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The Norse Horizontal Mill at Orphir: the Lorimer Connection!

Colleen Batey

Illus 1
Illus 1.

In 1978, Colleen Batey and Chris Morris visited a small hole in the ground to the north of the Earls' Bu complex at Orphir.

This was no ordinary hole in the ground, because as the farmer Mr Stevenson Snr advised us, it had been visited in recent years by one Mrs Daphne Lorimer and HADAS.

This was the beginning of a story which is yet to come to an end...

The small opening in the ground showed two wall lines and a lintel capping slab just a few inches from the modern ground surface (illus one).

Successive excavation seasons followed the line of this tunnel and it seemed to be a souterrain. That was until 1989, when with a flash of lightening and inspiration, Paul Johnstone declared our souterrain to be a mill structure.

Illus 2
Illus 2.

A memorable visit to the site from the delegates of the 11th Viking Congress, confirmed this identification. This was a relief, because each morning of the excavation, Ian Lorimer had stopped his car to examine our find with the constant refrain of "not very interesting, probably a drain."

Fortunately for us, Daphne had more faith and was a constant support though our endeavours.

The interest of Jimmy and Corrine Stevenson ensured we could complete the work at this site, and indeed , the complete structural remains of a Norse horizontal mill at the site (illus 2) will in due course be available for public appreciation.

This example remains the only one of this date from Scotland.

The excavations at the mill were undertaken by generations of students in training, mostly from Durham University , but also from University College London and Aberdeen University.

Illus 3
lllus 3.

All were treated to the wonderful hospitality of both Ian and Daphne Lorimer at Scorradale House - ample drink, a table groaning with food and wonderful anecdotes which many well remember. This was indeed a happy excavation, largely due to the not inconsiderable efforts of both Ian and Daphne.

Several of these fledgling excavators (and those of some experience) remain active and successful in their chosen expertise - Chris Lowe of Headland Archaeology, Dave Griffiths at Oxford (illus 3), Ingrid Mainland at Bradford University and James Barrett at York University to name just a few.

Illus 4
lllus 4

Rachel Harry (Barrowman as she is now) and Paul Johnston also continue in the field (illus 4).

Chris Morris and myself, as directors of the work would like to think that those years at the Bu gave an insight for so many students of how much fun a dig could be - but we are not fooled, the experience would have been considerably poorer without the Lorimer element!!!!

In more recent years, I have worked away from Orkney: in Caithness, Cornwall and a little in Shetland, but the happiest memories all revolve around the time in Orkney with Daphne and Ian.

Daphne's immense drive and enthusiasm for her bone studies has yielded new publication, but I am sure a smile will come to her face when she is reminded of this animal rib bone from the Bu excavations.

It has part of a runic inscription on one face and how exciting that should have been: what a let down to be told it can be read as " .this bone was in.." (illus 5).

Illustration 5
Illus 5
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