59 Degrees North

Thursday
Orkney is 59* north resulting in long summer days and long winter nights. It pays to check the clock; I got up and put the kettle on at 3:00am just as the sun was coming up! Kirkwall is a small town with a rich heritage. The accents are softer than the highland one with a strong hint of Scandinavia.

After a bit of essential shopping we headed off to visit two Neolithic sites from about 3,000 years BC. The first was the chamber cairn of Maeshowe, which along with surrounding sites was UNESCO World Heritage listed in 1999. Our guide seemed to raise more questions than answers, why the alignment, what are the small side chambers for and if Maeshowe is a burial mound, which it inevitably was, so why were no remains discovered? The entry tunnel gave direct sightlines to the Stenness standing stones, just over a kilometer to the east-north-east; there was obviously some connection between the two.

We then headed to the most famous site in Orkney, Skara Brae. I came here as a teenager some 50 years ago, but now it was the full visitor experience. One starts in a smallish museum and then goes out to a mock up of the dwellings to clamber around in. They are a combination of being dug out with walls built up, included was stone furniture.

The roof was made out of natural fibre supported on either whalebones or timber. This far north trees are rare and small so timber would have been at a premium. There was a fire pit in the centre; I guess they would have been pretty snug in the winter with very long nights and their animals for company. Skara Brae was constructed on the cliff top adjacent to the ocean, which I suspect delivered them food and useful items. The erosion has resulted in Historic Scotland having to sure up the cliffs to protect the structures. We had a bracing walk back along the cliffs to the visitor centre and car-park, with the inevitable stop for coffee and cakes.
There are only two distilleries on Orkney; we were to now visit the first, Skapa. This is a few kilometers from Kirkwall, so we took a taxi. The distillery and their dram were clean and functional, but I was not scouring the duty free looking for Skapa. What I did like was the young guy who took the tour, he was quick and cheeky, with a welcome retort to any quip I should offer. We got the cab back into town and we went shopping for a home cooked dinner.

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