Cairns at Cuween Hill cairns, turbines and transmitters
I recently visited Mainland Orkney, famed for its world heritage status Neolithic remains...tombs, standing stones and villages.
Visiting one of the lesser known chambered tombs on Cuween Hill, silhouetted on the hillside by the tomb were what appeared to be standing stones. This surprised me a little as there was nothing marked on the map. As we approached the tomb it became evident that the standing stones were in fact dry stone cairns. Having crawled inside the tomb and admired the stonework, thecairns were subjected to a closer inspection. A motley collection, a dozen of various sizes, mostly short columns but one around 9 feet high, another a single skin mini beehive hut, just big enough to crawl into should you dare.
As I looked back from amongst them I noticed for the first time that the backdrop in one direction had two wind turbines and twin radio transmitters atop the nearby hill. I was reminded of a trip just over a year earlier to Amherst Island in Ontario Canada and playing around with Stones on the beach there and also on the shores of Lake Ontario at Port Hope, with John Shaw Rimmington who blogged about this towards the end of June last Year. Discussions then as to whether or not such constructions were a blot on the landscape. This was coincidentally a topic briefly revisited in a discussion on stone balancing I’d had one evening in the bar at Northstone58 just a week earlier.
I admire stone balancing, or at least skilled balancing and creative cairns but I’ve never been a fan of myriads of stone piled willy nilly on a beach or on a river bank in an unimaginative manner. A little later that afternoon amongst the 5000 year old standing stones of Stenness I found myself reconsidering my views once more.
The cairns at Cuween are nothing special, although they display a certain amount of skill, if not perfect craftsmanship. Who built them and why? They look amateurish and one can only guess that numerous visitors have cleared what looks like an old quarry area. Amateurish but not terrible, easy stone to stack or pile, but some skill here and there if not much imagination. 2 children were adding what stone they could find to one when we arrived, inexpertly, but the laughing and excited voices undeniably indicated they were having fun.
Back in 2010 I was having fun on a stony beach in California alongside several members of the Stone Foundation, messing around creatively building, when we were evicted by the police. It was some form of designated park and we didn’t have the necessary permits, I doubt what we were doing would have survived the first winter storm, but maybe they had a point. Fun not permitted.
Where do we draw the line? Can we be the Stone Police? Do we have a right to say thou shalt not spoil the countryside/view by piling stone inexpertly? Is it okay if I do it because I am more skilled or through being creative than your average Joe or Jill Public, perhaps for the sake of photographing it in some Goldsworthian way. What I remember most about those days piling stone with John (after only a year I could not picture exactly what we/john had built until I revisited my photos)was that it had been a really enjoyable time. The children at Cuween were having fun. However much we might or might not like what we see, were the people doing it having fun? Of course they were, they would not have been doing it otherwise. If they are not actually breaking the law or damaging anything (thats a different ecological argument I’ll not consider here) then who are we to deny them that, just because we might not like it or appreciate it. Who knows it might even be the inspiration that leads them on to an appreciation of stonework, or even a life in the craft. Should we dismiss the possibility, stifling it with a blanket ban? Who do we think we are?
Back at Stenness I wondered, perhaps a little disingenuously, if anyone had been up in arms when they first set the stones or erected the nearby ring of Brodgar, they do rather impinge on the view.
Stones of Stenness
Ring of Brogan
Thank you Sean Adcock for this recent submission to Thinking With My Hands