An Orkney Saga

viewNo, I haven’t forgotten about the website. We’ve been travelling again, but this time much closer to home though almost as far away as you can go in Scotland – the Orkney Islands. In just over an hour, we’d left our world behind and flown into a land of seas and skies and roaring winds and the friendliest people you could wish to meet.

We were on an Orkney Archaeological Tour with our guide, Dave, who has so many degrees and interests, he is a walking encyclopaedia of all kinds of knowledge. And over five days, he informed, enlightened and taught us so much about the islands and their history, geology, geography and lifestyles that our heads were fair birlin’ as we say on the mainland!

The islands are covered in Neolithic sites and we soon became adept at picking out mounds yet to be excavated. We visited neolithic settlements, including of course, Skara Brae and chambered cairns where they laid the dead, although only a few bones had been found there

We scrambled into them through stone tunnels or down rickety iron ladders to cairns, some in which we could barely stand upright.

ladder

The way in – and out!

Maes Howe is perhaps the best known but is now so popular that we had to go in groups of 20 with an official guide. We much preferred the lesser known ones that Dave took us to, where there was no-one else around and the atmosphere was decidedly more creepy.

The Ring of Brodgar was also busy, there being a cruise ship in the harbour but it’s so large and impressive that there was plenty of scope for everyone. The day was cool with squally showers as we walked around them, grateful for the occasional shelter those massive stones provided from the wind.

brodgar

Ring of Brodgar

The Vikings had also left their mark on Orkney, often in the shape of runes found scrawled inside Maes Howe and in their longhouses, the remains of which we saw at the Brough of Birsay.

I can’t not mention the magnificent St Magnus Cathedral or the remains of opulent palaces built in mediaeval times and moving forward through time, the Hackness Battery on Hoy and of course Scapa Flow with the Churchill Barriers and the Italian Chapel from the second World War,

chapel

The Italian Chapel

This is just a scamper through a great week but I must praise the food – local Aberdeen Angus beef and fish fresh from the waters around the islands, marvellous home baking in some of the most isolated cafes we’ve ever visited and great hearty soups to keep us going through the days.

And of course, there are plenty of settings for stories; a murder in an isolated cairn anyone? Or dastardly deeds in an Earl’s palace? Spies at Scapa Flow? And romance of course – sailors loving and leaving the womenfolk. In fact, we saw a grave in unhallowed ground where a young lass had taken her own life after being deserted by her lover. I’m going to be busy, I can see!

 

 

 

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