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An hours drive east of home is Buxton, one of the main towns of the Peak district. Ten minutes south of Buxton is a village called Earl Sterndale, it's two nearest neighbors are Glutton Bridge and Hollinsclough, it is to this area, with it's distinctive hills many cairns and archaeology rich caves that my mind and wheeled wagon has been turning.
I first came here one drizzly morning seven years ago, principally to locate and explore Dowel cave. But not knowing it's exact whereabouts I blundered around looking here and there, scrambling up and down sheer cliffs, coming face to face with a fox and sheltering from the incessant showers, during these blunderings I came upon a small cave entrance, it wasn't the cave I was looking for, I had a poke at the metal shield that kept stuff out and it fell over, on it's own, it came off in me hand, so I went in.
The cave entrance has been deliberately blocked, in it's natural state you could just walk in, now you must crawl worm like down and through. It's bigger once you are in, there is a sign pointing to the back of the cave on it says Staffs L D W A Leek moors, I was taken a back that's for sure, the leek moors must be five to ten miles away, can this cave go that far. I didn't test this assertion. So I left.
Eventually I found the cave I was looking for, Dowel cave is more open than the other, you can walk straight through the ahem...vagina shaped opening, but the further you go the more you must crouch and in the end go on all fours. I didn't go further, my only light was the camera's flash.
That was my first time. The cave turned out to have a name it was Etches cave.
The next time I came the weather was much more conducive to climbing the two main hills here Parkhouse hill and Chrome hill. I started with the latter.
Chrome hill has had songs written in its honour, by a Norwegian jazz group no less. Map doesn't say how high it is, but it is Glastonbury tor sized or a little bigger, cut in half long ways, and right at the very top my legs shake and I must crawl around on hands and knees lest gravity pull me over the side. It's from here that I watch a perfect summer sunrise, the suns warm glow slowly filled the valley below me, across the valley I can pinpoint Etches cave. Turning north is the long side of Hollins hill with it's very obvious cairn on top, I make a mental note that it's imperative to climb it one day.
But not today, south from here is Parkhouse hill, a truly great and over sized giant whale breaking the surface of the sea of grass, this hill turns out to be harder to get up.
After some aborted attempts I find the easy way up, from the east. Although this raised ancient coral reef, is lower than the other, Chrome hill, for both are such, it is much more perilous, the narrow ridge that one must traverse is like a grassy mellowed out Crib Goch, certain death one way, presumed death the other. The summit is two rocky prominences, that I wedge myself between, lest gravity get it's way, the whole place no bigger than a small kitchen, I move about very carefully. From here the two main points in view are the very obvious cairn on the next hill over, and High Wheeldon and it's Fox hole cave, all places I must go to if i'm to know and understand this place better.
Too many years later,
Eric and me are up at Hatch-a-way hill cairn, the next hill over from Parkhouse hill. It is a very good cairn, like a Llyn Brenig platform cairn, wide, high and much stone, but the view down to the valley below Chrome hill, as the sun sets and the nearest moon for a century rises behind us, is a site that words do no justice, if an over chatty nine year old is silenced it must have been pretty good.
A year later
Eric and his mate Luke accompany me up to the cairn on Hollins hill, a large grassy doughnut, with some stone showing through in the scooped out area. The sun was out but the wind was high, and with two energetic ten year olds this was never going to be a long hang out. Perhaps the two caves could hold there attention for a little longer. The two things I took from Hollins hill, was the good cairn, and the sensational view down to Chrome hill, and beyond it to Parkhouse hill.
Armed with torches and the go anywhere attitude of children sadly lacking in a sense of self preservation, we got back into Dowel and Etches, and went as far as we could without crawling on hands and knees, both caves undoubtedly went much further than I dared take my two carefree charges. Interesting to note is the list of the things freed from the soils in both caves......
From Dowel cave,
It had been used in the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Beaker, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman periods, but mostly used as a Neolithic burial-cave. Under these deposits was found Late Upper Palaeolithic material, which included flint tools, charcoal from a hearth, fragments of antler, and pieces of bone showing marks of cutting, radiocarbon dates from an Antler showed the cave was used around 9200 bc.
And from Etches cave,
Finds included three pieces of worked flint, sherds of a Bronze Age collared urn, two worked antler fragments in association with some animal bones, a range of faunal remains including bear, reindeer, hare and cat, and a bone point of possible Upper Palaeolithic date.
So both caves were important places in the past, all of the past apparently, especially Dowel cave. Also worthy of note, just a few tens of meters from Dowel cave entrance is the site of water pouring from a very small cave, a strange thing, water spontaneously gushing from the ground itself, a gift from the Mother.
Just a couple of months ago I took Eric and the dogs up High Wheeldon, it has a cave, barred to the public by iron gates and bricked up interior. Another Neolithic burial cave, with the oldest known bones from the White Peak, also used in the Paleolithic, plus much more. So another special place, one that was passed down through the generations, perhaps becoming more special over time. Barrows begin to be built on all the hill tops in the Bronze age, yes they are all on hill tops but they do have a view of a cave or Chrome and Parkhouse. From Pilsbury cairn High Wheeldon takes on a Pyramidal form, but from Cronkston Low the hill has it's side to us.
This last Thursday was my latest visit to the area, Harley Grange barrow had pointed itself out to me so I made a special trip there to see what was where.
The barrow itself is perhaps the largest in the area, it has an old wall crossing lowly over it's back, and many badger holes, I presume them to be badgers only because I've never heard of Red Deer digging burrows.
The positioning of this big barrow at first puzzled me, it occupies the end of a downward ridge, why wouldn't they put it at the top of the hill ? I wondered, so up I went to see if there was already something there, there wasn't.
Its positioning could only be reckoned from where it could be seen from or what could be seen by it, it was definitely projecting it's presence southwest to southeast, so that's from Fox hole cave to Chrome hill.
After the big barrow I decided I've enough time to re-climb Parkhouse hill, perfect parking and knowing the way propel me there quickly, and soon my legs are wobbling as I traverse the narrow way up. The summit has two rocky prominence's that I wedge myself between for safety, all in all it is a small place and down there wants you to come to it very quickly, I try to keep still.
From up here it all becomes clear, North is Chrome hill and looking over its shoulder is Hollins hill, not all of it just the bit with the cairn on it. Turning right we slow down over Stoup High edge cairn, over more still to Stoup High edge cairn more still to Upper edge cairn. Far below Upper edge cairn are the two deep caves of Etches and Dowel. Immediately north is Hatch-a-way cairn and above that Harley Grange cairn, East is Hitter hill with it's cairn that I haven't been to yet and beyond that High Wheeldon and Fox hole cave, near there barrows fade off into the distance for Arbor Low is just a couple of small hills away.
So why is this place special ?
Does it start in the Paleolithic, or the Neolithic when burials were taking place in caves that go on for ever, or the Bronze age when the barrows and cairns were going up.
Or is it the very distinctive almost alive hills they have here, the perfect dragons back of Parkhouse hill, the higher half dome of Chrome hill, the Pyramid of High Wheeldon. Or is it the water that magically flows through the valleys.
Or is it all these things.
It is most assuredly a special place.
Posted by postman
1st December 2013ce
The tall crenellated cylindrical structure to the left as you come into Shapinsay is called the Dishan Tower from its use in the 19thC as a primitive shower called a douche-house, hence its other name of The Douche. However this use must have been late in the century as the first O.S. still marks it as a doocot. It dates back to the 17thC when Cliffdale held court over Shapinsay. The obvious dovecot on top is decribed as a corbie-stepped cap-house in the NMRS. presumably more pigeons came in through the long narrow vertical slots in the seaward side. It does seem a strange setup, even with an entrance up on the landward side you wonder if the dovecôte didn't somehow come before the tower. And if it is as was, what of the Rendall Doocot's claim to be the only circular one in Orkney ? Everything in excess. As you come into the harbour the slope-roofed structure to the left of the pier, topped by three large slabs, used to be a kind of toilet block. You entered round the back, between it and the harbour wall, and the tides took away the effluent. Simples. Left of this structure a small circular tower is actually set into the harbour wall, with a side-on entrance having a long lintel of pale red stone keyed into the wall and a small window aperture in the centre of a deep oval depression in a stone block. Inside is equally pretty but the step up still gives no indication of any utilitarian use for this tower.
This side of Shapinsay/Shapinsha goes by the name of Sound. And we were sounding out the coast, first passing between the slim Phrygian cap-ped pillars and by the side of the early 17thC gatehouse, yet another ornamental design from when the Balfours took over the Cliffdale lands. Following the path coming close to the Dishan Tower on the landfacing side of the track is a large wooden object resembling a chipboard boat or landing craft (the front sloping forward), though the first thought in my mind is narrow boat [in non-PC terms barge]. The bottom is slightly curved, like one of those herb choppers chefs use on telly.
If I come this way again I must see if I can locate the prehistoric stuff eroding out of the shoreline southwest of the castle. This Iron Age site is called Setter Noost [sic]. HY41NE 13 at HY47301621 is believed to cover an area of about forty metres square by including more midden and various lumps and bumps above the shore. In 1972 in the low shore twenty metres west of a ruined lime kin in a seventeen metre exposure the O.S. saw several orthostats and bits of drystane wall as well as a midden 1.3 metres thick. At the west end of this an obvious external wall-face was in 1985 thought to be from some kind of round house, and quite a large one at that. In 1998 the Setter Noust site is described as walling indicative of an early structure and tumbled stone, with pot and bone and burnt stone in the extended midden [burnt mound ?]. Where was the Seatter farm, is the obvious question ?
It is certain that there is more prehistory to the area. Balfour Castle is based on an earlier grand house called Cliffdale, and sometime prior to 1796 house-building nearby, close to the site of several failed lead mines, an erdhus came to light out of the blue. The present location of HY41NE 12 is unknown, most likely swallowed up by the much enlarged grounds. Sunk about a yard deep it had a roof of large slabs set on four foot high pillars, also called masonry piers. It comprised twin hexagonal cells, each about 8' across, and a rectangular one. The relative position of the components isn't given and that the latter is described as "as large as both" the hexagonal cells is rather ambiguous.This unusual design is listed as a souterrain. A finger-ring of gold came from this passage.
A little further on there are the lower walls of some mediaeval structure, stones peeking out through the grass to form a rectangle of sorts. Actually, now that I look again, it is in a similar state to the Doo Kirk. Online I found this site called Lady Well. But no wellsprings are show on the 25" map. What is shown is a pump inland, which must be the sub-circular drystane well that the NMRS says could be the well for the chapel site whose legend lies some thirty-five metres to the south. Lady's Kirk, HY41NE 5 at HY47071643, shows no visible signs of being there. However, a gradiometric survey ahead of permission to dig a borehole detected two 11m long parallel lines about 5m apart. Of course with a known pump here could this be a pumphouse using that well ? The Lady Well that I saw could be a small wellpark all the same, but how about it being the chapel instead (and some are built over springs). It strikes me as odd that there were two establishments on this island dedicated to the Lady, so perhaps the dedication
strictly belonged to the well itself or merely attributed later (we have no dedication for the similarly placed Kildinguie in Stronsay).
Coming back on the ferry I see in/against the Balfour Castle wall on this side two more fun towers, both low and each surmounted by a cannon facing seaward. As one is circular and the other hexagonal or octagonal were these defensive or just more follydom ? What I did see is far more interesting than either of these, and as it isn't of a piece with anything else and as such appears to be an earlier house re-used (or else a much later addition knocked about a bit). An image on Geograph calls it a window looking out from the Balfour walled garden, but just inside the grounds the plain reverse of a 1674 gateway towers above it, belaboured with armorials and such on the front - unless I have the wrong perspective I would say the two are too close together, but the gateway faces out to this rather thab to Cliffdale and the castle. It juts out with two angled side framing the wide front and thin slabs for a 'roof'. Its stonework is not the same as the wall. The multi-paned wood-framed window is inset to an arch whose rounded top is formed by red bricks pointing inward. Unfortunately with the 'castle' being of such a late date the red brick doesn't help with chronology. I'd love it to have been the location of a house of course !
The next headland is covered by a mound. 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). Makes sense as you would otherwise expect a narrow tongue not what is there in front of you, a rocky circular headland. Atop this HY41NE 19 at HY46761625 is a slightly hollowed 7mD cairn a mere point-six metres high, with an orthostat on the north side that might be, or have been, part of a cist. This upright slab actually runs radial to the mound centre, which sounds like it might be summat else to me, more a divider than an encloser. Anyways it is now a small grassy peak. Are the large stones in the cliff face part of a stoney outcrop on which the mound is placed or placed stone ? If it were one of these then the mound goes deeper than 0.6m or sits on something earlier. Only my guesses.
After this comes a piece of the coastline called Stromberry. Here I and one of the newer Orkney Blide Trust members dallied to photograph the bonnie flowers including some on short plants. There was a lot of dwarf willow in bloom still - I am used to encountering this in spots along cliff edges on coastal paths but here it carpeted the ground in irregular ground-hugging clumps along where water gathered. Can't remember whether it had been before this or when we rejoined the group that I pointed out sets of straight lines slightly uphill of us, the ghost of a run-rig system I think.
Between here and a line through Grukalty and Balfour Mains lies the legend Back of the Ness. The first 25" map shows a Pict's House here. On the 2nd 25" it is formalised as Site of Ancient Dwelling. In 1972 the O.S. could not find this site, HY41NE 4, but in 1984 the Royal Commission found a place where dark earth and a scattering of shell midden comes up under the plough (at HY46961702). If this is the same site could it be part of a settlement, which would explain why the land is didfficult to drain. Difficult to believe the midden is all there was if the identity is correct - in my experience they only put Pict's House on an early map if something of age had been excavated in modern times, usually tombs (like Wideford Hill Cairn) or 'gallery graves' (such as Rennibister souterrain where skulls were found). Outside chance this was the Cliffdale earthhouse. Grukalty is supposedly derived from Agricola, from his voyages around Britain, but the nearby coastal arc called the Furrow of Agricola started life as the Furrow of Grikalty [sic] so one might question how long the traditional identification dates back to. To back up the assertion the finding of Roman coins on Shapinsay is mentioned, but these and other Roman artefacts are found in many places in the Orkneys. The Hillock of Breakna being seen as the Earl's Palace in Orphir is an example of scholarly speculation transforming into a "traditional site of" statement.
The intention had been to go up as far as the Loch and Ayre of Vasa on our circular route. Having gone as far as the Grukalty pier the group leader weren't sure we could do the whole walk, and so we reluctantly headed onto the track to Balfour Mains. I have to confess that I mistook a large pool for the lochan, it is quite big with twa bits o' land in it. Doesn't seem to appear as owt on the maps. Over on the right a small windowless modern structure with a steeply pitched roof sits on a small mound outside the castle grounds. Maybe the mound it barely occupies on is a trick of perspective, otherwise my feeling is it predates the building.
Next to grab my attention, alongside the farmtrack, is what must surely once have been a wellhead. On the 1st 25" it bears the legend "pump trough", by the second there is only a p for pump even though everything survives. Another ornamental piece. Slightly faded but still a grand piece of work in white. In shape it resembles a settee with a drystane back and a long arm out to the left, gently curved and all topped by 'pillow-shaped' stones. At the front are two long orthostats. Behind these is the earthen seat. The iron pump with its handle sits centrally, backed by a short length of much less white wall at 90 degrees topped by a single thick slab. The closest comparison I can make is to the well beside the road along the Stromness Loons.
Whilst I am snapping away the rest of the Blide part are already coming the Balfour Mains itself, a long building which has recently been renovated for a fresh purpose - the new wood window frames stand out.. At the front of the roof is what resembles a small belfry [I have read recently what these structures are actually called, x-tower I think] built with stone blocks the size of bricks, which has later been topped with several courses of different composition. Turning around the corner there are other ornate buildings about the farmyard too. And looking now at the two-storey building from a different angle I see that rather than a flat top the different material is an angled roof to the 'belfry'. There is a large curve-topped archway partway along the side to let a horse-and-cart in (that at Binscarth Farm is on the end. A low short structure joins the end to a single-storey building a little higher that I would have said had been either a school or a chapel - there are several entrances at the front and three ?pediment-projections with a peedie oriel window in the slightly larger central one. The oddest thing is an isolated long stretch of stone-block wall running roadside in front of all. In it are two fairly narrow entrances topped by thin slabs - one's been blocked off by a single vertical slab, the other still gives access to steep stone steps going up to farmyard level. A course below their tops more thin slabs run the length of the wall, a horizonal division with the rest of the wall above topped like the pump trough wall by 'pillow' stones. The slab course minds me on another on the west side of Binscarth Farm, though that is at a higher level and seems to mark where a building was removed to make way for the farm road. It is a shame that as yet Balfour Mains does not really figure on the National Monuments Record or Historic Scotland. There's a pro's photoshoot begging to happen !
Coming down the main road we realised we still had time for a spot more tourism, and so turned left to Elwick aka Ellwick and Ellswick. It would appear that anciently all this part of Shapinsay was named after an Eliander and included the holm - Jo Ben called Helliar Holm by the name Eleorholm and it has been known by several variations of these, such as Ellyar Holm and Elhardholm (I strongly suspect that the intrusive modern haitch is from some outsider thinking this comes from halye 'flat rock'). Though this personal name is said to have been something like Elland or Elland surely in that case the balance of probabilities suggests the Orcadian name Erlend. Shapinsay as a name also has a disputed origin, with the first bit usually seen as another personal name or 'sheep' or 'ship' and the last syllable as either 'island' or perhaps 'hall'. One man thought that Shapinsay is a Saxon name, which I suppose would explain scalpandishay>shapinsay. Scapa, another disputed name, took another route, having once been Scalpa 'isthmus'. Perhaps the last element of Shapinsay is 'isthmus' too, a reference to the Riff that connects the holm to it but now only appears at low tide ?? Throwing my hat in the ring the last element can also be 'howe' or a 'Height' - and mebbe Shapin was a giant/trow ?.
They went to see Shapinsay Pottery inside a converted meal mill. Ellwick Mill only dates from 1883. It is at least as high as the tallest Balfour Main structure and is entered by a gateway with a gently arched top too. But the shop doesn't interest me when there's archaeology about, a lovely lade and a neat water-wheel with its enclosure surviving complete. From there I went to the millpond above the shoreline. Down on the shoreline assorted domestic ducks foraged near the water's edge. Perfect pastoral primacy. Turning back I had a wander inside the enclosed space next to the road where pottery starts, girt by earthen banks and a wall. A comfy place for creation, hidden from the outside. Well, apart from what looks like a long drainpipe on end. This tops a tall narrow column of pale pastel refectory bricks, much of which is encased by a rusty iron framework. Part of a small kiln I thought. Connected to this by twa rusty arms is a squat iron framework housing tightly packed bricks of an even paler hue. Against that is a table with two chairs backed against it, an intriguing tableau (groan). With the flowers in tyres ectetera this is so much nicer than a pottery shop. Just as I was getting going the others arrived for a quick look around, breaking my solitude.
Coming by the school I had time for looking at my final curiosity. The Gas Tower sits just above the shoreline and is made to ape a low wide castle tower complete with wall slits. This antik gasometer surely sits on the site of an old hoose, for built into the fabric are architectural fragments. One of the three bears the date of 1725, taking it back to the time of Cliffdale. Inside is a majestic panorama of towering drystone walling, seperated by thin slabs from an icing of several courses of red sandstone. At the bottom the structure is concrete with a 'walkway' about the circumference. I would like to have stepped down onto the floor if there had been some way to do this. How does its size compare to that earthhouse found digging for a house near Cliffdale, is my thought now. Daydream away.
The splendid gatehouse ceased being the way in a long time ago. Now a long winding road goes by the trees within the grounds of Balfour Castle [hope they are on top of the Robin's Pincushion]. It is a very understated entrance, framed by rectangular pillars with elongated pyramidions, and these in turn framed by the exceptionally tall chimneys at the end of the buildings either side.
Finally came the time for the other purpose of our visit. After an Out and About to which no locals came we fared better with the Reach Out at the Smithy reataurant (pardon pun - I didn't see it coming I swear). Several folk showed up. One of them had been with the Blide some time ago and shared her reminiscences of Orkney Blide Trust's beginnings. Again the owners put on a fine spread ; cakelets to tease the tastebud and lovely lilies to feast the eye upon. And up on the wall lovely boutique clock caught my attention.
Posted by wideford
24th October 2013ce
Coming to St Margaret's Hope (from Kirkwall) instead of turning down into the main body of the place go a little further and by the war memorial, barely outside The Hope turn left at the junction. On reaching a crossroads continue on over and down past Wheems terraced Campsite. Just past Weemys (sic) the Sorquoy Standing Stone, fourteen foot high, can be seen on partway along a field boundary on your left. NMRS record no. ND49SE 3 at ND46919140 once stood bigger, reported as sixteen feet high in 1805 so perhaps reduced by replaced soil exploratory digging in the following decades (though standing stones are apt to change their exposed height over the tears - some gain, some lose - making the identification of lesser specimens occasionally hit and miss). Three foot from the present base it's 2'6" broad and 18" deep, with a maximum thickness being 21~22" above that height. No mention is made of the projection on the top which reminds one that the Stonehenge trilithons are seen as using woodwork
techniques and that it is now seen that the original Wessex influence came from Orkney. This stone has been postulated as the one referred to in regards to the ?souterrain ND49SE 13 found near Manse, so at ~ND473915. This is described in an 1875 work as a two-foot wide underground stucture having a fine floor of water-worn stone and measuring 11' long and 2'6" high. Nearby was a stone, in height 11'. So not Sorquoy. However, whilst the Sorquoy stone is up on the bottom of a scarf slope the Papar Project were told of another standing stone closer to the shore, unfortunately de-stabilised by post-war drainage work. There are other such passages known as having been in proximity to standing stones, Near the Yinstay cairn in St Andrew's for instance is an equally little recorded one (stone one now). The Blide mini-bus parked by the kirkyard. At one time they intended to develop the land about it, only to discover this area to be fair riddled with archaeology just under the turf.
Whilst the others walked the sandy beach on this Bay of Newark I did a photographic tour around the outside of the kirkyard. Certainly lots underfoot between the shore and the two southern sides. Coming through the 'gateway' right of the wall towards Kirkhouse Point are two upstanding structures, one a roofless building with what looks like a low-walled garden the other a conical stone cairn. The latter is the base for a post-mill type windmill, ND49SE 18 ND4710190745. The former appears on the 1st O.S.
with the name Millhouse, but ND49SE 38 at ND47089078 had been the storehouse for an 18th century fisher - a stone dated 177 comes from there. Seen from here here it looks two-storey, but it is built on a slope and the 'attic' is reached by stone steps at the back. First I walked around the coastline. Here, right by the edge, there is a large deep hollow masked by vegetation Then what had seemed a random stone assemblage from a distance resolved itself into three lines of large stones, some dresssed. I assume these were the boat nausts, though overly straight-sided to my mind, but later read about seven mortared walls that were supports for a wharf, so perhaps these are them eroded further since 1997 - this inlet itself is thought to have been touched by the hand of man. At the inter-tidal end a shag sat mere metres from me. On this side of the point there are three hand-operated boat winches, of which one has the remains of a wood frame. The storehouse outside has been turned into a sort of patio and the enclosure is now a walled garden for real. Of course it is now locked and barred. There are two reclaimed benches. The shorter of the two has an ornate back inset with huge sunflowers in fretwork. Next in my itinerary is the windmill base. The question that occurs to me is was there also a 'proper' mill nearby, now under the turf or is Millhouse simply a name given to the storehouse simply from proximity to the post-mill ?
Probably the right place in my journey to say what lies beneath, or at least is suspected to from the 2007 field visit ahead of planning permission. West of the kirkyard is a sand quarry (alternatively sand dune) at ND470908 which has a wall and midden at the north end and, more importantly, structures accompanied by occupation layers at the south. There is a length of curving wall at the kirkyard's east side at ND4712790892 and to the north-east at ND4716490920 a low turf-covered mound of some kind. Only little further along the coast there is a mound on the storm beach which appears heavily quarried at the south-east. ND49SE 16 at ND47249084, aligned NE/SW and measuring some 17m by 10m roughly, is traditionally a burial ground. Because of the presence within of a similarly aligned orthostat,only 0.9m long and projecting 0.6m, and two more on the west margin in 1973 the visiting O.S. raised the possibility of its being a chambered mound. Another visit in 1981 had the O.S. discount this. Unfortunately in 2007 the mound's slabs could not be found. There are other structures and some orthostats in the vicinity. The presence of a likely kelp-pit means any more ancient remains were probably destroyed during the kelp boom.
Behind the kirkyard at Kirkhouse Point is the Millenium Stone, decorated all the way around like a standing stone totem pole – I’d much rather have a replica of the Pictish symbol stone that once resided on a church windowsill !! There was WWII activity at the east side, though the ground is a little damp. I couldn't spot the searchlight remains recorded as being "immediately" NE of the kirkyard wall, all I saw was a concrete floor with its divisions being crowded out by invasive grass and a recent mound (well away from the wall and IIRC three-sides with an open-end, so agriculural I suspect. As well as the searchlight emplacement ND49SE 54 had been the site of three huts and several likely machine-gun posts. But I did find a personal reminder in a block of concrete resembling a mooring-point. On top it has engraved RKHOUSE with curlicues top and bottom, though on a photo there may be other words badly eroded. It doesn't strike me as official, buth then again it is no scribble or idle doodle. Nice. A noisy flock of birds were inside the kirkyard, then a few sat temptingly on the wall to provide only enough photos to know they were worth the effort ! Then the flock flew down into the grassland about me. Only time I saw them was when I disturbed them - why do birds fly up when they are invisible to you ? We have two dates for North Kirk set in stone above the seaward door, 1642 and 1801. I would think the renovation came about through money from the fishery. Another name for it is St Peter's Church, and a year after its building the presbytery burned a wooden effigy of the saint - did this come from an ealier kirk on the site or had this been a re-location ? It has been remarked that this is an anomalous location for a Peterkirk, there being no broch nearby. However there is that short wall
arc, and there is the mysterious Danes Fort eastwards.
At last came the time for me to catch up to the others. In the mid-60s Mr. A.Laughton of Kirkhouse had reason to cut into a sandy knoll (the intention being to enlarge his farmyard) and on reaching a depth of some six feet came across bones in what he thought to be a stone coffin. Before uncovering any more of it he simply put the soil back, well enough that it could not be found by investigators forty years later. The track to the beach is cut deep, and above it there is what strikes me as a rather long mound with stones poking through near the top (ND469908). Coming near the bottom end I found definite walling, with a corner including a fine long stone. Gaining height the other side of a short stream I could see a rectangular mound that used to be a walled structure abutting my corner it seemed to me. On the 1st O.S. there is another building south of the present set of Kirkhouse buildings. I eventually found a record for this, it being shown at the farm's other end on PASTMAP ! ND49SE 68 at ND4689190963 is described as a drystone structure with a corn-kiln's remain attached (this shown on the 2nd 25" O.S.). Also mentioned are indications of further archaeology below ground. On a satellite image the eye of faith sees a possible circular enclosure. But that could just be the track's effect I suppose.
Attention diverted again, almost as soon as I started along the Bay of Newark my companions were coming back. Tried to walk faster but the sands suck you in. So trudging along where small plants at the edge provide more grip. The next burn along is more of a normal size and does come with a name, though my guess is that Stromispuil comes from there having been a drained pool above the strand. If puil means pool that is, though certainly Stromisuil is attached to a drain section on the 1st O.S. To avoid Sheena's dog Star charging me as I photographed my fellow travellers I stayed on the near side of the burn. She was unable to fathom that it she could just go round. So being scared of water she spent several minutes searching for a way over before throwing in the towel and jumping almost cleanly over a shallow section. Ailsa simply loves the water. She went so far out a new member thought she wouldn't come back ! Over the months this has increasingly irked Star, who stands on the shore barking like mad. Didn't take long enough to get back to the mini-bus.
As we started going uphill I could see a mound the colour of hay three fields north-east of the initial bend. A long time ago this was either on the margin of a shallow lochan or actually in it. If the latter I would bet on it being the islet one presumes gave its name to the Papley district of South Ronaldsay. I know there is a well in close proximity, but then brochs in similar positions had them too. The Kirk Ness mound, ND49SE 7 at ND47289130, is an example of a site with changing opinions. Traditionally it is a 'Danish' Fort, but last century they opined the remains were simply the homes of fishermen, which is some turnabout in fortunes. And now the locals are back to the ancient edifice viewpoint again - you can't simply ask any old locals, you need to ask locals with long ties to the land you are investigating. Like The Cairns at Eyreland/Ireland (another "Danish Fort") copious stones have been removed from this greened stony knoll at some time. In 1929 structural remains coul still be detected, but being slight were not found in 1973. This vaguely circular mound stands 2m high and is about 30m across. On the other side of the former lochan appears to have been a burnt mound, ND49SE 15 at ND47169119, as Mr Laughton often turned up black earth and burnt stone in large amounts whilst ploughing. Fancifully I think on the Wasbister burnt mound and the disc barrow on the same side of the Dyke of Seean in Stenness. Very fancifuly I'm sure.
Sheena had been keeping off chocolate until Kirsty, the new member, mentioned that by the track to the Italian Chapel the Orkney Wine folk have a peedie shop selling wines and related comestibles – you can even try a nip or two. As we had a look around I found myself sorely tempted by the chutneys, and the jams even more so. Have to plead poverty over deliciousness. Fortunately back in the minibus Kirsty gave us some to sample. Coming into St Ola a thick mist came down, horrible haar obscuring the verges. The road overlooks Scapa Flow of course, but anywhere in Orkney you are no further from the sea than seven miles, no great distance for a rolling fog (though this wasn't that dense, more of a mist like I said).
Posted by wideford
23rd September 2013ce
It seems like ages since our last trip took us across the Dee to finally meet Offa’s Dyke itself. If that river crossing represented an important landmark in our North-South crawl down the Welsh border, today will throw in a few lesser ones. For a start, we’re now on our third map (Explorer 240 – Oswestry, Ordnance Survey fans). Rather more significantly, we will leave Wales for the first time.
This is the first section of Offa’s Dyke Path we’ve attempted in a daytrip, rather than having to arrange accommodation. This is possible due to the relative proximity of the railway, so that we can get the train to Chirk and finish at Gobowen, about 7 miles plus a short bus trip at the end (albeit only 5 miles on the Dyke Path itself). Weatherwise, the contrast to our last walk, in misty February, is stark. Spring has come to the Marches and the sun is shining on semi-industrial Chirk.
We walk up from the station to the castle, as a permissive route across the grounds has just re-opened for the Spring. This takes us past an extraordinary set of wrought iron gates, then round to the castle itself, a fine example of an Edward I stronghold designed to keep the Welsh in their place. We rejoin the Path as it drops down to the Afon Ceiriog, the next in the long series of waterways that we will cross on our route.
The Ceiriog starts its journey on the slopes of Moel Fferna, the be-cairned mountain we visited on a memorable (not entirely in a good way) walk back in February. By the time it reaches us on the Path, it has flowed past numerous hilltop barrows and the hillfort at Cerrig Gwynion and will soon be joining the Dee on the other side of Chirk. For us it marks the crossing, for the first time, of the border between England and Wales.
The border follows Offa’s Dyke itself, but the frontier was contested long after the Mercian king had shuffled off. Close to our crossing, a skirmish known as the Battle of Crogen took place in 1165, when a force led by Welsh king Owain Gwynedd attacked the Angevin Henry II’s army. Henry was fortunate to escape with his life, but soon after abandoned his plans to conquer Wales and went back to dealing with turbulent priests instead. A plaque on the bridge commemorates the action.
Climbing up from the valley on its south side, a sign welcomes us into Shropshire. The Dyke forms the border all the way past Selattyn Hill, so we will be treading the frontier for a few miles now. I grew up in the Marches and crossing into Shropshire is starting to have the feel of heading home, for all that my heart generally lies in Wales these days.
Once we’ve climbed back out of the valley, there is a great view of Chirk castle behind us and also of some prominent hills to the northeast, which I think must be the Mid-Cheshire Ridge and Beeston Crag, but our way lies southwest. The Dyke here is really impressive, especially compared to what we’ve seen up until now, with a deep ditch on the west (Welsh) side. It must be said that the path would benefit from being taken off the earthwork itself though, the erosion is not good.
The Path drops steeply into Nanteris, then up stairs on the other side. Once back up onto the hillside above, there is a terrific view across North Shropshire and Cheshire, while the impressive section of Dyke continues onward. Over on a hillside to our west we can make out at least one of the cairns on Graig Wea, too distant and lacking in public access for a practical detour on this trip.
After passing Plas Crogen, the countryside ahead of us emerges as a rolling patchwork of hills and fields, with the views opening up to the southeast across Shropshire, towards the Long Mynd and Brown Clee, which must be about 40 or so miles away. We stop for lunch and metallic tea at a roadside picnic area after passing some well-preserved old lime kilns at Craignant, where the daffs are in full, splendid bloom.
Now comes the biggest hill of the day, one I’m looking forward to greatly as it boasts the first prehistoric site we’ve been to since leaving Castell Dinas Bran
. It only requires a short diversion off the Path to reach it, through an area of recently felled forestry. Standing at a reasonable 372m, the summit of Selattyn Hill is high enough to command excellent views into Shropshire, as well as of the Berwyns to our west and (I think) the Breiddins to the south. Seeing the former gives me much pleasure, as we sure didn’t see much when we were on them!
The monument here is a ring cairn, sadly much trashed by the plonking of a stupid Victorian tower (now itself ruined) in its centre. However, traces of the stonework that comprised the ring can still be seen protruding through a heather covering. The construction is a wide bank of large blocks of stone, and would have been pretty impressive without the tower. It is best seen on the northern arc, the southern being very overgrown. It’s a great spot though, now that the surrounding forestry has been felled to open up the views, and should be even better once the resulting debris has started to break down. There is another cairn (Orsedd Wen
) on the next hill to the west, but we can’t make this out today. It is also noticeable how few footpaths there are on the Welsh side of the border here.
Whatever the post-Roman politics of the Welsh border, Selattyn represents a natural frontier, as the last hill above 1,000 ft before the drop down to the Cheshire/North Shropshire plain to the east. Certainly a worthy place for the twelve urns containing burnt human bone, found here when the tower was built.
At length we head off south, alongside an ancient field boundary composed of huge boulders and an equally large field clearance heap. I find a small sliver of flint on the path, apparently worked (but broken) and certainly not native to this part of Shropshire.
We take our leave rather sadly, back to the Path for the last section of the day. South of Carreg-y-Big (the hamlet), the path leaves the Dyke and instead climbs Baker’s Hill on the road. We finally part with the Path on Racecourse Common above Oswestry, before a rather tedious couple of miles of B-road takes us down into the town, for tea and the bus back to Gobowen.
The Path rejoins the Dyke south of Orsedd Wen. The next section of the earthwork is once again particularly fine. Just after it passes through a little wood, a footpath heads off eastwards and will take us to the second Bronze Age treat of the day, which can be seen from the Dyke.
Standing 2m tall, Carreg-y-Big is probably Shropshire’s tallest standing stone, just topping the large pillar at Mitchell’s Fold to the south. The name looks like it should mean “The Big Stone”*. Damn accurate with their names, these Welsh folk (I know, it’s not in Wales). I was mainly aware of this one from Postie’s lovely snow-bound pictures from a year and a bit earlier, but it looks equally impressive in watery Spring sunlight.
I’m particularly taken with the quartz vein running through the stone, being a sucker for a bit of quartz. There is also evidence of packing at the stone’s base. The positioning is slightly obscured from the east due to a hedge, but otherwise the stone would be prominent and just the kind of thing that could be used as a way marker, perhaps pointing the way to nearby Selattyn Hill
ring cairn. Cynynion
, a further, very similar, stone lies a mile and a half SSW.
Although we’ve only managed another 5 miles of Path, this takes us just over the 50-mile mark overall. The southwards progress feels palpable now that we’ve reached Shropshire and are heading towards countryside I know (or at least once knew). Rather than the tail between legs retreat of Henry II, we can stride onward with renewed confidence. Our next trip will take us to one of Shropshire’s - and indeed England’s - premier hillforts, so there’s much to look forward to.
*Not true, sadly. Rhiannon suggests "Peak(y)/Point(y) Stone", which seems more likely.
Posted by thesweetcheat
16th September 2013ce
Another grand day in paradise as the Blide group of Out and About folk headed down to South Ronaldsay in a full minibus again, picking up a member in the south isles. The road to Hoxa we used starts in the centre of The Hope by the Smiddy museum which one member expressed an interest in seeing sometime (its actually attached to the bus waiting room, so even in the worst of weather those travelling by public transport have a no-brainer !). Along the way we passed the Oyce of Quindry, a tidal inlet where they used to play the Ba'.
Arrived at the Sand o'Wright aka Sands of Wright. Even though it was only an hour off high tide the beach looked expansive, and at extra-wide I still had to take three shots with my camera to capture it all.between the headlands. Most of the group headed east to the high cliffs at the Roeberry Taing, where they looked like tiny dolls at their foot. I suspect another Groatie Buckie hunt took place, these cowries as emblematic of good luck as their Pacific cousins. A few of us headed over the other direction where a fine swell washed the shore my much lower cliffs (though still too high for those with an aversion to owt much above a man's height). There is meant to be a 'new' track along the low cliffs, but I couldn't make this out from the below. Along the way the sparkling swell sometimes caught me out! Some waves rose glassy green, elsewhere they alternated plain with foam as if designed so. After a while the main body came towards us and we three set off to meet them. Several stranded jellyfish littered the sand, as did a peedie still-living crab missing all legs but one - Kev took pity and threw it into the sea.
Coming up off the beach I was intrigued by a long low mound set against the base of the hillside in the sharp corner of a field and covered liberally with stones. On top an area of sand has been exposed but still with some stone. At the mounds downhill side I thought lines of dark grass might show where walls had been, though I have since read in a Current Archaeology report of "buried ditches forming dark green lines during dry conditions". In June 1871 the sandy knoll called Kirkiebrae was trenched in several places to reveal a likely encampment, with burnt stones forming a hearth and containing a large number of animal bones. On the hearth was found a stone quern ("rubber"), a piece of deer bone and a broken fine toothed iron pin fastened bone comb with a set of concentric circles paralleled in southern England. At one spot a fine red and yellow substance was mixed up with a large quantity of ashes. None of which sounds ecclesiastical, but this is traditionally the site of a St Colm's Chapel established by Columba's disciple Cormac from Iona in the early seventh century (Ladykirk down at Burwick had the same dedication). It seems strange that this building has disappeared completely. Anyway the piece that had attracted my attention is not the one on record. Instead they have a hillock above the beach on the other side of the wall as it - ND49SE 4 at ND42229369 - though Kirk Geo is nearer my candidate. The owner of Roeberry Farm called Kirkie Brae a natural grassy knoll with sand exposed in the top from having been used in the wartime (an aerial photo indicates the putative machine-gun post faced the Dam of Hoxa, though it looks as much a broch to my eyes). The dimensions given are 2.5m high and roughly 17m NW/SE by some 13m on the other axis. It is described as having a modern wall about the north and east edges and at the top of the NE side what might be signs of a former building in an outer face of yard-long foot-high drystane walling.
To the north is the Howe of Hoxa, a long sloping mound near the west end of the Dam of Hoxa with an elevation at the high point hiding the broch just behind the house. Climb all the way up and you see into the broch from top to bottom as put back together by George Petrie after he excavated it. Many years ago since I have been there. Then the interior was full of nettles, and global warming will have made matters worse since. Definitely view from the top.
Traditionally the earl Thorfinn Skullsplitter lies buried in Hoxa, with the mound being identified as the spot. But archaeologists can only find indications of settlement at the lower end. However near the east end of the Dam of Hoxa an empty long cist came to light in the vicinity of Swart(e)quoy/Swartiquoy, and early Christians were wont to re-bury their pagan ancestors. Waters are a little muddied by a reference to the discovery of graves, plural, outside the enclosure excavated in 1871 as no remains are mentioned in connection with the cist (ND49SW 11 at ND43099413). This NNE/SSW aligned cist, came from 2'8" deep inside a mound and mostly formed from slabs. At a distance of 4'6" from it another slab stood parallel to the east side's south end slab, both of which rose to a foot above the mound, and he found a 12" by 9½" whalebone vessel. A strange layout it seems to me. Anyways, Petrie believed the Swartquoy enclosure had been "an earthen encampment" because of its being within a strong rampart of earth and stone. This is undoubtedly the same site as Mayfield (ND49SW 13 at ND 43079416), though as described it may include the cist location too - in 1973 the OS talks of a D ~45m in diameter whereas in 1997 Moore and Wilson give us a sub-circular enclosure 'only' 30m across. But more easily reconcileable as area blocked off by the feature's two semi-circular ramparts though. The inner rampart is the better surviving at a maximum height of 1.3m, especially at the north side where it is 5m across (but 1997 account gives bank dimensions as 1.5m high but only 3m wide). At the widest point of the inner rampart a probable eastern entrance (NE in 1997 account) is indicated by two earthfast slabs 0.8m apart. The outer rampart isn't so obvious, and even then can only be seen in the NE quarter and some of the SE quarter. A 0.6m deep ditch across the middle of the enclosure had been some 2~2.5m wide. The enclosure's western end barely survives but is likely to have extended to where you can now see a boat shed's ruined foundations as rubble and peaty deposits lie in a 2m wide vertical cut at the cliffs. Must go there sometime.
Back on firmer ground, and after taking photos of my candidate for the kirk I realise we would not be going any further. Beyond the toilet block are the large foundations of a wartime camp (the pillbox elsewhere is not in its original position, by the way). Running slowly ahead I think I have spotted the other end of the trail I would have taken them on, except you'd have to negotiate a field-gate.
Once back onboard the minibus I persuaded our leader to go to W. Hourston's smithy museum, as sufficient time remained to do so. In the event a different member came with me to the smithy - the rest went to see a craftshop (where for once Sheena garnered no wool!). Hourston's smithy is in a long low building with the old forge in the central section. Go through to the right and there is a large collection of black-and-white photos. The bus waiting-room is seperate. Its wall is a round sweep at the corner of the road, preserving the original curve made to accomodate horse-driven vehicles. At the back a further, lower, building abuts the central section, continuing the roof line. Alas the garden behind has its gate roped up now because it was bonnie when I went. Entering the middle section there's the forge on your right and a selection of instruments in front of you and overhead. Most obvious are two hand-driven pedestal tools, a drill and a lathe operated by turning a wheel. In the low room behind the forge I saw a
large thin-rimmed metal wheel and a pneumatic bellows operated by a long handle. As I came out of this room the lady in charge showed me a big bellows you work by hand to light an imitation fire on top of the forge, which felt satisfying to operate. Seeing the room full of antique photographs attracted my attention but didn't spike it this particular day.
On leaving I had time to walk towards the Doctors Road, which I remembered fondly from a previous visit (from before all these new roads). Up from the museum above the other side of the road the stone walls of an old (?abandoned) building drew me to it. Small stone slabs making up the roof, with two peedie window-holes, and a knock-down imitation of crow-stepped gables. At the front the stones had more honeyed tones and I saw the usual slop-roofed abutting shed that goes with such Early Modern homes. The doctors hoose, Bankburn, sits at the end of its road and is a small late.mansion house with square gate pillars topped by stepped pyramids of more stone blocks. Directly before Bankburn I took a turn up a footpath running outside the walls. Here along the path I chanced upon a long patch of bonnie pale purple/pink flowers, a member of the Dead Nettle family with toothed lanceolate leaves held on a tall stem. Possibly a garden escape but very we;lcome scattered there.The path ends in what I would have thought could be a small dump except for the 'cabin' there. Could have walked over to the new road if I hadn't born in mind my propensity for a wander too far ! Going back a graceful grey-and-white pusser sat in the road, watching. She had a lovely face, so I took a few photos. As I neared she finally departed without so much as a peep.
Back in the centre again there were a couple of members already back at the Blide bus. No-one else yet, so I went to the sea-front to look at an old slipway, the central portion is built using edgeset slabs just like you see in some of the cathedral arches in the upper section. Its quite a common technique in Orkney and seems to have been used for a long time for various structures - the top of the old Toy Ness pier in Orphir is made in the same way. By what used to be a damn fine place to eat (now up for sale) there is the eye-catching sweep of a row of traditional shorefront houses, now let down by the brash white of the new buildings at the far end. Finally the others came back from a cafe - lucky beggars, I didn't even get into the nearby shop for a look-see - and we were off backski.
Posted by wideford
8th September 2013ce
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