Bernie Bell’s Orkney Walks: Winwick to Halcro Head

The Alternative Gloup

Mike and I are walking the South Ronaldsay East Coast paths.  As I’m a bit of a knackered old person, we’re doing them in short-ish stages – bit by bit.  Yesterday, we walked the section from Winwick to Halcro Head.  You park in the small car park at Winwick, then walk down the road a little bit before turning left, along the burn, towards the beach. This section of path was very overgrown – it’s high summer, and I don’t think that many folk walk it, so I was fighting my way between nettles, meadow-sweet and reeds which were taller than me!  Just as you get to the beach, the path turns to the right, up the cliff.

As you walk up the cliff, keep turning round to look down along the coast. On a clear day, a long stretch of the coast un-furls as you go along  – headland after headland, with Copinsay standing out in the water off-shore.  It’s magnificent – that’s the only word for it.

We followed the path. And then,  as we approached Halcro Head, Mike noticed that we could see The Eagle Cairn , down by the cliffs, over to our right. This was a new angle on the cairn for us. We’ve always approached it from the Visitor Centre at Liddle farm.  It was good to see it from a different perspective –  to see the sweep of the rocks in front of the cairn. We mean to walk that section next, from the Eagle Cairn up to Halcro Head, so this view showed us on our next walk.

From this spot we could see right across to Scotland, with the Pentland Skerries in between. What a spot – what a view!

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The Gloup (B Bell)

We then found ourselves at the Gloup.  There is a gloup in Deerness, which I think is more well-known. That is a spectacular and dramatic place.  This gloup, is more modest, but has it’s own drama and effect.  There are two viewing platforms with steps going up to the railing for….viewing.

The information board told us that local people used to throw their worn-out old horses into the gloup as a way of getting rid of them.  I sincerely hope that they killed them first – I sincerely hope that.  Folk often don’t consider other creatures as much as they should do.

So, the steps provided a convenient place to sit and have our cuppatea, with a drop of Jameson’s added. We each left the last swally, stepped back up the steps, and threw a libation over the fence, into the gloup, for the horses and the Spirit of Place – who never asked to have dead horses thrown at him.

We thought of the ancient folk from the Eagle Cairn and wondered what they made of the gloup. I’m not sure if it would have been there, then, as these ‘sink holes’ can happen at any time, when the rock is ready to fall in.  If it was there, back in the old times, what did the people make of it?  Did they throw things into it, as offerings?

We then turned and retraced our steps.

As we walked back, and Winwick , The Cairns and the position of the Neolithic site near The Cairns came into view, we also wondered if those people gave thought to the gloup? Especially the Iron Age folk.   In the Iron Age they were very keen on going deep down.  Did these people maybe see the gloup as an entrance to the Underworld? And did they throw offerings of some kind into it?  I would dearly like to see what lies at the bottom of that gloup – apart from the horse bones, that is.

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Photo B Bell

On our way to the gloup, we’d seen this sign……..

And wondered why someone had placed  a little model of a horse on it.  On the way back, having read the information board, we knew why.  Presumably this is some kind of continuation of an awareness of the old habit/tradition of throwing defunct horse into the gloup – someone still remembering and marking that practice.

We continued back to the car, and went to The Sands at Burray for us teas.

Another grand day out.

Bernie Bell is a regular contributor to the Orkney News, check out some of her other stories and walks on our site.

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4 replies »

  1. The horse on the sign may be a reference to Hesta Head which you can see looking north. Hesta comes from the Norse for horse as the head is supposed to resemble a horse’s head – just about from some angles! My house – Hestily or Hestly – also refers to this.

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