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Progress at St Coombs Chapel

The proposal to have an oil platform construction yard at Dunnet Links threatens the obliteration of the site of St. Coombs Chapel, which is reputed to be buried in that area. Several accounts of church history written in the 19th century tell how the chapel was engulfed in sand during a terrible storm, so that the minister, had to escape through the roof. This story is itself of doubtful origin, and the slender story is accompanied by slender evidence of the exact location of the chapel. There is no mention of the chapel in the church records which have been kept since the twelfth century, so it is likely to be a chapel of early twelfth century origin which was not long used as such. It is therefore not surprising that it is proving hard to locate. There are locations such as ínear the mid-sands burní available (where did the burn run 800 years ago?), and there is a location given by the Ordnance Survey based on local opinion in 1870. A further clue comes from the finding of a graveyard during works, to alter the road in 1939. An investigation made, using long rods probing into the sand revealed that there was a large area of buried stone at the Ordnance Survey site. A party of energetic members spent a Sunday with spade and barrow digging down to this feature, only to discover that it was a layer of stone pavement laid on the sand with no sign of a chapel. The reason for the pavement is itself a mystery, but it has been suggested that it was part of the measures taken to stabilise the sand dunes in former times.

Since we were running low in funds we approached the Chicago Bridge Co. to give a donation to the cause, which they agreed to do. This enabled us to bear the cost of asking Dr. Roger Hipkin to come up from Edinburgh University with a highly sensitive magnetometer which can measure the small disturbance in the earths magnetic field caused by an object buried underground. His measurements have revealed an area (about the size of a chapel'.) which has a different magnetism. Some day soon we hope to cut an exploratory trench at that site.

Published April 1973