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Fara, Thomson's Hill

Platform (20th Century)

Site Name Fara, Thomson's Hill

Classification Platform (20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Fara 1

Canmore ID 71701

Site Number ND39NW 42

NGR ND 3277 9581

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/71701

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Walls And Flotta
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

ND39NW 42 3277 9581

Sub-rectangular grassy platform c. 10 x 8m surrounded by turf and peat walling c. 1m wide and maximum height c. 0. 5 m. Long axis orientation N/S. Iron stakes on inside of wall. Two concrete/breeze-block stalls 1. 5 x 1m and 0. 75m high on east and west sides. Presumed military.

J R Hunter, S J Dockrill and J I McKinley 1982.

Activities

Desk Based Assessment (August 2010)

ND 325 960 (centred on) A desk-based assessment and a

preliminary field visit were carried out in August 2010 in

relation to the proposed development of a wind farm on the

central area of Fara. A comprehensive survey of the island

carried out in 1982 by a team from Bradford University had

identified a small number of archaeological sites, several

18th- to 19th-century crofting complexes and agricultural

features, and a large collection of WW2 structures. The

work undertaken in 2010 has identified some minor features

and provided some general observations about the island’s

historic environment.

Bradford’s survey identified two particular archaeological

sites as potentially significant. A possibly Norse farm

settlement with a traditionally associated chapel at Kirka

Taing on the E shore (ND39NW 1); and an enclosure

with potential for being a prehistoric/Early Historic

house (ND39NW 35). Both were visited and the Bradford

descriptions confirmed as still current.

The Kirka Taing is a bedrock reef extending seawards from

the low shore and is the only point on the island with a

sheltered landing and fertile hinterland. The Kirka Taing

complex is probably the most important archaeological

feature on the island and is clearly visible as a low mound in

former pasture close to the beach. It has very little exposed

stonework, but turfed mounds and linear ridges suggest

buried walling around various depressions, which may

represent buildings with rooms and cells. Small exposures

of stonework and midden extend up to 50m N and S of the

exposed features in the shoreline section and several linear

features also appear to radiate for up 100m inland. The

linear features are faint and it was not possible to determine

if they relate to prehistoric, modern drainage or wartime

activities. The features seem to contain some stonework

within turf/earth upcast. A small cairn of indeterminate

origin was noted at ND 33082 96013. It measures c3m N–S x

2m E–W x 1m high and could be one of two old OS marked

cairns that the Bradford survey failed to locate. It is in the

vicinity of a cist burial discovered in 1814 and marked on

early OS maps; however, there is no indication that the cairn

is archaeologically significant. The last surviving stone slab

elements of a previously unrecorded and severely eroded

boat naust on Kirka Taing shore were recorded just N of the

complex at ND 33146 96139 [ND39NW 180].

The 18th- to 19th-century crofting settlements are mainly

situated on the E slopes of the islands central belt in an

area which has been extensively improved for crofting

cultivation. The modern sheep fencing exactly matches

the boundary depicted on the OS map of 1880. The scale

of improvement suggests both individual and collaborative

enterprise, with traces of major external and transverse

ditching still apparent. The buildings from this period have

deteriorated dramatically since the 1982 Bradford survey.

Archive research and informal discussions locally have

provided a wealth of 20th-century social history, covering

the period from the maximum recorded population of 76 in

15 settlements (1891 census) until its abandonment 74 years

later. Key elements leading to its abandonment included the

lack of any electricity or other infrastructure; for instance

there was only one private telephone and when this house

was abandoned in 1957, a phone box was installed for the

five remaining islanders with the number ‘Fara 1’. Other

factors included an ageing population, as families moved

away and possibly the collapse of the 18th- to 19th-century

peat industry. In 1957 one of the five remaining residents

bought the island from the Melsetter estate for £600, and

after the abandonment sold it for £2300 in 1966 to a grouse

shooting group.

No trace of military use during WW1 has been found but

WW2 saw extensive development within the Scapa Flow

defences. Fara was not used for primary installations but

became a key element of the defences against aerial attack,

with a network of anti-aircraft installations and nine barrage

balloon installation sites. The area of Scapa Flow had over

80 such sites in June 1942 creating the highest density in the

UK. At its height, Fara accommodated up to 200 incomers

alongside less than 30 residents, and massive infrastructure

upgrading was carried out. This included consolidated track

and pier construction and a new water supply network from

a reservoir tank on Thomson’s Hill, with piped supplies to

every military installation. Local sources suggest that by

1944 the aerial threat had substantially diminished, so the

barrage balloons were dismantled and shipped out for reuse

in London; the largely wooden accommodation structures

were dismantled and then apparently reused in France after

the D-Day landings.

The other major item of wartime infrastructure was

a narrow gauge railway which connected the military

installations with the two wartime piers [ND39NW 77]. Although only a 2ft

gauge with a small diesel engine, the traces are very evident

on the ground today and it seems likely that a targeted

exploration could map the complete network. A discarded

possible turntable was found during the 2010 field visit, in

undergrowth just N of Braid Point, as a round stone with

embedded iron rails and with a possible spur cutting leading

off. A ‘new’ barrage balloon anchorage at ND 32781 96302 [ND39NW 181]

was also discovered, which brings the number of identified

sites to 4 of the 9 known from archive accounts. The lasting

impression of the wartime remains is that with the exception

of the railway, the features are now very subtle elements of

the landscape and the long-term impact was very ephemeral.

Local sources confirm that no mechanised groundwork

such as drainage or ploughing has taken place since the

1966 change of ownership and possibly for the 20 years

prior to 1966. If this is the case then below surface ground

conditions could have been undisturbed since the wartime

constructions, giving an unusual opportunity to identify

human impacts, particularly in the cultivated area.

References

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