Last Sunday, we got up early to catch the ferry to Westray for an open day at the Historic Scotland-funded archaeological excavation at the Links of Noltland, where Hazel Moore gave us a very engaging tour. While this is really a Neolithic site, consisting of a beautiful dwelling house and buildings round about, enclosed by an outer wall, what captured my imagination on this day was something else entirely.
Down on the shore, on the sand-blown links, a sand dune had blown away. It was a totally inconspicuous sand dune, which Westray folk and visitors had played on and driven scramblers over for as long as anyone could remember. But it held a secret! With the Neolithic excavation going on just a few yards away, the archaeologists were keen to notice stone work that had been exposed by the shifting sand. Stood on what they thought was the floor, it soon became apparent — when it collapsed — that is was not the floor at all, it was the roof of a stone built chamber!
It had been perfectly preserved, snuggled up within its sand dune, since the Bronze Age!
The chamber was contained within a “burnt mound” and seems to have been a sauna or similar. The thing that really touched me, was how the water from a natural spring still filled up its built stone basin, perfectly to the brim, as if it had been left only yesterday.
Next to the basin was a beautiful little bench, and shelves and evidence of hot stones which had been taken in to heat the water. Hazel painted a very vivid picture in my mind of a steam room, perhaps used for well-being and healing purposes.
You entered into it through a doorway higher up in the structure, smartly flanked by smooth stones and curving down in a leftwards curve so that the guest may leave the ordinary world behind and out of sight as he or she is admitted to the warm womb of the chamber within.