Coming up on the road from south to Stem Howe with a low autumn sun delineating the various shapes made by the knowes and picking out features on them. The whole is so much sculpted that it is no longer a moraine, if ever it was. Seem to be various levels too. Thought this to be only the upper part but this is an ilusion of time passing sentence on the steeper bits. Partway up the southern edge where it nears the the road the harsh sunlight brings into relief a low ridge, only a couple of feet across a few inches high, forming an edge to the mound as if to stop visitors falling unawares. This looks to stop just where the most man-alters bit starts. I notice it begins at the top end of a twisted rectangular hollow or depression, which doesn't look to be from antiquarian investigation, though possibly a long scoop.
We parked in the car park and myself and Dafydd walked into the cabin which acts as a ‘visitor centre’. There wasn’t much to see other than a series of press cuttings attached to notice boards and a small tray of ‘finds’. It certainly doesn’t have the ‘polish’ of the other Orkney sites you have to pay to visit. No guidebook here.
The girl behind the desk was pleasant enough but seemed rather bored.
We picked up our hard hats and headed across the field towards the burial chamber.
The first thing you come to is a fenced off dug out area which shows a section of the original ditch which surrounded the chamber, although this had started to become overgrown.
It is a bit of an eye opener to see how deep and wide these ditches were.
We then walked up to what looks like an old fashioned out-house but which in fact is the protected entranceway into the tomb.
The steps were wet and steep. Water dripped down through the stone passageway.
I have never been to a site like this before – it reminded me more of a cave than a burial chamber. It didn’t have the ‘finish’ of all the other Orkney sites I had visited.
There is a handrail to help you down the steps with strip lighting attached. It is easier to go down backwards.
Half way down the steps is a small side chamber on your right.
We worked our way down to the bottom where there is an extra deep step onto the bottom.
Looking up from the bottom it again reminded me of being in a cave.
Now Dafydd has been in many burial chambers in his 4 years and has always appeared ‘at home’ – however narrow, deep or dark they are.
For the first time ever he said to me ‘I don’t like it in here’ and wanted to get out.
We headed back up the steps and I took him back to the car.
I returned on my own to go down again – it is an odd feeling being alone in the chamber looking up the dark, wet narrow steps with only the sound of dripping water for company.
I remember watching a Time Team special when Tony Robinson was stood in exactly the same place and said he felt ‘uneasy’ and was quick to leave.
I can’t say I felt any ‘bad vibes’ but it did ‘feel’ different from other burial chambers I have visited.
I returned my hard hat and jumped over the gate to visit the Time Team reconstruction in the next field. It is fenced off so I guess they don’t actually want people to go inside – but there you go. There was certainly no one around to stop me!
The Time Team effort is about a quarter scale and is completely dry.
In fact this ‘tomb’ has a better finish to it than the rough and ready real one.
I would say Mine Howe is a ‘must see’ as it is so different to the other burial tombs on Orkney (or elsewhere for that matter).
There isn’t a massive amount to see and the whole site is a bit ‘rough and ready’ but worth a visit nonetheless.
The Broch is in a nice loch side location but is now no more than a rough grass covered mound approximately 2 metres high x 50 metres across.
It appears to have been cut through the middle at some point in the past?