Listening to the Piers Exhibition – Stromness Museum

DSC_7129

Stories, Stones and Bones: Stromness Museum’s ‘Listening to the Piers’ exhibition celebrates Stromness Piers

  • Exhibition open 4th November – 31 December 2017
  • Venue: Stromness Museum, Stromness, Orkney

The dynamic story of the Stromness piers collected during the project through stories, drawings, photographs and artefacts will be exhibited in the entrance porch of Stromness Museum from Saturday 4 November to 31 December 2017.

20170725_111511

The project co-ordinator Dan Lee, Lifelong Learning and Outreach Archaeologist UHI Archaeology Institute, commenting on the award said: “It’s great that Stromness Museum was awarded this grant. Stromness piers have such a rich wealth of stories from their working past to the new ways we think about them today. We are all really excited about telling other people about our findings and sharing our heritage and history with them through this exhibition”.

Stromness Museum received a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) Stories, Stones and Bones grant as part of Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. This exciting project, ‘Listening to the Piers’, run in partnership with University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute, Heriot Watt Stromness campus and locally based artists was awarded £9,700 to investigate the piers of Stromness through creative engagement in archaeology, art and science workshops.

Commenting, Lucy Casot, Head of HLF in Scotland, said: “The Heritage Lottery Fund is a key partner in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and it was our ambition that people of all ages would have the chance to discover something new about the heritage they care about. With almost 100 projects happening across the country, over 15,000 people have done just that. We’re delighted that, thanks to funding from the National Lottery, Stromness Museum is part of that celebration, opening the door to fun, learning and everlasting memories for many people as we celebrate this special year.”

20170725_143412

Stromness Museum holds important collections of natural history, archaeology, maritime and social history and art. Growing sea traffic from the 18th century onwards saw the port grow with stone-built piers and slips appearing along the shore.

Oral history workshops introduced Stromness Primary School pupils to interview techniques to make recordings about the piers. On ‘Piers Day’ during ‘Per Mare’ week, at the end of July 2017, Listening to the Piers provided an opportunity for local people and visitors to explore different ways of seeing and interpreting these piers through archaeology, marine biology, photography and drawing workshops.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 


Stromness Museum
The Stromness Museum exists to promote natural science, to preserve local history and to offer an enjoyable educational and informative experience to as large a range of people as possible.

Stories, Stones and Bones
Stories, Stones and Bones is for any not-for-profit group wanting to engage more people with the heritage and take part in the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. Stories, Stones and Bones grants between £3,000 and £10,000 are available to groups who want to discover their local heritage. Projects can cover a wide spectrum of subject matter from exploring local archaeology and a community’s cultures and traditions to identifying and recording local wildlife and protecting the surrounding environment to managing and training volunteers, and holding festivals and events to commemorate the past.

Heritage Lottery Fund
Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. http://www.hlf.org.uk Follow us on facebook Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland and twitter @HLFScotland.

Join the conversation at #HLFScotland and #HHA2017 to be part of the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology.

Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology
From World Heritage Sites to ancient monuments, listed buildings to historic battlefields, cultural traditions to our myths, tales and legends, the 2017 Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, running from 1 January to 31 December will shine a spotlight on Scotland’s fascinating past, some of our greatest figures, attractions and icons, as well as our hidden gems.

 

Shiptime Maritime Archaeology Project Orkney – HMS Royal Oak Steam Pinnace Located

RO8a
The HMS Royal Oak pinnace

The tragic story of the loss of HMS Royal Oak in the first weeks of the Second World War is well known in Orkney and further afield, but there has always been mystery surrounding the location of one of the small vessels that was used by sailors attempting to escape from the sinking battleship.

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving can now confirm the position of the missing HMS Royal Oak steam pinnace.

RO10a
Multi beam showing position of HMS Royal Oak and the pinnace

HMS Royal Oak was a Royal Navy battleship which was moored in Scapa Bay as an anti-aircraft platform to help defend a vital radar station on the cliffs. On the night of 13 October German submarine, U-47 manoeuvred into Scapa Flow and finding the Royal Oak at anchor fired torpedoes which led to the sinking of the huge ship. 834 men were lost of the 1,200 crew on-board with the few survivors struggling in the cold oil-covered water.

Research shows that two 50-foot picket boats were on onboard HMS Royal Oak when she was torpedoed. Number 749 was built by J Samuel White of the Isle of Wight and number 752 built by Rowhedge Ironworks, Wivenhoe Shipyard, Essex.

RO9a
HMS Royal Oak pinnace steering helm

Documentary evidence indicates that around 100 crew members abandoned ship via her port side pinnace, which had a lifesaving capacity of 59. The Starboard side pinnace  went down with Royal Oak and can be seen on the seabed a short distance from the wreck. The small pinnace had not got up steam so boards were used to paddle the vessel away from the sinking Royal Oak.  The pinnace began to rock due to being overloaded and the chief buffer tried to counter the movement by shouting instructions ‘’Lean to starboard, lean to port’. Some on deck were ordered below to make more room as more men tried to climb on board.

RO7a
HMS Royal Oak pinnace boiler

Dick Kerr who was hanging on the side of the small vessel says, he heard someone start singing ‘Down Mexico way, south of the border’’ and a few others joined in. A short while later the pinnace capsized throwing those on deck into the water and trapping those who had gone below. Some crew scrambled onto the upturned hull but many were lost. The vessel then righted herself, capsized once more and then sank.

RO5
HMS Royal Oak pinnace compass

The location of this little ship was not known – until last month when the Shiptime Maritime Archaeology Project pinpointed the shipwreck on multibeam sonar, 300 metres from the main wreck site. The site was surveyed by Triscom Enterprise as part of the Shiptime Maritime Archaeology Project. The site had been previously side scanned by SULA Diving as part of a survey for OIC Harbours, but the identity of the craft had not then been established. As part of the project, a dive survey was conducted by SULA Diving of Stromness on the contact to establish that this was the missing port side pinnace.

Diver, Wayne Allen, of Wayne Allen Technical said, “It was a privilege to be able to assist SULA Diving in recording these historically important sites.”

Alistair Coutts, Business Development Manager, Seatronics, said: “Seatronics were delighted to have the opportunity to work with the collected specialists on this exciting project, providing ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment”.

Pete Higgins, Senior Project Manager, Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology commented that, “ It is a great privilege to be involved with the monitoring of such an important wreck site as HMS Royal Oak and in the finding of the missing pinnace. The site will now be recorded and will add to our knowledge surrounding the sinking of HMS Royal Oak.”

RO2
HMS Royal Oak pinnace propeller

This exciting project is led by Sandra Henry of UHI Archaeology Institute, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving who have brought together universities, commercial companies and government bodies including Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee, and Seatronics – an Acteon company.

The dive video clip above is also available from sean.page@uhi.ac.uk

RO3a
HMS Royal Oak pinnace forward cabin

 

SSS1
Side Scan Sonar Image of the HMS Royal Oak Pinnace
SSS2
Side Scan Sonar Image of the HMS Royal Oak Pinnace showing an overlay plan of the actual pinnace.

Notes for Editors

  • The project lead is Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
  • http://www.suladiving.com Provided the diving services. Side scan data acquisition and research for the project.
  • Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia was the work platform for data collection. Data collection involved Marine Scotland undertaking MBES survey, providing calibrated unprocessed raw data and camera equipment for the acquisition of data.
  • Seatronics – an Acteon Company provided ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment.
  • Historic Environment Scotland provided funding, guidance on marine historic assets, survey targets and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites.
  • Ulster University provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys and will provide input into maritime archaeological assessment and analysis.
  • Heriot-Watt University provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the ROV survey and undertook marine biological studies on the submerged cultural heritage assets.
  • Ministry of Defence provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys, and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites being investigated and environmental studies of the wreck sites.
  • The University of Dundee will process MBES and ROV survey data and work to produce visualisations based on the collected data. This will involve the production of 3D models of the wreck sites from the multibeam echosounder and photogrammetric data.
  • The project was conducted under licence from the Ministry of Defence.
  • Thanks to Triscom Enterprises Limited. Triscom operates its own multibeam echo-sounder which is an advanced sonar system able to provide full-coverage seafloor mapping, which is mainly used in the nearshore construction & cable industry. We were delighted to be given the opportunity to provide our 3D mapping service in the recent marine archaeology project in collaboration with ORCA and Sula diving. The larger vessel involved in the project, the Scotia, was unwilling to risk close proximity with the wreck of the Royal Oak which rises to about 6m below the surface, but Triscom were able to rapidly mobilise a multibeam aboard Sula’s small workboat Challenger, and this gave us the opportunity to do a 3D scan of the newly discovered wreck of the Royal Oak’s steam pinnace.

 

WW1 Destroyer Position Confirmed by Maritime Archaeology Project

HMS Pheasant- Multibeam Echosound Image. Copyright ORCA
Multibeam Echosound Image of HMS Pheasant. Copyright: ORCA

First World War Destroyer Position Confirmed by Maritime Archaeology Project in Orkney.

Most people probably do not realise that when they take the ferry from Scrabster bound for Orkney, that they will be passing over a shipwreck from the First World War – a shipwreck that up until now has been shrouded in mystery and tragedy.

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and SULA Diving can now confirm that the archaeological maritime survey conducted last month from the decks of the Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia has located the site of the First World War destroyer HMS Pheasant and for the first time the wreck can be viewed through the use of Multibeam Sonar technology. The wreck itself is protected as a designated vessel under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 which means that it can be dived but not entered or disturbed without permission from the Ministry of Defence.

HMS Pheasant was an M class destroyer built by Fairfield Shipyard on the Clyde and launched on 23rd October 1916. At 0.15 on the morning of 1st March 1917 the ship left Stromness to patrol the waters to the west of Orkney. Steaming down the west side of Hoy at full speed she most likely struck a mine off Rora Head close to the Old Man of Hoy that had been laid on the 21st January 1917 by German submarine U 80.

The Trawler HMT Grouse was at anchor under Rora Head due to the heavy sea prevailing at the time and two deck hands on watch reported an explosion and smoke at 06.00 but tragically the skipper was not informed till 08.00 when she proceeded to the area. The Trawler HMT Cairo which was patrolling in the Hoy Sound heard a faint explosion at 06.00 but took it to be gunfire and so remained on station off Stromness. The first reports only started coming in two hours after HMS Pheasant struck the mine when at 08.15 the trawler HMT Oropesa reported finding  ‘’ Large quantities of oil and some wreckage one mile west of Old Man of Hoy.” The crew also picked up a life buoy marked HMS ‘Pheasant’.’

Eighty nine crew were aboard HMS Pheasant when she was lost. Only one body was recovered: that of Midshipman Reginald Campbell Cotter RNR. He was 20 years old and he is buried in the military cemetery at Lyness, Hoy, Orkney.

Scotia
Marine Scotland vessel: MV Scotia

This year marks the centenary of the loss of HMS Pheasant and there is an initiative underway to develop a memorial on Hoy, Orkney to commemorate all those who lost their lives aboard. This is being led by Kinlay Francis, Orkney Uncovered and Kevin Heath, SULA Diving.

This exciting project is led by Sandra Henry of UHI Archaeology Institute, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving who have brought together universities, commercial companies and government bodies including Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee, and Seatronics – an Acteon company.


Notes

  • The project lead is Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
  • Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia was the work platform for data collection. Data collection involved Marine Scotland undertaking MBES survey, providing calibrated unprocessed raw data and camera equipment for the acquisition of data.
  • Seatronics – an Acteon Company provided ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment.
  • Historic Environment Scotland provided funding, guidance on marine historic assets, survey targets and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites.
  • Ulster University provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys and will provide input into maritime archaeological assessment and analysis.
  • Heriot-Watt University provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the ROV survey and undertook marine biological studies on the submerged cultural heritage assets.
  • Ministry of Defence provided input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys, and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites being investigated and environmental studies of the wreck sites.
  • The University of Dundee will process MBES and ROV survey data and work to produce visualisations based on the collected data. This will involve the production of 3D models of the wreck sites from the multibeam echosounder and photogrammetric data.
  • The project was conducted under licence from the Ministry of Defence.

 

 

 

First Image Emerges from Orkney Maritime Archaeology Survey

Markgraf1_zoom2_size1_scaled
Initial image of the Markgraf collected using a multibeam echosounder. Copyright UHI Archaeology Institute. With thanks to Dr Kieran Westley, Ulster University.

New images showing the German High Seas Fleet scuttled in Scapa Flow are now emerging from the data collected from the maritime archaeology project fieldwork completed last week in the waters surrounding Orkney.

This exciting project, led by Sandra Henry, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving, has brought together universities, commercial companies and government bodies including Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee, and Seatronics – an Acteon company.

This is the first image to emerge and was created by Dr. Kieran Westley, Ulster University who worked on the raw data collected through a multibeam echosounder. The image shows the German Battleship Markgraf lying in thirty metres of water on the seabed of Scapa Flow, Orkney and clearly shows the ships upturned hull nearly one hundred years after being scuttled in 1919.

The ship itself was commissioned in October 1914 and took part in the majority of the German High Seas Fleet actions during the First World War. She was damaged at the Battle of Jutland where she sustained five hits and eleven men were killed. Following the Armistice she was scuttled in the deepest part of Scapa Flow and so has escaped the attentions of salvage operations in the 1930’s.

For more information on the ship see the Scapa Flow Historic Wreck Site. For more information on the Maritime Archaeology Project see our previous blog post.


  • The project lead is Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
  • Sula Diving website
  • Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia will be the work platform for data collection. Data collection will involve Marine Scotland undertaking MBES survey, providing calibrated unprocessed raw data and camera equipment for the acquisition of data.
  • Seatronics – an Acteon Company will provide ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment
  • Historic Environment Scotland will provide guidance on marine historic assets, survey targets and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites.
  • Ulster University will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys and provide input into maritime archaeological assessment and analysis.
  • Heriot-Watt University will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the ROV survey and undertake marine biological studies on the submerged cultural heritage assets.
  • Ministry of Defence will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys, and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites being investigated and environmental studies of the wreck sites.
  • The University of Dundee will process MBES and ROV survey data and work to produce visualisations based on the collected data. This will involve the production of 3D models of the wreck sites from the multibeam echosounder and photogrammetric data.
  • The project will be conducted under licence from the Ministry of Defence.
  • The data and project archive will be deposited with the project partners, including Historic Environment Scotland, the MoD, and Orkney Islands Council in accordance with the standards established by the Marine Environmental Data Information Network (MEDIN).

Maritime Project Underway in Orkney

Scotia
MV Scotia. Permission of Marine Scotland

Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) is pleased to announce a collaborative maritime archaeology project surveying shipwrecks of the German High Seas Fleet and the war graves HMS Hampshire, HMS Vanguard and HMS Royal Oak.

This exciting project, which began on Sunday, is led by Sandra Henry, ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving has brought together universities, commercial companies and government bodies including Historic Environment Scotland, Marine Scotland, Ulster University, Heriot-Watt University, University of Dundee, and Seatronics – an Acteon company.

The survey is using a suite of geophysical equipment, ROV and diver survey to collect data that will accurately record the wrecks as they sit on the seafloor today. The data collected will be used to continue to monitor, protect, conserve and promote these impressive ship wrecks. Visualisations of the wrecks by Chris Rowland, University of Dundee 3D Visualisation Research Lab (3DVisLab), will bring the wrecks to the surface and to life as he employs the latest technologies available to create these models. The project commenced on the 23rd July 2017.

Looking down into the Scapa Flow anchorage from the island of Hoy
Looking across Scapa Flow from Lyness.

The High Seas Fleet was the battle fleet of the German Imperial Navy in World War One. On 21st June 1919, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter gave the order to scuttle the 74 ships of the High Seas Fleet located in Scapa Flow.  52 vessels were successfully scuttled, although during the interwar period salvage operations lifted 45 of these vessels from the seafloor. Today the wrecks of three battleships and four light cruisers remain on the seabed of Scapa Flow (http://www.scapaflowwrecks.com/wrecks/).  A project funded earlier this year by Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and led by Sandra Henry from ORCA, University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Kevin Heath of SULA Diving tells the story of these salvage operations,

HMS Hampshire was an armoured cruiser that was assigned to transport Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, to Archangel in northern Russia for a meeting with Tsar Nicholas II. During this assignment, the ship struck a mine, off Marwick Head, on the west coast of Orkney. She sank in twenty minutes with a loss of 737 men including Lord Kitchener (https://kitchenerhampshire.wordpress.com/ ).

HMS Royal Oak was a revenge class Battleship. The Royal Oak under command of Captain Commander W.H. Benn sat at anchor when struck by torpedoes fired from U47 under the command of Kapitanleutnant Günther Prien resulting in the loss of 833 lives.

L3790-1_Vanguard
HMS Vanguard. Kind permission Orkney Library & Archive

HMS Vanguard was a St. Vincent class dreadnought battleship destroyed at her mooring by a series of explosions before midnight on Monday, 9 July 1917.  843 men were lost out of the 845 people on board.

Paul Sharman, ORCA Senior Projects Manager, added that, “We are proud and feel privileged to be involved with this important project. We are pleased to be working collaboratively with such a wide range of specialists to provide high quality data which will contribute to the understanding of these important marine archaeology sites and commemorate the sacrifice made by the personnel who were on board HMS Vanguard, HMS Hampshire and HMS Royal Oak.”

The archival research and archaeological remote evaluation surveys that comprise this project will lead to a full understanding of the condition of the wreck sites, contribute to enhanced heritage displays, provide data for academic research and support activities and material for public engagement.

Alistair Coutts, Business Development Manager, Seatronics, said “We are delighted to be collaborating again with ORCA & UHI and we look forward to working with the collected specialists on this exciting project. Our aim is to use our Predator inspection class ROV and integrated cameras with 3D modelling technology to provide accurate models and detailed video footage of the current condition of the wreck sites.”

Andrew Fulton, Historic Environment Scotland, said, ‘We are pleased to see this next stage of survey work on the underwater wartime remains of Scapa Flow. The results will help update existing records of the wrecks, guide their management and contribute to the commemoration of momentous events in wartime history .’

It is planned that this project will contribute to the centenary commemorations of the scuttling of the German High Seas Fleet in 2019.


  • The project lead is Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
  • Marine Scotland vessel MV Scotia will be the work platform for data collection. Data collection will involve Marine Scotland undertaking MBES survey, providing calibrated unprocessed raw data and camera equipment for the acquisition of data.
  • Seatronics – an Acteon Company will provide ROV, positioning and 3D modelling and spatially cross referenced video inspection equipment
  • Historic Environment Scotland will provide guidance on marine historic assets, survey targets and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites.
  • Ulster University will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys and provide input into maritime archaeological assessment and analysis.
  • Heriot-Watt University will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the ROV survey and undertake marine biological studies on the submerged cultural heritage assets.
  • Ministry of Defence will provide input into the specifications for data acquisition for the geophysical and ROV surveys, and specialist knowledge on the wreck sites being investigated and environmental studies of the wreck sites.
  • The University of Dundee will process MBES and ROV survey data and work to produce visualisations based on the collected data. This will involve the production of 3D models of the wreck sites from the multibeam echosounder and photogrammetric data.
  • The project will be conducted under licence from the Ministry of Defence.
  • The data and project archive will be deposited with the project partners, including Historic Environment Scotland, the MoD, and Orkney Islands Council in accordance with the standards established by the Marine Environmental Data Information Network (MEDIN).

Marine Archaeology Paper to be Presented at CIFA Conference

RPA_0821
Rysa Little Site. SS085: Bridge Cabin Structure. Copyright: UHI Archaeology Institute

Mark Littlewood, Geomatics Officer Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology, will be presenting his paper – Protecting Accessible Marine Tourism Sites: The Case of Scapa Flow – at the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists conference which is being held at Newcastle University on 19th-21st April 2017.

Marks abstract continues….Scapa Flow is one of a number of marine anchorages which possesses a rich palimpsest of twentieth-century shipwrecks. Since the signing of the Armistice on the 11th November 1918, the interned ships of the High Seas Fleet were viewed within the perspective of the military knowledge that they could impart to the Allied powers, a factor that played a key role in the scuttling of the fleet. Following their scuttling the German High Seas Fleet and also the lesser known block ships that protected Scapa Flow during the First and Second World Wars then became a source of direct revenue as they were then subject to partial or full salvage activities.

RPA_1199
Rysa Little Site SS069: Searchlight Control Platform. Copyright: UHI Archaeology Institute.

This paper will examine how attitudes to these wrecks have changed over the years; how the development of marine tourism has both benefited the preservation and investigation of these wrecks, but also poses new challenges. More particularly this paper will compare the palimpsest of Scapa Flow to other similar sites around the world that have undergone salvage activities. Are the wrecks of Scapa Flow perceived differently than other massed wreck sites around the world? Are they seen as more accessible and more well-known and are the levels of protection, both present and proposed, for Scapa Flow necessary or adequate?

The paper will go on to highlight the level of further investigation and dissemination required to protect and make accessible such maritime sites and how the experience protecting wreck sites in Scapa Flow could be applied worldwide.

Thanks to Bob Anderson for underwater photography.


Our Islands, Our Past-Connectivity and Communications

Wide Firth
The ferry to the northern islands of Orkney entering the Bay of Kirkwall.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute conference, ‘Our Islands, Our Past’, is being held in Kirkwall, Orkney from 14th September to 17th September 2017.

Over the next few months, we will explore the exciting and interesting themes of the conference in a series of blog posts. In this blog post we explore the theme of Connectivity and Communications within our island environment.

Living on an island in the North Atlantic in the 21st Century is an experience. It is almost universally accepted by most people living in the UK that they can communicate and connect to anyone else on the planet. The internet, rapid transit systems, motorways and the ever increasing capacity of airliners means that people take these things for granted.

There are no railways on Orkney. The nearest motorway is 200 miles to the south. The rapid transit system is the X1 bus which traverses the length of the Mainland on an almost hourly basis (amazingly there is even a night bus that runs at 2am on a Sunday morning).There are frequent ferries and flights that link us to the mainland of Scotland and beyond. And there is internet.

Even though I have spent most of my life living in an urban or semi-urban environment far to the south, I do not feel unconnected to the world – despite living in South Ronaldsay which is connected by four causeways to the main Orkney island.

IMG_2469
Barrier 4 linking the island of Burray with the island of South Ronaldsay.

But what was life like on South Ronaldsay before the building of the Churchill Barriers? How connected were the people in our islands in our past?

We are lucky in that we can still ask older residents who still remember the days before the Churchill Barriers. It would seem that connectivity between islands and people was by boat. Innumerable piers and jetties facilitated movement between the islands. The relatively sheltered waters of Scapa Flow allowed people, goods, news and ideas to move between the islands.

IMG_3798
Remains of piers in St Margaret’s Hope, South Ronaldsay

In the village of St Margaret’s Hope itself, even now, the houses on the shoreline each possess their own pier. And along the shoreline of South Ronaldsay itself, each house seemed to possess its own jetty. So perhaps we can say that the islanders of South Ronaldsay, in particular, did enjoy connectivity through the use of small boats and their individual piers and jetties and this perhaps led to the survival of the island before the barriers were built.

Almost all of these piers and jetties have fallen into disuse as the residents prefer the connectivity offered by the bus, car and the road over the barriers.

IMG_3777
Remains of the old ferry pier connecting South Ronaldsay and Burray

It will not be long before even the function of these strange lines of beach stones stretching out to sea, will be lost and they in themselves will become future archaeology.

Many thanks to Terry and Sandy Cuthbert-Dickinson at Ayre of Cara for their help in making the photograph of Barrier 4 possible.


Paul Sharman and Julie Gibson are working on a paper entitled ‘Prospecting for Orkney’s medieval harbours and landing places’ which they will explore at the conference as part of the wider connectivity and communications theme.

call-for-papers-final