From the Little Oxford Dictionary - cairn: a pyramid of rough stones
Further research into the curious case of the rats of St Kilda has proved valuable.
I confess dear readers that initially on hearing the wrecked Spanish trawler was called the Spinningdale I simply checked wikipedia and found nothing. However, the BBC released a video report showing the stricken craft which bared the number 29, and my curiosity was once again aroused.
The Spinningdale, built 40 years ago in Aberdeen as a fishing trawler, one of around 30 similar vessels built at the same time, all named after coastal villages in Scotland. Her number FD29, the FD standing for Fleetwood, an English fishing port very close to Blackpool. She was in the hands of new Spanish owners by 1985, her registration retained though the vessel refitted with a full shelter deck. Today, she lies wrecked in Village Bay, Hirta, St Kilda, after an incident on 1st February this year.
Spinningdale itself, the village that lent it's moniker to the craft, an ancient coastal settlement, inhabited by Vikings who arrived in the area around 800 AD, hence its name, from Norwegian, spinne meaning round and dalhr for valley. However, there is evidence of human settlement from ancient "prehistoric" times, the area littered with the remains of stone burial cairns going back at least 5000 years, perhaps further.
Nowadays it's not the largest of communities by any stretch of the imagination; a still functioning, friendly and hospitable Old Mill Inn, the ruins of the mill itself - now a scheduled ancient monument yet once the centre of a thriving community in the 18th and 19th centuries then sadly destroyed by fire, the village a ghost town by the 1830's, deserted by the jackdaws, as the former inhabitants referred to themselves.1
A more recent addition is a large secluded single storied house called the Bungalow2, set within thick oak woodland on the edge of the sea-loch and built in the 1920's by a Mr Chance, before being subsequently purchased by actor James Robertson Justice.
Mr. Justice was an interesting character; a veteran of the acting profession his films include Whisky Galore, Land of the Pharaohs, and Scott of the Antarctic amongst many others. To relax from his professional activities, Justice indulged in his pleasure of falconry, keeping a collection of hawks and suchlike and it was this that led to his friendship with Princes Phillip and Charles. Indeed so well acquainted with royalty was Mr Justice, that whilst the Royal train was stationed at Ardgay the two Princes - "stayed at the bungalow, regularly dropping in to the Mill Inn for their evening pint.".
Coincidentally perhaps, a new biography of James Robertson Justice is due to be released this very month.
Horus - falcon headed Egyptian "God"
Now we must travel to 1910, the year when Robert Falcon Scott began his ill fated journey to Antarctica, and where we find written details of another expedition, this one carried out by an Alexander o' Curle, an archaeologist who explored one of the Spinningdale cairns known locally as Red Dog Cairn. Although he found a skeleton, the bones were much decayed, the skull missing and he suspected the tomb chamber had already been "rifled"; as such any objects that may have been buried alongside sadly pilfered. There was however evidence of another creatures activity within the grave, as recorded:
"On the top of it lay the remains of a rat's larder, - a number of empty cocoons of the emperor or some other moth gathered from the heather, the jaw of a small rodent, and some other fragments of bone. The rats hole was visible in one corner".
Yet it is Mr 'o Curles tale of the legend of another Spinningdale cairn, a larger one, that I find most interesting of all:
"Many hundred years ago, so runs the tale, a fell disease visited the district and took a grevious toll of its inhabitants. To the survivors its destruction became a matter of supreme moment and of no insurmountable difficulty. Everyone knew where the disease was. The scene of its ravages was only too well known. Accordingly, they formed themselves into a great circle around the infected area, gradually diminishing its diameter as they walked inward, keeping their prey before them. Just as they were converging on the centre, crowding round from all sides, the disease, in the form of a small animal, vanished underground. To make sure that it would have no opportunity of reappearing in their midst, they raised this great cairn over the spot where it had disappeared"
Unfortunately, there are no specific details provided for the the deadly disease, nor the "small animal". Your author wonders if perhaps it refers to the rat, although we have to bear in mind that the species of rat in the UK now, the brown rat, rattus norvegicus, is not the same as the black rat, rattus rattus, which carried the Black Death, and itself was an immigrant to Britain, arriving at these shores via ships during the time of the Crusades. Perhaps it alludes to something indescribably horrific, something to be forgotten by alteration. Something that is rising again ?
From the Spinningdale website:
"From the few modern excavations on chambered tombs, it seems that only certain members of the Neolithic society were buried in these burial cairns. It is inferred as there are always very few interments relative to the density of Neolithic populations, and given the centuries these communal tombs or mausolea were in use. An interesting note is that very few complete skeletons have been found in these burial mounds. These interments seem to mark the end of their cairns use. Usually it is only the skulls and long bones that are recovered. One major theory is that the special people interred in the cairns had their bodies brought out at intervals, until only the large bones survived, eventually their remaining large bones were permanently 'rested' in their tombs. The more ordinary folk of the Neolithic seem to have been initially exposed to the elements, birds and other scavengers in what are termed 'mortuary enclosures', often close to burial cairns."
"There have been studies on Scottish islands which would seem to indicate that these funeral cairns have overviews in their landscapes making up 'farm parcels'. Other cairns actually define the parcel boundaries. At least two of the Spinningdale cairns do not match these either of these theories. At the present, we cannot say that all the cairns and other monuments that were in our Glen area have been found. We also do not know what cairns have been 'lost' over the centuries."
So, what can we surmise from this when put in conjunction with my recent post Space Invaders (Rat-a-tat-tat) when I discussed the St Kilda aspect of this affair.
The Spinningdale suffers an Act of God and runs aground on St Kilda -The Island at the Edge of the World - a place steeped in ancient unique ancient architecture and similar history - now the home of a missile defense radar station. A trawler, named after a tiny Scottish coastal village with a similarly ancient history, runs aground there. The fear is that rats will desert the sinking ship and colonise the island, thus bringing carnage to the local residents.
Again on the 1st of February an undersea water cable was damaged, seriously damaging internet and telephone connections to Dubai.
"Officials said Friday it was unclear what caused the damage to FLAG's FALCON cable about 50 kilometers off Dubai. A repair ship was en route, FLAG said."
Just for the record, it should be noted that there was another shipping casualty in UK waters on the the same day. The ship in this instance was called Riverdance. The location was Blackpool, literally a stone throw from Fleetwood, where, as you will recall, The Spinningdale was first registered.
From the immensely popular Irish Riverdance website
Act 1 - Reel around the Sun:
"The sun brings life and light and fire, the opening dance sequence celebrates this benevolent masculine power. The sun is the light of morning, exuberant and clear."
Full circle ?
Here is a link to the archaeologists report on the cairn excavation.
The Gentle Falconer: a short resume of James Robertson Justice by Howard Watson can be found here
Many thanks to Charlie from the Old Mill Inn for the Spinningdale history and for allowing me to quote from it. It was much appreciated and a most interesting and informative site. I did not have time to go into the history of the mill itself and the expansion of the village in the 1700's although it is interesting and possibly pertinent.
1) I am interested that the locals named themselves "Jackdaws." Again see my St Kilda posting, jackdaws were one of the species studied by Konrad Lorenz in terms of social behavior in his book, King Solomons Ring. Coincidentally, the collective term for a flock of jackdaws is a train, which ties in quite well with the mode of Royal transport when visiting the "bungalow".
2) the wikipedia reference for a bungalow can be found here, it is most interesting in terms of extended families.