Orkney in Brief

The capital of Kirkwall is big and on a rich island compared with rocky Shetland.  Nonetheless its small – but cafes sell real ale delivered by hand pump.  Arrived here by the Hjartland, which is exactly the same as the Hrossey, down to the non-working wi-fi and the forward bar having no decent beer.  Dinner on board at 7pm, landed at 11pm and berthed by 11.30pm.  View across distant hills still visible in the light night sky.

Gone 11pm and the hills across Kirkwall still lit by the night sky - Simmer Dim

Gone 11pm and the hills across Kirkwall still lit by the night sky – Simmer Dim

Visited two burial tombs where skulls and big leg bones were kept, sorted and re-arranged over probably centuries.  Exactly like 17th century carved stone gravestones (but in the cathedral, not on a grave) which features skulls and big bones – seems the passage of centuries did little to change our way of marking a death.

Tomb of Eagles - sorted skulls and thigh bones heaped in side 'cupboards' and end spaces (Neolithic)

Tomb of Eagles – sorted skulls and thigh bones heaped in side ‘cupboards’ and end spaces (Neolithic)

Kirkwall Cathedral has many 17th century carved stone markers of death like this, with big bones playing a key part.

Kirkwall Cathedral has many 17th century carved stone markers of death like this, with big bones playing a key part.

Maes Howe, the earth mound set in a raised circle of flat land bounded by ditch and rampart

Maes Howe, the earth mound set in a raised circle of flat land bounded by ditch and rampart

Maes Howe is a glorious structure, but robbed out long before it was properly excavated, but the Tomb of Eagles (a marketing name) is a little different, but had sorted skulls and long bones in place.  Both now have recent new roofs.  Both also have extensive open space around them which was probably as important as the actual tomb, for laying out the dead, marking seasons and remembering the dead.

At the central world heritage site a whole village was discovered in the 1980s, and shows some impressive Neolithic buildings.  The one below has hardly been altered in hundreds of years of use, which seems to be living and making polished stone objects – the word VOTIVE springs to mind.  This village is right beside the Stones of Stenness – which is more importantly a henge – that is a circular space bounded by a ditch with raised bank beyond.  The hearth in the centre of Stenness may have come from a big structure at the adjacent village – or not.

3200 BC and a fine building used and maintained for many years - Barnhouse Village house number2

3200 BC and a fine building used and maintained for many years – Barnhouse Village house number2

Stenness - A big henge with a few stones standing in the middle, and a hearth right in the centre

Stenness – A big henge with a few stones standing in the middle, and a hearth right in the centre

Only a few hundred yards away is yet another newly discovered settlement, on the way to the Ring of Brodgar.  They will be digging more in the autumn.  But the biggest ring is Brodgar.  One of the biggest stone circles in Britain, but no real sign of the ditch and bank that would define it as a henge.  The site has never been excavated properly, but it has been used by tanks during war games in the 40s, and a farmer has levelled bits of it.  So no undisturbed history here.

Ring of Brodgar, or a bit of it anyway.

Ring of Brodgar, or a bit of it anyway.

A rune on one of the Brodgar stones.  It is a Viking name, Bjorn, and a Christian cross below it, perhaps dated 600AD

A rune on one of the Brodgar stones. It is a Viking name, Bjorn, and a Christian cross below it, perhaps dated 600AD

Moving back to the Cathedral, the 17th century stones marking death include one with a familiar marker of time.  many have hour glasses, but only one has a sundial!

A gravestone (not really, no grave) with death related symbols (17th century)

A gravestone (not really, no grave) with death related symbols (17th century)

A sundial as a marker of time - something we all run out of.

A sundial as a marker of time – something we all run out of.

Finally lets hear about Patrick Stewart the bad.  This guy ran Orkney and Shetland as his own place, taxing residents for things they’d never had before, like collecting driftwood.  he demanded thousand of tonnes of peat every year to heat his several palaces.  He was the cousin of King James IV but that king eventually ordered his beheading in 1615.  But he did build some grand palaces, including this one beside Kirkwall cathedral.

The finest Renaissance building in the northern isles, build about 1606 by the widely disliked Earl Patrick Stewart

The finest Renaissance building in the northern isles, build about 1606 by the widely disliked Earl Patrick Stewart, Steve in the front.

 

 

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