After the lovely sunset and afterglow of the previous evening, it was disappointing to wake up on my second day in Orkney to the sight of grey skies and rain-spattered windows. Nevertheless, trusting implicitly in the BBC weather forecast which had promised that conditions would improve, we had breakfast and set off to catch the mid-morning ferry across to Orkney Mainland. Thankfully the wind had dropped somewhat and the sea was much calmer than the day before, though it was still bitterly cold.
|At the bus stop|
|Sian on her small island|
Very soon we were in Stromness and setting off in
Sian’s off-island car for our day’s exploration of a little of Orkney’s long history. As we drove the clouds started to disperse, the sun came out and before we knew it the sky was a glorious blue and the landscape breath-taking. Orkney is almost treeless and lacks the mountain grandeur of Sutherland, but the wide green sweep of its gentle hills and broad valleys, and the constant glimpses of water in loch and sea, give the soul room to breathe and I loved it.
When we arrived at our first destination, Scara Brae,
, who must know the introductory exhibition backwards after taking so many visitors there, left me to it and relaxed with a nice cup of tea. Meanwhile I was immediately fascinated by the informative and interactive way this marvellously preserved Neolithic village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was set in context for visitors before we actually saw it. Sian
There is a walk of several hundred yards from the Visitors’ Centre to the village itself, and along its length markers commemorating important historical events have been placed in a kind of timeline to illustrate just how ancient this site is. Constructed and inhabited millennia before the birth of Christ, old and about to be abandoned when the first pyramids of
were being built, the houses of Skara Brae, with their stone furniture and central hearths, give us a vivid and unforgettable glimpse into the lives of our distant ancestors. Egypt
|The village by the sea|
|House and hearth|
|Stone furniture - dresser and beds by the walls|
|I said it was cold|
When Neolithic farmers decided to settle at Skara Brae, the climate in Orkney was warmer and drier than it is today and the site they chose may have been on the shore of an inland loch. By the time the village was abandoned some six hundred years later, the climate had changed, becoming become colder and wetter and making cereal farming more difficult. This factor, combined with the gradual encroachment of the sea, may have contributed to the decision to leave, but no-one really knows why the inhabitants of this well-constructed village finally moved elsewhere.
Once abandoned the village gradually became covered by sand dunes until a great storm in 185o uncovered part of the remains, but it was many decades before they were properly excavated and conserved.
The land on which Skara Brae was discovered belonged to a local landowner who lived in the nearby Skaill House, acknowledged as Orkney’s finest large mansion. Very sensibly, Historic Scotland, which looks after Skara Brae and Skaill House, includes both on the same admission ticket, so after our visit to the remote past, we made our way back into relatively recent history by going round this interesting and appealing building, for so long an imposing but also intimate family home.
From Skaill House
drove me to the other site I really wanted to see on my first visit: the great circle of standing stones known as the Ring of Brodgar. I have been familiar with the sight of the Ring since one of my sisters gave me a print of her pastel drawing of the monument some years ago, but to see it in all its remote and mysterious grandeur was still deeply impressive. Sian
The path up to it was slippery after the night’s rain and my balance is not of the best, but we made it up to the stones and walked much of the way round the huge circle in its wide and beautiful setting. The Ring of Brodgar is one of a number of ancient monuments which together make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. It was probably constructed between 2500 and 2000 BC (after Skara Brae had been abandoned) and was the last of the great monuments to be built in this archaeologically rich area.
|The intrepid duo - it was STILL cold|