Castle Bloody, Shapinsay

Tombs of the Isles - Castle Bloody, Shapinsay
Castle Bloody, Shapinsay. The marker cairn on the mound is modern. (Sigurd Towrie)
Notes:A prominent mound in the south-eastern corner of Shapinsay.

The turf-covered cairn has a diameter of c13m in diameter and is c1.2m high, surmounted by a modern marker cairn. Questions remain, however, as to whether it is actually Neolithic chambered cairn or a later structure, perhaps a Bronze/Iron Age souterrain.

Early accounts describe a small rectangular chamber with a roof of large flat slabs. Orientated north-south, this chamber had a lintelled passage to the south-east and a second, much lower passage, leading from the north end.

In 1984, county archaeology Raymond Lamb described it as “a puzzling site”.

“The main chamber has no stall-slabs and might almost be an earth-house; but the prominent siting and clear-cut mound are more suggestive of a chambered tomb than of a settlement. It may perhaps be a Maeshowe-type tomb with the second passage serving a side chamber.”

In The Chambered Cairns of Orkney (1989) Davidson and Henshall were not convinced, suggesting instead it belonged to “little-known category of monument” – a mound “in which there may be one or more passages, sometimes angled, leading to one or several small chambers built on ground level”.

The prominence of the cairn, from land and sea, is typical of numerous Neolithic cairns, and is probably the reason that a “modern” marker cairn was raised atop its remains. Although perhaps co-incidental the cairn is silhouetted against the skyline when viewed from the Mor Stein, a solitary standing stone nearby.

Without excavation, however, it is impossible to know whether we have another example of later modifications to an earlier structure (e.g. Knowe of Rowiegar, Rousay).
References:Davidson, J. L. & Henshall, A. S. (1989). The Chambered Cairns of Orkney. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
September 2022. The Mor Stein with Castle Bloody silhouetted on the horizon. (Sigurd Towrie)
September 2022. The Mor Stein with Castle Bloody silhouetted on the horizon. (Sigurd Towrie)