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Fieldnotes by wideford

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St Mary's Kirk (Isbister) (Broch)

Take the bottom end of the Gorseness Road. North of the road is the Loch of Brockan, south of the road just before Grind is a steep-sided mound in the middle of a field. This is St Mary's Kirk in Isbister, Rendall, NMRS record no. HY31NE 2. On reading a 1941 newspaper account that the tenants were forbidden from clearing the field or removing stones I was happy to see from the road stones here and there, but once in the field it is obvious that this virtue has been undermined as cattle have started to trash it. The protection was not afforded to non-ecclesiastical monuments in the vicinity, as the 1880 Name Book reports that the farmer had demolished adjoining ruins, at which time this site showed the remains of two concentric structural walls. A 1941 newspaper report spoke of half-buried well-squared stones, and definitely by 1967 the O.S. saw neither walls nor structure. The approx 1.4m high mound had been squared off by ploughing to leave almost vertical sides - no way you can call them that now. But you can certainly see where some building has been on top of the mound, for at the northern end a slightly raised section of much darker grass covers a few remnants of Broch Age wall. Perhaps it's the kirk. What we have from St Mary's itself belong to the burial ground. The 1880 tenant excavated human bones and likely gravestones, and the 1967 O.S. mentions that nearby at HY39961870 the farmer at Grind found a pile of human bones between parallel stone walls topped by a flagstone. Sensibly he put things back where they were and again the O.S. could find no trace.

Ness of Woodwick (Broch)

Even taking photos along the way it took me under 50 minutes to reach the broch mound from the Evie Road, but you can get by car much of the way. Just north of Woodwick is the Ardwick Road, go up this to the top where there are several farms clustered together. Behind Arwick there is a half-snapped-off sign for the beach (wonderful how markers self-destruct in Orkney) and you continue down past Lower Bisgarth to where there is a parting of the ways. From Vishall Hill you can make out the broch because of the brightness of the later drywall enclosure stuck behind it. On the left a farmtrack goes to the sands by the northern side of the lochan (with its almost vestigial ayre) while on the right you take what is almost a farm road down to the shore and turn to your right for the Ness of Woodwick. I went at low tide but it seemed to me that you could walk the outside of the field with care if the tide were too high. Even though on the map the Craig of Ritten juts out it felt to me more as if the broch mound was tucked into the land. Though the 20' internal wall arc mentioned in the report is indeed hidden now there is another exposed at the bottom of the tower, not much above the shore so easily masked if you visit on an incoming tide. It struck me that the tower must survive under the mound almost complete. All over the mound you can find the odd stone. However the nature of a broch is that these being isolated I could not tell if these were simply part of the massively wide broch tower wall or parts of other structures. Clambering up to the top I could see several lumps and bumps inside the medaeval/'modern' enclosure and just beyond it. What with the surviving height of the broch tower and the topography I would deem it likely that the rest of the broch settlement survives under the turf. I wish I could find my Photoshopped version of the 'original' Google Earth image I found, as it clearly showed the tower outworks as a surviving plan despite the ground cover. On the composite image from two satellites you can still make out a figure-of-eight with one side a dark line of inner and outer broch tower arcs and connection (?entrance side). Also away from the main broch you can see the bumps I saw. Most obvious is a beetle shaped oval directly adjoining, almost entirely contained by one side of the 'modern' enclosure. Which makes the site extend inland like the other Evie brochs.

Redland South (Chambered Cairn)

In Evie village opposite the 'new' school is the Aikerness road with a sign for the Broch of Gurness (originally the Knowe of Aikerness). Going down the road where the farm on your right ends Redland South is in the second and third fields down - when I went three-and-a-half years ago, taking photos from the roadside bank, I didn't realise that the bulk of the cairn lies in the lower field because I went purely by the Pastmap marker. Certainly the 'upper' section is the most visibly man-made because of the large excavation pit around what had been known as the Redland standing stone, and looking across to Vishall Hill two long shapes look much more like burial mounds (they are above where Keek once stood). This is because the cairn sits on a the flat top of a natural mound rather like later cists were placed in false crests and rises. Indeed it feels as if the 'upper' section is a seperate entity as with the Head of Work. The lower field's remnant (entered by another gate) is rather unimpressive, especially as with a warming climate the protruding stones detailed in the record are hidden by grass. I came across then haphazardly, and it struck me that rather than ragged stumps these are original tops - I don't see why the standing stone alone would have survived levelling.

Seven Knowes (Barrow / Cairn Cemetery)

I decided to do the Hackland Road in Rendall from north to south, starting from the junction near Skiddy. This section's only purpose seems to be to separate the Seven Knowes from mounds formerly on the downhill side near the new housing where the road turns. Marked as tumuli on the map, though not prominent if you know they are there the two chief ones are quite easy to spot approaching uphill. The southern boundary of Seven Knowes is formed by a farmtrack that goes to Enyas Hill, and Gitterpitten on the road below is the Orcadian form of the term Picts Dyke. Along the track is the fieldgate by which I entered for a closer look at the two main mounds, it being open at the time. One of these seems completely intact, truly conical, whilst the other one has a large scrape in the south side and depressions on top from previous digging (best seen from uphill).

Millfield (Burnt Mound / Fulacht Fia)

Coming along the Seatter road and turning for Noltland, opposite the junction with the road passing Greentoft, the long axis of a field mound runs parallel to the road you're on. It is far larger than anything else this way, being over twice the size of all the other mounds, burnt or otherwise, in the area. The presently grass-covered slopes appear gentle to me. There is the faintest hint of a curve in the face towards the road, but rather than the vague crescent associated with burnt mounds the overall impression is that at some point it has had a huge chunk taken out. The rusty gate to the field stands between erect stones, the left one of which is atypical being so marvellously gnarled _ I have always found it strange that there are no standing stones recorded for Deerness, could this have been one ?

Chapel Knowe (Broch)

Coming from Finstown along the A966 turn right onto the Burness road and soon you can make out the distinctive broch profile right of the farm, I hadn't expected to see anything. Having come a long way I used my binoculars and saw that there were kie in the field. So I bethought to turn down to East Quatquoy and make my way along the shore instead, but a garden extension stopped me short and not expecting to go this way I didn't know the state of the tides so contented myself with distant shots. At high zoom I see a low scoop coming from the mound. I presume this is the assumed chapel enclosure, but it brings to my mind the stony areas landward of two of the Evie brochs. If coming along the coast another time I would try from further back. You can see the tidal islets called the Skerries of Coubister via which one very low tide a man in waders was able to reach Damsay. His idea was folk used this route to reach the island but perhaps it had been the islanders that went the other way to reach the Burness site. For from Chapel Point there is a pre-eminent view from Finstown through Kirkwall all the way around to Crookness, taking in most of the isles in too.

Howan Blo (Cist)

Walk west from the Deerness Stores and ooking up to the former United Free Church of Deerness a long natural mound called Howan Blo is easily seen. I have only seen it from the main road but there is a track goes by. I could see zooming in a slightly terraced slope, either from ploughing or perhaps to make inserting easier. The farm of Blow(e)s is said to be named after it.
In the excavation record I notice two similarities with George Petrie's 1861 dig at Greentoft/Milldam, no great distance away. First the use of loose stone to 'ground' the cists, and more importantly that if someone had removed the funerary urn Petrie found it would have left an urn-shaped cavity of virtually the same dimensions as that at Howan Blo. Which suggest co-evality at least, if not the same potter.

Twi Ness (Cairn(s))

Twi Ness rather than meaning twin-ness is said to be tongue-ness as there is no double headland, but the name Point of Dishan can only go as far back as The Douche so could well have been the other half of a Twi Ness (Doocot Point is shown seperately). The mound sits above the rocky headland. I wonder if the large stones in the cliff face part of a stoney outcrop on which the mound is placed or placed stone ? Because the upright slab being radial sounds like it might be more a divider than an encloser - wheelhouse maybe

Lochview (Standing Stones)

This year they investigated strong circular features shown by geophysics and thought to be revetments [IIRC] for a Wideford-like tomb under the mound, but abandoned this for the time being when their excavation failed to turn up anything substantial. I'm sure if they had followed the common practice of checking a previous antiquarian excavation or the area adjacent they would have had better results. Instead they were (mis)led to an area away on the periphery with less-well defined arcs. At least they seem to have found the edge of the tomb or whatever. However, being perverse, I found twa other things uncovered intriguing. Into/onto the slumped stone mass there is a small sub-circular structure not having the appearance of a chamber - hopefully this is not the planti-creugh shown near the mound on early diagrams, but if not what ? A few feet from this is a depression with some stone tumble - immediately uphill of these two features in the section is an area ?robbed of stone. If it were me I would want to go back and see if either of these two items represents post-monumental activity.

Russel Howe (Cairn(s))

Coming up towards West Bain in Sandwick (near the Bay of Skaill) and two fields to your left a wall made of oversized stones can be seen at the high point. The side facing the road there is still a rise, and I wonder if the cairn overlay something else or if this is the ONB's other tumulus.
It does seem strange that having bothered to clear the cairn they then undid their work by building this massive wall - perhaps they had thought the mound purely natural, and on discovering their error constructed a memorial over the cist ?

Hourston (Crannog)

Having started at the south end of the 'Swartland Drovers Road' trail when just past the present sewage station I chanced to see on my left a small unnamed holm at the top of the Loch of Harray. I think this is most likely a crannog like those in the Voyatown and Swannay districts - the present NMRS designation is quite recent, probably interim. A comparison with the Loch of Wasfale in Firth, going by large-scale maps, this islet is roughly the same length but only half the width, giving as very approximate dimensions 35m by 12m but nowhere near as high. Even unaided you can see that a level mound or platform occupies the central half, with its sides gradually going down to loch level. At high zoom my camera shows at least three large stones (one erect) and a couple more at the back (perimeter wall ?). The stepping stones run NNW from at or near the mound's edge. Following on in this direction the 1st 25" shows a circular stone arrangement offshore at at HY28881965, between the holm and the Wasum site (HY28841971). Ruling out an actual stone circle my guess would be that this had been a cairn, but it looks most rum on said map.

Banks (Chambered Tomb)

The way to both totem tombs is now very well signed, but if you take your eye too long off the piece of road they mass at you'll hit a low bump. There is plenty of construction going on at Banks, where there will be a Tomb of the Otter visitor's centre to complement that for Ronnie's Tomb of the Eagles (have heard no news of Wedgie's survey of that landscape). Hamish has put a weatherproof cover over the present tomb entrance and will be installing a low-level lighting system to help folk. To the south you can see a wartime lookout station [watch your step going that way or you can walk around the coast from nearby Burwick], and here there are several small burial mounds with large stones exposed (Hamish can point out several pieces of interest to prehistorians above the tomb if you don't want to go that far) - unfortunately being with a part I did not get time for photos and the Burwick bus is only for ferry passengers.

Wasdale (Crannog)

With the lochan low went over causeway yesterday, seemed even more exposed than last time I managed to do this. To call it a causeway is to over-egg the pudding as it is more a line of stepping stones (warning -halfway across you have to jump onto the edge of a slab to get between stones). Saturday I had the feeling that the stones could be re-used from the original prehistoric structure on the islet, perhaps when the kirk was founded. Looking back along the mound's northern side from the far end there is a kind of stepping to the turf - one of the two contenders for causing this is a broch of course

Loch of Wasbister (Crannog)

This and the Breta Ness promontory are highly reminiscent of the Loch of Wasdale in Firth where an island and promontory were seen as a kirk and its burial ground.

Oyce of Isbister (Round Barrow(s))

Just as I came into Norseman Village immediately to my left I could make out mounds on the coastline to my left. Missed them before because of the gorse, saw them now because I was looking for something else. Walking between some houses brought me a fraction closer, but as I had the length of the Redland Road from the Lyde Road to Finstown alredy to do contented myself with some photos (better than nothing I hope).

Banks (Chambered Tomb)

Thank you Hamish for another wonderful twa hours. A fortnight ago Orcadians went for free, but that weekend the weather was pish poor so I came now. Still a bargain - not much comes from a fiver in life nowadays and he has made vast improvements for folk, like new signage and a fresh tarmac-ed road for starters. In the near future Hamish is looking to have his farmland geofizzed for a day, but needs must he pays for it his sen. Apart from the passage in the tomb is now fully roofed (with contrasting slabs to show the differ). In the rotunda by the fishpond the feed from the tomb is now shown on a peedie widescreen monitor, the output being guidable to boot.
At the inner end of the passage you now have to kneel down and step down backwards - better for most than a trolley but you canna stand up straight once inside.Of course this tomb hasn't been excavated there completelyto the natural, so one day this stae of affairs might change. Since my previous, chance, visit the other chamber has been opened to the public and the one facin the passage too. There isn't much to see as yet of the new chamber he found (contrary to some archaeologists opinions) under the passage itself though it does go back aways, as revealed by penlight. I had had visions of sticking my digital under the lintel and revealing wonders, but at the moment entry is blocked by the original closure material with just mebbe an inch open directly under the lintel ! Of course some would object to poking in a fingerhole (oops, pardon my French, void) even with a camera. However the way one should look at it is photographic record is essential in case something changes before it is professionally looked at, mistakes are made in excavation and (in the present archaeological climate) promised weeks can turn into decades or even never. Unfortunately the completed roof does make the in situ markings less easy to have a proper gander out.
Luckily there are several fine examples of marked slabs in the rotunda exhibition. Here we were then shown some of the organic material recovered to date. Hamish was very pleased withe the deep interest shown in the skeletal remains shown by not only those with a general interest in physiology but also those of a professional bent such as surgeons and dentists. We were allowed to handle very healthy looking teeth and also less healthy bones that showied clear evidence of arthritis [?osteoporosis]. One tooth the size of a small pearl came from a toddler. As well as limbs we saw ribs and the kneebone of a ten or eleven year old. Intersting though these were best were the fragments of skulls, every one of them rather thin apart from a very thick piece that had protected the brain stem. Even so it looked overthick, like four heavy-duty homemade ashtrays welded together. Finally Hamish passed round pieces of shaped pot decorated in various ways. If I heard him correctly there are thought to be two different traditions present. Certainly there are also several kinds of decoration, both by stroke and impression. We agreed with him that the stand-out potsherd was one very dark piece, almost black, that appeared as if someone had made downward slashes with a knife point all the way around the rim - apparently this one is very much a mystery at present, perhaps ?? a one-off.

Pickaquoy (Cairn(s))

The mound is now on the edge of the new housing development

Saverock (Burnt Mound / Fulacht Fia)

The burnt mound is on the LH side of the road onto the new Hatston pier amongst the new industrial development. Unfortunately it is now fully enclosed by a fence with not even a gate for access. An opportunity for excavation missed.

Nettletar (Broch)

NMRS record no. HY31NW 38 at HY32321741 in an area also known as Noltland. From Noltland 'cattle land' Hedges suggests that the original name comes from Nolt+Clettr 'cattle rock'.but is unable to come up with anything in the vicinity that would have given rise to this name. I would suggest that perhaps the Vikings saw the broch mound as having been 'calved' by the burn. At the end of a long walk I wasn't up to making my way to the broch but made observations from various places. To see the interior good views can be had from the Howe road that runs beside the Harray Manse. Going back onto the main road I first saw the broch by looking straight across from the site of the Knowe of Brinnanea where the burn meets the road. I find it difficult to realise that I must have been looking directly at it several times previously. Eye unaided I would have seen it as simply a fieldwall of white stones like shiny pearl teeth. Admittedly there is such a wall beside it, but with camera and binoculars the stone is truly monumental, much bigger in size and more regular in shape.

Ness of Brodgar (Ancient Village / Settlement / Misc. Earthwork)

Covering the site for next year was well in hand on Thursday, with the building in the far corner already fully blanketed in black plastic. So I had a bit of a race against time. Actually as far as making sense of the site is concerned it is much easier to make out the structures, especially the walls, with the plastic sheet laid on the floors ! After photographing all you would need to to do is 'photoshop' the black for a less obtrusive contrast in colour. Today another big deep hearth stood out. Very close to it are two large slabs on edge making a likely corner. The hearth seems a little close to be connected or respecting it (though it could mirror the hearth's far left corner). One side is a thick rectangular slab and the other is thinner and has one angled end. On the other hand the latter also looks to line up with an edge of a thick tall-ish ortostat. Both have narrow horizontal slabs by them at ground level (that at the orthostat resembling part of a standing stone socket) and another in the space between them. From the orthostat another much lower orthostat runs to the wall of a structure, and by its RH side a small paved area [?entrance] ends at another wall. In the photograph I can see a slighly angled orthostat built into the ? far wall of the structure. Of course even looking from other directions perspective might be misleading me. But a diagram to help you see would fall foul of ORCA's no image policy. There are at least two fallen rectangular stone near all of this, one of which might well have formed a wall with the rectangular and another abutting the angle of the corner to its left. I had a look at the drain exposed below the paved circular passage near the viewing platform. It is not much wider than a small soil pipe and bounded by a mostly thin coursed wall, though there is one stone on its long edge I can see. All over the site there are the tops of walls and fallen slabs, the latter as likely isolated as not. Unlike the north end (I can even make out the N/S baulk in one image) the view from the west end spoil heap is really a mish-mash at this stage in the cover-up. Along the south end the tapes were gone. So I finally had a chance fror a peak from this direction, treading carefully like the seasoned digger I had been. I am particularly struck by a horizontal lang stane, virtually by itself, closely parallel to what was/is the E/W baulk about half-way along the east 'arm'. What is visible is mid-brown, five to six feet long and about the thickness of a brick wall course. The long edge facing me seemed to have a square cut running along the top but I see it is simply that this is a roughly flat edge [??natural]. From here I can see that my corner is less so - there is a gap before the angled slab, which is thin, and the other two stones are the true corner. But all of it is on the same 'grid', with at least another three walls on the same alignment [NW/SE if the baulks do run cardinally] between the walls/structure directly ahint the corner and the site's east end by the north end of the platform. Nick Card has noticed where I am and calls me out as this part of the site is still sacrosanct. I try to see the lang stane from the viewing platform ramp but cannot, though a digger near to it is working close to it and in front of her may be another one [?? or the same], for I can see a big long block with a horizontal split hard against the baulk. Leaving I take a gander at the finds 'trays' outside being packed. I see that large potsherd with deep ribs and two of the smooth stone balls, one an oblate spheroid and the other an almost complete ovoid with a linear crack running around it (and a piece from elsewhere detached on it, sandy coloured inside).
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Unemployed and so plenty of spare time for researching contributors' questions and queries and for making corrections. Antiquarian and naturalist. Mode of transport shanks's pony. Talent unnecessary endurance. I love brochs.

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