Mine Howe

Useful Information

Location: Churchyard Rd, Tankerness, Orkney, KW17 2QU.
Tankerness. 10 km east of Kirkwall, Orkney's capital city. From Tankerness Post Office follow Churchyard Rd to St. Andrews New Cemetery. The mound is in the field opposite the cemetery.
(58.938766, -2.852267)
Open: closed.
Fee: closed.
Classification: SubterraneaEnigmatic Cavern
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: self guided, St=29.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Mine Howe, Paterson family, Tel: +44-1856-861234, Tel: +44-1856-861209
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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~500 BC built.
1946 first archaeological excavation, then closed and forgotten.
SEP-1999 rediscovered by local farmer Douglas Paterson and reopened.
2000 explored by the TV archaeological programme Time Team.
2013 site closed to the public.


Mine Howe is a sort of enigma, a simple staircase underground, 29 step leading down to tiny chamber. There was no archaeological evidence found, which could explain its use or its cultural background, and so far it is not clear what it was built for. So the explanations given by the owner are enigmatic too, ancient druids who tried to get in contact with earth or space. If you like this more, there is also an old legend about Orkney troll who lived underground.

The facts are simple, it is an underground structure, man made, about 2,800 years old, built by a Late Stone Age culture. There are steps, which make it likely that it was used rather often. They lead down a narrow passage, then turn around and lead down another passage. The construction was made by piling rocks above each other, without mortar, in such a tricky way that it still exists and is rainproof after almost three millennia.

The story of its discovery is enigmatic too. Excavated in 1946 it was identified as an Iron Age broch, a typical round house built in dry stone architecture and found only in Scotland. The excavators also speak of hundreds of bones and other relics strewn about the floor, a number of curious polished stones, two teeth and a quantity of cockleshells. Nothing remained, the whereabouts are not clear. Then it was forgotten for half a century until it was rediscovered by the farmer who owns the land. Soon it became popular and was featured by a sort of archaeological docu soap called Time Team. They could not solve the enigma, but they constructed a copy, to find out how it was built. The copy, a documentation of their work and many pictures are on display in a small museum created by the owner.

And then it gets really weird. The site was abandoned by Douglas Paterson, the museum closed, the site gated. It was probably in 2013, it's not clear as nothing was published. Some people were able to book a tour for a group, others asked at the owners house and where guided. But depending on the mood, the reception was sometimes friendly and sometimes grumpy. However, the gates are ramshackle and numerous people have visited anyway, at least you won't get shot for trespassing in Scotland. We strongly condemn violating private property, and it is dangerous. If you were to do something so stupid, you would probably have to climb over the fence and take a torch with you.