It was a rough night in our fancy Orkney digs. Charlie was up several times in the night. None of us got much sleep, and the sofa bed that Brad and I slept on was quite soft and we both woke up with kricks in the ‘ol back. We had a nice cooked breakfast all together and then ventured out in Heidi.
We were going to explore the Orkney “mainland” and hit as many of the prehistoric sites as we could. There are so many that it would have been impossible to see them all. We opted for the biggies: Skara Brae, the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, the Broch of Gurness, and Maes Howe. We had looked at the weather for the coming days and determined that today was going to be the sunniest day of our stay on Orkney, and therefore the day during which we should take in all of the outdoor historical sites we planned to visit. It was a good plan, let down somewhat by a faulty forecast: It was windy and wet all day, and cleared some in the days to come. The drizzle felt appropriate for the day’s activities though — the true Orkney experience.
We started with the Orkneyinga Saga Center and Earl’s Bu. Tales of life on Orkney made it back to Iceland, where they were recorded in the Orkneyinga Saga in 1136. The Saga Center describes life at the time of the Orkneyinga Saga, and relates some of the saga’s contents. The building is on the site of the church and drinking hall (adjacent, of course) that feature in one of the stories from the saga — that of the murder of Sveinn Brestrope after a dispute over inappropriate drinking etiquette. (It was an offense to drink less than your peers during such events, as it gave one an unfair advantage.) It’s somewhat eerie to be standing on the site of a murder, the details of which were recorded almost 900 years earlier.
Next stop was the Stones of Stenness and Barnhouse Village. The
Then on to Skara Brae, a 5000 year old neolithic village. The houses were built of stone, set into a hillside near the sea and would have originally been covered by roofs. The living quarters still have the original stone “dressers” and beds. There is evidence to suggest that some of the stone bins were used to store fresh, live seafood like lobster. And it is believed that life here was continuous and peaceful for at least 500 years (until the climate started to change and religion appeared in the landscape). Life was good in the neolithic!
Next up was the Ring of Brodgar. It’s older than Stonehenge, and much more accessible. There was even some Viking runic graffiti on one of the stones, and Brad’s mom spotted it!
Up the road from Brodgar was Barony Mills. This is a water-powered mill that still grinds a local variety of barley (“bere”) into flour.
Finally, the Broch of Gurness, an iron-age village. At this site, you can walk in and amongst the structure. You can even climb the old steps and work your way into little cubbies and nooks in the central broch. This was one of my favorite places on the island.
How’s that for a day covering human history? Neolithic, iron age, and medieval Vikings?