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CAUSEWAYS CELEBRE - gae watery or no'

The NMRS now has three records for Wadale in Firth. South of the loch HY31SW 126 at HY34281329 is down as a circular enclosure. Many times I have seen it as a water-filled depression. Perhaps it is connected with the millstream that came down from
the loch then turned to run below what is now Binscarth farm in order to reach Millquoy just short of The Ouse - there are sluices very close to the enclosure, at HY3418514507 and 3424514210. At the north end of the loch HY31SW 115 at HY34221516 is attributed to nature. This projection of land into the loch on the RCAHMS photos has a perfectly circular cropmark thereon, and on the 1882 map this feature is a distinctive islet. When a local natural historian waded out in 1985 she found edge-set stones at the lochward boundary. Tradition has it as a cemetery associated with the chapel on the islet that survives at the opposite corner of the loch. Loch of Wasdale, HY31SW 8 at HY34321473, is designated as a fort with possible chapel (but the kirk was documented by Dryden, who also shows a short cist that coud pre-date it).

The O.S. in 1966 likened it to the causewayed island duns of the Hebrides, then in 1985 Orkney archaeologist Raymond Lamb compared it to the gatehouse forts of Clickhimin and Huxter (Whalsay) in Shetland because the 'apron' where causeway meets islet resembles their 'landing stages'. Tentatively in favour of the first is that Gaelic is reported as spoken in the South Isles, rather against the second that this type of fort thought pure Zetland. These gatehouse forts are a pre-broch settlement type. The main differences between duns and brochs is that they can be oval, they are (like most forts) settlement enclosures rather than buildings, and they are more often in a position high up than brochs are. In Orkney we also have plenty of brochs that have causeways too. Finally to the mix have recently been added crannogs with causeways, such as Park Holm on the Loch of Swannay and Hourston at the north end of Harray loch (though RCAHMS thesaurus involves the use of wood to build them, highly unlikely in late prehistoric Orkney).

The Hourston site only appears on the present 1:25,000 as stepping stones but you can see circular water contours to which this goes (the similar Loch of Isbister site still has its islet above water). Without close inspection it is surely rather difficult to tell the difference between a crannog and a broch/roundhouse/fort/dun, more so when we have little accurate knowledge of the water levels at the time they were built. Which also makes me wonder how sure we are that stepping stones and causeways actually acted as 'dry' fords ? Many of Orkney's other causewayed sites are in marshy areas or places that have been. Could they have had another or additional purpose - if there had been enough wood to build them with would we be talking of the possibility of their being used for making ritual deposits from ? Besides disappearing underwater might some causeways have simply gone underground, so that they much commoner in Orkney than presently thought. Also might the known dry causeways to brochs be an imitation of earlier watery sites ?

In the Loch of Swannay as well as the "causewayed crannog" of Park Holm we have the wadable possible crannog of Stoney Holm and the large islet of Muckle Holm (assumed to be natural). At the Voy end of the Loch of Stenness there is a causewayed crannog and a burnt mound, and The Ness has been suspiciously marshy. Down at Kirbister loch in Orphir there is the causewayed site of the Holm of Groundwater as well as the Holm of Westquoy. The now sunken causeway was until recent times rebuilt for fishing at times of low water levels but could have a natural base just as some of Orcadian ayres were maintained by the hand of man. I also wonder if any causeways exist as sites by themselves. The stepping stones of the Burn of Crantit near Nether Scapa would be too low for a ford now and there is no sign of an overground structure it might have led to [unless the Vikings buried this in one of the events where man pushed back the Bay of Scapa, where in Mesolithic times was a loch below Hillhead).

wideford Posted by wideford
9th June 2011ce

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