Newark Bay – Life On The Edge Of The Ocean

By Bernie Bell

Pics by B&M Bell

We’ve walked Newark Bay – Deerness,  many times, but I haven’t written about it, until now.  I did mention it, here……..

The Bay  does collect a lot of rubbish – plastic rubbish – I think that’s because it faces the North Sea, that poor beleaguered ocean, which has all sorts of crap thrown into it, which then washes up at places like Newark. Most of the beaches of Orkney are clean – partly due to remote location, partly due to tides, and partly due to the effort of local folk who take part in ‘Bag The Bruck’, and ‘Pick Up Three Pieces’.

Newark Bay, just happens to be facing the wrong way, and so, collects more than its fair share of rubbish.  The plus side of this, can be the things you find there.   We found a very useful big blue round thing which is now one of the herb containers in our veg patch….

gardening 11 B Bell

And some good whirly bits of metal, which form part of my ‘installation’ – only joking!  We have an arty friend, who refers to it as my installation – I say it’s my archaeological dig, and charge people 5 quid to look at it!

It’s actually stones which Mike cleared when he made the veg patch, then I messed with them a bit until I liked the look of it, and…now…it’s my……whatever it is! I’ve just noticed – it’s the same shape as the outline of Africa!

I was reminded of Newark Bay, when I saw a notice the Orkney Archaeology Society Facebook page, asking for help with filling and placing extra sand bags to protect an ancient Chapel at the far end of the Bay, to try to stop it being claimed by the sea.

The Bay also faces the right/wrong way for receiving some of the worst of the weather we’ve been having lately,  and the archaeology of the area, has been suffering.

This is the case at many of the ancient sites of Orkney – the sea is eating away at them. County  Archaeologist Julie Gibson, and photographer Frank Bradford put together a book named ‘Rising Tides’   which deals well with this problem.

Some sites are being lost, some are being found.

And so, we thought we’d go to Newark Bay, to see what has been happening.  Having  dodged the Trowies at Trowietown, at the end of the road leading to the Bay, we turned slightly to the right, and tucked ourselves into a small car park, up on the cliff, which has a wonderful outlook across to Copinsay (Spellcheck always offers ‘Popinjay’!) and the Horse of Copinsay.  The Bay has a lovely sandy beach, looking across to where the recent archaeology rescue attempt has been made …

There is a picnic place, by the old winches which were used for hauling boats up the slipway..

picnic place Newark Bell

We then headed down to walk along the beach, passing an anchor, with its history attached to a whalebone – useful things, whalebones…..

Did we begin the archaeology with a Motte & Bailey Castle?  Naaaa – just a splendid sandcastle, with aspirations……..

sandcastle Newark beach Bell

From the beach we could see the wall of sandbags, and, looking at the waves on what was a day of quite gentle winds, could get some idea of how and why this site is being eroded so badly, and was in need of some TLC…

And so, cutting up from the beach, and on to the cliff-top path, we came upon the remains of the Chapel, with their newly acquired defences.  It was something of a case of ‘Orkney Ancient & Modern’, as there is a stoat trap in place…

chapel remains Newark stoat trap Bell

The folk who used this chapel and lived in the area, didn’t have a problem with stoats – that’s a newly acquired problem . They, no doubt, had problems of their own to deal with, and didn’t have access to the resources that we have, for doing so.

The outline of the chapel is plain to see, especially the internal layout –

chapel remains Newark Bell

There is what looked to me like a drain –

Why would they need a drain, in or by a chapel? I don’t know! – that’s for the archaeologists to figure out – if it is a drain.

The work done here, is a valiant attempt….

remains of chapel and coastal erosion Newark Bell

But, the sea laughs at sandbags, and walls, and human defences. We were pleased to have had the opportunity to come to this place, at this time, and think about the sequence of life there – the souterrain – prehistoric (maybe Iron Age?),  the Pictish stone, the Viking settlement, the ancient chapel, and all those people, living their lives there.  Now, we look around, and there are a few farms and houses dotted about the landscape, not such a busy place now – but the life is still there, being lived.  And, it’s also still there, under the earth, being eroded out,  and away to the sea.

Some of the stones from the Chapel, might have been used to build the nearby farm wall, so – there is some continuity of use.

And – the archaeologists are having the opportunity to study and record these sites, before they disappear.

On the way to Newark, we stopped at Dingieshowe , at the toilet block, and I noticed this ……….

Dingieshowe Bell

– ‘the sea giveth, and the sea taketh away’. It deposits in some places, covering things up, and eats away at others – revealing.

We used to live in Suffolk, and often walked at Dunwich.

Though not on the scale of Dunwich, what has happened and is happening at Newark, has some parallels.

When we first went to live in Suffolk, and walked along near the old Priory, we walked through a small piece of woodland, which used to be part of the cemetery. There was a headstone of a man buried in 17?? , to our right, about 30/40 feet back from the path. Gradually, the cliff to the left advanced, and so the path got nearer to the headstone. Then, one time we went there, the path had been moved, and the headstone was now on the left of the path. Eventually, it disappeared, and the man’s bones, presumably went onto the beach and then into the sea, as many had done before him When we walked on the beach there, Ben-The-Dog would find bones, play with them, throw them about, chew on them. Maybe some of them were from people – who knows – maybe Ben could tell the difference – but to him, bones were bones, and good fun, who or what ever they had come from!

If you’re walking on the beach at Newark Bay, and you find a bone ….you never know!

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7 replies »

  1. Another good piece trying to raise awareness of the effects of coastal erosion but can I turn to seaborne rubbish. We on the east side of Shetland get similar marine detritus, fish boxes, bits of nets, etc but when we walk on the west side we have often picked-up more domestic type rubbish much of it bearing labels that would seem to indicate that it had been washed across the Atlantic from the Eastern seaboard of the USA & Canada, with the most likely culprit being New York!!!

    • Bernie…Thank you for the kind remarks re mine and Frank’s book!! Without wanting to be a killjoy, if the bones are human then they are someone’s ancestors. The Newark project is brilliant, the graveyard there has been eroding for decades at least, and so glad you were able to help out with its protection – and it is a great example of community action and research. If you find bones at Newark (or anywhere else in Orkney) they need – legally – to be reported, not played with, and never removed from the banks without landowners consent! So for the avoidance of doubt please report all human bones to a) the police and b) me the council archaeologist
      Cheers and heres to many happy hours on the beautiful Orkney shores.

      • You are absolutely right, Julie – and it’s well worth pointing this out.

        Just to be clear – I don’t remember Ben-The-Dog finding bones at Newark. The only interesting bone we found there, is a jawbone, of, I think, a seal, with holes in it – which I thought might have been used as a flute. I did ask Gemma MacGregor , who knows about these things, and she doubted it. I still have it on my bookcase, because – well…. maybe.

        It was at Dunwich, that Ben used to pick up bones. Not always, but, sometimes, yes, they were there, on the beach, and he got to them first. Being a terrier – well, you know what a terrier is like with a stick – much worse about letting go of a bone.
        Maybe we should have made more effort to take them from him, but – I tended to think that – they were eroding out like billy-oh – they were being washed away – the folk are long gone – let them go.

        I did find one bone, which looked like it could be a human rib – I referred to it as the Old Monk’s Bone, because of the nearby ruined Priory. OK – I hold my hands up – I took it home with me, but – before we left the area – we ceremonially took it back to where we found it, I asked for peace for him, and threw it into the sea.
        This was before I was as much aware of what should be done in these situations, as I am now.

        This article gives something of how I ‘approach’ bones………….

        So, to sum up – Julie is absolutely correct – if you find bones which might be human – please report them – especially if they are eroding out of a cliff or bank of earth – please, don’t mess with them – tell Julie!!!!

        I’d find it hard to tell if they were human, unless it was a skull, or what was obviously part of a skeleton. If I thought they were human, I would do the right thing – but I have to admit to being a bit lackadaisical about a lot of things. I am more of a hippie, than an archaeologist.

        I do some things I shouldn’t, and don’t do some things, I should.

        Mea culpa.

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