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.