Showing 1-20 of 61 fieldnotes. Most recent first | Next 20
Visied 19th April 2013
We parked up at the small parking area at the lovely little beach at the Sands of Wright. Looking back to Hoxa Hill the observation hut atop the hill is clearly visible, signposting the way to the cairn.
Taking the advice of Wideford's fieldnotes we walked back up the road to the fine large country house of Roeberry, where just past the entrance drive, a gate allows access to a lane which runs up the side of Roeberry's garden wall as it heads up the hill.
At the top of the lane you are greeted by gates to each side of you. Directly in front a gate opens onto scrubland atop the hill, where the trig point and observation hut draw the eye toward the small mound of the cairn.
Two curious horses approach us as we stand at the gate, hopefull that we may be carrying apples, they have to be satisfied with a pat on the nose. Ellen, being a little wary of horses, waits at the gate whilst I set off for the cairn with an equine escort.
The Wart is an unfortunate name for the fine remains of an Orkney-Cromarty type cairn, and in fact would be a more fitting epithet for the strange observation hut building which encroaches close to the cairn. From here the views are fantastic over Hoxa Head and out across Scapa Flow, particularly today with clear blue skies complimenting the deep azure sea.
Once this cairn would have been huge, as evidenced by the remains of the circumference, although many of the stones have now gone. It looks as if some stones may have been built up to act as a wind break, as they seemed somehow out of place, but inside the chamber one of the stones that formed the stall is still standing, and as I hunker down away from the wind to write my fieldnotes it's really quite cosy.
On a day like today it's a fine place to spend some time, I could happily stay all day, it feels like a place outside of time, and far away from the hassles of the mundane world, but aware of Ellen still waiting at the gate, I settle for five minutes to soak in the atmosphere, and the promise to return on a day with equally fine weather.
Visited 15th April 2013
Shapinsay is a wild and windy place today, as we walk from the ferry at Balfour village on our pilgrimage to the Mor Stein. On the way there, just as we approached a ruined old kirk, an intriguing green mound caught our attention perched right on the coast.
Lest the wind whips away the map, we duck into the shelter of the derelict church, the OS map confirming our suspicions that the mound is a ruined broch. Behind the church is an ivy clad vault, wonderfully atmospheric and containing the graves of the Balfour family, responsible for Shapinsay's castle, and from here we notice a gate that looks as if it leads to the field containing the broch. As it turns out it doesn't, merely opening into a graveyard annex, but back on the 'main road' an open gate into an empty field next to the old church allows us to access the broch.
A large flock of Oystercatchers sweep by us as we cross the field, their raucous calls a constant soundtrack on Orkney. The low green lump of the broch is clearly visible against the sea, and behind it the nearby island of Helliar Holm, with its chambered cairn clearly visible atop that island's prominent hill.
At the broch some stonework is visible on the landward side, but not until you pick your way across the rickety wire fence and down to the foreshore that more of the sweep of the broch's wall is visible perched precariously on the low cliff edge, the remains having succumbed to erosion long ago. Apparantly the site suffered heavily in the storms of February 1984, and it looks as if another heavy storm might be enough to finish it off for good.
Down on the shore amongst the rocks it is more sheltered, a fine place to look out to sea, or up to the broch wall above you. Although little now remains of this ancient site it still retains a sense of presence, and is one of those places that is more than the sum of its parts, a lovely spot to spend a while.
As we turned to leave a huge rainbow, a thick band low in the sky, quite unlike any I'd ever seen before, had appeared behind us, just another magical sight in Orkney.
Visited 12th April 2013
What a difference from my first visit here ten years ago. Then I had to climb a rickety fence and wade ankle deep through bog, all the while being battered by the wind with stinging freezing rain hammering me in the face.
Today things are much more civilised. The weather is positively warm for the northerly latitude, and a nice new gate from Achavanich accesses the field, the cairn being easily visible on higher ground to the east of the great 'U' of Stemster. The route to the cairn is still marshy, a drainage stream cuts the cairn off from the Achavanich stones, but a wooden plank has been placed across it to allow access. It is so damp at the moment though that the plank threatens to be swamped, and I carefully pick my way across it, with arms extended for balance, feeling very Tomb Raider.
Keeping my feet dry I arrive at the cairn, which affords a fantastic view across the stone setting to Loch Stemster, while if you turn to your left mountains dominate the distant horizon, today snow capped and lovely.
The cairn must once have been huge, for it is still a fair size although denuded in size, and 1,000 years older than the stones it overlooks. It is possible to make out what looks to once have been an entrance passage, though now collapsed in on itself, and the central chamber still forms a fine cist.
Now that access is easier make sure not to leave out Achkinloch on a visit to Achavanich, just make sure you bring some waterproof shoes!
Visited 12th April 2013
Despite the fact that we regularly stop off in Aviemore on our northward jouneys, I realise with shock that it's been at least ten years since I last visited the circle. There is really no excuse, the circle being conveniently located just to the north of the town, even being handily signposted just next to the fire station, and being located in a quiet cul-de-sac parking next to the monument is not a problem.
Although the houses encroach right up to the stones, giving the impression that the circle was nothing more than a civic monument to spice up a humdrum estate, when you actually get here you appreciate the fine qualities of the site. It is a fine circle, and suprisingly easy to imagine how things would once have been before the houses were built during Aviemore's expansion in the 1960's.
The mountains stand proud on the horizon, snow capped today, placing the circle in a natural amphitheatre. The chunky stones are substantial, with a couple of outliers concentrically set on the outside of the circle, the groundplan making a lot more sense if you've previously had of pleasure of visiting Balnuaran of Clava.
We picnic in the centre of the circle, joined by a friendly local dog, but are struck just by how nicely kept the circle is, there being not a scrap of rubbish or other damage as might often by expected at more 'urban' sites, as well as a generally relaxed feeling of welcome here. I certainly didn't get the impression of any 'curtain twitching' or otherwise feeling of discomfort as we lesiurely ate our lunch, and took inumerable photos from every conceivable angle.
A lovely site, like a fondly remembered meal that you don't realise how good it is until you experince it again, I'll make sure I visit the circle next time we come this way, and I'd certainly recommend if you're ever in Aviemore you do the same.
Visited 6th April 2013
Following the fine directions given by previous contributors, and the particularly useful link provided by Rhiannon, I managed to find this place no problem, and worked it into a visit on a round trip from Glastonbury taking in both Stoney Littleton and the Faulkland standing stones first.
As suggested parking at The Bell Inn (right next to the A361 Frome Road at the village of Rode) is by far the best plan, and the public footpath is easily accessible just across the road. Once over the first stile and into the fields proper you soon see the copses of trees on the rise ahead, to which you have to aim. The fields up to the copses were currently fallow, but clear paths around their edges allowed me not to get my feet too muddy. Gates were all open and access was easy, with only the occassional distant report of a shotgun giving me a vague sense of unease lest I become unwitting cannon fodder for a trigger happy farmer.
As I head across the fields I disturb a pair of deer grazing at the newly emerging shoots, and we both freeze, staring wide eyed at each other for a moment, before they turn and flee from this noisy interloper.
Soon I'm at the barrow, huddled amongst the trees, the outline of the monument clearly visible since most of the vegetation has either died back in the harsh winter, or else been cropped by the fiendly neighbourhood deer. As I take in the whole of the monument it almost looks like a cutaway diagram of a barrow, the footings of the mound still clearly visible, the entrance portal stones standing proud, and a thick stone defining the end of the barrow (presumably the Devil likes to prop his feet up when in bed).
I crouch down to take a closer look at the portal stones, getting a few nettle stings in the process, but noticing what could possibly be three cupmarks on the interior facing of the stone. Once again I curse the fact that I've left the camera at home, and so am forced to take photo's with the phone (which singularly fails to provide a decent picture of the cupmarks), oh well just an excuse to return I guess.
As I sit quietly here a buzzard swoops in low and lands in the tree next to me, and I'll echo Rhiannon's thoughts, it is lovely here, and the sort of place you could spend hours. It seems as if few people visit, there was certainly no evidence of any rubbish or offerings at the site, and it feels like this is the Severn-Cotswold barrows best kept secret. Often it is some of these lesser known places that retain a more tangible atmosphere.
I notice that the village church seems to be in a direct line with the barrow, which along with attributing the stones to the Devil, is one of those terribly insecure Christian gestures, to defame any other alternative beliefs. Well if the devil has all the best tunes, then he also seems to have the best places, as I'd much rather be here in this magical place than in the cold dour surroundings of the local church. With that thought I head back to The Bell, to finish off a site visit in the best possible way, with a nice pint.
Visited 6th April 2013
Well this a strange little place. I stopped off after a visit to Stoney Littleton, having discovered the village of Faulkland was only a couple of miles from that site (thanks TMA website!).
It's easy enough to park next to the village green, which stands next to the unexpectedly busy A366, and I get out to have a poke around the stones.
Two weathered old stones flank a rickety pair of stocks, with a stumpy square stone having been thoughfully provided as a seat for the unfortunate penitent. There are also a couple of other stones evident sticking up from the manicured grass of the green. The stones undoudtedly have some age to them, but I'm sure that any alignment or structure they once belonged to has long gone, and they were repurposed, effectively a glorifed field clearence doing double duty as a prominent site of local punishment.
A couple of benches and a flagpole on the well tended green add to the overall incongruency of the site, but the continual whizz of traffic through the village doesn't inspire me to sit here for long.
Visited 6th April 2013
It feels like the first proper day of spring today, so a trip out is definitely in order. I've a great fondness for Stoney Littleton, it was the first site I visited as a result of buying the papery TMA all those years ago from a bookshop in Glastonbury, prompting me to visit it that same day, and firing an obsession that has lead me to many wonderful sites over the years.
Take note if you've not visited before that the small brown signpost pointing the way up the lane to the barrow as you enter Wellow is now completely obscured by vegetation, so it's easy to miss the sharp right-hand turn as soon as you enter the village.
After negotiating the narrow lane I parked up in the small parking spot, idyllically placed next to the bubbling Wellow brook, and walked up the hill towards the barrow. It felt good to be out and about, surrounded only by the call of birds and bleating of the sheep (and some very cute lambs).
The barrow was looking neat and tidy, and as I descended into the long passage, which really does seem to stretch back forever, I was heartened not to find any old tealights, litter or other 'offerings' which on previous occasions have been mouldering away in the inner chambers. Instead I just crouch at the back of the barrow and contemplate for a bit.
Stoney Littleton has a sort of understated grandeur, it's not the largest long barrow, and doesn't have an impressive portalled frontage, just the fine artistic eye of whoever selected that amazing fosillised ammonite for the entranceway, but it doesn't need them. This is a place that feels right, a perfect example of the barrow builders art.
Outside I sit against the barrow to write my fieldnotes. The warm yellow Cotswold stone of the perimeter dry stone walling of the barrow infuses the place with a warmth, no sombre feelings of death here, just a glorious remembrance and re-birth. Sitting here I'm pervaded with what I can only describe as a mellow vibe. The barrow sits perfectly in the bright spring landscape, even the old nearby landfill site has now blended into the landscape, and the concrete plaque cemented to the barrow entrance, proudly proclaiming it's restoration by affixing a great anachronism to its frontage, which normally irritates me, now seems rather quaint, an antique in itself as most of the inscription has now worn away, a signifier of the monument's more recent past, like the old Ministry of Works signs you still find from time to time at megalithic sites.
Days like today just underline to me everything that's great about visiting the remains of our prehistory, and why I love this hobby so much, Stoney Littleton is truely special place to be, and one of the best barrows you can visit.
Visited 2nd February 2013
As I cautiously pick my way down the icy path to Carn Liath traffic speeds past on the A9, seemingly oblivious to the fine broch so near to the road. I'm sure it's often overlooked, but it's becoming a bit of a tradition for us to stop of here as we make the long trip up to Orkney. In the ten years since the last fieldnotes on this place there is now a sign erected to mark the handy parking place just across the road from the broch.
Today a dusting of snow makes everything look particularly picturesque, and there is a lot to like here. The snow covering the large low broch is undisturbed until I set foot on it, and I climb up to the top of the walls to get a good look down into the interior of the tower. The double skinned walls, and steps up from the inner courtyard are still in fine condition despite the drastic reduction in the height of the broch.
From here there are some fantastic views, clouds glower out to sea pierced by slanting sunbeams in the early morning light, and the fairytale towers of Dunrobin castle on the horizon adding to the whole Narnia vibe present in the quiet lulls between the occasional traffic.
This is a fantastic broch, although not the most spectacular or well known, I really like it here, and I'd urge anyone who finds themselves this far north to stop off for a visit, you won't regret it.
Visited 5th February 2013
Access to these stones proved easier than in Moth's old fieldnotes. As you come into Stromness on the main road from Kirkwall take a right at the mini-roundabout onto North End Road, soon, bear right again onto Back Road, which wends its way up the brea at the back of the town. At the next mini-roundabout head right again on the Outertown Road, from which you you soon see a brown signpost directing you to turn left to Warebeth beach. We parked down near the graveyard on the coast, not risking the bumpy narrow road which gives access to the small parking area overlooking the beach.
From here follow the coastal path, and you will soon see the profile of the stones on the horizon. After crossing a small burn the path takes a sharp turn right and heads inland. Just a short ways up this path you will see a lane to your left which leads straight into the field containing the stones. Today (as with my last visit) this heavily rutted lane is full of pools of water, but a handy ridge between the deep tyre ruts acts like a causeway to keep our feet dry.
At the stones, both solid blocks around 4' high, you get great views out over the bay. It is still windy today, but nowhere near the storm force winds of the last couple of days which had shut down the ferries, and from our vantage point at the stones we watch the MV Hamnavoe labour its way through the heavy seas on its crossing to Scrabster.
The sun is out, but on the way up we were pelted by a quick rain/hail storm, such is the capriciousness of the Orcadian weather, and now a rainbow is visible over toward Stromness. As we stand at the stones the raw elemental power of Orkney is tangible, as huge waves break at the beach, and snow is still visible on the high hills of Hoy across the water.
I take a look at the other nearby stone mentioned in the fieldnotes, but again am not sure whether it was ever part of an alignment, somehow it feels more perhaps like an ancient boundary stone. Regardless it's a fine place here, a pleasent walk, wonderful views and a pair of megalithic stones, what more could you ask for!
Visited 11th November 2012
We parked up opposite the Andle stone today, and taking advantage of the fine weather walked across Stanton Moor, passing the Cork Stone, to the Nine Ladies.
It's been about five years since I was last here, though I've visited so many times, as it's the closest stone circle to where I live, and sometimes I think you forget just what treasures you can find on your doorstep, as I wonder why I've left it so long to come back. The circle looks perfect in todays sunshine, and as usual is busy with walkers.
As mentioned in previous posts this place has a joyful atmosphere and it is truly beautiful here, it's nice to re-connect with the circle on this crisp winter's afternoon. The low sun is throwing some great shadows, which nicely pick out the low mound on which the stones are set.
Walking up to the King stone it seems as if the poor outlier is leaning at a more severe angle than I remember it, but perhaps it's just my memories playing tricks. I certainly vow not to leave it so long until I return again next time!
Visited 1st November 2012
The weather is as fine as you could wish for on a winter's day, with no wind, certainly a rarity in Orkney, and the sun giving off a weak warmth from the clear blue sky. The coastline of Yesnaby is fantastic, and we've often walked here, but never yet to the broch. At the remains of the old shore battery at Yesnaby we park up, if you head to the left you will soon come to the impressive seastack of Yesnaby castle, but today we head right along the cliftop instead and towards the broch.
Although the fields are a bit muddy from the recent rain, we pick our way across them, surveyed by curious cows, and climb over a couple of stiles which bridge the 'standing stone' fences which divide up the fields here. Soon the broch is visible on its headland, and straight away I'm pleasently surprised by how much remains, particularly after having seen the sad remains of the nearby Oxtro broch earlier. The intact doorway beckons you in, and the walls must rise to around six feet in height at the front of the tower. The doorway now though is chocked with rubble and the entrance low.
I pick my way around the edge of the tower, very close to the cliff edge, and feeling a bit like a character from a videogame, before I step over the remains of the seaward wall which has now mostly gone after fifteen centuries of battering from the prevailing winds. Inside much of the stonework has fallen into the centre of the tower leaving a jumble of stones.
Although both smaler and more ruined that Orkney's more famous brochs of Midhowe and Gurness, Borwick is hidden gem and certainly worth a visit. We sit down on a grassy hummock at the back of the broch and watch the sea crashing against the rocks at the foot of us. It's warm enough to sit comfortably, and taking previous contributor JCHC's advice break out the flask for a nice cup of coffee. The only sounds are the sounds of the sea and the trickle of the waterfall next to us as it tumbles over the rocks down to the shore.
The vivid colours of the clear northern light give the landscape a painterly quality, and as we sit here watching the sun dip lower everything seems a bit surreal. Ellen and I sit together quietly lost in our own thoughts as sun sets to our left, colouring the sea a blood red. A place like this is a wonderful spot to just sit and take everything in, to absorb the magical atmosphere of Orkney, but now as the sun sets the chill of evening starts to bite, so we set off back on our walk to the car.
Visited 31st October 2012
There’s not much more I can add to what has already been written about what to me is the finest stone circle in Britain. Large enough to be awe inspiring, small enough to still feel intimate, remote enough to feel like you stand amidst the cyclopean remains of an ancient civilisation in the furthest flung corner of these islands, but accessible enough that you can drive right up to it (or roll up in a tour bus!). For me only Callanish comes close to giving this place a run for it’s money.
I’ve seen Brodgar in all weathers, only a few days ago it was snowing, I’ve also been here when it was so misty you could barely see the stones, and for a fantastic sunset, when in a Pythonesque moment a horde of photographers suddenly appeared from nowhere and proceeded to run around the circle with tripods, jostling for position, all of them in their quest for the best angle of the sunset through the stones. It’s no wonder as Brodgar is one of the most photogenic of ancient sites, and tonight, a clear Samhain evening we’ve come up to the circle to try some long exposure shots.
It’s cold, and a low mist clings to the henge ditch around the stones, amplifying the already otherworldly atmosphere. There is no sign of anyone else around, indeed this week on Orkney has been much quieter now we are out of season than our last trip in August, when regular visitors on the tour bus circuit could be guaranteed. We get our photos and as we walk away I look back at the circle, and marvel that something built so long ago can have such an effect on me today.
This is a place everyone who loves megalithic sites should visit, If I could only ever visit one ancient site again this would be it, my ‘Desert Island stone circle’! Brodgar is one of my special places, a truly sublime circle.
Visited 29th October 2012
Deepdale is one of those stones often viewed, its prominent position on a ridge overlooking the main Stromness to Kirkwall road means you always see it peeking into view as you drive along the main road across the island. Actually visiting it though is not quite as straightforward, there being no obvious place to park up anywhere near to the stone, which is why I've always admired it from a distance until today.
I parked at the nearby chambered tomb of Unstan (itself a must see) and took a brisk walk along the A965 towards the stone, which can be seen atop its ridge even from Unstan. Although busy by Orkney standards the trek along the road is not too onerous, and only takes about ten minutes. If you wanted to park a peedie bit closer then there is a pull in (probably for the benefit of fishermen) just over the Bridge of Waithe to your left (if you are heading in the Stromness direction). As you approach the stone an obvious muddy rutted track heads up the rise, but I wouldn't fancy risking taking a vehicle on it unless it was a 4x4 or tractor! Past the large mound of old tyres at the top of the track the stone is clearly visible, although on the other side of a low barbed wire fence. I managed to step over the said obstacle, as I couldn't see an obvious gate into the field from this direction.
I'm actually quite glad I approached the stone in this way, I like having a bit of a walk in to a site, rather than just pulling up and piling out of the car, in some ways it feels more adventuresome, and fires my imagination, feeling like a quest or pilgrimage to these places, particularly as here at Deepdale you can see the stones in view all the way as you approach, beckoning you on. It's probably why I romanticise these places so, the idea of a quest to visit even smallest little stump of stone enough to set my heart fluttering, and it's all part of the experience of visiting a site, soaking in the atmosphere, which for me is the main thing, rather than just ticking another site of the list.
There is cetainly plenty of atmosphere here today, the clear wintry light over the loch seems surreal, the primary colours of the water and the Orkney landscape as vivid as a child's painting, and the haunting call of Curlews and Oystercatchers floating over the loch.
Now I'm sat on a comfortable tussock of grass which has established itself over one of the chocking stones at the base of the menhir, providing a comfortable seat to look out over the lovely view across the Loch of Stenness, the diamond shaped Deepdale stone at my back. I can see most of the sites of the sacred Brodgar landscape from here, Maes Howe clearly visible, and the tiny forms of the distant Stones of Stenness can just be made out.
From here I can also see an interesting looking stone in the field boundary to the east, and on closer inspection it looks as if it could possibly be a standing stone, it is certainly seperate from the fenceline, and I'll post a picture so that maybe someone may be able to shed some light on it.
People may wonder how I can rabbit on and get so enthused by what is in effect a stone in a field (I've encountered several farmers in my time that held this view!), but enthroned here in this wonderful landscape, sat by this ancient stone, it really answers the question of why I do this.
Visited 26th October 2012
I'm quite fond of the Comet Stone, as Ellen and I got handfasted here in 2005. Also as Carl says in his fieldnotes, not many people bother to come out to see the stone, always in the shadow of its more impressive big brother, you can stand here and watch the coach loads of visitors process around the ring, with not one of them casting a glance towards the poor old Comet Stone.
As we approached the Ring of Brodgar on foot along the path from the Stones of Stenness we came to the Comet Stone first. Standing on the small mound on which the stone perches, storm clouds gather around us, and waves are being whipped up on the Loch of Harray. I can't spot any sign of the two small stubby stones by the base of the Comet Stone, scrubby tufts of grass hiding them from sight.
You also get a great view of Brodgar on the horizon from here, but this lovely stone is reason enough to take a detour from the main stone circle to get up close and personal with it.
Visited 26th October 2012
As fine a monolith as you'll ever see, but the Watchstone sometimes gets overlooked amongst the excitement of visiting Stenness and Brodgar. There are clear blue skies over the Ness of Brodgar at the moment, but ominous clouds gather around on the horizon, and we drove through a snow shower on the way here from Kirkwall.
As I stand at the base of the stone in the bitter morning air, I just marvel at the immense menhir in front of me. I love this stone, it's usually one of the first places I come to when I get to Orkney, in a way the Watchstone is a touchstone for me, a signifier that I'm here, in my favourite place in the heart of Neolithic Orkney. We had a horrendously rough crossing over from Aberdeen last night, seasickness striking Ellen, but standing here, all of the ordeal of the journey up seems worthwhile.
Ellen and I parked the car up at Stenness and walked along the road to the stone, the path continuing along a newly constructed lochside route, which leads you on a lovely walk, onwards from the stone, past the site of the Ness of Brodgar excavations until you get to the Ring of Brodgar itself, a walk well worth taking, just make sure to say hello to the Watchstone on your way, as he keeps a silent watch out across this ancient landscape.
Visited 9th August 2012
For the impatient this site can be visited within minutes of leaving the ferry after arriving on Orkney, which is what I did on my first visit to Mainland, overwhelmed as I was by the excitement of finally being here.
In fact I would recommend coming to Unstan first for two reasons. Firstly it allows a great vista across the Loch of Stenness to take in the heart of the Neolithic Orcadian landscape, Maes Howe, the Stones of Stenness and Brodgar are all visible from here. Secondly it’s worth remembering just how impressive this site is, something which can be overshadowed by the sheer grandeur of its more famous nearby neighbours, or after the megalithic overload of the surfeit of ancient sites on Orkney leads to complacency.
Today I take the opportunity to sit atop the mound and take in the wonderful views while I write my fieldnotes and Ellen sketches. Inside the cairn is a good size and an interesting hybrid of stalled cairn, with a side chamber such as those found in the tombs such as Maes Howe and the Fairy Knowe. Fortunately there are no smelly offerings inside today, but the covering of green algae colonising the stones seems to be getting ever greater. When I first visited in 1999 I remember there being hardly any on the stones, now it’s everywhere. Probably the horrendous excavation methods courtesy of archaeological cowboys Callander & Grant in 1934, which ripped off the original roof before slapping on a concrete dome, is leading to the problem. The concrete impeding ventilation, whilst the skylight in the roof raises the temperature inside enough to increase the interior humidity. I hope Historic Scotland are monitoring things to prevent any permanent damage to the stones.
The bird carving and twig runes are still visible thankfully on the lintel to the side chamber, and despite its increasingly verdant interior, it’s nice to spend sometime inside a light and spacious cairn. I’ve a soft spot for this place, as it always reminds me of my first trip to Orkney, and I think of it whenever I look at my reproduction Unstan ware bowl I bought all those years ago on my first time on the island. Although often overlooked don’t pass it by, you’ll be missing out if you do!
Visited 11th August 2012
We set off early from Kirkwall to catch the first ferry of the morning to Hoy, taking advantage of one of the extra sailings taking place that day due to the Kirwall County show being on. It’s severely foggy as we drive to Houton to get the boat, although I’m putting my trust in the weather forecast which is predicting a fine day later. I’m hoping this is the case, having experienced the bleakness of Hoy in grim weather before. My previous visits to the Dwarfie Stane have been via the foot passenger ferry from Stromness, and it’s nice not to have the long walk on foot to reach the tomb, with the ever present threat of missing the boat back and having to emulate Mr Mounsey by spending a night inside the Stane itself.
Arriving at Lyness is like entering an eerie otherworld, as the shapes of the large WW1 era oil tank, and the battleship guns outside the Scapa Flow museum loom out of the mist. The three other vehicles present on our crossing zoom off, and within ten minutes of disembarking we are alone, not a soul visible anywhere, and the feeling of being marooned on a deserted island all pervading.
By the time we have driven to Betty Corrigal’s grave the mist is thinning, and the lonely white gravestone is just visible away from the bleak road, which as it climbs higher breaks out above the fog to a gorgeously clear sunny blue sky. The Dwarfie Stane is well signposted from the road, and pulling into the nice roomy layby opposite the path, you can just make out the stone block of the tomb hunkering beneath the cliffs of the Dwarfie Hamars. Once again I’m struck by how remote this place feels, although now with sunny blue skies and the sparkling azure sea in the background things don’t feel as brooding as when I was last here.
The path to the stone is well defined, although rocky and occasionally rough going, and seems a further walk from the road than I remember, but once you reach the tomb it is so worth it! Such a unique monument, and I love the rich and redolent folklore surrounding it. It’s a truly magical location. Inside things are just as spectacular, surprisingly roomy and comfortable, I waste no time in reclining on the stone ‘bed’ and if I were camping in this desolate landscape I can think of worse places to shelter. I could certainly see Snorro the dwarf making a comfortable home here!
It’s also worth mentioning the incredible resonance of the acoustics inside the stone, in one particular area near the centre of the chamber the bass reverberations, even just from normal speech can be felt as a physical thing. It also looked as if there might be at least one large cupmark on the interior face of the blocking stone, which interestingly enough would have meant the carving was for the benefit of the interred occupant, rather than any sort of external decoration, and reminded me of the positioning of cupmarks on the interior cist slabs of tombs in the Kilmartin valley.
To echo Carls fieldnotes, this place is a definite must visit, and if you’re ever on Orkney it would be remiss not to visit the Dwarfie Stane, although taking the car over to Hoy is not cheap if budgets are tight the Stromness foot passenger ferry is more reasonable, although it would involve a long fairly strenuous walk to the stone, it makes it feel even more of a pilgrimage when you get there! (I think there may have been a place that hired out bicycles near to the ferry pier at Moaness on Hoy, last time I came via that route, but that was quite a while ago!)
It’s hard to leave on a day as glorious as today, but we pressed on to Rackwick, a few miles further along the road, and as beautiful a setting as ever you’re likely to see, surrounded by the sea and mountains, in splendid isolation with the islands of Orkney stretching before us, it reminds me again just how wonderful these islands are.
Visited 13th August 2012
I've always looked at these stones on past visits to Orkney and wondered if they were once part of a great processional avenue between Stenness and Brodgar, and always marvelled at how fantastic it would be to have such a pair of stones in your front garden.
The fact that they were so close to someone's house had always deterred me previously from approaching them too closely, instead contenting myself from taking pictures from the roadside. However whilst on a tour of the Ness of Brodgar excavations we were told by our guide that the house had been bought and gifted to the excavation by a mysterious benefactor! Since it was now occupied only by archaelogists on a tea break I took the opportunity after the tour to get up close and personal with the stones.
They seem to both align with Stennes as well as obviously being adjacent with the other structures being uncovered on the Ness, and it will be fascinating to see whether any further evidence of additional stones once having been present comes to light in the future, apparantly long term plans will be for the house to eventually be removed from the site to open up the landscape and allow additional excavations to take place on the site the house occupies (all depandant on securing the continuation of funding for the dig of course)
It's great to be able to pay an unhurried visit to the stones in the heart of this amazing area of rich prehistoric remains, and keep your eye out for Corncrakes, the RSPB have been developing some Corncrake friendly environments along the Ness to encourage an increase in the birds numbers, we didn't see any today but we had spotted a small group of them a couple of days previously early in the morning as we were heading out to get the ferry to Hoy.
Visited 12th August 2012
To my mind one of the finest standing stones in Orkney, and so easy to visit, as you head up towards the equally fantastic Brough of Birsay on the A967. The huge 12' high bulk of the stone is unmissable to your left as you head north towards Birsay. We pulled into a nearby lane, just to the left as you pass the gate to the field, where it is easy to park at the side of the road while you visit the stone.
Although there are many stones on Orkney this one seems to have a real character, and is in a lovely setting near the coast, and looking down to its favourite watering hole of the Loch of Boardhouse.
Letting myself into the empty field through the nearby gate it's easy enough to duck under the rickety barbed wire fence which cages in the stone (presumably in an effort to curtail it's nocturnal yuletide wanderings!). A brisk Orcadian wind batters me as I hug the stone, but the gorgeous blue sky and shelter provided by the menhir encourage me to stay a while, and just take in the splendour of this huge stone which has stood here for so long, an ancient landmark even when the Norsemen were here, the name of the neighbouring farm, Stanger, coming from the old Norse 'steinn-garðr' meaning 'Stone Farm'.
Soon I know we'll have to move on down to Birsay, as the sun is bright and sparkling over the sea, beckoning us down to the coast, but you can't ignore a visit to a stone such as this, just as long as you don't get in the way of it's drinking habits!
Visited 9th August 2012
Having a bit more time on Orkney this trip I thought I’d track down some of the less visited stones on the island, and first on the list was the menhir at the aptly named Staney Hill. Taking the minor road off the A965 just before the Maes Howe visitor centre at Tormiston Mill(a right turn if coming from Kirkwall as we were), the road runs right up behind Maes Howe. Not having access to Wideford’s fieldnotes, we carried on up this road passing the Grimeston junction, whilst I kept my eyes peeled for the Stone o’Hindatuin, which soon could be seen in the field to the right. Ellen pulled into a nearby passing place, as there seemed nowhere else to leave the car. The next difficulty then seemed to be the lack of any visible fieldgates. As I’ve often said I don’t feel I’ve had a proper visit to a place unless I can actually touch the stone, I don’t know why it just makes me feel more ‘connected’ with the place, so refusing to be put off by something as trivial as a barbed wire fence, and with no noticeable livestock in the field, I hopped the wire, barely managing to keep the seat of my trousers intact.
Ellen stayed in the car, both in case of having to move it if we had a sudden rush of traffic, and also, having better sense, deciding she’d quite like to keep her clothes intact. Once into the rather large field, I noticed a distant group of cows now glowering at me disinterestedly, as I headed up to the stone which sits on a natural ridge. From here you get a great view, out down to the Loch of Harray, where Stenness is just visible, and the hills of Hoy, still cloud capped rising proud to the south-west. The stone is huge, it must be about 9’ tall. Some stones around the bottom of the menhir look as if they have been packed at the base to pack the stone, and a grassy covering which has covered the stones now makes for an ideal seat, where I write up my fieldnotes.
This is a fine stone, it’s so peaceful up here, even though directly opposite across the road is a house, there’s no-one else around, with only the sounds of the occasional car interrupting the call of the birds. The stone has the usual light dusting of Orcadian sea moss, and seems to gaze towards Hoy like a silent sentinel, just another of Orkney’s many fine stones. On returning to the car we had a number of strange looks from the man living in the house just up the road, who Ellen said had come out of his house three times to suspiciously stare at the car (obviously thinking we were up to no good!) Aside from the slight access difficulties (which I’m sure would be removed if you follow Wideford’s notes!) this stone is definitely worth the visit.
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Megalithic wanderer and modern day pagan.
I've always loved anything historical, particularly megalithic sites (I've many a fond memory of visits to Stonehenge in the mid 1970's as we used to stop there every year on the way to the annual family holiday down in Bournemouth, which I think started it off), and the discovery of a certain book by Mr. Cope set off an obsession in the late 1990's to see as many of these wonderful places as I can.
Enjoys walking in the wildnerness and climbing mountains (currently on the worlds slowest round of Munroe bagging), travel, playing guitar, real ale and malt whisky, historical re-enactment, fencing and wargaming (although not all at the same time!) Also adores small furry critters (particularly cats)
Lives in the megalithic desert of the Midlands with my lovely (and very patient) wife Ellen, and the venerable Tazzy cat.
Favourite sites would be Callanish and Ring of Brodgar (where I was handfasted) in Scotland, Les Pierres Platts in Brittany, Havangsdosen in Sweden, Glavendrup in Denmark, and Sunkenkirk in England.