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Skaill Bay Walk

It’s Not Just Skara Brae!
Submitted by Historic Scotland Rangers
Sandra Miller and Elaine Clarke


This is a coastal walk along the Bay of Skaill. We tend to focus on Skara Brae but there is so much more. Begin the walk in the car park at St Peter’s Kirk.

Before setting off take a few minutes to visit the Kirk. It was built in 1836 on the site of an older church. Built by the people of the congregation, some of the material came from the old building but the new stone was brought from the local quarry by the women who carried it on their backs. This was done during the winter months when they were not needed to work on the land. The Kirk was restored by the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust and it has won local, national and international awards. The graveyard contains the graves of the Watt family of the Breckness Estate including William Graham Watt the Seventh Laird who discovered Skara Brae in 1850.


From here follow the small road down towards the shore. This road was built so that the horses and carts on a Sunday could fill the space outside the Kirk and there was no need to turn the carts. As you walk along look carefully and you can see on the edge near the shore a stone with a cross carved on it. This supposedly marks the grave of an unusually tall man and a child that were found when work was being carried out on the road.


At the end of the small road and across the main road is a large mound known as the Castle of Snusgar. Much work has been done here by archaeologists in the last two years. It has revealed a major settlement mound with Norse and probable Neolithic components. This is also where the Skaill Hoard was discovered in 1858. Weighing about 8kg, it is the largest Viking hoard known in Scotland and is on permanent display in the National Museum in Edinburgh.

 

 

 

Now walk along the bay towards Skara Brae, taking time to look at the geology and the extent of the coastal erosion. For those of us old enough to remember the old mill it was built in the 19th century. Due to the coastal erosion it has had to be destroyed, some of the stone being used to build the Skara Brae Visitor Centre in 1998 and some to create a picnic area, which as a result of the storm in January 2005 has now become too dangerous to use.

As you go further along the beach notice the seawall that protects Skara Brae. Part of it was built after a storm in the 1920’s and some in the 1950’s. The early part has stood up to storms over the last 80 years; here the stones are positioned vertically which allows any water to run off easily. The later part from the 1950’s has stones placed horizontally and has also suffered from damage in January 2005, due to the fact that the stones in this position catch the water and cause damage to the structure.

Just along from here is the area known as the Hap Anchorage. Fishermen used this area to anchor their boats during the summer and in the dunes there are the remains of a boathouse where they kept their gear. Men from Banff used to come here in the summer months, bringing their families with them. The women dried the fish and repaired the gear and the children attended the Aith school.

Along here different land levels can be seen. There is a line that marks the Neolithic level which is darker in colour and the lighter area dates from the Iron Age. Jutting out in the dunes there are stones and it is around here that an Iron Age burial was found. A man had been buried face down with his hands tied behind his back. Again, this site has been lost due to coastal erosion.

 

 

 

Now walk along the bay towards Skara Brae, taking time to look at the geology and the extent of the coastal erosion. For those of us old enough to remember the old mill it was built in the 19th century. Due to the coastal erosion it has had to be destroyed, some of the stone being used to build the Skara Brae Visitor Centre in 1998 and some to create a picnic area, which as a result of the storm in January 2005 has now become too dangerous to use.

As you go further along the beach notice the seawall that protects Skara Brae. Part of it was built after a storm in the 1920’s and some in the 1950’s. The early part has stood up to storms over the last 80 years; here the stones are positioned vertically which allows any water to run off easily. The later part from the 1950’s has stones placed horizontally and has also suffered from damage in January 2005, due to the fact that the stones in this position catch the water and cause damage to the structure.

Just along from here is the area known as the Hap Anchorage. Fishermen used this area to anchor their boats during the summer and in the dunes there are the remains of a boathouse where they kept their gear. Men from Banff used to come here in the summer months, bringing their families with them. The women dried the fish and repaired the gear and the children attended the Aith school.

Along here different land levels can be seen. There is a line that marks the Neolithic level which is darker in colour and the lighter area dates from the Iron Age. Jutting out in the dunes there are stones and it is around here that an Iron Age burial was found. A man had been buried face down with his hands tied behind his back. Again, this site has been lost due to coastal erosion.

At this point you have a choice - to continue along the shore to the Hole o’ Rowe, or turn back along the shore, or perhaps walk back up past the Visitor Centre for Skara Brae. If you do this, notice the mounds enclosed by the paths between Skara Brae, the Visitor Centre and Skaill House. These date from the Bronze Age and it was here that a jet necklace was found as well as a later lime kiln.

As you head past the Visitor Centre note that it was built on the site of a flax mill and a possible earlier medieval horizontal mill like that found at the Click Mill.

You now have another option - head back for the car park at St Peter’s Kirk or go in to the Visitor Centre for a cup of tea!
 

 

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