Monday, 5 August 2013

Tomb Raiders. The Orkneyinga Saga .July 27th-August 3rd.
Four gadgies set off for Orkney very late on Friday July 26th.
The fearless foursome were:
Dave Kearflanghorn (Skull Splitter)
Harald Haraldson  (Saga illustrator and metal worker)
John Hamptonfjord (Bardic player)
Michael Kostshowmuch of Jorvik (Rune writer)

 Rather than cross the seas in a longboat we drove from Newcastle to Thurso overnight and arrived in time for a hearty breakfast at the town's Rock Café and pub before filling in a few hours before taking the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness on Orkney and driving to the Youth Hostel at Kirkwall. On the boat we passed close to the famous stack known as The Old Man of Hoy.
                                                   The Old Man of Hoy, 450 feet (137m) of vertical climb.

                                                               Once settled in our rooms we went to the local Tesco to get food for the week. much easier than pillaging round the island. A supper of fish and chips from the Happy Haddock and a couple of pints of ale in The Bothy Bar and The Shore rounded off the day nicely.

                                                         The wake  we left behind.

Sunday July 28th.
It was raining when we got up and remained wet for most of the day so we opted for a trip to the Italian church just south of the first Churchill Barrier.
  In September 1939 a U-boat breached the defences of Scapa Flow where the Royal Navy had a base and sank HMS Royal Oak, an old battleship moored in the flow and used a a floating gun platform. 834 sailors died in the attack. As a result Winston Churchill ordered the building of the four barriers that made the base more secure. Much of the work was done by Italian Prisoners of War. In their spare time they converted two Nissen huts into a church and it remains, and is carefully looked after to this day.
                                                  The front of the Italian Church

                                                The Altar

                                                      The roof
                                                       The outside, a Nissen hut!

The art work is beautiful, faithful reproductions of the type of decoration found in Italian churches. Some clever  trompe l'oeill on the interior walls give the impression of tiling although the walls are plastered flat. In 1992 some of the prisoners returned, no doubt delighted their efforts were so well cared for.
  In the afternoon we visited St.Magnus' Cathedral in Kirkwall, a building that dominates the small capital of Orkney. St Magnus had been ruler of Orkney  but in a dispute with a cousin he was killed. His skull is hidden in the cathedral walls. Other items of interest include a memorial to Sir John Rae, adventurer, who sailed off to try to find what happened to the famous Franklin attempt to discover the North West Passage.
                                                               Stained glass in St. Magnus Cathedral.
                                                          Memorial to Sir John Rae

                                                                     The East Window.
  There was also a "Death Board", a sort of Middle Ages method of showing in which house a death had occurred, the board being placed outside. A precursor of Births, Marriages and Deaths columns.

Having visited an Italian church we opted for pasta for dinner, and an Italian red wine.

MondayJuly 29th.
The morning was sunny, just right for our first foray into the Neolithic sights and sites of Orkney.
Our first stop was at the Stones of Stenness, the remains of an ancient ring close to the narrow isthmus between the brackish Loch of Stenness and Loch of Harray. Keith, guide for Historic Scotland, but English took us round the stones and the nearby Barnhouse. These remains are some five thousand years old, (Built before the Pyramids as we kept being told).
                                                     Stones of Stenness

                                            The Neolithic Barnhouse.
The next stop was at the Ring of Brodger. Sarah, Historic Scotland guide and an Orcadian with a lovely soft accent, took us round the ring of stones.  The stones are quite tall and thin. As  with the blocks at Stonehenge they were brought from various parts of the island, possibly as a "contribution" by various settlements to a site used for ceremony and ritual, that phrase meaning " we are not exactly sure."

                                              Two views of the Ring of Brodger
   The fields around the ring were full of flowers, they had been sown to recreate a traditional meadow, very colourful too, we should have more of them.

  The last visit of the day was to the relatively new site on the Ness of Brodger. Here a few years ago the farmer made the first discovery that has led to the slow excavation of a huge Neolithic site including a large building probably designed for ceremonial and ritual. It is thought that the area uncovered so far is a mere 10% of the total site.
  When we visited our tour was conducted by the lovely Sarah. In one corner of the site we could see Sir Tony (Baldrick) Robinson performing for the cameras, making another Time Team programme no doubt. We hoped to get his autograph, (It's not for me Tony but would you mind.....)/
 The site souvenir shop confided he had not bought anything. Probably because they didn't sell turnips.

                                               Two views of the Ness of Brodger archaeological site.
                                            Archaeologists are today's hippies, apparently.
That night we dined on sausage and mash, with cabbage, and retired to the Shore for some ale.

Tuesday July 30th.
There are approximately forty islands that make up Orkney, we chose to catch the ferry from Stromness to Hoy for a day out. Dave opted to join the RSPB tour of the island and took off in a mini bus with Kate and Inge as guides and several sweet little ladies as company. Harry John and I opted for a walk across the island. The road we followed took us past a café, we stopped for tea and scones and then continued up the road which became a track which became a rough path over the island to Rackwick. From here we could have walked on to The Old Man of Hoy but decided we would not get back in time for the ferry so we picnicked on the beach before returning by a different route to the café for tea and tiffin, and the boat back to the mainland. The chosen route passed the Dwarfie Stone, an ancient burial cairn but we didn't visit it. We did see a pair of juvenile Sea Eagles though, which had not been spotted on Dave's RSPB walk!

                                                   The Scrabster Stromness Ferry, close by on
                                                   our way to Hoy
                                                        The track across the island
                                                      Rackwick Bay
                                                     Stone roofed bothy at Rackwick
                                                           Hoy has the highest hills on Orkney
                                                     Hoy   ferry

Back at the Youth Hostel we  dined on chilli which was hot and needed cooling down with some ale.
Wednesday July 31st.

The highlight of Orkney's many Neolithic sites is Skara Brae. Built some five thousand years ago, well before the Pyramids, the village was abandoned for some reason and slowly covered by sand. In th middle of the nineteenth century a storm washed away the ancient blanket revealing the village in almost perfect condition, apart from roofs on the buildings The settlement of round houses is connected by covered passageways. Each house  has bed spaces and "dressers", either for storage or ceremonial and ritual. A central hearth was used for cooking and watertight troughs were use3d for preparing bait or storing fish. The whole village was protected by a midden, a collection of animal and food waste built over a long period of time. Pottery and tools have been found, some evidence of simple games, but no weapons.
The visitor centre shows a short film of the whole site and offers an explanation of some of the artifacts on display. A trip well worth the money. And the entrance ticket throws in Skaill House, the home of the local laird.
                                                      Stone age dresser at Skara Brae

                                                          Bed space at Skara Brae
                                                 Two views of the village
                                                       Artifacts at Skara Brae.
   As if this was not enough for the day we drove back towards Kirkwall but stopped at Maeshowe . This looks like an earth mound, very much out of place in the flat landscape. It is a large burial mound, possibly also used for ceremonial and ritual. Broken into by Viking raiders and used a shelter, some of the stones of this amazing place have runic graffiti and art work scratched into the stones. Photography is not allowed, the entrance tunnel is a few metres long and the interior does have a modern roof but this does not detract from the high quality workmanship visible in the stone work.

                                             Maeshowe interior, from a postcard!
  On the way home we visited three other burial mounds, one at Unstan.  And then had quiche.

Thursday August 1st.

Another wet day. We headed for Tingwall and caught the ferry to Rousay. One of the perks of being a gadgie is the concessions made on ferry fares.  A mere £4.20 instead of the normal £16 return! (it was the same for Hoy, I love Scotland)
Leaving the ferry terminal we headed west on the island's circular road, stopping first at Taversoe Tuick, a burial mound.  This is a two storey mound, access today to the lower floor by means of a very non stone age iron ladder.

                                                     Ferry, cross to Rousay
                                                    Tomb entrance
                                                          Inside the burial tomb
                                                    Neolithic photographer
                                                     Tomb with stalls instead of side chambers
                                                 Tingwall meteorological office.
We visited two more tombs which were slightly different, being elongated rather than circular. We then continued walking on the road intent on finding a bronze age village but the heavy rain  made us retreat to the pub near the pier to wait for the ferry back to mainland Orkney.
On the way back we stopped at the Happy Haddock and stocked up with fish and chips for dinner, followed by a wet walk to the Shore.

Friday August 2nd.
What a way to spend my 44th wedding anniversary. A warm day, slightly foggy but with a promise that it would lift and be a scorcher. We headed south across all four of the Churchill barriers to visit the Tomb of the Eagles, which is, believe it or not, a burial chamber. Mr Simison, farmer, some years ago was looking for stones to repair a wall when he came across some which, on excavation, proved to be a burial tomb. This one contained skeletons and eagle remains, hence its name. It is thought that the dead were laid out on platforms and once the bodies had been picked clean the sleletal remains were placed in the mound The process is called excarnation I think and is practised by several cultures around the world.
The narrow entrance tunnel has a trolley and rope, similar to the system used in the film The Great Escape.  Inside the tomb has stalls for the dead and the usual high quality stonework. The visitor centre is first class with a fine display of skulls and implements used by the Neolithic locals. And the lady who took us round was extremely friendly, and knowledgeable to boot. She told us that in some respects life on Orkney had not changed since the time of the tombs. Her house did not have electricity until she was 18 (we were too polite!) and as a child she had to fetch water from a well.
Also on the site was the Burnthouse, a Neolithic house where the inhabitants had cooked using stones heated on a fire and then put in to a water trough. They had fresh water coming in and a drain for used water going out too.

                                                           The Burnt House
                                                            Tomb of the Eagles, inside
                                                                    and outside
                                            Churchill Barrier number 4
Leaving the tomb we drove to the Brough of Deerness, a must for jacket wearing geographers as it has a gloop and a geo. (look them up).
 We walked along a grassy path to the brough, down some steep steps, up a steep path along a cliff side, with a chain fortunately, and visited the ruins of a chapel
                                                       Churchill barrier, built by Italians
                                                       The gloup, a partly covered inlet
                                                        Information board for..

  Brough of Deerness

                                                        the chapel.
Back at base we dined on curry and then paid a last visit to the Shore.

Saturday August 3rd
Ferry to Scrabster, all day breakfast about 6pm in Pitlochry and home shortly before midnight.

Bird of the blog:
The Orkneys, not surprisingly support many seabirds, fulmars, skuas, puffins, gulls and gannets. But the bird of the blog award goes to the Sea Eagle.