may be something more, but felt the constraints of known time. Looking in that direction on the south side of the road at the field boundary where a well is indicated used to be Littlebrecks, but all I saw were a few cattle. Between there and the footpath there used to be a place Little Knolls (1882 map HY560059). Near the Greenhall farm road there did seem to be some swelling beside by the road. The footpath has a marker post and may be missed but the growing farmstead on triangular land is where its at. Of course until recently the path was a farm track, you still walk along the rutted hollow way with the 'standing stones' on banks either side, the southern one slightly higher. To the south of this track was The Knolls (1882 map HY560057) - didn't see anything that might be there as I mistakenly looked north ! This track ends at Mossquoy on the B road.
North to the junction opposite the Yarpha farm road. Still trying to make up my mind about the low mound at South Keigar, could always be a wartime relic rather than modern rubble I suppose. Still looking for the proper Keigar stuff, though found by the South Keigar farmer these lay north of the road in the newspaper account. The crop had been harvested to show only bare field about the stook cylinders. Coming this way the distinction between the end of the Keigar road and the start of the Mirkady farm road was less obvious. Even the little mound in the triangle beside the 'drain' was swamped by vegetation. Walking the deeply rutted track alongside the channel it felt like the grass was nearly knee high. The rushes upon the banks either side brushed my shoulders as I went - the growth of everything has been phenomenal this year, bringing to mind some 60's sci-fi I cannot quite place. My decision not to go Eves Loch was confirmed by the sered docks now holding court on its upper reaches. A little detective work shows that eve is Orcadian for the "pale mauve orchid" and that the loch was originally Wab Loch, presumably because it resembled a 'caul' about the mound. Even if it were named after Adam's third wife, the mother of men, this would connect with the wab o' the wame as another name for the placenta. There is an old tradition of weird sights and sounds in this area.
Turning right I was disappointed to find that I could not walk along the coast as almost all of the land beside the fields had either gone or been reduced to a slim rim leaving 'standing stones' to eke a slender existence. So down onto the shore. Even here, to get to the headland I had to get by the seaweed and past a slab fence that went into the sea. The slabs additionally had barbed wire about them. So I went down to a slight gap and big-stepped carefully over, avoiding a rusty loop t'other side, then went and clambered up onto Hurnip's Point (RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY50NW 58 at HY54480634). I can see reason for the excavator's tentative opinion of the mound as regarding whether it was one long un or several smaller, as including the two cones in its distant profile closer too you can imagine three or four being the total count. At the cliff end two depressions of 10 and 8m weren't dug but regarded as possibly excavated chambers. To me the size ratio was greater than that, so it was no surprise that at the end of the 70's there were two buildings here of 6m square and a little more than 10m square. Steedman's dissertation describes these as covering the whole mound, but the excavator saw it as one long (?chambered) mound going back to the field boundary. However the seaward end does indeed look like a unit, perhaps the mound behind has suffered through an attempt at agricultural improvement when the structures were superimposed. And Long Cairn on the Head of Work also had a later feature inserted, interestingly enough also sub-circular like the one found in a trench across the landward side here. In the centre of the larger depression I saw a solitary erect stone, probably earthfast and from what I could see about a foot high.
On the other side of the mound are (RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY50NW 30 at HY54460634) the two nousts (/nausts - like individual boat bays) that led to the discovery that the mound held secrets, the nearer being built against the mound. This latter produced the only pottery for the site in the shape of a single Grooved Ware sherd. Though the nausts are post-mediaeval it appears the nearer was built from prehistoric material, I saw that the longer two sides were stone-lined and the excavator relates that three sides have walls and the bottom is slab-lined. He saw it as a mini dry dock, but could it be that the materials were already in situ, possibly even re-use of (part or all of) an existing structure. Certainly the pot cannot be certainly connected to the mound above, and barrows have often been built over previous sites [maybe EBA over Neolithic for the main mound with the excavated chamber later in the Bronze Age yet]. Interestingly the excavator, Hunter, whose main target was the nausts (which report I haven't access to) does mention projecting stones between these two.
I think I was lucky with the dry weather, as going past the nausts the ground was spongy and each step I gingerly took in case there were still surface water. Not sure whether this is a marshy piece of land or an old burn. Definitely not linear anyway, more like a funnel or narrow delta. Could hear seals somewhere. Looking ahead I saw a dark slab in the sea a bit away. Massive impression. Though it was a few feet out to sea the blackened rock seemed to be about four feet broad and six inches thick, with roughly three feet above the waterline and perhaps as much or more again. This reminded of a row at Mill Sand in Tankerness that could have been a pre-mediaeval boundary (not so weighty though). I looked around and there were no other stones like it in the vicinity, not even fallen ones or stumps. Research upon my return found that two nausts (RCAHMS NMRS record no. HY50NW 31 at HY54370642 & 7) between those at Hurnip's Point and others called Black Craig have been associated with two sea-girt slabs that mark gaps in the taing (rocky platform). If this is one it is overkill for such a pragmatic purpose in such relatively recent times. Could it be an early boundary between Mirkady and Hurnip's Point/ Eves Howe ?
Though there was no archaeological reason to do so I decided to walk the seashore back from here. Good job I did. My first 'find' was a stone sticking out from a low cliff-face of light material, the left-hand side of an exposed section. Not any old stone but a 'standing stone' like you see in a barbwire fence. Even what I could see was practically a metre long. Just sticking straight out. Not collapsed, not knocked down in a storm but incorporated within the cliff itself. Above that stratum was soil and then the grass. Near the other end of the section might be the very end of another 'standing stone'. Mystery.
Came by the very end of Hurnip's Point and more exposed material. Even more likely to be prehistoric amongst this is a vertical slab coming out near the base, would make a very good candidate for part of a chamber stall (not very likely a horn, from here to the field is 60m of mound but the amount of rock platform could have supported a lot more originally - as much as 30/40m ?). Closer approach revealed it to be hanging in the air rather than edge set, several feet all round. Gave it a hit and the stone didn't move, so there is more in there. Lest it disappear in the next storm, because of the soft material the slab's embedded in, I mentioned it to a couple of professional archaeologists (tentatively, which was likely a mistake with one), and my friend from the museum reckons the flat stuff alongside looks a candidate for more archaeology.
Just leaving the headland behind I took a gander at one of the 'ready to go' 'standing stones' several feet up atop the cliff. Very peculiar stuff by this one, not certain there is an association. A few levels of stone that I was't sure whether it was walling or flooring. Definitely not a drystane wall, wrong fit and wrong materials - I've seen them in varying styles and conditions. Remains of a stone cairn or destruction material, possibly what was in the area before the mound ?? A few days later I was editing my photos from when I was a volunteer excavator at The Howe in Stromess when I saw similarities of construction with some of the buildings outside the broch tower. So secondary broch settlement another possibility. Historic Scotland have apparently geofizzed around Hurnip's Point, but that is all the Royal Commission knows about it (when's the updated SMR's being done by the college gel ?).
Back to the B road with 'standing stones' in the bank of all kinds of shapes though similar sizes, square, pointy, thin. Still a puzzle when these not-quite-Standing- Stones were placed, the original function if different, or even if they are all of the same period. Very likely before the 19thC agricultural improvements leastways, they went in for close-knit slab fences instead. Came to the farm road to Braebuster and it almost took my breath away. In Orkney you don't have many long straight stretches and this one goes all the way downhill, in the open from the B9051 to the farmstead itself. And apart from the farm the only thing in view is a big square mound (HY50NW 28 at HY54510514) to its south. This mound and its buildings have been taken for a possibly ecclesiastical, though as the taing at the shore is named Miller's Quoy this provides an alternative usage - storehouses ? And further along, below Hacco, are the remains of a probable post-mill. At Hacco the fields are filled with giant aerials, nothing to say what they are. I thought maybe military but the one that appeared to have fallen could be directional. Broadcasting antenna for media or telecommunications. No signs or anything, and the farm buildings looked just that. On to the junction of the B roads and then up to Deerness Stores to complete the circuit.

Hurnip's Point — Images

<b>Hurnip's Point</b>Posted by wideford<b>Hurnip's Point</b>Posted by wideford
wideford Posted by wideford
18th September 2006ce

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