Week 2 of the Rackwick survey (30th June – 4th July – belated update) covered the central part of the township, south-eastern area and the sand dunes. We also took a walk on the eastern side of the burn around to Burnmouth where some interesting planticrues were found. No prehistoric sites were identified, leaving Rackwick with no conclusive sites from this period (although see below). I mapped our movements around the township over both survey weeks with multiple GPS receivers. Most of the sites recorded during the whole survey were post-medieval or modern. Croft houses and fields were visited, including to the south of Windbreak where the remains of Ebby Manson’s house are still visible as a rue o’ stones. Old house sites are hard to find in Rackwick due to the diligent reuse of stone for later building projects. A photo taken in the 1920s (held in the Hoy Heritage Archive in the Hoy Kirk) shows a much more substantial ruin at the site. Peat tracks lead off from this part of Rackwick to the east across the burn to Moss of the Whitestanes which hosts large areas of old peat banks. Burnmouth croft has a varied recent history; from family home, to the scene of tragedy in the early 1950s and subsequent abandonment – a decline captured in An Orkney Tapestry by GMB in the 1960s – to renovation into a bothy in the 1970s, donation to the Hoy Trust and current use as a camping bothy and iconic place in the township. Burnmouth still holds all these pasts – in part or whole – in the present, be that local residents who have witnessed this history, or a group of climbers camping after an ascent of the Old Man of Hoy. Over the burn, on the eastern edge of the township, we found the remains of numerous turf built planticrues (cabbage rearing enclosures). Most are marked on the Ordnance Survey 1882 map so presumably were in use in the 19th century. Two examples, however, have segmented outer banks similar to the Pictish square barrows investigated in 2013 at Groups, Braebuster (north part of Hoy). Here excavations revealed a recut ditch but no grave. Either the Rackwick examples are also Pictish (and if so the oldest sites in the township) or all of them are planticrues and date to the post-medieval period. I am eagerly waiting to see if we can recover organic material from the Braebuster Square Barrow ditch to try and radiocarbon date this monument. During the week we were joined by Rackwick residents and the archivist from the Hoy Heritage Project who helped with reconstructing some of the old photos held at the Hoy Kirk. This was more difficult than we had thought, not only in finding the exact photo sites, but framing the view due to the different lenses used 100 years ago. Old camera lenses were much narrower in angle (we are now very used to super wide-angle shots) which compacted and compressed the view. We managed to reconstruct 14 photos around the township. This process gave us really useful insights into changes in buildings, vegetation and farming practice. There are certainly a lot more trees around now, particularly above Crowsnest, and we even found two old planticrues which are visible in the photographs (rare photographed examples in Orkney) which can still be found on the ground. Fire pits from more recent visitors to Rackwick were found clustered around Burnmouth, Greenhill and in the dunes to the south-east. These sites, often just visible as a ring of beach stones containing burn material, beer cans and plastic, show camping or gathering areas outside of the designated camping in Burnmouth bothy garden – alternative spaces for drinking, partying and having a fire.
Returning to the noust (boat hauling site) at the Nose of the Yard Dorothy Rendall pointed out the tarred stones; large beach boulders with black dripping bitumen worn but still visible. This was where the creels were tarred and stacked by the township fishermen. The last fishing boat was hauled up there in the mid-1970s, but Jack Rendall says that tar was last used long before then. Even though the nousts have gone, the tarred stones haven’t moved far in over 60 years. On the Friday, during our drop-in day at the Hoy Kirk Archive, I popped out to see a nearby resident who had some maps to show me. There on the table was a wonderful map of Rackwick drawn in 1792 – now the oldest known detailed map of the township. This confirms that the township grew from the north-west slope in the area of the oldest known crofts, lynchets and deep soils (Crowsnest, Scar etc) to the south-east. This development also tallies with the croft place names …. more to follow.