Thoughts On Structures Being More Than What The Eye Can See

By Bernie Bell

Reading another of Sigurd Towrie’s most excellent series of pieces in the Ness of Brodgar blog….

….got me thinking – as Sigurd’s writing always does – this time about other examples of the varied forms of re-use of structures and the materials they were made from.

I was reminded of years ago when I lived in Wales, and I was invited to a wedding in St. David’s – in the cathedral no less!  The couple could have their wedding there as the bride was from a very long-standing local farming family who had been in that area, on their farm……….forever.

After the reception we went back to the house, and …it was a labyrinth of corridors, passages, stairs, rooms. It had started as a modest farm house – family grew – married – over time – possibly centuries – it expanded. A  familiar story in the kind of old farmhouse I’m describing.  A total mystery to some relatives from London.  Adding, taking away, knocking through – sometimes not thinking through the knocking through, and bits fell down!  

The house just about ‘sat’ in the land – settled in.

There’s the re-use at my own family’s farm, as written of here…… .  And, since then, the layers and layers of occupation and usage at Skaill Farm just keep on being revealed……

The other thing I’m thinking of is my ramblings about The Cairns broch in South Ronaldsay…… and all that has since been discovered there. 

On Wednesday 28th of April, site Director at The Cairns, Martin Carruthers gave an on-line talk, which was recorded and will eventually be available on Youtube – the clue to its relevance is in the title……..

I’ve used a lot of links  – but I mean them to help to draw the theme together and make the point I’m hoping to make.

And there’s our house that we live in now.  I try to tell myself that they are only things and that, when I go, if someone changes it all – well,  that’s just how it is.

But …it is more than a building with things in it. Those things have been found, brought home, made,  given.  It’s not just a house with stuff in it – it’s us, it’s part of us, and we’re part of it.

Same with the garden – I love it, and I hope that the trees we’ve planted will be allowed to grow.  I would be sorry if the spiral in the meadow was mown clear again…

But, if that were so – it wouldn’t be mine any longer, and might have to fit the needs or preferences of whoever lives here then –  might have to, need to change. 

Maybe something of us, and our feel for the place, would remain.

I wrote this, years ago…..

Once a home – now a cow shed – needs must. Credit Bell

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4 replies »

  1. Thinking about this has stirred up a very, very vague memory of being told a tale of an old ship’s cabin being brought ashore/washed ashore and lived in at one time in one of the islands. That’s all I can glean from my tired old brain – does anyone have any info on this? Or was someone spinning me a yarn?

    I tried Googleing but – nothing there.

    • A 19th century ship’s cabin was washed up on Westray many years ago and subsequent used as a home. It is now the studio at Edwin Rendall’s Wheeling Steen gallery on Westray.

      • I found references to the ship’s cabin in the Wheeling Steen, and wondered was it the same one that I remembered being told about, but couldn’t find anything specifically about it previously being used as a home.

        Your response fits the missing piece into the puzzle – Thank you!

  2. Nothing to do with re-use………

    Another tale I was told, is that there are no rats on Westray. Admittedly, I was told this by a bloke in the bar of The Sands Hotel, Burray – maybe he knew a sucker when he saw one!

    He claimed that – even when they were washed ashore from shipwrecks, whether brown rats or black rats, they never survived and that there are no rats to be found, anywhere on Westray – and no-one knows why.
    I hadn’t heard that one before – is it true? Or was he just telling a tale, as tale-tellers do? No rats on Westray? Hmmmmmm.

    He also told of how his Granny used to get the flower buds of fuchsias, and suck the nectar out of them – I had heard that one before. And, he’d spent some time in Australia, and said that……..if you lick a Cane Toad, they have some kind of amphetamine in their skin, which means that you’ll end up ‘speeding’! I don’t recommend folk trying this – who wants to lick a Cane Toad, anyway? Another bloke there, asked if any of them had ever turned into a Princess!

    People tells me stories – I tell people stories – makes life interesting – but I don’t always remember them properly!

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