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WESTER WIDEFORD November 9th 2006, February 13th 2007

One day atop Wideford Hill looking down at Ferry Point taking a picture revealed a strange pattern in the field on the eastern side of the track leading to it. A criss-cross pattern of reticulation, like tiny furrows. This looked very like a photo of cord rigg field-systems in an archaeology book I had just finished reading (Woden Law, Roxburghshire, in "Prehistoric Settlements" by English Heritage). Unfortunately on the ground you can't seperate the ploughlines of each period. In the field on the other side of the road a 2003 survey found a single secondary flake of red flint. Where the Ferry Point track meets the main road the parish boundary is opposite you, and the field on the western side is where the discovery of a flint-floor (also potsherds, crushed haematite, more flints) before the Second World War led to the excavation of the Wideford Meadow settlement not long ago. Here you can just about make out Wideford Hill chambered tomb. Also from this point follow the upper field boundary, the "Old Quanterness hilldyke" right to Quanterness and just before this you can see a long ridge going upslope and terminating at the field fence in a squared-off mound. It is only distinctive from near here until you know where it is and looks to be near where the first O.S. map shows a well/wellspring on the uncultivated side of the boundary. Below this is the Quanterness chambered tomb and Iron Age settlement [Euan MacKies's mysterious HY41 6 Wideford Hill, wrong NGR]. You would expect where the parish boundary goes south over the top of Burrey Brae there would be something of significance but nothing is remarked of the cairn on the angle and I have never spotted it from the height of Wideford Hill. But strangely enough coming up the Old Finstown Road from the bend past Hardhill in December there was something I saw on the Burrey Brae slopes, though whether this was the cairn or summat else I am unsure. On the horizon a platform just below the hilltop. As I climbed towards Smerquoy Brae [sidebar - I presume Haughhead refers to the tomb] the feature slowly slid into the background until it had gone from view. If this was the cairn you would expect to see it from all around as a marker. To make my look about Whyteford Hill [the correct pronunciation until recently, just as with Maes(h)owe and Skerrabrae -J.W.Cursiter said this was never called Skara Brae] complete I would be remiss to fail to mention Blackhill. My attention was first caught by a 'flat-face aligned stone pair' used as a gate. Uphill from this is a big old scoop dug in the bag garden, with a flat vertical face about a man's height formed at the field boundary. At the rounded back there is a culvert at the bottom that is reminiscent of Biddy's Well in Holm. So rather than 'bleak hill' I read the name Blackhill as 'bleach hill' (there is a known Blackwell 'bleach well' off Mainland). Howevever later I read that in the first view years of the reservoir on Wideford Hill they had problems which were traced to here. So perhaps the feature was created to rectify this - of course both could be correct !

Back to my November day. I decided to leave the Old Finstown Road and went down the Bloomfield road junction. Down on the right are fields where car races are held, and here the Great War ruins of the Caldale baloon station (HY41SW 42 at HY41531001) are as neglected as the "Black Building" in Kirwall (HY40NE 28 at HY46030969). Unlike the WWII Repeater station there, which has so far only been plundered of saleable imaterials like the heavy gravel protection on the roof (more sale than a bon marche, sorry warehouse - myself I thought of storage for museum artefacts would have been more suitable), all that remains are the foundations of the airship station's various hangars from the lesser war. With both sites there are no plaques to tell the passing public what lies there, and if you don't know to use it they lose it. Future archaeology, poof, gone !

A deeply cut burn runs under the road and beside it on the right a farmtrack heads off towards the hill (in the opposite direction the channel goes off to meet Burn of Caldale at the Orquil bridge which I shall mention later, but nowadays there is only the bank to follow to there only the Halmyre itself still remaining) It is often awash so watch out. Soon enough you cme to a place where the track divides. To the right it heads to the moorland. But except in the driest of weathers you cannot go far this way unmuddied. The left-hand turn takes you to the area of Windbreck. At the junction on the inside of the bend just over the streamlet is a small-ish mound of earth and a few big stones lying in/on it (HY41240952 ? round cairn). I used to wonder if this was where the Caldale hoard (late Viking) came from but now I know that there were at the time still other places near my mound, that would surely have lent their name to it were this so, I demur to nearer Caldale farm. Uusually it is as far as I go, having enjoyed clambering over the high bank smelling the heady gorse, watched the waters, tried to snap the fleeting songsters. Continuing along the left-hand track brought me a big hollow, fairly level with streams running about it. Though not so marked now the 1882 O.S. has it as a quarry, and for once I agree. Of course what caught my eye were the drystane walls either side of the bridgeover (HY411093) on the near side, one of naturally which runs along part of the face of the quarry. There are two openings in this for the water so I imagine one is of a different age. After going into the hollow by these for a few pics I clambered out again. A fair guess would be that this quarry provided the stone for the Windbreck site. What I call here the bridgeover is mainly a larger and taller version of grassy culverts that are used to cross over ditches into fields.

From here my attention was drawn to some old buildings (eventually I worked out that this was Windbreck, at HY40940938, itself) on a NNE/SSW grid. The main building is now an unroofed structure of dressed stone (I think that is the description). The long axis aligns uphill. At the front it survives to about four courses above the three lintels, at the back somewhat below that level, and the top end wall is practically gone. Beyond are the remains of a field wall which may have begun life as part of a structure (call it Found 1) whose footings survive and is shown on the modern map (on the 1882 it is not shown as an existing building, though still apparently indicated). The latter shows a square building where the unroofed stucture is, but this includes another piece (Found 2) to the front of this. Near the field corner, alongside the fence, is an ancient rusted piece of farm machinery. At the back end is some kind of hopper. This seems to have been fed by a belt operated by the two wheels - the belt having gone there are left two iron wheels either side of the central axis, with curved protrusions for grip on across their flat faces. Going back down to the back of the ?steading I saw that here and uphill it is surrounded by a bank, perhaps to protect it from prevailing winds or else a sign it is a replacement. At the top end of the uphill bank section run the three courses of thin stone I take for the footings of Found 1. From the top end wall of the steading and looking in see what at first I think is a dividing wall, surviving to the level of a few courses below the lintels, but there is a gap between this and the outer walls. Nevertheless it seems to be too long to be a hearth. I wonder if it is not perhaps the incorporated wall of an earlier structure. The building is used as storage/dump. Coming past Found 1 to the front of the steading I come upon a large platform just before it, not very high but again with three courses of fine thin stones. This will be Found 2. Looking to the far end facing the steading after a few minutes more I can see a long grass-covered hump that I take to be what's left of the far smaller building that is the other shown in 1882. In another corner of Found 2 there is an area of old dumped stones. One of these is a tall one that reminds me of the 'standing stones' you often find against the walls of old buildings in Orkney [presumably related to what George Marwick called Starra Kirk stones (the supposed earliest Christian sites), though as far as I know only the one at Bride's Kirk in Yesnaby was decorated so it may not have been a specifically religious practice]. Looking back fom the downhill end of Found 2 you see many tiny stretches of slightly taller grass running across the hill that could be something, they just look so like the vegetation symbols on maps ! Certainly this is likely to be true of the longer lines coming downhill on the far side of Found 2 and seem to divide it into linear strips. Thinking back on the whole area of Windbreck there I am left with the strong sensation that here used to be a prominent site in the area.

At the far end I see another ruin that has attracted my eye oft-times afore, from atop Wideford Hill it shows as a bushy triangular patch near a field edge [which I find later is Spots (HY40NW 27 at HY41140948 though this seems to be attached to a small structure at the field boundary [which I can't find]rather than Spots itself which isn't on the present O.S.)]. Through my binoculars this looked to be of irregular sized stones, which I read as making it earlier than Windbreck. Though on the map this is reachable by taking the other leg of the track I have always found it way too water-logged to proceed any distance. Nevertheless four month's later coming down the Bloomfield road again, just past the air station ruins, I was beckoned again. This time I made my way across the stubble fields here, mostly keeping to the edge even so. Still the ground was rather damp, and I found myself hopping about wildly to avoid the deepest mud as I followed the pisgie's siren call. In Spots' field I was forced across the centre where the very slight rise is fractionally less wet. The roughly triangular patch of land on which my Spots sits is raised a little above the surrounding field, with the rectangular structure occupying the uphill end. This unroofed structure only has on side and the attached uphill corner surviving intact, this wall being about six courses high. The rest of these two walls is a jumble. Two long rusty spiral rods rise incongruously out either side of the interior at this short uphill end. Facing the Wideford Hill side the first O.S. map shows another of those negative spaces like Found 1 and 2. A very strange shape, a bent rectangle, a staggered side as the east end and a sub-rectungular cut at the bend near the west end. This must be the rise I felt underfoot, but I saw nowt. Weird. The 1882 has a few more bits and bobs close to as well. As with Windbreck there is rusty farm machinery at the field edge, here what I guess to be one or more items. I thought this to be simply left behind, but then read local papers in WWII advising farmers to leave heavy items across anywhere the enemy could land a plane. So perhaps they served this purpose prior to being 'dumped' out of the way ?

After this I went to look for Watermoss. This appears to be the name for the wetland area about the burn here. Now I am applying it to the strange piece of land, now stretching across two fields, belonging to the dwelling of that name. You can really only tell it from up on Wideford Hill, where the land shows between Caldale farm and Spots as a kind of funnel shape at the western half and then a more rectangular section, the dwelling having been at the outer edge where the two meet. In 1882 the shape was even more complex. With the size and complexity I wonder if hereabouts, along the valley bottom, is the place in Caldale where they had a big shindig for a few days before The Man's body finally went to the cathedral [thinks, were the coins of the Caldale hoard pre- or post-date this event]. Couldn't find anything that remotely could have been Watermoss. After valiant efforts amongst water-logged slopes and marshy bits I still couldn't get over to that side of the burn, the only possible ford I found was across a 'channel' draining into it. The burn where it runs below Caldale is a proper big stream, broad and deep. Which is probably why it doesn't seem to have been mucked about with much. With the right footwear this would make a good little wetland trail. So not my shoes then ;-)

So I turned back until I met up with the track, following this for a little before heading off for tramp over the airfield ruins. My opinion is that the cortege continued along the valley floor, rather than up where the Old Finstown Road is, until it met the Orphir cart track over past the substantial thicket t'other side o' Bloomfield Road as afore mentioned - the bridge that divided Caldale from Orquil was the last part of this cart track from Greenigoe in Orphir to Walliwall - the first part of this being called kirkgate, the middle section Ginnerygate, and from here to behind the quarry Cartigate. I strongly suspect this is the route the Man's body took after leaving the dry portion of Watermoss, then proceeding to the Bu of Corse [a short cist found at Corse in 1938 isn't on the NMRS] on its way into Kirkwall to end the pilgrim's route.

Where the road comes to Eryldene Villa it executes a sharp turn. Here the corner digs deep into the hillside. Only just away from this the old map shows a rectangular something on the southern side, approximately HY419088, though I never noticed anything when I lived in a caravan opposite. The same map has a peedie 'quarry' on the northern side further down, but a new wall disguise this now. The field on the southern side has several ?moraines heading downhill, and there are a few more on the other side after the road turns another right angle. But the first one (about HY421089), near the road is a different. As you walk along the outline is always circular, never straight, so I am tempted to think it a possible round cairn. Where the Orphir road junction is cross over and look downhill to your right at the marshy piece of land with a small pool. This is almost certainly the site of Lower Knarston (though I know where Upper Knarston should be, there is nothing, so just like Lingro it has lost its partner). One theory has it that a Knarston is a place where a particular kind of Norse boat used to be kept, in which case here they should have travelled along the lower reaches of the Burn of Cottland. Of course a tunship is a large area. The Goosiepow of Knarston used to be near to the barn of Lingro farm, somewhere near where construction is occurring presently. Mayhap this pond could have been the site of a Goose Market ?? Before you reach the next left-hand junction I have recently seen a linear bump running up from the roadside over the hill. Don't know why I hadn't seen it before now, having often looked at slight exposed stones on the slope as a possible something. Most likely it relates to the dwelling of Blackhill, long gone from "above Chinglebraes". Opposite the Chinglebraes junction is the farmroad to Lingro. Could Lingro have at one time been Knarrarstadir itself, in such a useful position overlooking Scapa Flow from the hilltop. Once after ploughing I observed a patch of black earth just on the downhill side of the farmroad and wondered. Of course at the bottom of the hill this side, by the end of the Hatston burn, used to be the standing broch. And a Danish archaeologist had the firm opinion that this became the Norse knarrarstadir later. Certainly one of the remaining bumps inland from this could have been used in the early mediaeval period.

The other side of the burn from the broch is Scapa Distillery. If you look at the lower end you might just be able to tell that here the burn is actually two criss-crossing streams straightened out. On the land here, between two of the crossings below the present buildings, there used to be the mediaeval Mill of Scalpa. Follow the burn up to the main road and you can almost make out past the right bank where the mill dam once was. Over the other side of the road is a stone festooned hollow which used to be a well, over from a cottage wall. Behind squats Nevada Cott in dominion over the surrounding plain. Pass back over the burn again and one of the fields here used to be the Ba Green of Orquil. So it seems that once there may have been as many Ba' games in Orkney as there were ploughing matches, though I have only read of Kirkwall and Stromness and Firth ones. Either that or this was 'only' a football field !!

wideford Posted by wideford
20th March 2007ce

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