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BAY OF SKAILL, SANDWICK AUGUST 18th 2011

Another trip with the Blide Trust is diverted. Twice. We are going to go on a walk that takes in Skara Brae and Quoyloo church, so I suggest the Brodgar road - just over the Black Hill of Warbuster a minor road goes above the top of the Loch of Stenness, past Lyking broch and through Voyatown, onto the B9056 then north by the Loch of Skaill with its 19thC fishing islet before reaching the Bay of Skaill. But Patrick turns at the Harray junction instead and onto Dounby. Okay, I thought, the B9057 runs through it and west into Sandwick onto the Kierfiold road then Skaill. But onward he goes and by the Loch of Boardhouse. Ah we all think, the scenic route to come upon Skaill from the heights. Except it becomes apparent Patrick is headed for Birsay. Turns out he thought today's walk was based there. So we turn left and take the back road to the Skaill kirk i.e. the B9056 by way of Marwick instead of the A967 down to the Kierfiold road - disappointed to learn the Kierfiold House gardens are under new owners and
(Sheena thinks) no longer open for public viewing. It was a brilliantly sunny evening with a crystal clear sky letting us clearly see far hills on the horizon for miles in every direction, with neither haze nor mist casting a veil over land or sea.


We parked near the Skara Brae interpretation centre as per the itinerary but didn't visit the village, not wanting to fork out the £6 each. Instead of going all along the road we went down to the beach near the far end of the HS site's fence, passing over a band of water-worn stones onto the deep sandy beach. You can see how the sea walls built to preserve the Skara Brae site are heavily eroded, see where what was once a millstream comes down - in front of the mill is where leaves and bark from a now submerged forest came, relics of the time before Skerrabrae disappeared under the sands and the settlement still thrived. After reaching the toilet block we left the beach and crossed over road verges star studded with eyebright. An old farm track passes in front of what is now called the Castle of Snusgar (excavations shew it went out of use in mediaeval times but the castle seen from a 19thC coach going along the coastline had been a building still standing. Nothing unusual to have two castles near each other in Orkney though). At a junction we turned left and had the present Snusgar excavation on our right close by the ? Burn of Rin. As we only set off from Kirkwall at four the sight of diggers still on the site surprised me, especially as I hadn't realised it was still on (this must have been the final week or two of their season, with a Viking longhouse this year's highlight.). From this section of track we had the most perfect view of the Hole o' Row at the other end of the Bay of Skaill, the whole hole fully side on. As we continued up they started leaving the hillock for their transport at Netherstove, Between here and there another track went right at a junction, and I made the mistake of thinking it not part of the itinerary [because it is even more overgrown than where we trod]. As at this point everyone took my lead it wasn't until after we turned left and hit the main road that the time discrepancy became obvious.

Going down to the parish kirk a small building on the other side of the road from this used to be a stable, unlikely though it seems. The rest of the group went by the kirkyard but I brought them back to see an unusual ornament I had seen on my last visit there, a small carved block of stone resembling a deep heart-shaped jewellery casket about a foot long. By coincidence Heart is the name of a friend of the team leader who had only just gone back to New Zealand [or Australia perhaps]. It made me think of two detached architectural pieces not dissimilarly placed at the edge of the Stenness kirkyard, though the heart-shaped box could be sepulchral instead. From here we carefully climbed down to the beach once more.

Now we changed the route and followed another member's suggestion, a walk to the modern cairn on Ward Hill. Approaching Hellia Gibb we looked up and saw the labradoodle cross that had come with us walking the narrow piece between fence and cliff-edge up above. My memory said I had taken the same route myself once, but now I think vegetation hides the way which could have also be straiter since then. Past Hellia Gibb there is now a metal rail to help you come up from the rocky taing onto the cliffs
more safely. The clifftops are mostly shattered stone and Patrick decided to walk near the edge of the first bite in the cliffs, Yettna Geo, until someone called him back from what they saw as danger - actually the worst parts of Orkney's coastline are the unnoticed overhangs, and in East Holm the huge circular Hole of The Ness is many metres back from the cliff-edge and disguised until you are almost on top of it ! Coming near myself, I was greeted by the shadowed sides of Yettna Geo gating a clear sky
blazing in the light afternoon sun between them like the portal to a land of far away. This was high summer with twilight a long time coming. So we were grateful to finally reach the solace of the modern cairn. Even the labradoodle rested.

Far to the south I saw a distant high cliff headland with a single upright pillar just offshore. I found myself in two minds because though I knew it to be one end of Hoy the name that came to me for the rock stack was the Castle of Yesnaby. Of course as soon as I spoke my identification out loud to great laughter this was corrected to the Old Man of Hoy. Which meant it took a long time before they accepted where the Yesnaby car park lay, and it can't have helped that I referred to the Brough of Bigging with its promontory fort as the Noust of Bigging (the boat naust back of its neck). Between us and the Broch of Borwick lies the long thin chasm of Ramna Geo and the Ness of Ramnageo. Between Ramna Geo and the Broch of Borwick ( a few hundred metres to the north of the latter) an Irish visitor to Orkney told me he saw what appeared to be a monastic beehive cell like those of early mediaeval Ireland. The same (or something surely related) in a 1964 newspaper account is reported as bowl-shaped with an opening at the stone-built side. It would be nice if this had been what I at first mistook fror the broch. At high mag it looks like an upturned terraced quarry or a multi-tiered cake stand. Matching the exposed rock about it I am reminded on the polystyrene landscapes we made in geography, the piled tiles cut to the map contours before we smoothed them out. But this feature by the cliff-edge is hard by the southern side of Ramna Geo, so unless the proximity is a trick of perspective this cannot be that cell. Shoot !

Eventually came the time to head off back, for despite the light by the clock eventide had indeed turned. I had been hoping to go via Skaill Home Farm (The Mount in 1882) to look at the several old foundations along the way, but the kie were everywhere. Skaill House shone ghostly below, a place much haunted by the denizens of an olden graveyard now buried beneath the house. I forgot to mention that between taing and our climb up on land again we did walk alongside the fence before the way narrowed too far. Between us and the shore we pass by the remains of some old structure, still feeling like a building but to official reports only a wall of several courses and a midden. When I finally get off the shore I'm so hot my hair is sweating and I have to go topless in order to cool down (over the next week several folk at the trust feel hotter than the rest at different times, so something going around is my guess). I am told that it is wrong to say that my hair is sweating because hair is dead. Technically true. But the sebaceous glands at the roots of your hair are alive and my hair becomes saturated by sweat. So all I am guilty of is not using the phrase "my hair is sweaty", which is nit-picking rather. Rant over ! Of course now that seatbelts are compulsory you don't have the option of leaning forward to stay cool so I perforce have to put my T-shirt back on. Much too late for a joint meal so we head back to Kirkwall. We arrive after eight, having been gone four hours.

ce
wideford Posted by wideford
9th September 2011ce


Comments (1)

The Snusgar excavation ended on the 26th of August 2010,however the folk you saw this year were DG,K. MA & JH focussing on the easterly aspect of the 2010 site. JH did tells she was up but only for a week. There was a trial trench next to the main one in 2011 that initiated this interest. Tyrianterror Posted by Tyrianterror
13th November 2011ce
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