The Orkney islands are covered with monuments that stand as constant reminders of the events and people that have gone before. From the stone age Orcadians, who left a legacy of monuments through to the Vikings, who took the islands in the ninth century and made them the centre of a powerful Earldom and part of the kingdom of Norway, and beyond. The places we visited are houses – Skara Brae; tombs or cairns – Maeshowe, Tomb of the Eagles, The Dwarfie Stone dating back 5000 years which share the landscape with Bronze Age (1800-800BC) standing stones – Ring of Brodgar, Standing Stones of Stenness, the Barnhouse Neolithic Village; 2000-year-old brochs – Broch of Gurness; Viking ruins – Brough of Birsay and medieval churches – St Magnus Kirk. These are only a few of the enormous number of sites which can been seen on the mainland of Orkney, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.
Sunday 24 June 2018 Orkney
Today was a beautiful sunny but windy day with our first place being a visit to Skara Brae on the southern shore of Bay o’ Skaill discovered under a sand dune after a windstorm in 1850. It is a settlement of 8 clustered houses linked together by a series of low, covered passages which were occupied in 3000BC. The stone-built furniture; cupboards, beds and boxes in the houses have been perfectly preserved in the sand. At the beginning of the walk there is a replica house which you can walk through and experience what it was like to live in this time period, a very simplistic but functional house. As you walk along the path to the village there is a timeline from present day to 5000 years ago displayed on concrete tiles to help put into perspective how far back this village existed. To this day no one is sure why they left the village or where they went. This archaeological site is run by Historic Scotland and is superbly managed.
The ticket also allows you entrance into Skaill House, a 17th century mansion which overlooks the historic site and was owned by the man who unearthed Skara Brae in 1850.
Next was Marwick Heads an RSPB protected sea cliffs with bird colonies. To get to the cliffs is a 1 kilometre walk along a track through long grass and undulating stony and grass path. We were hoping to see puffins but alas there were none. Further up the track is the Kitchener and HMS Hampshire Memorial, a tower and memorial wall, to commemorate the 737 men including Lord Kitchener lost in June 1916 when sunk by a German U-boat.
Then we passed Barony Mills Orkney’s last working water powered grain mill which was built in 1873. The miller, who gives free guided tours, is the third generation of his family to operate the mill, which produces bere meal, ground from an ancient form of locally grown barley.
As it was low tide we drove to the Brough of Birsay which is at tidal island off the north east tip of West Mainland island which is only accessible by a pedestrian concrete causeway at low tide. On the island is the remnants of Norse and Pictish settlements which features ruins of Norse houses and a 12th century Romanesque church.
From here we went past the roofless remains of St Magnus Kirk which was built towards the end of the 12th century.
Last place of the day was the Broch of Gurness, another Historic Scotland site. The site features a broch, which is huge drystone towers reaching 10ft in height surrounded by the remains of an Iron Age settlement with stone buildings, ditches and ramparts.
Tonight, we caught up with our friends Pam and Michael from Sydney and had dinner at The Ferry Inn. It was a lovely end to a very busy day.
We free camped in the carpark across from the Stromness ferry terminal next to a supermarket.