The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Chysauster Ancient Settlement, Near Gulval, Cornwall

Chysauster Ancient Settlement, Cornwall. B/W aerial photo.

OS Grid Reference: SW 4723 3497. A few miles to the northwest of Gulval, Cornwall, lie the quite remarkably intact and restored ruins of Chysauster Iron Age settlement/village at Newmill. It is 3 miles north of Penzance. There are several oval-shaped houses with courtyards, a street and also terraced garden plots, and at the south-side a ruined underground passageway known as a fogou or souterrain. This very significant archaeological site is thought to date back, perhaps, to the 1st century BC (the Late Iron Age) and was probably still inhabited until at least the 3rd century AD (the Romano-British period). Some of the granite walls of these round houses are ‘still’ quite high and very solid despite their great age. To reach this ancient site travel northwards from Gulval village onto the B3311, and then take Chysauster Road northwest for a mile or so – looking out for Chysauster cottage on the right-hand side and the Iron Age village. There is a car park beside the lane (northwest-side of the cottage) and, a ¼ mile further up hill where the roads bends to the left, is the English Heritage site shop. There is an entry charge. 

Author Jacquetta Hawkes (1975) gives us some interesting information on Chysauster. She says that: “on the west slopes of the hill [Castle-an-Dinas] is the Late Iron Age and Roman village of Chysauster, meticulously excavated and now carefully maintained. It is laid out in an orderly way with nine houses opening on a slightly curved lane in opposing pairs. The houses are of an unusual kind, known in Wales and further north but believed to be of Mediterranean origin. The principal of this domestic architecture is so utterly unlike our own that it is not easy to describe. The external outline is a rough oval, but the oval wall is immensely thick and contains within itself all the rooms, their doorways opening on to a central courtyard. In nearly all the houses the ‘best room’, oval or round in shape, is exactly opposite the narrow, roofed passage that leads into the courtyard from the lane. This larger room appears to have been thatched or turfed, but a few of the smaller cells were corbelled. Most of the floors were paved, and the larger rooms were usually furnished with hollow granite basins, presumably used as mortars; fragments of rotary querns or handmills were also found. There were serviceable drains, usually laid below the paving stones.

Chysauster Ancient Settlement, Cornwall. (Illustration).

Behind each house was a private garden, skilfully terraced and secured by an outer retaining wall of large blocks. A much-worn road led down from the village to the tin-deposits in the valley below as well as to the nearest stream. Where so much is preserved one longs to see it peopled; to know how many of them worked in the mines and how regularly; how much time they gave to their gardens: how far they were their own masters and how they marked their produce, getting the ore to the merchants who, as we are now fairly confident, shipped it from St. Michael’s Mount as the first step on the long route across France to their Mediter-ranean customers. At least it is not difficult on going into one of the Chysauster houses to see it in an Iron Age summer, the sun glaring in the courtyard where the dogs lie on the paving, the rooms dark as caves, a woman sweating as she pounds away with the heavy grindstone, small children kept safely in sight by the closed door of the passageway. All a little smelly and untidy, but not too uncomfortable and wonderfully companionable, with the eight neighbouring families, every detail known of their affairs—of expected births, betrothals, deaths; scandals, failures and achievements.”

Lord Harlech writing for H.M.S.O (1970) says of the site that: “Chysauster seems to have originated in the first century A.D., and it continued in occupation under the Roman Empire up to the third century A.D. The houses consist of oval enclosures of thick dry-built masonry, forming an open court from which various rooms open: the shape is common to other Cornish villages of this type. Chysauster and Carn Euny, like other such villages, contain a curious underground chamber known locally as a “fogou” and possibly  used for food-storage. Parallels to these are found in Scotland and Ireland.” 

Timothy Darvill (1988) says that Chysauster: “is an Iron Age settlement comprising a series of eight houses arranged in pairs along a street. Each house has an entrance facing east or north-east — away from the prevailing wind — thick outer walls, a courtyard immediately inside the entrance, and from three to six rooms opening from the courtyard. It is thought that animals were kept in the courtyard. The village also contains a fogou which is a long, narrow underground chamber possibly used for storing food and as a hide-out in times of unrest.” Janet & Colin Bord (1984) with regard to Chysauster say the site was occupied from the second century BC. They also say of the fogou or souterrain that “…..there is speculation regarding their purpose. Food storage or places of refuge are the most widely accepted answers; but we should not dismiss the possibility of there being some religious or spiritual reason for their construction.”

Sources and related websites:-

Bord, Janet & Colin, Mysterious Britain, Paladin Books, London, 1984.

Cunliffe, Barry, Roman Britain, The British Broadcasting Corporation, London, 1966.

Darvill, Timothy, Ancient Britain, (AA Glovebox Guide), Publishing Division of The Automobile Association, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1988. 

Hawkes, Jacquetta, A Guide To The Prehistoric And Roman Monuments In England And Wales, Cardinal, London, 1975. 

Lord Harlech, Southern England, (H.M.S.O. Illustrated Regional Guide to Ancient Monuments No.2), London, 1970.

Michell, John, Prehistoric Sites in Cornwall, Wessex Books, Newton Toney, Salisbury, Wiltshire, 2003.

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/chysauster-ancient-village/

http://www.historic-cornwall.org.uk/a2m/rom_british/courtyard_house/chysauster/chysauster.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chysauster_Ancient_Village

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


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Gop Hill Cairn, Trelawnyd, Flintshire (Sir y Fflint), Wales

Gop Hill Cairn (from the Howard Williams website: Archeodeath).

OS Grid Reference: SJ 08675 80152. A huge oval-shaped prehistoric cairn (tumulus) surrounded by forestry on the south-side of Gop Hill (Y Gop), a ¼ of a mile to the north of Trelawnyd village, about halfway between Holywell and Rhuddlan, Flintshire, northeast Wales. Also known as Garn Gop Cairn or in Welsh – Gop’r Leni. It is thought to date from either the Neolithic or Bronze Age. Gop Cairn is almost certainly the largest cairn in Wales and the second largest man-made mound in the British Isles after Silbury Hill. However, no human burials were found when it was excavated in the late 19th century though there were many animal bones. Two caves below the hill (southwest-side) yielded finds that suggest communal burial grounds. To reach this site from High Street, Trelawnyd: head northwest on the track past the houses which becomes a footpath; follow this but then soon veer off northwards to climb up to Gop Hill, which is 820 feet high, and is now directly in front of you and sandwiched between the forested areas.

Author Richard V. Simcock (1986) gives some interesting information regarding Gop Cairn. He says: “This conspicuous monument on the summit of a hill to the north-west of Trelawnyd (formerly Newmarket) but just within the boundary of the parish of Gwaenysgor, and also with walking distance. It is the largest cairn in Wales, and measures about 335 yards in circumference at the base. It is constructed of limestone pebbles, and probably dates from the bronze age. The cairn has been the site of many explorations by eminent archaeologists, and whilst considerable historic relics and information has been acquired, there is still lack of evidence as to the purpose for which it was originally constructed. Excavations have resulted in the discovery of the bones of several Pleistocene animals, including those of bison, reindeer, Irish elk, hyaenas, woolly rhinoceroses and artic lemming, which probably date from BC 400 TO 3000. A cave on the south side of the hill has revealed evidence of communal Neolithic burial ground.”

Simcock goes on to say that: “Boudicca, the Queen of the Iceni, is often associated in legend with this area, and one writer connects the neighbourhood of the Gop with the battle fought between Sustonious Paulinus and Boudicca in AD 61. Generations of writers have also speculated where the great battle was fought, and where such immense slaughter and carnage was committed; also the site of Boudicca’s grave. The Queen’s restless ghost is often summoned up to reinforce the claims of many sites in England too. These stories may or may not be true, but it is not known where or when. Yet as one strolls high on this tumulus crest, it is not difficult picture this warrior Queen hurtling into battle, as so ably portrayed in the massive Victorian statue on the Thames embankment.”

From Howard Williams website: Archeodeath)

Author Christopher Houlder (1978) says of The Gop Cairn: “This is surely the most imposing mound in Wales, though its apparent size is partly due to its position. The overall height of 12 m and the maximum diameter of 100 m no doubt conceal a natural core formed by the hilltop. A vertical shaft in 1886 and two galleries failed to reveal any central features, disclosing only a few animal bones. The Gop Cairn’s size invites comparison with the Boyne chambered tombs, but it may be in reality the most important of the many Bronze Age burial mounds of the region, indicating wealth or status such as might accrue from participation in the metal trade with Ireland along the north coast.” 

Houlder adds that: “A startling example of such wealth came to light in 1815 in a small quarry at Bryn Sion (SJ 135 719), though it took the keen eye of a gipsy to recognize its value. Used for a while as a gate fastening, it proved in the end to be a gold torc, a twisted rectangular bar of metal bent into a hoop.”

Chris Barber writing in 1987 says of the Gop Hill cairn and nearby cave that: “Professor Boyd Dawkins carried out excavations here in 1886. He sank a central shaft right down to the bedrock, but his efforts were not rewarded with any significant finds. However, further down the hill below this cairn, he excavated a cave and discovered a small sealed chamber cut into the limestone. Inside were fourteen skeletons in crouched positions, with their arms and legs drawn together and folded. Of particular interest is the fact that the shape of their skulls showed two different periods of man, thought to be Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. Fragments of crude pottery and flint tools were also found here.”

Also, Barber (1987) adds more information regarding Gop Carn. He says: “Here is the largest carn [cairn] in Wales. It is 300 feet by 200 feet and 36 feet high. The hill on which it stands is known as Bryn-y-Saethau – The Hill of the Arrows. Many flint arrowheads have been found on its slopes and the massive carn is claimed to be the grave of Boudicca (otherwise known as Boadicea, the warrior Queen of the Iceni tribe in the first century AD). It is also said to be the grave of a Roman general. In 1938 a local man was walking from Dyserth to Trelogan when he saw a field full of Roman soldiers, and on Gop Hill he saw the ghost of the Roman general on a white horse with a sword in his hand. A cloud passed over the moon and the apparition vanished.”

Sources and related websites:- 

The two photos (above) are from Prof. Howard M. R. Williams website ‘Archeodeath’ and are displayed here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. https://howardwilliamsblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/the-largest-ancient-mound-in-wales-the-gop-cairn/

Barber, Chris, Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London, 1987.

Barber, Chris, More Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London, 1987. 

Houlder, Christopher, Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber And Faber, London, 1978.

Simcock, Richard V., North Clwyd At Random, Countryside Publications Limited, Brinscall, Chorley, Lancashire, 1986. 

http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/306725/details/gop-cairn-y-gop-gop-hill-cairn

https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/417521

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gop

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


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Farnhill Moor Cup-Marked Rocks, Near Skipton, North Yorkshire

Cup-Marked Rock on Farnhill Moor, near Skipton, North Yorks

Cup-Marked Rock on Farnhill Moor with 40 cup-markings.

OS Grid Reference: approx. SE 0064 4710. On Farnhill Moor above the north Yorkshire villages of Farnhill and Kildwick, 3 miles to the southeast of Skipton, there is a little cluster of ancient cup-marked carvings on some gritstone rocks. These carvings or petroglyphs are rather hidden away by the undergrowth at the south side of Jubilee Memorial, a white monument with a stone cross. One of these large rocks has four large cup-marks while the rock above it on the craggy ridge has forty or so quite distinct cup-marks. From Main Street in Farnhill take the narrow Crag Lane uphill for a little while, then when reaching the wooded area on the right take the path going east. After a short distance veer off to the north to meet up with a well-defined footpath heading towards the Jubilee Monument. Just downhill from the monument walk east into the often dense undergrowth towards the craggy ridge. Here amongst these gritstone rocks you will have to search around to find the carvings, but it will be well worth it in the end!

Cup-Marked rock on Farnhill Moor, near Skipton, North Yorks.

Farnhill Moor Cup-Marked Rock showing 4 cups on the side and 2 more cups above.

On the edge of a large gritstone rock, just below the craggy ridge, are four large distinct cup-marks (petroglyphs) and above those possibly a couple of tiny cups. These cup-marks are very easily missed and not that easy to photograph, unless the sunlight is just right and not shining right at you. You will notice the gritstone rock has turned almost white which is due to rain over thousands of years. On the ridge above, another large rock jutting out from the crag has on its face forty or more very well-defined cup-marks, some small cups and some larger ones, which have ‘become larger’ maybe due to erosion over 4,000 thousand of years or more. There are a few small cup-marks away from the main panel. We don’t really know what these cup-marks mean, or why they were carved, and so they must remain something of an enigma. It’s very likely, however, Bronze Age people had their settlements on these very moors at a time when the climate was much milder in winter than it is nowadays. To the northwest on Low Bradley Moor lie the stone-strewn remains of two cairns where the Bronze Age people buried their chieftains.

Jubilee Monument.

The Jubilee Monument also called Jubilee Tower or Pinnacle was erected in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. This white painted, bottle-shaped monument is 12 foot high and atop the edifice there is a carved stone cross. The monument is covered with Victorian inscriptions, but there is also more recent graffiti. It is thought to have replaced an earlier cairn indeed some think this was a burial cairn, similar perhaps to those that date from the Bronze Age which can still be seen over to the northeast on Low Bradley Moor, although there are now only large piles of stones strewn around in a sort of circular fashion. (See below for further details).

Sources and related websites:- 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farnhill

https://thejournalofantiquities.com/2016/04/10/bradley-long-cairn-farnhill-north-yorkshire/

http://www.farnhill.co.uk/farnhill-history.html

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.      


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The Potteries Museum And Art Gallery, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

 

The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs.

OS Grid Reference: SJ 88172 47323. The Potteries Museum And Art Gallery is a Local Authority Museum that is situated on Bethesda Street, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. Inside the museum there are displays and collections of artefacts from prehistory including The Leekfrith Torcs, while from the Dark Ages: The Staffordshire Hoard; also Natural History, Geology and Landscape. From more recent times there are displays of local ceramics and decorative arts. But by far the most famous thing on display must be the World War II Spitfire. The museum and art gallery stands just 160 metres to the northwest of Hanley Bus Station and is close to the City Central Library and Police Station; the A5006 (Broad Street) runs a little to the west of the museum. There is free admission. Times of opening are from Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm and on Sundays from 11am to 4pm. There is also an excellent café and shop.                                                                                                                                         

The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent.

The Potteries Museum at Hanley in North Staffordshire houses what are called ‘Designated Collections’. These range from ancient historical artefacts to a much more recent World War II Supermarine Spitfire, designed by Reginald J. Mitchell (1895-1937) from Talke, Stoke-on-Trent. As well as artefacts from the prehistory of Staffordshire, such as the 2,400-year-old ‘Leekfrith Torcs’ – the earliest known Iron-Age gold artefacts, there are more than 80 pieces from the famous ‘Staffordshire Hoard’ which found in 2009 and date back to the Anglo-Saxon Age. Also Local History, Geology and Landscapes of north Staffordshire, especially the Stoke-on-Trent area, with its rich history of industrial manufacturing sites ranging from coal mines to the famous pot-banks and canals that are so well-known to the area.

Apparently there are over 5,000 pieces of ceramic-ware much of which comes from the Potteries including Wedgewood and Minton. And from the 15th century to more recent times there is a fine collection of costumery and textiles. And a fine arts collection as well as Jade and Ivory pieces. Most pleasing must be the reconstructed, life-like street with shops and public house! A recent attraction for youngsters is the Secret (Sensory) Garden. The Art Gallery has paintings by the Classical artists including Picasso and Degas. The Potteries Museum has had a long association with two or three other local museums that also have collections and displays of pottery and industrial heritage. 

Sources and related websites:-

http://www.stokemuseums.org.uk/visit/pmag/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potteries_Museum_%26_Art_Gallery

http://www.stokemuseums.org.uk/

http://www.thepotteries.org/spitfire/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.


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Panorama Stones, St Margaret’s Gardens, Ilkley, West Yorkshire

Panorama Rocks Information Board at St Margaret’s Gardens, Ilkley.

   OS Grid Reference: SE 11496 47298. In the woodland of  St Margaret’s Gardens also known as the Park opposite St Margaret’s Church on Queens Road in Ilkley, west Yorkshire, lie (behind iron railings) three large flat stones that were originally situated upon Ilkley Moor, ½ a mile to the southwest. These three stones or rocks were famous for their cup-and-ring carvings, but unfortunately the carvings are now very faint and not easy to make out; and two of the rocks were broken while being transported to their current location. There is a good information board here which gives details and illustrations of the 5,000 year old rock carvings. From the B6382 (The Grove) walk south up the steep Back Parish Ghyll Road and onto Albany Walk, then cross over the road and continue south up the steep lane to Queens Road and St Margaret’s Church. Walk onto Princess Road and there on the right-hand side are St Margaret’s Gardens and the railed off enclosure beneath the trees; the section with the stones in was locked when I last visited. 

Panorama Stone in St Margaret’s Gardens at Ilkley, west Yorkshire.

Panorama Stone and a close-up of the carvings.

   The three stones with their 5,000-year-old carvings are rather hidden behind the iron railings in the woodland at the edge of St Margaret’s Gardens, and the carvings (petroglyphs) are now quite faint and not easy to see, and they often have leaves covering them and moss growing in the cup-markings. The largest rock of the three is the actual Panorama Stone and, with the two smaller stones, was originally located behind the reservoir in Panorama Woods at about SE101470. They were brought to their current location in the late 19th century after ‘being’ found to be in the way of the town’s building extensions onto the edge of Ilkley Moor, also known as Rombald’s Moor; two of the rocks, one being the actual Panorama Stone itself, sadly, cracked as they were being lifted and this was made worse during transit. All three stones have cups with concentric ring carvings, or just cups on their own, but there are other curious designs too including lines or gulleys and ladder-like carvings linking or not linking cups, though most of these carvings are now only visible when the light is right!

    Author Paul Bennett (2001) while discussing ‘Barmishaw Stone’ on Ilkley Moor and its ladder-like carvings, says: “These ladder-like images, also found on the Panorama Stone opposite St Margaret’s Church in Ilkley, are unique in British rock art. While author J. C. Barringer (1982) while discussing the stone circles on Rombalds Moor, says that: “Perhaps better known and more intriguing than the stone circles are the carved ‘cup and ring’ stones which occur all along the north facing edge of Rombalds Moor on the exposed masses of millstone grit. He goes on to mention the clusters of cup-and-ring stones that can also be seen upon Snowdon Moor above Washburn Valley and the Chevin above the town of Otley, west Yorkshire. And Ian Longworth (1969) says that the carvings are: “circular hollows pecked into the rock’s surface sometimes surrounded by concentric rings.”                                                                                                                                                                          

Sources and related websites:-

Barringer, J. C., The Yorkshire Dales, Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., 1982.                               

Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann Publishing, Milverton, Somerset, 2001.

Longworth, Ian, Regional Archaeologies – Yorkshire, Heineman Educational Books Ltd., London, 1969.

https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/panorama-stones-ilkley/

http://www.stone-circles.org.uk/stone/panoramastone.ht

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.

 

 

 


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Haystack Rock, Ilkley Moor, West Yorkshire

Haystack Rock on Ilkley Moor, west Yorkshire.

Haystack Rock from a different angle.

   OS Grid Reference: SE 13027 46313. A large and squat-shaped gritstone rock known as Haystack or Haystacks Rock on Ilkley Moor, west Yorkshire, has many cup-and-ring carvings, but also some more recent graffiti. The rock is thought to resemble a haystack and so the name has stuck. It is just one of many rocks and boulders upon Ilkley Moor, also known as Rombald’s Moor, many of these often strange-shaped rocks having ancient cup-and-ring carvings that date from the Neolithic and Bronze Age periods of prehistory. However, these carvings are often almost ‘lost to the heather’ and not that easy to find – though there are said to be 400 of them on the moor. Best to park at Cow & Calf Rock Café on Hangingstone Lane, then walk up to Cow & Calf rocks and walk along the moorland footpath going southwest for a while, then head south and up onto the footpath along the ridge to Haystack Rock; while on the horizon further in front of you you will see the strange-shaped Pancake Stone perched on the edge of the ridge.

Haystack Rock, Ilkley Moor, with cup-and-ring carvings.

Haystack Rock. Close-up of the cup-and-rings

   Haystack Rock, also known as Rombald’s Moor 141, is a glacial erratic boulder that was deposited here thousands of years ago and then, during the Bronze Age the curious if strange rock-art known as cup-and-rings were carved onto the sloping face of the rock by ancient people who lived in hut circles and settlements on the moor, or they were simply traversing it from one side to the other, building their stone circles and erecting standing stones as they moved around.  The climate at this time would have been much milder in the Winter than what it is today. The millstone grit boulder is 2m high and over 5m in length, and resembles a haystack depending on what angle you are viewing it from. There are said to be 70 cup-and-ring carvings on the rock, some having channels linking and running away from them, as well as a few other curious carvings; but there is more recent graffiti too, some of which is obviously from the Victorian age. It is briefly mentioned by Paul Bennett on page 56 in ‘The Old Stones of Elmet’ (2001), and there is much more information on ‘The Northern Antiquarian’ website (see below).

   Author Brian Spencer writing in 1986 says that: “Visitors to Ilkley can hardly avoid seeing the distinctive mass of the Cow and Calf rocks. Behind them the moor is rich in the carved stones of our prehistoric ancestors who have left not only their cairns and circles but enigmatically carved ‘cup-and-ring’ and ‘swastika’ stones. A walk from the Cow and Calf along the edge of the moor will take in all these features.” 

Sources and related websites:-

Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann Publishing, Milverton, Somerset, 2001.

Spencer, Brian, The Visitor’s Guide To The Yorkshire Dales, Teesdale & Weardale, Hunter Publishing Inc., Edison, NJ USA, 1986.

https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2009/01/14/haystack-rock-ilkley/

http://www.stone-circles.org.uk/stone/haystack.htm

                                                                                          © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017


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St Nicholas’ Round Church, Orphir, Orkney Isles.

St Nicholas’ Round Church at Orphir, Orkney Isles. (Photo by T. Kent).

   OS Grid Reference: HY 33494 04429. On Gyre Road at Orphir Bay and a few hundred metres or so north of the shoreline of Scapa Flow, Orkney, are the remains of an early 12th century round church (kirk) of St Nicholas. It was probably originally dedicated to Saint Magnus. Beside the old church are a burial ground and the scant ruins of the Earls Bu, a Viking hall or palace, and also a farmstead and mill. The famous round church was built by Earl Hakon, who had a few years earlier (1111) murdered Earl Magnus (St Magnus). There is the Orkneyinga Saga Centre on the site; while in the burial ground there is an early medieval graveslab, and from the Dark Ages a Pictish symbol stone. The site is best reached from the A964 at the south-side of the island near Houton, then on Gyre Road for a short distance; the Orkneyinga Saga Centre entrance is on the right-hand side of the road.

   The author J. Gunn (1941) says of the round church: “At the churchyard near the shore we may stop to visit as pilgrims the pathetic little ruin at the east door of the church (now demolished). This is the semicircular apse and a fragment of the wall of a circular church, the remainder of which was unfortunately used as material for building the present church. This fragment is older than the cathedral of St. Magnus. It was built by Earl Hakon, the murderer of St. Magnus after his penitential pilgrimage to Jerusalem. 

   Mr Gunn goes on to say that after murdering Earl Magnus he: “……endeavoured to expiate his crime, as the manner then was, by going on a pilgrimage first to Rome and thereafter to Jerusalem. A small but deeply interesting fragment of masonry, still to be seen in Orphir churchyard, is regarded as a memorial of that penitential journey. At the east end of the present church (now demolished) is a vaulted semicircular apse of what was once the Round Church of Orphir, one of the very few churches in Britain built on the model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It seems certain that this was erected by Hakon on his return to Orkney, and it is therefore the oldest piece of ecclesiastical building in Orkney, except, perhaps, some of the ruins of little Celtic chapels. After his pilgrimage we read that Hakon proved a good ruler, made better laws, and became so popular that “”the Orkneymen desired no other ruler than Hakon and his issue.”” 

   The site entry for Orphir: St. Nicholas’ Church in ‘Ancient Monuments – Scotland’ adds that: “Only the chancel and a small part of the nave remain of this, the single example of a round church known to have been built in the Middle Ages in Scotland. The structure dates from the twelfth century, and appears to have been modeled on Scandinavian prototypes, derived ultimately from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem.” Also we have Charles Tait writing in 1999. He adds some more information saying: “The Round Kirk is thought to be the church built by Earl Haakon Paulson, to the plan  of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on his return  from Jerusalem about 1120, in atonement for the murder of Earl Magnus. Previously known as the Girth House from the Norse grid for sanctuary, or peace, the church was largely demolished in the 18th century (about 1757) to build a new church, itself now gone.”

   Standing close by the round church are the foundation walls of some buildings, many now covered over by grass turf, of the Earl’s Bu or the drinking hall (palace or mansion), which was probably built by Earl Hakon Paulson between 1120-23. The place was mentioned in the famous Orkneyinga Saga. There are also some remains of a farmstead and watermill from the 10th century. The site was excavated three times in the 19th century, and continues today. At the entrance to the site is the Orkneyinga Saga Centre which is run by The Orkney Islands Council. This has displays celebrating the famous Viking Saga, and telling the story of the Norse Earls of Orkney through interpretation boards and audiovisual displays etc. In the burial ground there are stones from the early Medieval and Dark Age periods; one in particular being a 7th century Pictish symbol stone with crescent and V-rod, and an interesting carved graveslab from the 11th century. An inscribed runic stone was found here, but is now on display in the Orkney Museum, Tankerness House, Kirkwall. The Canmore ID number is: 1962. 

Sources and related websites:-

Gunn, J., Orkney – The Magnetic North, Thomas Nelson And Sons. Ltd., London, 1941.

H. M. S. O.,  Ancient Monuments – Scotland, (Volume VI),  H. M. Stationary Office, Edinburgh, 1959.

Tait, Charles, The Orkney Guide Book, (Edition 2.1), Charles Tait Photographic, Kelton, St Ola, Orkney, 1999. 

https://canmore.org.uk/site/1962/orphir-st-nicholass-church

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orphir_Round_Church

http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/or-chrch.htm

https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/earls-bu-and-church-orphir/

http://viking.archeurope.info/index.php?page=orphir-earl-s-bu-and-church

                                                                                  © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.