752 – Monday 19th June 2017: Start of Orkney Meet
Our ferry from Scrabster was loaded with wild camping.co.uk motorhomes bound for our week long meet – 50% discount on fares for wildcampers 🙂 – we saved £117! On site, we met people from the meet at Brin and new friends Jim & Pat and David & Sanchia + Ross, the family K9… We’d hooked up through the forum to join the tour guide Jim and Pat had booked for two days. As a get to know each other and see if the entire male dogs would get on van sharing for the tours we went for a walk and then drinks in our Jez. Evening came and evening went, more gin and wine – cheese and biscuits for supper – a late evening – why not? Dogs did not play nicely, just like children … you want them to get on and they don’t … Oscar was very grumbly.
So many ‘vans on this crossing they had to corral us on the quayside. A sense of excitement … another adventure.
Oscar ready to drive on board. Little does he know, this is Northlink Ferries, not Calmac of the Outer Hebrides … he has to stay in the van for the crossing.
Turn right, then left out of Stromness and straight onto the Ness Campsite, which has been taken over by the wildcamping happy campers. Excellent facilities with a free washing machine (I was not the only one to make good use of it!) and good off lead dog walking.
View from the campsite across to Stromness port. You feel the ferry’s vibrations before you see it pass. Lots of seals in the other direction.
The two day tour crew .. David, Pat, Jim and Sanchia. We spent every evening, two full days and consumed a LOT of booze (fellow gin and whisky drinkers) with these guys and got on really well.
753 – Tuesday 20th June 2017: Day One Tour
We are being “Neolithicised” big time and loving it! Helen our tour guide is amazing and lives every story … she comes from Portsmouth, has an archaeology degree, is a Druid High Priestess, used to be a teacher and now a tour guide … with a difference. She weaves landscape, fact and her own spiritual interpretation into what went on. Did you know that hunter gathers used what nature provided and took only what they needed … they had lots of leisure time and created jewellery and art. The farmers came along and invented a high workload and stress, and farming started here in Orkney … it was warmer and less windy then!
A full day and weary on our return. Pat Dalton to the rescue … what can you do with corned beef? Chilli of course – yummy. K has bought a tin as a standby for us … so versatile.
The Rolling Stones of Stennes carry no moss but beautifully crafted in 3000 bc.
The Standing Stones of Stenness – 3000BC: originally 12 monoliths surrounded by a ditch 2m deep. This hearth like stone is in the centre and the two upright align with a mound … the green hump you can just make out.
A view across to the mountains of Hoy … the landscape plays a large part in where these spiritual / religious sites are built. The Hoy mountains look like a pregnant woman; as you move around the island she seems have given birth. Valleys lead to this site too and it is very fertile. There would have been 12 standing stones, but the local farmer was fed up with tourists disturbing his sheep, so he blasted a number of them – he was removed from the island! Only 4 remain and one stone still has the plug where the dynamite was to go.
Nearby is Barnhouse village: 15 houses with central hearths and beds. Two larger structures may have been used for worship as at midsummer the setting sun shines directly down the entrance passage way.
The Ring of Brodgar: of 60 stones only 27 remain upright and is a perfect circle 103.7 diameter. Again a large ditch surrounds it. Work is being done to improve paths so there was some fencing up.
The area is a also a RSPB nature reserve so a lot of ground nesting birds. The bog cotton just glows. The relationship with the landscape with water, land and sky is very strong.
Skara Brae neolithic village, inhabited from 3100BC to 2600 BC: this is a reconstruction showing the central hearth and stone wells that would have contained water for storing fish and keeping food cool. Each house has a dresser or alter. A small side room was probably used for storage.
Discovered in 1850 when a storm removed sand dunes. Not sure how long nature will be kept at bay before the rest of the village is destroyed … the site is on UNESCO’s at risk list. The houses are joined by a street. They had drains, stone dressers, beds, cupboards and water tanks. Some cells with drains may have been toilets. It is not known how the roofs were made, but conjectured that whale bones or wood supported straw and turf. They found bones, tools, jewellry and grooved stone where … it could have been decorated with finger nail markings.
These two houses were the original ones and a newer village was built on top, using the midden (compacted waste) as footings.
There was a place for everything.
The wind seems to always be strong here and this little fellow had moved in!
So well preserved.
I had a hat from Lewis, and J has one from Orkney.
Yesnaby Castle and a rocky coastline walk.
754 – Wednesday 21st June 2017: Summer Solstice & Kirkwall
Abed at 1000 hrs – and alarm went off at 1:30 am!!! We had never been to a summer Solstice Druid ceremony – and a wedding – at 3:00 am in a field! But what a field of magic and spells (Harry Potter, where are you?). Helen and her husband Mark performed the ceremony and service – hand fastening and then ale and honey cakes for all – the moon and the sun made an appearance although the sun was a little late. A great shame about people at the back who disrespectfully talked all through! The spiritualism was all pervading regardless of one’s religion…
5:00 a.m. nightcap in Jez – and zzzzzs… followed by a cooked brekkie for J.
Kirkwall in the p.m. – St Magnus’ cathedral – more soft sandstone a la Petra – lovely again – a glass of cider and meeting a lady from Washington DC and her partner from Orkney.
Campsite bonfire and beef cooked by a wild camping.co.uk crew – K was a little late-ish to slumber….. (K: I was chatting, not drinking though!)
The Highland Park Distillery provided the tour and tasting – with (you’ve guessed it) – whiskyurchases…. (PS – don’t tell Grahame Leslie…)
A surprise visit by a piper band through the campsite – amazing music again…
Mark, husband to our tour guide is a Druid Priest at the summer solstice … he blew a horn to call on the spirits, but this one contained beer which we shared, as well as honey cake.
A lyre and drum: the ceremony is bardic. I refrained from nudging J into reciting one of his poems.
We did not see the sun come over the hills until we were back on the bus.
Beware cooks with cleavers! Kirkwall St Magnus Cathedral built from 3 stones including red sandstone which gives it such a warm glow. Construction started over 875 years ago, by the nephew of Magnus Erlendson. in 1103 Magnus and his cousin succeeded to the Earldom, but by 1117 they’d fallen out and they agreed to meet on an island with two ships each … the cousin pitched up with 8! A no contest and the cook was ordered to kill Magnus with a meat cleaver … Magnus’ relicts were buried on Birsay and miracles were said to be taking place. The church was paid for by local farmers under some duress and the architect came from Durham. Magnus’ remain were eventually brought to the cathedral and a new pilgrimage walk, St. Magnus’ Way runs across the island; we’ve seen lots of the way markers.
My 2nd cousin and godfather has been investigating the family name … I need to read through his notes and see if this Leslie is mentioned; we know they were in Scotland.
Key dates at the Highland Park whisky distillery: founded in 1798 and currently (about to be challenged) the most northerly Scottish distillery. The original owner was a church officer and on hearing that the excise men were about to pounce, he put all his barrels into a coffin, called the locals to the funeral and muttered ‘smallpox’ to the customers men, who hot footed it away.
Whilt 80% of the barley is imported from the mainland, 20% of actually still peat smoked here. No longer turned by hand and shovel, a machine now does it.
The kiln fires start with peat fires to imbibe the malted barley with the flavour and then with smokeless coal to dry it out. We could smell the peat as we approached the distillery.
The stills: twice distilled.
A lovely surprise – a local wildcamper had organised the pipers whilst we ate a communal beef stew and apple pie.
755 – Thursday 22nd June 2017: Day Two Tour
Helen guided us again – the intrepid 6 – to St Magnus’ pilgrimage path – forest and kissing gates – and the earthouse with short steep ladder down…
At Birsay, the sky opened up and was the most spectacular blue!
Puffins, ice cream and the farm museum – then to “Twattsville”!
Binscarth Plantation. Kissing gate … has to be done!
Orkney is pretty treeless due to the wind, but the Laird had had a small wood planted. This is also on the St Magnus Way.
Communing with nature.
Rennibster Earthhouse in the middle of a working farm … and yes we were climbing down there. Once down there was a small room, probably an iron age house’s subterranean cellular with a tunnel, but it could have been a spiritual room, devoid of outside noise and light.
Is Pat going to drop the lid on David?
Tomb of the Dogs, so called as dog bones were found within. Amazing – no entrance fee and a metal gate to pull open and then crawl inside.
Beautifully evenly built. There were chambers off and apparently the acoustics between them were superb.
Birsay a tidal island off the NW.
C12th Nordic Viking church.
The church is surrounded by figure of 8 Pictish houses. There are drains and a bath house.
We lifted a slab to see a perfectly formed round stone well.
Great rocky cliffs on the other side of the island and the sun had come out 🙂
The reason for walking round the island … to see the Puffins … I had to lean over on my tummy (J’s vertigo kicked in, so he kept back with Oscar), but only had J’s wide angle lens :(, but you can make out one on the right stood on the rock and one under use bronze lichen rock. Kerstin – this one’s for you … hope you saw them in Northumberland!
Rock pools so clear.
The Earl’s Palace late C16th. Built by Earl Robert Stewart (half brother to Mary Queen of Scots) using local conscripted labour. So sumptuous, it even had toilets.
Orkney ice cream is pretty special.
Kirbuster Farm Museum: Two brothers worked here until 1960/70’s (we think) and it was another special moment being sat in the amazing Orkney chairs (driftwood and straw) talking about and touching the items. The central peat fireplace was offset from the roof chimney so the wind and rain did not put it out. The brothers had put plasterboard over the alls and papered them.
A heather hearth or washing up brush.
The date on the lintel is upside down to ward off evil spirits.
Whale bone gate entrance.
It had to be done … not a twatt in sight!
Some of the skies have just been amazing.
Broch of Gurness: Iron Age to Pictish times. The Broch is similar to the one we visited in Lewis, although less well preserved, BUT it has a small Pictish village around it AND defensive ditches.
756 – Friday 23rd June 2017: Maeshowe, Churchill Barriers, Italian Chapel & Tomb of the Eagles
Friday, is it, already? Only 1 day left of our meet… Maeshow House tomb – crawling on all 4s for 10 metres and Sarah our lovely guide who ‘sparked’ the story…
PM and the Tomb of the Eagles – eagle bones and human remains – most informative museum and talks…
The Italian Chapel built nearby by Italian POWs – their country transported to Orkney – hand painted stained glass windows – how to make a chapel from 2 Nissan huts. En route, we crossed the Churchill barriers – made to join the small islands with the mainland – some WW2 wrecks to remind us of the courage of the soldiers and seamen form both sides – the futility of war…
Maeshowe Tomb – no pics allowed inside. Similar to other tombs, with side chambers, but with massive slabs of stone making the walls. Some Viking engravings.
Iron Age house at Tomb of the Eagles.
Inside the Tomb of the Eagles. The Museum was the star here, as there were talks in two of the rooms and handling experiences for some of the artefacts found.
Amazing glow of buttercups everywhere, as well as so many species of wild flowers.
Crossing one of Churchill’s Barriers and a sunken vessel.
The St George and the Dragon was fashioned by an Italian prisoner out of barbed wire and covered with concrete; both materials had a plentiful supply – one to keep them in and the other to build Churchill’s barriers!
The Italian prisoners had a theatre, built paths and planted flower beds, but lacked a church. In late 1943 two Nissan huts were placed end to end; one to be a church and the other a school. It was lined with plasterboard and coated in concrete.
The interior is painted to look like brick. Restored in 1960 by the original artist Chiocchetti and later in 2015. Another inmate created the wrought iron candelabra, rood screen and gates.
Chiocchetti painted the Madonna and child from a card his mother had given him when he left for the war.
I just found this concrete face of Jesus really soulful.
Well now… I’ve been corralled in Jez for museums, archyfax, toooombs and a wedding at sunrise…! Who wants to be weddingfried in the middle of the night? Blinking Nora indeed. Beds to go to? If Kensey and I get wed – we’ll do it in daylight and she can carry me across the chessboard and have her way with me – oops, too much detail? I could be knight to her queen…. then checkmate!
As Hagrid would say “there’s something very right here, Harry…..
Yakky-da for now (that’s Welsh you know…). The GB Lions need Hagrid and Tom Jones in the scrum for the next test and Harry with his Quiddich broomstick, too…..