For all these walks, take a good map with you, and wear stout footwear!
We’d been meaning to go to the Cottascarth R.S.P.B. reserve walk, for quite some time, but never got round to it, so we did, one Sunday, one September. You drive through the farmyard of Lower Cottisgarth , and park in the small car park, to your right, then set off, walking up the track. As you walk along, if you look over to your right, you’ll see a cairn. This cairn is sometimes more, sometimes less outstanding in the landscape, as you look at it from different places along the whole of the walk. It’s a modest little cairn, but somehow makes its presence felt. Also, there’s a fence running right over it. It appears to be where a number of field boundaries join. Possibly farmers using it as an outstanding feature in the landscape, to mark their boundaries? Did the ancient folk, use it for that purpose, too?
Anyway, carry on along the path, and you get to an old ruin. If you have a good walk and look round here, it’s a great place. It was once a mill, and the wheel is still there. There’s a big sycamore tree at the front of the house, and someone has taken great care to make a little bird/seal/fish figure out of wood, and fix it on a branch of the tree.
It’s one of those quirky things you find, here and there, now and then. The house is very peaceful and welcoming. If you walk right round it, you can see that there will have been lots of orchids at the front, when they were in flower. It’s simply a lovely place.
If you carry on, past the RSPB bird hide, you’ll notice a strong little burn running down. Just up from the hide, and just above one of the crossing places for the burn, there’s a little peaty pool, with a golden waterfall!!! Seriously, the peaty water is brown, in the pool, but, falling over the little waterfall, it’s golden! I got very, very excited, and washed my hands and thanked the spirit of place, for giving me such a place to wash my hands. Mike drank some, which may not be wise, but he does things like that! I needed to wash my hands, after tickling a calf on the way up, which had thoroughly slobbered me.
Through all of this, just keep standing, and looking, at the place it’s in, how it sits in the land. It’s in a little dip in the Rendall Hills, looking over to the sea. It also looks straight across to the cairn on the top of Enya’s Hill, in Gorseness. What an outlook! Across to the cairn on Enya’s Hill, across to the little cairn in the vale, across to the sea, the islands, and all the other cairns and significant places which they hold. Simply a wonder-full place, the kind of place, it does you good to visit. If you do go there, say “hello” to them from me. When the mill was working, it was quite a sociable place, with people bringing their grain to be ground, and have a chat. Not many people go there now, and, when they do, it’s mostly for the bird hide and they don’t stop for a chat. They haven’t had proper visitors, for a long time, and they appreciate it.
Re. Enya’s Hill – it’s worth mentioning that Enya is the Celtic goddess of life. In Ireland, near where some of my family live, is Knockainy, presumably in honour of the same entity. Just across from Knock Fearna, (maybe not spelt right) all part of a sacred landscape including Lough Gur, Grange stone circle etc, in County Limerick.
The little mill at Cottisgarth reminded me of my mother’s family farm in Ireland, in County Sligo, so I felt very much at home, there. It also put me in mind of a place on the island of Rousay. When you walk along from Mid Howe, along the coast, and you come to where there are a lot of more recent ruins, of farmhouses which were in use until relatively recently. There’s a real feeling there, of lives well lived, of people taking care of each other, and of the land. When we went there, we both loved the place. Well tended land, always appeals to me, and the whole area, just smacks of years of careful cultivation, looking after the land, the stonework, and each other.. The area around the mill at Cottascarth has a similar feel to it, though the land is boggy, and not very good, the place has the same air of being cared for. Maybe the land was better, then?
And so, we returned to the car. Not a very long walk, but one with a lot to it.
Bernie Bell is a regular columnist with The Orkney News and has written a series of ‘Walks with Stories’ – check out more of them.