You are currently browsing the monthly archive for July 2011.

by Chris Brooks, Heritage Action. All images © Chris Brooks.


The weather had turned wet and windy, and while checking my programme of events I decided I would visit some of the more local sites that day. Now I was staying in Finstown, which is very close to some of the local sites that would be on most people’s ‘Top 5 Orkney places to visit’ list. First off though was a trip to Crantit Souterrain near Kirkwall so, with the satnav set, off I trundled. After a relatively short drive I ended up on a small road just outside Kirkwall where there was no signage to help me identify where I should be looking. A quick look on the map suggested I was at the right place, but after looking over a few fences, and even asking a bewildered passer-by, had no luck. The weather was still poor and not wanting to just invade private property (well not with people about anyway) or to waste much time on a wild goose chase, I decided that, as this site wasn’t very high on my ‘to do’ list, hopefully there would be better ones and I could try to find this one again later.

The next location on my list took me to Grain Souterrain.  I arrived at the coordinates and after a bit of a look around managed to find the entrance. As expected this a small mound with a hatchway surrounded by a fence with a locked gate. I went to get the key but had no luck as it was a Sunday and nobody was available, or it was too early (not sure which). This wouldn’t be a problem as I would again return when I had time in the week. Things were not going to plan at the moment so I decided I would get out of Kirkwall and hunt for better game else where.


As I drove back towards Finstown I spotted the sign for Rennibister Earth House so turned off down the farm track and parked in front of the sign telling me I couldn’t drive any further. As you approach the farm on foot there is a small sign which points you around the back of the main house, follow this and you immediately see the site in front of you. In a similar fashion to Grain, this too is fenced off but this time the gate is not locked and you are able to walk straight in. There is a small information board (which says it was discovered when a piece of farming machinary drove over it and broke through) and a hatchway directly into the ground where access is via a shortish ladder of about 6 rungs. When you have descended you are met with a sort of hexagonal chamber with pillars of stone in each ‘corner’. There is also a passage way leading to an entry point protected at the other end by a metal grid. The stone corbelling is very good too and overall the chamber was in very good condition.

As normal I sat there a while and thought about what it was used for, and I guess (as the information board says) storage was the most likly reason. The very small passageway to the main building could create a nice airflow and reduce moisture build up. Indeed this was a very pleasant and thought-provoking place, and a lovely example of a souterrain you could wish to see.


Having taken my fill of photos and video at Rennibister I drove to the top of Wideford Hill looking for the next place on the list. I didn’t see any signs for the cairn after I left the Old Finstown Road at the foot of the hill, and eventually arrived at the top where all the communication antennas are. As I was here (I thought to myself) I would take a look around. Now I could hear and feel the wind in the car but nothing really prepared me for its strength when I tried to open the door, it was absolutely phenomenal. Had I been a small and meagre person (rather than a large one) I may not have been able to get out of the driver’s side of the car (but I did). Standing in the wind was a bit of challenge let alone walking in it. Looking down the side I tried to see if I could see Wideford Cairn but was having no luck… again. I knew it was towards the Kirkwall side of the hill so I consulted my notes. These suggested there was a parking area before you get to the top of the hill, and so as I drove back down I noticed the information board on the right and a small parking area which, for some reason, I had missed on the way up. It was big enough for maybe 3 cars and so I parked up and took a butchers at the board. Thankfully, it showed exactly where the cairn was with a good description of how to get there.


I put on my wet and windy gear and off I trundled. Initially the walk is fairly flat but, as you walk along, the stones that had been put down to create a sort of cobbled path, the walk then gradually begins to descend. As it does so the stones disappear and the path becomes a track worn into the peat. Luckily, because Orkney had had very little rain in the last 10 days or so, the peat was quite dry and firm and it was just a case of following it.
Along the route you come across a black and white banded pole and then a gate with no fence on one side and a sign saying ‘Please shut the gate’ which obviously I found amusing. There is also another sign which states ‘Alternative route to Finstown’ which I also found amusing as to why would anybody want to get to Finstown by going over this hill? Keep following the route in the same general direction and eventually you can see the cairn just a short distance away. The path had taken a bit of a steeper fall now so I had to watch my footing.

You enter the site through the normal gate on its lower edge. There is an information board in front of you and to the left of the cairn there is a little box on a post containing both battery powered and wind up torches – both of which were working which was nice. Now while it is probably possible to enter the tomb through the passageway, the easiest way is through the sliding hatch that is sited on top of it, but of course to get to it you have to walk over the mound.
The grass covered terracing of this cairn is more defined than that at the Tomb of the Eagles and (in my opinion of course) it looks better, almost as if it has been built into the side of the hill. The view out to the bay is breath-taking, well I imagined it would be if it wasn’t now raining and blowing a gale and I could actually see it.
Pulling back the sliding hatch and making my way down the metal ladder – this time quite a bit higher than the one at Rennibister.


As you touch down you can only but admire the construction of this inner chamber. Reasonably wide at the bottom, the chamber narrows as it rises up over your head toward the new entrance and the magnificeant dry stone work, meticulously interlayered. Around the bottom of the chamber are a number of small passageways that lead to further chambers. A little small for me to feel comfortable to get right in to but I was able to examine them with the torch – with my feet stuck out into the larger chamber. Again the stone work was fantastic, stepping its way to the top of the chamber like some sort of mini cathedral and capped at the top with a single slab.

The other chambers were similar and one had its own short passageway which was way to small for me to attempt to get in to. A few more photographs and a moment of silence to take in this place was had. It is very difficult to get across the feeling of awe you have just sitting there unless you come here yourself.
I climbed the ladder, slid back the hatch and placed the torches back into the box. The wind had picked up but the mist cloud had dispersed revealing that hidden view for a brief period. It certainly was worth the walk.

Many thanks to all who braved the weather to make this year’s Avebury Megameet and book swap such an enjoyable event – and we were particularly pleased to have attendees from Oz for the first time.

We may arrange a smaller Minimeet and Picnic in Avebury in a few weeks, good weather permitting.

All unswapped books will be added to our ever-growing megalithic lending library.

The place on the seventh ledge went to our absent American friends Bucky and Loie – and we hope to see them next year.

The Red Lion, Avebury
Image credit Willow

Heritage Action will be holding its 6th World Megameet this year on Sunday, the 17 July in Avebury. As before the Red Lion will be our venue if the weather is poor, otherwise the Megameet/Picnic will take place by the recumbent stone in the south-east quadrant of the Avebury Henge from around noon onwards. All prehistoric site enthusiasts from all of the megalithic forums are extremely welcome. Bring your own food and drink, or eat at the Red Lion or at one of several other pubs around Avebury.

This year’s Megameet coincides with the CBA’s Festival of Archaeology which is holding a Meet the Experts event at the Barn Gallery in Avebury on Sunday, 17 July from 13:00 – 14:30 and 15:00 – 16:30.


We recently complained to the BBC about them repeatedly calling metal detectorists “amateur archaeologists” when they clearly aren’t.  (The distinction is very simple: metal detectorists pocket stuff to take home to keep for themselves or to sell. Amateur archaeologists don’t.)

At first, they tried to wriggle out of it, saying the Editors of ‘Breakfast’ had advised them the programme had previously run a number of stories about criminal nighthawk detectorists (something that has absolutely nothing to do with our contention they shouldn’t be calling “legal” detectorists amateur archaeologists!).

But this morning (Saturday, 16 July) there’s evidence the point just might have sunk in – a feature full of praise for real amateur archaeologists and showing dedicated people helping at digs and volunteering – with contributions by Mike Heyworth of CBA and John Penrose the Minister, footage from Bignor Roman Villa and interviews with the (highly respectable and literate!) members of the Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society. Best of all, a mention that there are more than 200,000 amateurs involved in archaeology!

Let’s hope the Beeb has finally got it. More than 200,000 people don’t pocket finds for themselves and are worthy of the term “amateur archaeologist”. 10,000 people do exactly that, and aren’t.

Update 17 December 2011
We are pleased to report that the BBC has now dropped all references to “amateur archaeologists” in both its online and broadcast reports about metal detecting (the last time they did it was here on 3rd June 2011) and has adopted the term “metal detector enthusiasts” instead. We hereby congratulate ourselves for achieving something which, by their actions, the Beeb has demonstrated we were right about. The fact it was us that achieved it rather than publicly funded organisations like the Portable Antiquities Scheme speaks volumes about what’s going on.

But there’s more to do as the term “metal detector enthusiast” doesn’t convey to the public the essential nature of what a metal detecting enthusiast does. He may be enthusiastic about his metal detector but the entire point of that enthusiasm is that he is using the machine to hunt for artefacts to take home for himself or to sell. Thus, if the Beeb has conceded that “amateur archaeologist” is erroneous, inappropriate and misleading it can’t deny that the term “artefact hunter” is accurate, appropriate and informative – and we intend to lobby them to that effect.

Update 30 April 2012:
Interestingly, a detectorist has just reported “I got back, I dashed down to Cheltenham Town hall where they are filming the  Antiques Road show today, and took a few bits with me. Met Hilary Kay and Clive Stewart-Lockhart who were quite impressed with my finds, but they told me they couldn’t film them for the series because they have now been told not to promote metal detecting on the show. Someone must be turning the screws, on our hobby” His solution is equally interesting: “The best thing to do is take an object along and say it belonged to your Great grandfather…”


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


 © Arpingstone and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

Staying alive in the Stone Age is the theme of a family friendly Festival of Archaeology beginning at Cheddar Caves and Gorge this weekend.  The gorge and its caves was one of the key sites which enabled prehistoric man to survive Ice Ages, famines, warfare and dangerous predators for 40,000 years…

The Cheddar Caves Festival of Archaeology is part of the national Festival of British Archaeology. But, unlike the national festival, it continues until Friday August 26,  from 10am to 4pm, every day.

Also in conjunction with the national festival, will be a range of events taking place at different venues across the Mendip Hills.

The Mendip Hills Festival of Archaeology is being launched on Saturday by Jodie Lewis, Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Worcester and editor of the forthcoming book The Archaeology of Mendip 500,000 Years of Continuity and Change.

The launch takes place at Wells Museum with balloons released from the Cathedral Green. During the afternoon there will be two guided walks across Priddy Nine Barrows… Actually, that bit may not be true as we were talking to them yesterday and it seems last year’s programme got put up this year!! Best to ring them first if you are going!

 Numbers are limited, call 01749 673477 skype to book.

 Read the full article at

Update: More information on the guided walks can be found here;


Rock Art Walk

County: North Yorkshire

Sunday, 17 July 13:00–16:00.

Dr Keith Boughey leads this fascinating walk to find hidden prehistoric carvings in Nidderdale. A moderate two-part walk of about 3 miles.

Please book. Free.

Location: Pateley Bridge – meeting point given on booking HG3 5BD.

Org: Nidderdale AONB
Name: Val Harker
Tel: 01423 712950

Following on from the above walk, on Monday the 18th there is…

Prehistoric Nidderdale

County: North Yorkshire.

Monday, 18 July 18:30–20:30.

From Bronze Age rock art to Iron Age hut circles, come along to find out more about Prehistoric Nidderdale. Following on from the inspirational Iron Age Nidderdale Project, this talk celebrates the launch of a new community archaeology project which already promises to bring some fascinating prehistoric sites to light. Booking required. Free.

Location: Pateley Bridge – meeting point given on booking.

Org: Nidderdale AONB
Name: Val Harker
Tel: 01423 712950


The latest newsletter of HAPPAH (Halte au pillage du patrimoine archéologique et historique) contains an article titled Quand le British Museum fait la promotion de la chasse au trésor.

Here’s a translation of some bits of it –

The attitude of the British Museum is outrageous. As a public body, it does nothing to try to reduce the scope of the metal detecting phenomenon. On the contrary, it constantly enhances it using its status. Its media impact is a serious counterweight to the voices of archaeologists who rightly oppose the looting caused by thousands of treasure hunters. By promoting treasure hunting the British Museum encourages the public to engage in an activity that is highly detrimental to the preservation of buried archaeological heritage. It is indeed commonly accepted that treasure hunting using metal detectors is a grave danger to the integrity of archaeological sites. It is well established that the British Museum serves the financial interests of metal detecting dealers in promoting the treasures and metal detection.

It’s not pleasant to hear one’s country subjected to such withering comment from abroad. Yet where is a defence? It is beyond denial that the majority of metal detectorists act entirely for their own benefit not ours and don’t even report their finds to PAS so the French are expressing no more than the plain truth when they say Britain’s regime of unregulated, laissez faire artefact hunting using metal detectors is “highly detrimental to the preservation of buried archaeological heritage“. You will never, ever hear the Portable Antiquities Scheme or the British Museum denying that simple statement, only avoiding admitting it.  The French and the rest of the world are right, it is “outrageous“.


More Heritage Action views on metal detecting and artefact collecting


by Chris Brooks, Heritage Action. All images © Chris Brooks.

I left Banks very happy and made my way to the Tomb of the Eagles. In comparison to Banks this place seems better organised in terms of signage and parking. I paid my entry fee (£6.80 I think it was) and was led into an adjoining room where a member of the staff was talking to a small group of visitors about the tomb.

The talk was interesting and informative, with some of the artefacts being handed out for examination. Particularly interesting for me was the albertite ‘button’ that I has seen on the ‘Standing With Stones’ DVD by Michael Bott and Rupert Soskin. One member of the group refused to handle any of the pieces, whether out of respect, revulsion or because of the damage that handing them can cause, I am not sure but personally I could not resist it. Once this talk is over (having repeated the bit I missed at the beginning) you are then led into the next room for another talk on another site called South Liddle, Liddle 1, Liddle Burnt Mound or even Fulacht Fia. Both the talks were great with a great deal of hypothetical ideas thrown in and debated, such as was the stone water boiler shaped as such so that it fitted the approximate shape of the animal to be cooked (answers on a postcard!!).

We were then shown the directions to the two sites and left to it… well at least I thought I was. I was just about to leave when a member of staff called Freda (I think that was her name) stopped me and asked me what I was doing by the mound near Bank, what I thought of Bank and was it worth the £5 as compared with what they charge for their site? I felt a little like I was being interrogated for a moment (although very nicely). I basically said the same as I have written here about the two sites but as to whether Bank compared more favourably I said I couldn’t answer as I hadn’t seen the tomb yet but did enjoy the presentations they had given. I got the feeling they were a little worried about the potential competition from Bank and the other mound should it be opened; I don’t see why they should as it gives people a better reason to visit the area, and if they combined the experience of the whole would be greater than the parts.

I started on my journey to the burnt mound site which was only about a third of a mile away; the route was dry and easy going taking little effort. When I arrived I was quite amazed really as there in front of you was the layout of a little house or building complete with the central stone ‘boiling’ area mentioned in the talk at the museum.

I had not seen anything like this before and the fact that it was fairly intact was lovely. You could see the stone walls and the fired stones that created the mound in which the building stood. After a while though when the excitement calmed down, it became clear that some of the features, such as the stone walling and grinding stones, had been placed into position for the benefit of visitors but, unfortunately in the case of the walling, not very well. However it was to be a good introduction for sites around the rest of Orkney.

I moved on toward the Tomb of the Eagles. This is about another two thirds of a mile away, and as you approach the somewhat more muddy path takes you towards the cliffs and the ever so dramatic coast line. My excitement increased again as I drew closer to the now very visible cairn. You can make out the stone terraces that I had seen in pictures and my pace quickened in eagerness to get there. I walked through the gate and walked towards the entrance passage way. The outside is a little untidy and, I thought, could do with smartening somewhat.

The passage way is quite small especially for a fat bloke so I took the pensioners option (rather than the knee pads) and made a grab for the purpose built trolly. This seemed the best way forward as I was carrying my very heavy camera bag full of kit… ah em…. well that’s my excuse anyway. Actually it was quite fun lying face down on the trolly holding my camera bag under my chin while pulling myself along with the overhead rope.

I was in, and stood up to admire the tomb. Now I saw about the concrete bunker, it was absolutely hideous but I suppose I felt it performs a function. I admired the original stonework, and the effort that went into building this wonderful place, but I was a little disappointed with many aspects. Obviously for health and safety reasons much of one side of the chamber was being constrained by a wooden frame covered in chicken wire, an old broom had been left in one of the chambers, a horrible ill fitting metal grill ‘stopped’ access to one of the small side chambers. There were also many annoying little plastic laminated warning signs dotted around everywhere telling you not to do stuff, all of which detracted from the experience.

Unfortunately there were no skulls in any of the chambers as I hoped and seen on the ‘Modern Antiquarian’ website which was again a little disappointing. The stone work on the other hand was fantastic.

Outside the knee pad bin was a cut away chemical container right by the side of the entrance along with the old bag of sand used as a crash mat for the trolly. This all added to a bit of an eyesore as far as I was concerned.

This next bit may may not be a view everybody shares but it is my opinion.

Here we have an important well advertised prehistoric gem. It has a great well run interactive museum, shop and vital facilities with extremely enthusiastic members of staff. But when it comes down to the actual bits of real interest, the bits that people come all this way to see, it appears the money is not being invested so well. Earlier I was asked whether the entry fee for this place was worth it compared to Bank. Well the answer is yes, or at least it could be I think, with some of the takings invested in making both the settlement and tomb look more welcoming. This could partly be achieved by replacing the horrible knee pad container with something more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Likewise with removing the broom in the end section of the tomb, and installing purpose built non-rusting grills in the section you don’t want people to get into. Also remove those overused warning labels from the actual chamber walls (they could be put on the hideous concrete ceiling instead) or better still put a detailed information board outside where everybody can read it.

Two good points were the supply of torches outside the chambers (but make the rusty chains a little longer so we can get a good look around) and the fact I saw my first wild seal in British waters when I took the lovely coastal path back to the car. Overall the place is worth visiting but the next few day would show me that there are other burial tombs on Orkney that are just as good if not better.

My next stop was to be Mine Howe which I saw the sign for as I made my way back up to the main island. However, as I got closer to the location there were no longer any signs. I initially drove past the tombs and had to use the OS map to confirm where I was. But when I arrived at the location I found the place closed with a black bin liner covering the sign by the tombs. I consulted my TMA printouts and they informed me that the site wasn’t open every day out of season; I assumed this was the case so planned to come back another day.

By now I was now quite tired and very hungry and decided I would grab a bite to eat, find the cottage I had booked and call it a day.

New mobile website helps walkers discover the mysteries of Rock Art in Northumberland.

Researchers at Newcastle University have developed a new mobile website designed to help people discover the rich variety of rock art in Northumberland.
Archaeologists have worked side-by-side with digital media experts to share information about the famous stones, which can be tricky to locate even with a GPS due to their flat markings, which are hard to spot among thick vegetation and overcast conditions.

Information can be found here on Culture24

Saturday, 16 July to Sunday, 17 July. 11:00–16:00.

Step back in time and meet our ancient ancestors by cave painting or by designing your own stone circle. Linked to the BBC’s Hands On History –The Ancients and the Stonehenge: henge diggers exhibition.

Location: The Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester. Check out for options.

Org: The Manchester Museum
Name: Anna Bunney
Tel: 0161 2752648


July 2011

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