Friday, 27 August 2010

Day Three – The Island Tour

Weather this morning is promising, but its only 7.15am.  Had fried breakfast to keep me going.  I was to meet the tour group at the Kirkwall visitor centre at 9.0am, so having done my homework, left the B&B at 8.05 to walk to the nearest bus stop.  My friend John who lives here, told me the bus will stop anywhere if you hail it.  Just as well, as I was nowhere near the stop when I saw the bus.

The group consisted of me and . . . the tour guide.  I asked if he was sure he wanted to still go with  just me, but he was fine with that.  My guide was Kevin from TourOrkney, a family run business.  Our transport was a Land Rover Defender.  Ideal for some of the terrain we encountered.  I won’t bore you with a precise report of every place of interest we visited– around six major sites in all, but just comment on some of the memorable highlights.

Many of the archaeological sites are either Stone Age or Iron Age, and surprisingly most have only been discovered over the past 100 years, mainly by accident, with the latest one only a few years ago.
Burial chambers are one group of discoveries that excite archaeologists.  The two I visited were very claustrophobic, and the only means of entering is by crouching with hands behind your knees and ‘waddling’ along a narrow, low tunnel, around 10 ft. Long and 2ft wide.
The larger of these is Maeshowe, dating to 2,700BC.  Here we joined a larger group and were taken by the sites guide to the chamber.  The interior of these tombs is impressive when you hear the size of  it, the weight of the stones that had to be carried 7  miles, and the fact it has lasted for so long.  Everything else is speculative, like ‘who used it?’  A lot of answers are ‘as far as we know.’  The more interesting part is what happened to it in the 12th century when Vikings plundered it and left the ‘Runes’.  From this mix of hieroglyphic text it is known they took what treasure there was, and left graffiti.  Nothing changes.

To me, the more interesting sites were Skara Brae, a stone age village dating to 3,180BC, and Brock of Gurness, an Iron Age village dating to 1,200BC.
For more detailed information look them up on-line.
At least with these, almost complete remains, it was possible to see how these people lived their lives, and the social standing they had.  It makes you stop and think when you are standing in a room once occupied 5,000 years ago by our ancestors.

The last two sites were the Ring of Brodar and the Standing Stones of Stenness.
There are many ‘stones’ dotted around the Island, all with individual names, but the most famous are the Stenness stones.  Originally a circle of 12, but now just just four or five if you include the broken ones. Again, the answer to what were they used for is ‘as far as we know.’  (It was here we encountered 5 minutes of torrential rain, then it was gone).

The Ring of Brodgar is around 2,500BC, possibly 1,000 years after Stonehenge.
It is 104mtrs wide and originally had 60 stones, of which only 30 remain. The stone is sandstone, but looks like granite. Many are half the width they were originally because of natural fault lines within the stone, causing vertical fissures.  One of these fissures was struck by lightning in 1998 and split the stone in half.

My driver and guide, Kevin, is an Orkadian, and was very knowledgeable, which made the days outing both interesting and enjoyable.

On by return to Stromness I hired a car for a couple of days, and went back this evening to the Rings, as someone told me that the sunset over the rings was very special.  It certainly was, and I have added some photos, including tonight’s outing.

Now I have the car I will plan a trip covering the rest of the mainland, and venture further afield over the weekend.

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