A Bit Of An Expedition To Birsay

By Bernie Bell

Pics by B&M Bell

An OS map and good footwear are strongly advised for this expedition!

Archaeo-astronomer, Douglas Scott, sent me a copy of his recent paper on some of the archaeological sites of Orkney . To view click on this link:

In this paper Dougie mentions a cairn, with associated standing stones, in Birsay – and I’d never heard of them!  They are the Stanerandy Standing Stones, https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=10202

There are so many ancient sites here in Orkney – and more keep being found – it’s hard to keep up with them all!  It’s always great to hear about ‘new’ ones. There are quite a few things in Dougie’s paper which are new to me – makes for interesting reading – and has some stunning pictures!

Also, we’d read about Long Gloup, easiest accessed at the end of Northside, with one waterfall at the head and another along the side. Gloups hold a fascination for me, and we’d been meaning to go to look for this for some months, so, we decided to put the two places together and have an expedition to Birsay – a cairn, standing stones, Gloup, waterfalls – can’t be bad.

It’s a bit hard to describe how to get to the cairn and stones – here goes…..look on the OS map of the area, and find Kirbuster Farm Museum, between the lochs of Boardhouse and Hundland. Drive past the Museum – maybe visit another time?https://theorkneynews.scot/2017/08/07/bernie-bell-having-a-yarn-in-kirbuster/

Turn left, going towards The Barony – turn right at Gelderhouse and, driving slowly along the road as it bends to the left,  you’ll get your first sighting of the standing stones, in a field over to your left. The cairn and stones are marked on the OS map.

We tucked the car in at the side of a wide entrance to a driveway, making sure we weren’t in anyone’s way. We then walked up and down the road, taking photos and “Ooooing ” and Aaaahing!”

Back to Gelderhouse, and, turning right, we drove down the road then parked carefully and walked along, taking some photos of the stones, standing out on the skyline.

It seemed a bit unusual to have a cairn, with standing stones on top of it. We wondered if the stones were the remains of the internal stones of the cairn? So, when we got home, I looked it up on Canmore, https://canmore.org.uk/site/1768/stanerandy, where the impression is, that there was a cairn, or barrow, and the stones were later additions. Still, to me, a bit unusual to put standing stones on top of a cairn?  Maybe I’m mistaken, but I can’t think of other examples.  I can think of a cairn with a stone inside – Bryn Celli Ddu on Anglesey  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bryn_Celli_Ddu –  but stones placed on top? 

We then carried on along that road, turning right at The Barony, and along to Northside, turning right towards Long Gloup, which can be easily seen from the road, and has a small car park.

We noticed a marker of the St. Magnus Way on the gate leading to the path on the left hand side of the Gloup …

…..and realised that it must be part of the Evie to Birsay section of the Way. https://www.stmagnusway.com/route/evie-to-birsay

Through the gate, and walking along the left hand side of the Gloup, listening to the sea, glouping down below – we passed a waterfall, and watched the waves, whooshing and swirling………

Another sign for the St. Magnus Way, ironically enough by what looks like some WW2 structures?

Magnus was a man of peace.

Where the end of the Gloup opens out to the sea, we could see along the coastal cliffs in one direction …..

….and along to the Brough of Birsay in the other direction.

It’s a wonderfully open, airy spot, which, on this day, was swept by rain-washed winds.  It does you good to go to somewhere like that  – our thanks to Martin Howe, who wrote of the Birsay Gloup, in the ’comments’ to this article about the more well-known Deerness Gloup…. https://theorkneynews.scot/2019/09/15/two-go-glouping-in-deerness/

We thought we’d then walk along the right-hand side of the Gloup, which is where I met with a snag. There is quite a steep gully, with steps and a chain hand-rail going down into it, but then, a path going up the other side, which I couldn’t manage. I might have struggled up it, but coming back down would have been very uncomfortable!  So Mike went ahead, while I stood about and communed with the Fulmars until he got back.

Mike took a picture of the rock the top of the waterfall – ripple rock – was once the bed of a sea, or lake, now, on a cliff-top. Time – frozen.

We then drove to the car park for the Brough of Birsay and ate our sandwiches in the car.  It wasn’t a day to sit outside to eat them!  In fact, it would have been a day to go to the Birsay Bay Tearoom for something hot, but I’m still not going anywhere indoors where there are unknown people, and, after our gloup-top walk, sandwiches and tea with a drop of Jameson’s,  was just as welcome.

We sat and watched the sea being very dramatic around the base of the Brough, then – home, passing lots of Christmas lights on the way.

Ed’s Note: Please be aware of the dangers when walking at cliff tops:

Additional Note:  Since Steve went for his walk and Bernie Bell wrote about it, a lot more of the cliff has fallen 

7 replies »

  1. Bernie, beautiful and interesting places as usual, I remember most of them. But to keep an old hill-trekker and skier happy would you add to your rucksack a good compass, a really warm extra sweater, a GPS Tracker and a ‘fully charged mobile phone’. Probably like an umbrella in fine weather take and you never need it but don’t and you get soaked. Oh, and can I suggest a decent pair of hill boots, your feet get awfully tired and sore in wellies, well mine do, LOL. And don’t forget something to eat, Kendal Mint is VG.

    • Yes – mobile phone – before we leave the house, I always ask Mike – “Have you got your phone?”
      Tho’ if he had an accident, I don’t know how to work the bloody thing!

  2. standing stones and cairn see the Comet Stone along the way to the Ring of Brodgar, one stone still high the others among the grass broken off

  3. Thanks for another fascinating walk with you and sharing your discoveries. We visited The Gloup for the first time several years ago not knowing what a wonderful place it is despite staying twice in Birsay in the ‘70s. Great photos. Rosie

  4. I was told an interesting thing about the Stanerandy Stones by the man who lives in the hoose nearest them. He told me that what is now the smaller of the stones was shattered by a fire lit atop the cairn on VE Day in 1945, an event still recalled by older members of the community. The top half of the stone can clearly be seen flat on the cairn, under its stump.
    It’s a great spot anyway – on the horizon as you approach up the hill from the Palace and right where the land starts to fall away to the Loch of Boardhouse.

    • Thanks for this Tom – all part of the story – and I’ll send this on to Dougie Scott too.

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