Work has started on the repair project at the Skibageo Hoose – a boat house situated high on a cliff near the Brough of Birsay on the exposed north coast of Orkney’s West Mainland.
The project is a continuation of the archaeological building recording completed in partnership with Birsay Heritage Trust during 2016. This phase involves Orkney College construction students who will, as part of their building course, repair the damage caused by years of storms.
The building was constructed probably during the early 20th century by fishermen from Birsay. It is not recorded on the 1900 revised O.S. sheet and was used up to the late 1960s, when commercial fishing ceased in the geo.
After falling into disrepair, a project by the local school in 1989 restored the building to a functional state enabling its use as a shelter, a place to rest and a point of interest.
The present description “Fishermans Hut” was never used locally to describe this building in the past and only appeared after the upgrading by the school. It was always known as the Skibageo Hoose or the Hoose at the Geo.
Dry built random rubble walls consisting of land stone and beach stone on top of an excavation into clay and rock of probably an old boat house (noust). The east end is built almost entirely of stone and incorporates the doorway.
The west end consists of little more than a gable with a small opening in the stonework to allow spars, rods, etc., to be stored in the roof space. A stone facing extends almost to floor level internally. The roof on the north side is supported off the stonework whilst the south side is supported on a heavy wall plate on vertical wooden props.
Seven timber couples with purlins incorporating some driftwood, support the roof covering of flagstone and turf. The floor is of beaten clay and of an internal size of approximately 4.4m x 2.5m. The building is sited approximately in a north-south direction, the doorway being on the east elevation.
Archaeological building recording and measured survey of the neighbouring nousts was undertaken during 2016 by a team from the Archaeology Institute and local volunteers.
This produced a drawn, written and photographic record of the Hoose prior to the proposed renovations. This formed part of a wider programme of building survey in the Palace village area and making a 3D model of the Birsay whale bone.
The current repair work involved is considerable and includes the following:
- Strip back turf and flagstone to both gables to allow access to stonework as required.
- Take down West gable to ground level and set aside for reuse.
- Take down East gable to below the level of the door lintel at the South side of the doorway and set aside for reuse.
- Build in area of missing stone to lower South side of doorway to match existing
- Consolidate or replace loose or missing stones to inside walling as required.
- Rebuild both gables using existing stone, to profile as before.
- West gable opening to be retained.
- West gable may require the formation of a suitable foundation.
- Build in stone lintel over the doorway.
- Core of stonework to be reinforced with clean beach sand/cement mix.
- Top stones of gables to be solidly bedded with bedding kept well back.
- Replace flagstone and turf to roof making good to gables and existing roofing
When complete, the Hoose will provide a safe and secure haven for walkers who find themselves caught in one of the squalls that frequent this coast.