By Bernie Bell
We’ve been to Sandside Bay, Deerness many times. Easter Sunday was very windy and we thought that Sandside might be reasonably sheltered. We usually turn down a track and park in a small car park about midway along the Bay – this time a padlocked gate blocked the way! So we did a quick re-think, and bethought ourselves of St Ninian’s Kirk, just along the road.
We have been to St. Ninian’s before, as the Kirk has very good acoustics and is also used as a music venue, sometimes as part of the Orkney Folk Festival…http://www.orkneyfolkfestival.com/. The music presented here is usually acoustic, and the effect of this kind of music – in this building – in this setting – is….indescribable.
The place has some kind of magic to it and, thankfully, is being taken care of by the Friends of St. Ninian’s Trust.
I’ll now blatantly quote myself from a previous article in TON….https://theorkneynews.scot/2018/10/13/the-old-kirks-of-orkney-vikings/
“St. Ninians stands on the site of an unusual church with two towers http://www.deernessorkney.co.uk/index.php/friends-of-st-ninians/history-and-heritage/79-the-early-story-of-christianity-in-deerness , which stood on the site of an even earlier church. Canmore again…. https://canmore.org.uk/site/2931/skaill-st-marys-church
There is a Viking burial ground nearby which was probably associated with one of the earlier churches. We know someone who, on asking for permission to camp near there was directed to a patch of land, camped there happily, only to be told the next morning that he’d been camping in the Viking graveyard! His rest hadn’t been disturbed, so maybe the Vikings are long gone from there – or were sleeping off a heavy night!”
We’ve been there to listen to music, but had never really had a look round the churchyard, so we drove along and tucked ourselves in by the side of the Kirk porch. Due to Covid restrictions the Kirk presently doesn’t have regular opening times, but visits can be arranged by contacting the Friends of St. Ninian’s.
Looking through the window of the porch it is possible to see an exceptional example of a Hogback grave marker…..
This time, I’ll quote from Caroline Wickham Jones’s ‘Orkney – A Historical Guide’….
“A fine Hogsback tombstone was found in a corner of the graveyard and must date to the earlier church. It is a typical hogback and has a depiction of four rows of roof tiles carved along its length. It’s made of red sandstone and must date to the late 11th or early 12th Century.
Skaill is recorded as the home of Thorkell Fotri, foster father of Earl Thorfinn, and recent excavations to the north of the church have uncovered traces of a high status Norse settlement, as well as earlier Pictish remains.”
We carried on through the main gates into the Kirkyard…
Admiring the metal railings along the top of the wall……
Walking straight down the central path of the burial ground, it’s possible to see how the site now perches precariously on the edge of the land.
From the lower corner of the Kirkyard, we looked left to the sweep of Sandside Bay, which we usually access from the other end….
We saw two War Memorials – one outside ……..and one inside………
We left the Kirkyard and followed the wall round and down, heading for the beach and noting again how the Kirkyard is balanced on the edge of an eroding coastline. If not for quite major sea defences, those graves would be lost to the sea.
We were intending to turn left and walk along the Bay, as we usually do from the other end, but, realising that we had never walked along right under the Kirkyard wall, we decided to try that instead.
All of Sandside Bay has lovely stones with patterns, lines, colours and shapes in and on them. Nature’s art works ….
A Viking Warrior, complete with helmet?
An Ancient Egyptian cartouche?
And – always a favourite of mine – ripple rock – is it water? Is it sand? Is it rock?
We could see the curve of the next bay along…
…but the rain started to come on more heavily – driven on a strong wind – stinging our faces. When that happens I tell myself that it’s good for my complexion, but enough was enough, so back to the car and on to the car park for the Covenanters Memorial https://theorkneynews.scot/2020/08/12/remembering-the-covenanters/ for sandwiches, choccie bars and tea with a dropeen.
A grand, if wet & windy, outing for Easter Sunday 2021 – we had no idea of what was coming on Easter Monday!!! SNOW!!!
The view through our living room window…………..
Re-reading the Canmore information about the hogback stone I realised that I should have said that it is now in the Session Room of the Kirk, not the porch.
It looked like a porch – but I want to get it right!