Day 56 & 57 – Orkney’s Neolithic Wonderland

Skara Brae – Ring of Brodgar – The Standing Stones of Stenness – Maeshowe, 12Km and 5000 years

Although Scotland has some fierce winters, here in Orkney the temperature averages around 5 degrees C and snow rarely settles. However there is a fierce wind which was blowing yesterday. I therefore abandoned my plan to rent a bicycle and took the bus into Kirkwall. I booked a place on the Highland Park distillery tour at 12.00.

I arrived as the previous group was leaving. They seemed to have enjoyed the tour; there were high fives and some were humming old classics. We started by inspecting a large quantity of returns from duty free shops and we had to do our best to reduce the stockpile. After that, we were shown the complicated process of making whisky from barley, yeast and water. And then there were more tastings. I can’t remember exactly how many. I bought a pot of their whisky marmalade in the shop.

Today I walked along Orkney’s Neolithic, UNESCO listed Wonderland, starting at Skara Brae, Britain’s earliest known Neolithic village, occupied over 5000 years ago. I bought the guide with all the floor plans and then looked around the show home, a full reconstruction of House No 7. After that, I set off to see the real thing. I was in a hurry because a large bus load of tourists were lining up in the ticket office.

Fortunately I had the place to myself, except for the attendant who was there to dissuade me from leaving the path or touching anything. It’s haunting, wandering around this Stone Age village, the sunken houses with their passages and indoor plumbing, all fitted with Scandi style flat pack stone furniture. What happened to the people? Why did they abandon Skara Brae 4500 years ago?

Perhaps it was the midges. We finally met. There were hundreds of them but they waved me through. They were gathering for the feast that was now coming through the turnstiles with their bare arms and shorts and abundant flesh.

I walked inland to a series of Neolithic remains. How clever of those people to build an enduring legacy of their presence. First came the perfectly circular Ring of Brodgar which was deserted, then the Standing Stones of Stenness which I liked best because there were only 4 of them and they were huge. They reminded me of something. And finally the Maeshowe burial chamber. We weren’t allowed inside for fear of spreading the virus despite all the occupants being long dead but Amy, one of the rangers, told me all about Neolithic Orkney and showed me her photos. We talked about the Iron Age Broch of Gurness which I visited at the start of the St Magnus pilgrimage by Evie beach. That was the best of them all because I was able to walk inside the buildings and sit down where our ancestors sat, 2000 years ago.

In Orkney, the archeological digging continues, in fact it’s barely started. They estimate about 15000 people lived on Orkney in 3000BC. That’s almost as many as today.


So that’s all. I start my two day journey home tomorrow on taxi, boat, bus and train. Thank you so much for reading the blog and every single comment, all of which kept me going through Scotland and Orkney. I look forward to all of us getting together again. This can’t last forever.

The Orkney flag flying at the distillery. You won’t see the Scottish flag on these islands
Take a lot of barley, grown on The Black Isle north of Inverness (see earlier photos)
Bring to the boil…
Store for many years
This lifeboat must see some action
Skara Brae on the Bay of Skaill
House 1 with dresser opposite the doorway, a hearth at its centre and bed enclosures on both sides
A new proud owner but I wouldn’t put it there
The Ring of Brodgar, 27 surviving stones, 100m diameter and over 4000 years old. Admission free
The Ring of Brodgar sits on a narrow strip of land between Stenness and Harray Lochs
The Standing Stones of Stenness dating back to 3100BC, one of the earliest stone circles in Britain
These monoliths, what do they mean?

32 comments on “Day 56 & 57 – Orkney’s Neolithic Wonderland

  1. Linda s

    What do we do of an eve now without your blog Tim ? ! Have so enjoyed – and this week has been so special re reading as have followed in your great glen footsteps and fully appreciated your take on the sights along the way – safe journey home and getting planning your next adventure !

    • I’ve also enjoyed keeping up with your walk along the Great Glen Way, reliving the spag bol and the cursed Troll Bridge. You touched it! Beware!

  2. Vicky Williamson

    Kia ora Tim, no mention of your whisky tasting!? I am stunned to learn of the existence of tribes/nations living in your part of the world 5000+ years ago. I thought that civilizations as ancient as that only existed in Africa and what I see as the Middle East today. That is the problem about living at the ends of the Earth – we are not exposed to much history from your part of the world. It was worth getting out of bed this morning because I learned something new! You have educated me. Thank you for blogging your odyssey – your photos, commentary and insights have been very entertaining. I look forward to your next adventure. Kia kaha, Vicky

    • Hi Vicky, 2021, An Orkney Odyssey! Amy said the ice age ended 10-14000 years ago and that might be when humans migrated from Africa and the Middle East, in search of new farmland etc. They brought seeds etc. The fascinating thing is beneath Skara Brae is an older village. Maybe one day they’ll move the top village to one side and see what’s waiting below. You really feel humble in that place. Have you seen Simon Schama’s massive BBC History of Britain? It starts with him sitting in Skara Brae explaining the importance of the place. It’s the beginning of everything

  3. a6bi2i

    I have so enjoyed this. And am envious (apart from the cliffs). Thank you.

  4. Not quite the pyramids, but some remarkable relics remain. Very Asterix & Obelix! Talking of remarkable relics, your mates look forward to seeing you in the pub next week, perhaps you have developed a taste for warm beer by now…?

    • All of this is way earlier than the pyramids. I’m looking forward to leaving the Tennents lager behind and returning to the world of (dare I mention it?) good beer. Wednesday

  5. Congratulations upon completing another wonderful adventure. You were really lucky to avoid the midges and nasty weather 😊. Enjoy the autumn back home and get planning your next trip. Thanks for taking us along for the ride.

    • Hi Lynn, many thanks for coming. There’ll definitely be cheese in the next one.

  6. Philippa

    What a stunning finish to your long walk through Scotland and Orkney, as they are now, and were, so long ago. And thanks again for your spectacular photos and insights along the way! Will miss your posts but look forward to next year, wherever that may be ….

    • Hi Philippa, I’ll miss your comments too. I hope you are free to travel again soon, as your summer approaches.

  7. Tassie Kaz

    I understand completely your longing to return to Shikoku & Japan…the call is strong in me too. Of all the walks I’ve done, it’s the only one I want to do again; a special, unique place & journey. I’m sure your original blog (which I will now re-read to maintain my daily ‘fix’, along with my own dispatches on my experience ) did do it justice…but hey, whatever excuse you need!
    Contemplate while having the surreal feeling of the trip home; scenery, terrain, people, places & kilometres which took weeks & weeks to walk, whizzes by in mere hours. 🤗
    To slow journeys… 🍻 …nothing else compares.

    • It’s always a strange feeling to return at full speed over the route which took so long to walk. I remember the point where the train crosses the Southern Upland Way and will be looking out of the window when we pass it. And all the other places. Take care

  8. Another brilliant journey concludes – many congratulations Tim! As always I have very much enjoyed your daily blog with stories, pictures and an excellent capture of your experiences and look forward to seeing you at the pub next week:)

    • I’m rather looking forward to seeing you in the pub too. It’s been awhile.

  9. Peter Mastenko

    Well done Tim on completing another epic journey and Blog. You could have been a journalist. I’m sure you will soon be planning the next adventure.

  10. Rebecca Willinson

    Tim, It struck me this morning, just how like Basho you are for our modern age. Pilgrimages check, literary prose check, disciples check, haiku (photographs) check. It is an honor to have walked with you in his footsteps.

    • Hi Rebecca I’m glad you’re enjoying my daily nonsense. I certainly enjoyed walking with you in Japan in the footsteps of Basho. I hung the card of your award winning watercolour alongside my photo in the kitchen and we love looking at them together. How lovely to see Japan in the autumn

  11. Well done Tim. How are you feeling now your walk has come to an end? Thank you for the blog. It has been so interesting to read and I feel I have discovered so much along the way too. What a brilliant way to end your walk with those amazing Neolithic sites.

    • Hi Suzi, I rarely give much thought to life 5000 years ago so it was humbling to experience those settlements in such a beautiful setting as Orkney. I can’t imagine very many of our homes will still be standing in 7021, especially fully furnished. But I did get an idea of how people would feel in that distant future if they were to walk around our houses and try to imagine our simple lives and our primitive technology

  12. Tim – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sharing your pilgrimage through your blog and take my hat off to you for planning and executing such an amazing walk. Your humorous insights have bought a smile to my face daily and I look forward to your next adventure. Hope to see you in the pub soon where you can enjoy a proper pint of Fosters!

    • Thanks Brian it’s been fun and I’m looking forward to seeing you and everyone in the pub having survived another expedition into a dark and foreign land

  13. What an incredible adventure, Tim! I’ve enjoyed following your journey, once again. I’m a huge fan of archaeology and ancient architecture. I’m absolutely fascinated by how the ancients were able to construct those architectural marvels that we couldn’t do today without heavy machinery. I’ve read so many theories, none of which really capture the reality of it for me. I think it must have been help from aliens. 🙂

    Today a group of friends leaves the US for Spain, not to walk the Camino, but to bus it. In some ways I’m envious– they’ll be visiting all the main cities along the Frances. But in other ways I’m feeling a bit of a snob. Bussing? Really? And you call yourselves hikers?!?! I’d like you to meet my friend, Tim. Now there’s a hiker!

    Until your next journey…be well.

    • Hi DJ, I wonder what it’s like to walk the Camino at the moment. Are all those albergues open and packed with pilgrims? Lucky we walked when we did. Thanks for following again, it’s always good to hear from you

  14. Another epic adventure Tim and an inspiration to us armchair Pilgrims. I have really enjoyed the craic and the scenery. Thank you and I hope we can meet for a pint soon. Cheers Peregrino.

    • Hi Torin, I really enjoyed walking across Scotland and especially Orkney. I look forward to meeting for a pint or a cup of tea. Tim

  15. Huguette Charaudeau

    Hi Tim
    I was in late to read your post I had problème with my Phone and I wasn at home But I read on.
    Thank you to you for the trip in Scottland. I didn ‘t it but I hope to go there on day with passeport 😉.
    Thank you for the photos and comments . I enjoy them.
    Bravo pour la performance👏👏
    We wait you for Mont St Michel next year.

    • Merci beaucoup, Huguette. I had a good journey in Scotland. I returned home on Monday – it will be a long time before I adjust to being at home. I really hope we can walk to Mt St Michel next year. Stay safe, Tim

  16. Wonderful adventure.
    I binged this trip in 2 days.
    Now onto your other walks.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • It really was! I loved it more than I was expecting. Things are not looking so good here in Austria. I hope they pick up otherwise I’ll switch countries. You will enjoy Scotland

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