The Knowes and Thens of Trotty

By Bernie Bell

If you are interested in visiting the Knowes O’ Trotty, you can walk, or drive, along the A986, through Harray parish, turning when you see a sign for Muckle Eskadale.  (Best look at an OS map, really).  Then, you will need to park, considerately, near to, and walk through, a farmyard, to get to the site. When we went there, we knocked at the door to ask permission, as I have a bit of a thing about doing that ( farming family).  There was no one home, so we decided it would be OK to go ahead, treating the farm, and the site with respect, as always.

knowes O Trotty Bell

Imagine having that mound right next to your house!

The Knowes O’ Trotty is a great place, but not much notice is taken of it, though eminent archaeologists Jane Downes and Nick Card did excavate the area, and Jane gave a talk about it, which was introduced by the then Chair of the OAS, Andrew Appleby, who said that Jane would  “now explain The Thens of Trotty.”  I had some exchanges with Andrew and also archaeologist Dr. Euan MacKie , about the Knowes and Thens O’ Trotty  and I think I’ll just present them, with some photos added, to give you some idea of the place, and how I, and others, saw it and see it.

Here goes………..

On 13 Apr 2012, I  wrote to Andrew Appleby (aka Roo)…………..

“We went to the Knowes O’ Trotty for the first time, yesterday………………….

It were great!

Many echoes of the whole Brodgar area, but, where’s the main feature?

And the Hoy Hills, over-looking all, again.  Or, is that the main feature?


Knowes O Trotty Bell

Roo answered……..

“One main feature has been completely overlooked… Reason? I found it. It is a neat Early Bronze Age walled village.


Trotty Potty.”


“Trotty Potty” – that’s a good one! ( Roo is a potter)

When standing on the biggest mound, we were discussing how much the whole place is like the Brodgar area – a bowl in the hills, all those mounds, but, the question we were asking was, where are the equivalent of the built/raised structures of the Brodgar complex?  As I looked across, in the direction of the Hoy Hills, I ‘saw’ where I think it is.  I’ll have trouble describing what I mean, but  I’ll have a go……………..Standing on the top of the biggest mound, look across in the direction of the Hoy Hills, in what you might call the middle distance, a bit past where the heathery bit finishes, I reckon that’s where the ‘something’ is.   Does that tie in with where you found the village?  I realise I haven’t described that very well, but, hopefully, you get the idea.

The other thing, which we were talking of, today, is this.  When you walk up Mid-hill, above Stenness, the whole Orkney Pilgrimage Site is laid out below you.  When you stand at the Knowes O’ Trotty, you’re looking at the Stenness and Orphir hills.  We’re wondering, when we next walk up Mid-Hill and over the top, then back down into Stenness, will we be able to pick out the Knowes O’ Trotty, now we know where they are?  In which case ……Brodgar area, laid out below Mid Hill – walk over Mid Hill, and would it be possible that you could be looking down/across to the Knowes O’ Trotty? From the Knowes O’ Trotty, looking over to Mid Hill etc?  All linking up.  And I think to myself, what a wonderful world…..again.

Stay Potty, Trotty




The centre of power must have moved. Why not Trotty. What does Trotty mean?



“Indeed, could be that the centre of power moved, Brodgar – Neolithic, Trotty area – Bronze Age.  Could be, who knows why?  Closed down Brodgar site, moved over the hills, to Trotty area?  Hmmmmmmmm.

Tell you something else, though.  Whilst standing on the biggest mound, I was saying to Mike, where I thought the ‘something’ was, and moving my arm across, with my hand out-stretched, if you see what I mean, and the palm of my hand got warm and tingly, when I was speaking of where I ‘saw’ the place, to be.  Also, standing on the biggest mound, and the…..third one along, not the first two, grassy ones, the next one, with heather on, but grassy/mossy bit on top, my feet got cosy warm.  Thursday, had a bitter North wind, v. cold, but the warmth spread up, from my feet, right up my legs.  This has happened before, at sites.  Then, it was as though my legs didn’t exist, I couldn’t really feel them, sort-of as though I were floating a bit above the ground ( I wasn’t, levitation hasn’t happened……yet!).  It was an odd feeling, not horrid, but a bit disconcerting, especially when we set off to walk back down the mound, and I had trouble making my legs work!

As I say, I’ve had similar things happen, at other sites.  Presumably, re-acting to whatever is in the land, there.

Presumably, the folk who set up the monuments at Brodgar, were acknowledging what’s there, what’s in the land and air.  So, were the folk who set up the markers in the land, at Trotty, similarly acknowledging what’s in the land, there?  The centre of power could have moved, not just in human terms, but also in terms of the power in the land?  An idea.  Only thing there is, the power is still in the land, at Brodgar.  Maybe it just needed a rest, to re-charge it’s batteries!

The Knowes O’ Trotty , was one of those places we’d meant to visit, for years, and never got round to.  We’re very glad we did.  What a place.  I’ve no idea what Trotty means, you’d maybe need a local dialect person, for that.  It would have been known by something else, then, but an old dialect name, might have a memory in it, of what’s of interest, there.  If it is where the folk moved their ‘centre of operations’ to, when they closed down Brodgar, that would mean that it’s a very a significant place, indeed..

Where is  the village you found?  or are you not telling?

Very interesting idea, though, that, when they carefully closed down Brodgar, they shifted focus, to, maybe, Trotty.  If not Trotty, somewhere else?  They didn’t just close down Brodgar, and that was that.  Trotty area makes sense, though, just over the hills, but with a very similar, general layout and ‘air’ to it.

Hmmmmmm.  Food for thought.

Busy Bee”

Re the view from the hill

Me, to Roo again………

“If you carry on, and walk over the hill, you see Stromness below you, and, working round, have Maes Howe straight ahead of you, on the road back down.  Since visiting the Knowes O’ Trotty, this spring, we’ve wondered if we will be able to pick them out, when we next do that walk?  In which case, we’d see the Neolithic Heart of Orkney,  one side, followed by …..the sites which are just over the hill.  We haven’t done that walk, this summer.  We’ve meant to, but it’s been too wet, and the way over the top of the hill, is boggy, so, we keep on, optimistically, waiting for it to dry off a bit!”

An exchange with Euan MacKie  re. the massive deposit of bones found at the Ness of Brodgar, which is understood to mark a ‘closing down’ feast……………


“One of the great periods of change in the European archaeological record occurred towards the end of the third millennium BC, – c. 2300 BC, the end of the Neolithic Age and the beginning of metal using.   I wonder if  the bones date to that time?.   If there were portents in the sky then one can imagine the panic among the Ness priesthood and chiefs.  Suddenly nothing going to plan after centuries of sky watching.

Then,  later, the climate got colder and wetter c. 1000-700 BC.”

My response to Euan………………………

“Climate change was something which had occurred to me.  Also, associated with that, rising sea levels.  If, after having years of a stable existence, farming, gathering together for festivals, being ‘ruled’ by their group leaders, and ‘led’ by their, very knowledgeable, priests, suddenly, or, relatively suddenly, what’s happening?  They’re losing their land, good farm land is disappearing under the sea and the lochs, as the ones connected to the sea (such as Stenness), are rising, too.  Bad weather, bad harvests ( sound familiar!?)  and losing land, all the things which a farmer most dreads, disease is another big fear, and bad weather, could increase that, wet conditions, aren’t good for animals.  Yes, that had occurred to me, too, either/and changes in climate, which would produce the rising waters, as well as bad harvests.  No wonder the farmers would panic, and, though it might appear contradictory, their response could be, to slaughter, or ‘sacrifice’ animals.  I mean sacrifice, in the more literal sense, as in, making a sacrifice, giving something up.  As I said, earlier, when humans are fearful they appear to turn to slaughter, of people or animals.  Slaughtering young people, who should be producing the future generations, or slaughtering animals, the mainstay of a farming community.

And, they would be afraid of losing their ‘holy’ places, including, possibly their most ‘holy’ place, what’s now called the ‘Neolithic Heart of Orkney’.  And, it wasn’t only a very important ‘holy’ place to the folk, here, it was important, world wide. They were watching the water rise, around such an important place, important to their beliefs, which encompass so many other aspects of their lives.  Rising water, losing land, bad weather, bad harvests, possibly even losing their religious centre.  If this all coincides with the timing of the mass slaughters and the ‘closing down’ of the sites…………….And then, did the ‘priests’ move on?  After over-seeing the closures of the sites, what happened, did they move on?  Within Orkney, as I mentioned before, maybe to the Knowes O’ Trotty?  or, did they move on, elsewhere?  One thing’s for sure, a lot of changes happened then, in society and ways of being and seeing.

And all this, from a deposition of bones, which, after all this time, can tell us so much.”

There you are folks – throwing some ideas at you , – “If winter comes,  can spring be far behind?” – P B Shelley.

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