Discovering Neolithic Orkney

This week my beloved took me on a short break to Orkney, which is one of the sets of islands to the north of Scotland. On our way up to Scrabster near Thurso to get the ferry we had mixed weather, mainly rain, but the occasional flash of sunshine through the clouds. Scrabster is 124 miles from where we live, so we stopped in Helmsdale for a break – pretty houses on the sea front.

When we got to Thurso, which is only a few miles from the ferry port, we stopped and had a wander round the town.  As you can see it was still quite changeable weather – monkey was not impressed.

We liked this building because it had lots of quotes written in Scottish wording – reassuringly Ken didn’t know what most of them said either.

Queuing to get on the ferry – it’s at this point I should point out that my beloved has a teeny little problem with sea sickness so this was the moment I gave him drugs to help with the crossing.

As Ken settled down in a comfy chair to try and cope with the motion of the boat (he tells himself he’s on a plane) I went outside to take some photos.  I’m glad there’s not film footage of me walking outside as I nearly ended up in several peoples laps as it took me a little while to find my sea legs.

We stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast, Burnside Farm where Joy looked after us perfectly.  Our room, Scapa View, overlooked Stromness harbour so we could lie in bed and look out at the water backed by mountains.  The breakfasts were amazing and if you’re ever going to Orkney for a short break then this is the place to stay.

The view from our room the first morning – as you can see the weather had only gotten worse.  We weren’t deterred in our quest to explore this fascinating place.

Joy, our hostess, suggested some semi indoor activities for us so off we went to visit Maeshowe. This is a chambered cairn that is over 5000 years old – so basically it’s the oldest grave site that we’ve ever visited. You go into the tomb with a guide, ours was Gerry, and they give a really interesting talk about the history of the site. Getting into the tomb was a little bit challenging and Ken wished he had filmed me as we had to bend nearly double to get down the long entrance passageway – I’m the first to admit that I’m not very flexible and a couple of times I nearly got stuck.

Inside there are three chambers where bodies were placed and visited again and again. On the walls there is graffiti that was placed there by Norsemen, descendants of the vikings, in approximately the 12th century. Our favourite of the runic carvings was the one that translates as: “Thofir Koveinsson carved these runes high up”, and they were very high up in the chamber – good to see the vikings had a sense of humour.

Our next stop on our neolithic tour of Orkney was Skara Brae. This is a group of 8 homes that have been dated to 3200 BC that had been covered by the sand until a storm uncovered them in the late 1800’s. 

Before you get to the site there is a recreated dwelling, based on house 7, that you can go inside and see how the homes were to be inside. The thing we noticed straight away was how quiet it was inside and relatively warm compared to outside where it was blowing a gale.

Above is the dresser for putting things on, and below is one of the box beds which are on either side of the main room. I think that neolithic people were a little bit shorter than we are.

After being thoroughly windswept and getting just a little bit wet we headed to Kirkwall which is the capital of Orkney. We had something to eat and went for a wander around, meeting the beautiful boy below.

We came across this lovely community garden with a very interesting rock seat and a mini tower adorned with shells.

Here’s a selfie of us to show you how we were in full winter gear – I’d even had to buy a new hat as the one I had on kept threatening to blow off as it was so windy.

When it had finally stopped raining at the end of the day we went to visit the Standing Stones of Stenness which date from before 3000 BC. As you can see by me being in front of one of the stones, they’re very tall.

Nearby is the Ring of Brodgar, a much larger site, but the stones are a bit smaller.  It seemed quite fitting ending our exploration of neolithic Orkney at the stones, somewhere that ancient people used to worship and somewhere that was so important to those that came before us. I did my usual thing whenever I’m in such an ancient site, I placed my hand against the stone and imagined who had touched this stone thousands of years ago.

To finish this first part of our trip to Orkney I thought I’d better include a lovely cat that we met called Rosie – she’s so pretty.

Until next time, be good, stay safe, and have a fabulous week.

Pamela & Ken

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