I am so behind on the posts I’ve meant to write that it now seems like an aeon ago and not last week that my lovely husband and I were in sunny Orkney!
We are currently on our way back from a VERY soggy family camping trip in the Lake District on the train! I have just dared to take off my waterproof trousers….more on that to follow because I didn’t finish raving about Orkney before we went.
What can I say about Skara Brae?
Against the blue backdrop of the sunny sea, I felt vaguely envious of the stone age people that lived there, curling up on animal skins and hay beds in tiny stone boxes around a central hearth.
But that was before I went camping in the Lake District.
And actually, the sea was apparently a way off back in the times when the village of Skara Brae was inhabited.
In fact, archaeological studies suggest that the village was inhabited for about 500 years starting 3180 BC, then abandoned and resettled sometime later ….. You can’t help but wonder what happened. There are lots of theories. The village seems to have been abandoned suddenly and one theory suggests a storm prompted the inhabitants to leave immediately. But I believe this has been disproved and no one knows. I’m fairly sure someone wrote some speculative historical fiction about it, and the place is really evocative.
Following my soggy Lake District camping trip, however, I would probably prefer to live in the Wuthering Heights style Lairds manor that overlooks the village and the gorgeous Skaills bay. But as I am never likely to write a best seller or win the lottery, I guess I’ll have to make do with a messy three bed semi a mile from the south coast 😂
I had no idea that ancient people used to build semi-buried houses that you entered through tunnels like this….
The stone walls are built into the soil, so that only the grooves are above ground. They really reminded me of the Hobbit houses in the Lord of the Rings, and you would have had to be hobbit sized to get in their comfortably! Cosy would be an understatement! But it was fascinating to see and amazing just how much archaeologists have ascertained about the lives these people led based on their rubbish!
As the only car-free people I know, we relied as usual on the bus to get around, and so from Skara Brae, we took the excellent T11 tour bus to the Ring of Brodgar.
I’ve always been partial to a stone circle!
As a writer type, they appeal to my ‘sense of story’ …. I can’t think of a better way to put that, particularly as I’ve used the word evocative in this post already. I find that these historical places are great for firing up the imagination.
Stone circles, like Skara Brae, make you imagine the lives of the people who used them for ceremonies….their possible beliefs and the kinds of deities and spirits they could have believed in and worshipped. But to be honest, landscapes do that too, and Orkney was certainly great for the imagination of someone who is writing a mythology-based fantasy. It resonated. I hope that makes sense…..
The Lairds manor inspired the imagination too in a different way. That got me thinking about ghosts and hauntings … When I was lying awake in my leaky tipi this weekend, listening to the gale and psyching myself up to swim round a lake in it, the idea for a short story based on the manor came to me. I just have to try to remember what it was now! It was way to soggy for pens/paper/phones!
It seemed to me like the ring of Brodgar and the standing stones of Stenness were aligned to catch the light passing through the stunning mountains behind them.
Now, though, they provide shade and pillows for the strange long-eared sheep that live on mainland Orkney.
We are calling them ‘shabbits’ because we saw one hop across a massive water-filled ditch like a rabbit, and their ears are ridiculous!
Our visit to some of the prehistoric sites that Orkney had to offer left us with a few hours to kill before dinner and beer (we hadn’t booked Maeshow – an ancient burial mound similar to Newgrange outside Dublin- so didn’t risk going on the off chance), so we decided to take a stroll down to Scapa beach.
Due to swim-training, wetsuit-related neck chaffing, I decided against swimming whilst in Orkney despite having been inspired to go there by reading ‘Swimming with Seals’, but Scapa beach was a joy to just sit on. Most beaches are, but the beaches in Orkney were special.
We sat and wandered for a couple of hours, watching Ringed Plovers, Oyster catchers, Dunlin and Curlew pecking away at the food-rich sand….It was so lovely that we ran back the next morning despite hangovers and were rewarded with our first sighting of Turnstones. Loads of new birds in two days!
We were going to try to get a bus inland to an RSPB reserve on day three, in the hope of adding rare Hen Harriers to the list, but we decided that the bus looked a bit infrequent on Sundays.
There are times when I really wish I drove and this was one. I have opted not to for three reasons. Initially in my teen/twenties is was pure terror, but now I am very conscious that driving is bad for the environment and also your cardiovascular health. I am, however, considering learning so that we can get to places like the RSPB reserves more easily! I figure cars are hireable ….
As a result of the bus issues ,we took a more frequent service to St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay, adding a different island and beach to our repertoire. To get there, the bus crossed barriers built between islands in world war two, to prevent further German incursions following the tragic sinking of the Royal Oak and the loss of nearly 200 lives.
Wrecks used as blockades are visible as you cross the barriers, but we didn’t get chance to check them out more in our tthree-dayvisit.
We had coffee at a cool cafe just outside St Margaret’s Hope (Robertson’s?) then walked in search of a headland called Hoxa Head. We didn’t quite have time to get all the way, but did pass a gorgeous beach called the Sands of White, and see its resident seal bobbing around in the water happily. I really wished I had my wetsuit at that point! Despite the change of plan, day three was fab.
So, Orkney … I loved it and I will be back. Possibly with a car to do the tricky bits, so clear the roads…..