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If it had not been for a locked shed door I would have missed the organised walk to South Ronaldsay. After tidying up for later it helped that we didn't go off dead on time. A ride in a minibus certainly beats being in the back window of Traill-Thompson's Triumph last thing at night but the air is hot and humid even before we pile in.

the big fella shares my problem and eventually the windows open a peedie.
Tradespark I believe is named for the practice of folk gathering at a certain time (or times) of the year in order to get an apprenticeship, work or a continuation. The junction is the beginning of what are called the Holm Straights, a long stretch f road that is treated as a motorway not onl y by 'boy racers' but also supposedly mature adults going to and from work. Be careful as not all blind summits or bends are marked. A little further beyond Kirkwall west of the road Borrowstonehill really is named after a Viking, not for a broch as with this name and similar ones elsewhere, though it is Borgar's mother that held the claim to fame. She owned a fair parcel of land hereabouts. And I've forgotten her name, though I think she lived at Gaitnip (Jadvarstodum). On the other side has been a famous and much visited healing well "on the property of" Glenorkney. Coming to Gaitnip by the cliffs below is the marker buoy for the Royal Oak war grave.
The Mark Stone of Gaitnip is either lost from or been turned into a clapper bridge across the farmtrack. Further eastward on the the St Ola - Holm boundary at the corner from which it goes to Staneloof (Ston Loe), near the road and somewhere along the fence (at HY45690599), should be the another Mark Stone, that named for Dalespot depite being much nearer St Clair Farm. A little further along are The Five Hillocks tumuli - confusingly there are also The Five Hillocks tumuli 3km away in St Andrews (and there were the Five Hillocks clay mounds at Bossack quarry). This group might have been the model for the semi-literary Cicle of Loda. Back on the west side of the road past Deepdale is Netherbutton which lent its name to a WWII radar station. Nothing to see when I've looked.
Coming into the low-lying village of St Mary's there is an excavated broch in the triangle formed by the man road and the Cleat farmroad and the Loch of Ayre. Even knowing where it is all I could see now was grassy lumps and bumps not much above road level, but if you make your way carefully across you can walk around the passages and even see some of the stonework. From the dimensions given you should just see over the top from inside, only from abouthands of the well 'cap' you'd have to be a six footer at least. An archaeology lover's forum has this in the category of 'destroyed broch'. I think they must be thinking of summat the size of Mousa as a complete broch fort we now know that many brochs were only ever one storey high.

If you continue along to Graemeshall (once Meall after the bishop) uphill and turn left at the war memorial you can go along and down into East Holm [very picturesque] or up by the Muir of Meill and into St Andrews, a test of any cyclist. For the South Isles instead you make your way over the Churchill Barriers (weather permitting). On the other end of Barrier No.1 is Lamb Holm with the famous Italian Chapel built by P.O.W.s. On the west side of the road some of the camp's footings survive, and the scant remains of a hugely eroded prehistoric settlement are [or perhaps were, for I've not been for a few years] in the nearby cliff-face. Barrier No.2 takes you to uninhabited Glimps Holm and No.3 to Burray. This is named for its brochs even though the only definite one known presently are the two at the north end. Possibly generically stronghold instead of specifically broch island I think. There used to be a chambered tomb betwixt the twa but this was cleared away from a field corner as it proved an easier mark for those who examined and partly dug the brochs of Northfield and Ayresdale. The nearer, Ayresdale, broch accomodated a searchlight battery that survives nicely (the broch much less so). There appears to have been a burial place at Weddell Point, with possibly even a kirk.
At Viewforth above Echna Loch {good for fishing I hear] is the Fossil And Vintage Centre with a nice tea shop. My favourite display is the one with the phosphorescent and fluorescent rocks periodically illuminated in appropriate lighting - takes a few goes to film them. Despite there being no archaeological records in the vicinity it seems there had also been some kind of ecclesiastical establishment in the centre of Burray as east of the lochan the 1:25,000 shows a Kirklea and a Chapel Cottage. At a guess something small in Reformation times. Burray had been unequally divide into Northtown and Southtown, for Northtown Moss is away in the west towards Hunda (which island might have, or had, a broch of its own). Southtown as far as I can see is restricted to the SE quadrant of Burray. Here St Lawrence Church south of Bu sits atop a mound which to me has to me the appearance of a broch. My friend Dave Lynn, having viewed the images I took, initially agreed with my conclusion. Having now visited the place in the flesh his own assessment is that there are insufficient circular features for it to have the rank of 'possible'. And his professional archaeological speciality is the broch so I shall defer to him. The good news is that there are enough large stones and blocks in the area that there is certainly something major beneath the mound. At the south end of Burray, so still Southtown, other mounds tentatively held to be likely brochs are Hillock of Fea and a site called 'Kyelittle' (close to Housebreck quarry with WWII narrow gauge railway, my nearest approach along the cliff edge) that might be a chambered cairn instead [these can also turn out to be 'settlements'].

Over Barrier No.4 we are finally in the South Parish. South Ronanaldsay is named for an unknown Viking called Rognvald, North Ronald for the Celtic saint Ninian/Niniaw. To begin with they were simply Ronaldsay and Rinansey (ringan=Ninian). Then furriners from ower the Pentland Firth had difficulty with Orcadian pronunciation so they ended up officially North and South Ronaldsay - however North and South Pharay/Fara dropped the compass points to became more confusing, being in the present day Fara and Faray, so mebbe we are hearing tales ? Soon enough we came to The Hope, St Margaret's Hope, originally named for that mysterious Rognvald.
Going west through The Hope takes you to Hoxa, named either for the Howe of Hoxa broch or for the mound beside it tradtion names as an earl's burial place. Not far away is the Kirkiebrae picnic area for the Sands of Wright where child ploughing matches take place on the beach itself. Between broch and coast is Little Howe of Hoxa prehistoric settlement. On Hoxa Hill is The Wart chambered cairn. Outside of The Hope a road from the war memorial heads east to Kirkhouse Point and a lovely fishing station storehouse and a post-mill. About two-thirds of the way, after a crossroads, you come to a hostel at Weemys. Along the eastern edge of the field below this is the Sorquoy/Papley Standing Stone in splended solitude. This stands fourteen feet high and to me the top has been made into a peg like the stones supporting Stonehenge's. Near St Peter's kirkyard is a copy of the Pictish symbol stone that used to be on the church's windowsill.
We are going straight on to our destination. The next bonnie road for views is the Herston circuit, you can do it if you have time as it comes back onto the main road if you avoid Herston itself ! Near the east side of the road between the two ends is Big Howe whose quarry supplied the blue stone for places such as St Magnus Cathedral. Below the returning Herston road an even more minor one goes from the main road down to Sandwick. In a field below the road are the Clouduhall/Cloddyhall standing stone and cairn (hence Stensigar). A little further there are the Nev Hill tomb and cairn, which I failed to find because I walked in front of the farm instead of behind !
Now comes a long and lovely ride up hill and down dale into the ends of South Parish. In the Windwick area on the east seaboard excavations are ongoing into various large Iron Age structures, none of which are actual brochs unfortunately. At the Burwick junction are the remains of of Burwick Loch (Burwick Sheen) on which once stood a kirk with a famous stone that now sits in a slightly younger church (with a delightful small organ). Instead of going west to the ferry pier we turn to the east. Before getting to the south branch road there is a small one that passes the post office where you need to go for the key to the church along the road to Burwick that now holds the Ladykirk Stone (a.k.a. St Magnus Boat). The stone has two foot hollows. A sandstone block bearing the 'impression' of a right foot was found in St Andrew's in the area where you find Mine Howe [Stoney Howe], Round Howe and Long Howe so is likely to have been similarly in (St Ninian's) Chapel.
Going by road it is not difficult to miss the turn-off for the Tomb of The Eagles despite the direction marker. Should have one opposite the junction as well. Once on this road you then need to make sure to take the correct piece for the Banks Bistro rather than the Isbister tomb. To the right of the final stretch I see a large conical mound, too large to have been missed before now and too clean-cut to be prehistoric (unlike CANMAP on the newer Canmore Mapping they do mark the Banks tomb). On leaving the bus the horizon presented several panoramas; long lines of cliff and Muckle Skerry with its lighthouse. Nearer to my left I saw a section of cliff lit up on the far side of a narrow inlet. At its far end the earth dips down and there is what I take for a mound though my photo only resembles two horns of stripped turf. Further away and near the horizon there is a wall of weather coming in across the waters to my right. The 'Tomb of The Otters' is slap bang by the customer car park. Only now do I find out none of my companions had realised about the tomb being here, they've come for the culinary experience after their walk. My gaffe. The weather arrives light summer rain. Decide it would be a good idea to check whether I can publish photos to the Net. A young lady passes me on to the finder, Hamish Mowatt, who guesses that I am Wideford but has no firm opinion in response to my question.

The mound is said to be low. It actually stands a couple of feet proud of the surrounding land, which is nae bad really. We decide that I shall concentrate on the recently restored chamber that first brought attention to the cairn - you can still see a circle above the top of the rock-cut rear wall where he frst peered in. Last year he found a long heavy slab buried alongside the damaged chamber. All that had been above ground had been a few inches of litch covered corner. On the edge facing into the ground Hamish found a host of markings made in antiquity. An attempt was made to downplay its relationship to the tomb itself - ah, that sacred phrase "in situ" is being applied way too restrictively here, because not only had the stone been buried alongside the disturbed chamber but it also slots into place to complete the capping in the chamber's restoration, not merely somewhere in the vicinity as "not in situ" implies. In April the owner and a Rousay mason affectionately known as Colin 'Bin Laden' followed Orcadian tradition and sensitively restored the damaged chamber. The stones added to complete the passage were keyed into the existing stones at two key points. To roof the chamber they put back the slab hit by the digger and placed the buried stone over the front of the chamber, where the way that it slotted in confirmed the original fit. In between was filled in by a new slab taken from the shore below. Altogether, even using the digger, it took two days to finish the job - from seven in the morning to seven in the evening of the first day and until four in the afternoon of the second day. The final result justifies the decision to ignore the archaeological authorities leave the capstone over the eastern chamber in place, giving the public a proper idea of how the tomb looked - the purpose of a capstone is to stop the whole falling apart. It is interesting to speculate about when the tomb was 'decommissioned' by the removal of that roofing slab, especially in relation to the otter incursions chronology.

The man's a gae good yarn teller, can tell you all kinds of stuff to do with the locality and his experience of the archaeologist in the field. Could have listened to him until the cows came home, as it were. Only the truth of it comes from him, though a visiting archaeological student will give good tours when he comes to work here. Hamish mentioned that he had more marked stones in a shed. Whilst he answered the phone I took my photos of this end of the tomb as agreed - unfortunately my foties of the chamber's actual insides weren't up to snuff, but the important ones were. When I moved away his work on the phone came to a close and he was gracious enough to show me the writings. The shed turned out to be a fair sized new wooden rotunda that acted as his peedie interpretation centre, with info around the walls and a camera feed to the chamber at the other end of the long axis. On a table in the middle are three stones full of promise. One is dominated visually by a single vee of large size and broad lines upside-down at the edge [from a larger slab I would hazard]. Some authority tried to claim that this sign owes its existence to contact with the digger, which is bull (as you can see by comparing its mark on the roofing slab with this, no comparison at all !). Indeed along the left channel you can see the individual tool marks made in gouging the channel in antiquity. Lines criss-cross other two stones, both singletons and simple sets. The next day I visited St Magnus Cathedral and noticed some of the blocks have thin straight lines of crystal inclusion gathered in similar groups, imitation using grooves the sincerest form of flattery possibly. If the vees are seen as chevrons it brings up the thorny question of which came first, scribed stones or decorated pot. Of course this assumes that all the 'inscriptions' are art rather than palaeoepigraphy [pre-writing].One of the stones seems to me to distantly foreshadow the Pictish symbol stone as it is more a geometrical shape than a split slab or found rock.

Next week Alice Roberts will be followed by 360 Production as they continue their behind the scenes look at "Digging for Britain". Perhaps Sigurd Towrie could use the opportunity to bring the story up to date from material gathered since his last report. Hamish Mowatt had been hoping to start up a webpage but a family death and pressure of work have meant that this has had to be put on the backburner, for this year at least. Though not wishing to be involved with material remains such as bones it is possible that he might eventually follow further in the steps of Ronnie Simison (though not alone) if he ends up in the same position - several times in the local papers from 1825 on I have come across reports where the excavator stated his intent to dig the next year or come back for a continuance, and then decades or even a century later still nothing has happened. Of course the modern reasoning is that these sites are being left to posterity and its advances rather than in reality lack of funding or the search for the next big/new site. He has learned about the different factions amongst the archaeologists, and having found that there are still digs in Orkney where finds are collared by those who did not find them now only has faith in ORCA and the County Archaeologist, like Ronnie having been disparaged by some who should know better.
Speaking of which I was surprised to learn that John Hedges is still renting a nearby cottage, over towards Liddle, as he further investigates the prehistoric landscape brought to light by Ronnie Simison. 'Wedgie' would love another major site to crown his life's work, after an hiatus due to debilitating illness, but apart from one eventually disappointing 'settlement' has been unlucky thus far. Apparently the great man has made many reports and such on his work at this time. However I must imagine this has been in the nature of what they call 'grey literature' as apart from a initial outline in "The Orcadian" things have been quiet [one would dread it going the same way as the digs at Skaill in Deerness]. We would love an interim 'work in progress' article in the paper guv.

Came time for lunch. Gourmet meals for £10.95 pretty as a picture and filling too. Half the price for a light meal, say £3.50 to a fiver. Had a toasted sandwich - they also do ordinary ones, paninis and baked tatties. Ignored the lovely sounding home made desserts and plumped for a clotted cream tea for four pounds fifty. Gosh it did me grand.

The Blide Trust were making enquiries about a fishing trip. Then on the skyline Hamish showed me the mounds Ronnie had investigated between here and the Tomb of The Eagles, and described one in particular, inviting me back to the neighbourhood to see more. I had to be virtually dragged away. Ah, if I had money or transport. Closest are four turf-covered mounds that may be natural. Next comes a group of six low stone cairns averaging 28 feet across and two high, with the largest a fraction over half as high again and forty-eight feet in diameter. These are now described as disturbed - in 1973 Ronnie had trenched two and it is easy to imagine him having gone on to the rest next. The NGR is given as ND46128326 but a 1997 survey gives this as ND460432 with additionally a possibly prehistoric mound at ND462833. Ronnie is known two have dug two mounds with drystane wall kerbs and the O.S. thought one might be linked by a causeway to yet another [double BA house ??]. Further along a probable animal pound (a term almost as useless for dating as "enclosure") had been formed by walling off the SW end of a promontory an area some sixty by forty metres, and has another kerbed cairn within (at ND46338323) that he was investigating at the time of the O.S. visit [is that what I saw on first alighting ?? Too big]. Underneath a cairn of more recent vintage grass covers a mound 2' high and about 8m diameter. There ws a double kerb found at the south around a body of stones with some earth, with small horizontal slabs between the twa kerbs - a trench at the SW, then unfinished, found two stones of purpose unknown but larger than the fill. The inner arc seemed to be drystane walling but the outer had been made from larger blocks, both being in courses. If you do go this way to the Tomb of The Eagles don't forget to go back by way of the burnt mound to the Simison's museum and cafe so you can pay the tomb's entrance fee. Fair do's.

Starting for Kirkwall the massively ugly tires at Burwick are offset for me by the sight of the grass dressed iron age fort (though you have to know where it is to see it). Full steam ahead. And boy did I. Straight home to strip off and collops.

Any errors and omissions are mine

wideford Posted by wideford
1st July 2011ce
Edited 8th July 2011ce

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