Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

Costa Hill, Ernie Tower

Radio Station (20th Century)

Site Name Costa Hill, Ernie Tower

Classification Radio Station (20th Century)

Canmore ID 157903

Site Number HY32NW 24

NGR HY 3112 2973

NGR Description Centred HY 3112 2973

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2024.

Toggle Aerial | View on large map

Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Kirkwall And St Ola
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY32NW 24 centred 3112 2973

A semi-demolished radio station with brick-and-concrete buildings on the summit of Costa Hill. The mast with beacon has been toppled to the ground. The concrete mast bases are still extant.

Visited by RCAHMS (DE, GS) May 1997.


Measured Survey (10 June 2021 - 31 August 2021)

Orkney Energy Landscapes explored the past, present and future of energy production and its role in shaping the identity of the islands. Orkney has a long history of energy testing and production, from the use of traditional fuels such as peat, to the more recent extraction of oil, exploration of uranium, and the current world-leading renewables industry (wind, wave and tidal). Taking these energy themes the project explored five main areas, undertaking walkover and measured survey, building recording, oral history, and school outreach, run as a series of community events.

HY 31117 29721 Costa Hill wind turbine (Canmore ID: 157903) At Costa Hill (Site 1), the remains of the world’s first grid connected wind turbine were recorded for the first time, comprising anemometers, a turbine base and control building. Initial archive research has shown that there was only a low presence on the hill during the Second World War, and the current classification of the site in Canmore as a Radio Station is incorrect. Large anemometers were erected by William Golding in the late 1940s to test the site for an experimental wind turbine. Steel framework from the largest anemometer tower was present on the site until recently and is pictured in Canmore. The concrete base of the largest anemometer (HY 31068 29770) is still visible to the NW of the building surrounded by three concrete cable anchor points.

The 100KW wind turbine was completed by c1955 and operated

for a short time. Remains of the turbine tower (three steel leg bases set in concrete) survive within an area of hard standing to the S of a rectangular concrete and stone building. The building functioned as a control room and has now been gutted and adapted as an animal shelter. There is an access track from the turbine around the southern part of the hill to the road. Aerial photographs from 1948 indicate that both the building and track were contemporary with the turbine, and not dating from the Second World War as previously assumed. Walkover survey was conducted in the area around the turbines, including earthworks and other concrete anchor points (Sites C1–7). Building recording was undertaken for the control centre. The experimental turbine successfully demonstrated that large-scale wind devices could generate power for the grid.

HY 34287 26083, HY 34159 26134, HY 34483 25901 Burgar

Hill Wind Farm (Modern) wind turbines (Canmore ID: 298128) On Burgar Hill the remains of three wind turbines from the 1980s were recorded. Burgar Hill hosted the next phase of experimental wind turbine development in Orkney with the MS1 and Howden turbines built in the early 1980s (c1983) and the huge LS1 3MW turbine with a concrete tower completed in 1987 (Wind Energy Group). At the time, the LS1 was the largest grid connected turbine in the world. It operated until 1997 and was demolished in 2000. The concrete bases for all three turbines survive at the site and two (3 and 4) were planned using plane table survey. Details of construction, layout and floor covering are evident. Walkover survey was conducted in the area around the turbines with 14 sites recorded in total, including a former visitor’s centre for the early devices and current turbines (Sites B1–14).

HY 22449 10223 Billia Croo Engineering Industry Site (21st

century), Wave Energy Test Site (Canmore ID: 340624) At Billia Croo, (the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) onshore wave test site compound was recorded using walkover survey and building recording. The site receives electricity from five marine docking sites and transfers this to the grid. Numerous wave test devices have been tested at the site, including Pelamis, Oyster, Seatricity, and Velo. Structures and features within the compound were recorded and could be related to the different devices (Site BC 1A–P). The southern wall of the switch room building was recorded demonstrating two main phases of construction. The adjacent Oyster 800 (Aquamarine Power) onshore compound was recorded (walkover survey), where the turbine equipment has been left in place and not decommissioned (Sites BC 2A–E; centre HY 22453 10155). More detailed recording of the facility would be beneficial.

HY 2588 1064 Mill of Cairston, Grain Mill, Uranium deposits (Canmore ID: 153304) The uranium corridor, that extends N of Stromness to Yesnaby, was explored with the reconstruction of a walk in June 1977 by the Orkney Field Club, along part of the route, ending at Mill of Cairston. Viable uranium deposits were discovered in the early 1970s and the threat of uranium mining loomed over Stromness and Orkney until the late 1980s. Geiger counters identified an area of higher radiation in the burn channel at Mill of Cairston, discovered in the original geological survey. The uranium deposits remain unexploited.

ND 3550 9500 Flotta Oil Terminal (Canmore ID: 133641) Flotta Oil Terminal (Site 7) was explored with a walk around the perimeter. The terminal location was chosen following the discovery of oil in the Piper and Claymore oil fields in the North Sea. Approval for the terminal was granted in 1974 and the first oil flowed in December 1976. A large area of the farming landscape was levelled for the terminal including the purchase and demolition of 11 farms, also listed in Canmore (eg Wharnclett Canmore ID 303017, Sutherland 182504, Netherhowe 303015, Curries 303024 etc.). Discussions with residents during the event who had worked at the terminal indicated that much of the vast terminal complex was either decommissioned (eg liquefied propane gas storage tanks, liquefied ethane processing and storage, processing areas on the E side and outer sea mooring points) or unused (eg only two of the oil storage tanks are currently in use). Further work on the history of the site would be beneficial. A large stone quarry (late 20th century) at Stanger Head (ND 37611 92548) was used to extract stone for the oil terminal. The quarry is not depicted on historical maps and appears to have been opened specifically for the terminal construction.

HY 56498 39149 Eday Peat Railway. In Eday, peat banks were

explored in the southern part of the island, near to EMEC’s tidal test site and the community wind turbine. Demonstration coring was used to discuss the story of peat as a fuel, for reconstructing past environments and as a carbon sink. A targeted walkover survey in the N of the island located the site of a short funicular railway (Site 9), adjacent to the Calf of Eday lighthouse. The railway was used to transfer peats to boats from a stone-built pier. There are remains of a short cutting from the shore edge with two sets of parallel iron rails in the base, with the remains of a wagon nearby. The pier has completed vanished. This previously unrecorded site was established in 1925 by the Carrick Estate for the export and sale of peats, mostly to distilleries. The venture ended after the Second World War.

Additional site details will be available in the project report.

The project is a collaboration between ORCA, University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Archaeology Institute and the Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews.

Archive: NRHE (intended)

Funder: National Lottery Heritage Fund, EMEC

Daniel Lee and Richard Irvine – ORCA, UHI Archaeological Institute and University of St Andrews

(Source: DES Vol 22)


MyCanmore Image Contributions

Contribute an Image

MyCanmore Text Contributions