Mine Howe

Useful Information

Location: Tankerness. 10 km east of Kirkwall, Orkney's capital city.
(58°56'14.51"N, 2°51'8.95"W)
Open: MAY Wed, Sun 11-15.
JUN to AUG daily 11-17.
01-SEP to 10-SEP Wed, Sun 11-16.
12-SEP to 30-SEP Wed, Sun 11-14.
Fee: Adults GBP 2.50. [2000]
Classification: SubterraneaCave Tomb
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours:
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.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


~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.


Mine Howe is a sort of an enigma. It is a simple stair underground, 29 step leading down to really small 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 undeground.

The facts are simple, it is an underground structure, man made, about 2,800 years old, built by an Upper 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 an tricky way that it still exists and is rain proof 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 excavaters 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 cockle shells. 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.