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Archive for the ‘Orkney Islands’ Category

Eaten by Otters

Posted by Heliocentrism on March 15, 2018

September 21st – 26th, 2017

When you visit all these neolithic sites on Orkney, you come across the same questions over and over again. Who were these people? Where did they come from? Where did they go? What were they doing with all those large rocks and cairns? The answers are a little hard to come by.

Who were these people? Picts? Maybe… It is believed that the ancient people of Orkney either became the Picts or they were invaded by the Picts. Or neither could be true. Maybe some of them were Picts. There is evidence that people came and went. There might have been several peoples moving about the islands throughout prehistory. It all started sometime after the last ice age when area thawed out and people walked to Scotland.

checking out a cairn

Where did they come from? Europe, most likely; maybe Scandinavia. We know that later on the Vikings showed up and started placing their loot and sometimes their dead in the cairns they found on the island. The Vikings didn’t build the cairns… Well, not many of them. They might have made a cairn or two. Who knows?

But we do know they liked writing on one cairn in particular. Inside the Maeshowe cairn there is a lot of Viking graffiti. Some of the writing is of a woman’s complaints that men just aren’t real men anymore. There is even a few lines about Ragnar Lothbrok and his “smooth sons”, whatever that means. I guess someone would have been a fan of (at least the first few seasons of) Vikings on the History Channel.

Besides the Vikings and the Picts, there might have been other people coming and going. I spoke to a man working at the Broch of Gurnes and he told me what really amazed him. He said that someone would find a wall or some other evidence of a building. Excavation would start and the building would be unearthed. In that process another building further down would be found. In removing that building, yet another would be found underneath.

For some reason, people kept just building on top of buildings instead of picking some place new. Why? Well, he told me that they haven’t figured that out yet. People kept building in the same spots regardless of whether the people one level up knew about the existence of the people one level down. We can only guess what their reasons were.

What are cairns? Cairns are man-made mounds built of stone with grass grown over them. When archaeologists look inside, sometimes they find bones of humans and animals. Oddly, they don’t usually find any complete skeletons. For example, in the Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn they found mostly sculls. Some were from humans and some were from dogs. So entire bodies are not being placed into cairns like we would put a body in a crypt these days.

The cairns are a lot like the homes. But, cairns did not have a fireplace. The houses were round with shelving; the cairns were round with shelving. There is a theory that a building started off as a home. Then after some deaths, the fireplace was removed, bones were placed inside, and it became a burial chamber. Then after some time the stones of the cairn were used for something else and bigger stones, like monoliths, were place around where the cairn once was.

In other words, something like the Stones of Stenness is now on a spot where some house that was turned into a cairn was. Since the islands have a lot of houses and many cairns, but there is a huge lack of standing stones, it is believed that the last part was reserved for only very wonderful people.

There is another belief that these “monoliths of honor” over the years became a religion. Many people deified the dead that they honored. People walked in circles going from one set of monoliths to another for ceremonies at certain times of the year.

Of course, all of this is mostly speculation. No one wrote down, in a way we could understand today, what they did or why they did it.

Then there are the burial places where things are just bizarre. One is the Tomb of the Otters. The other is the Tomb of the Eagles. What makes these places stand out is that it seems that the bodies of the dead were given to animals to be eaten. No where else on the island is there evidence that this was common practice. So, why here?

Both these tombs appear not to have too many people buried in them when the length of time these tombs were being used is considered. So, why were otters and eagles allowed to eat these specific people. Were they especially loved or hated?

Who knows? But, it’s all very interesting.


The United Kingdom

How to get there:

You can enter this country by land via an underwater tunnel, air, or sea.

Check with your local UK embassy for visa information.

Phone:

  • Use 112 or 999 for the police, fire department, or to get an ambulance

Website:

Data:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • If you’re going to do a lot of travel by train or bus, looking for a Rail card or buss pass before you buy your first ticket.
    • Railway Cards
    • Oyster Card
    • Even getting a day pass on a bus could be cheaper than getting 3 single passes, or a return ticket and a single pass.
  • If you are going to stay in hostels, join Hosteling International, or any of it’s subsidiaries.
    • YHA – England & Wales
    • SYHA – Scotland
      • Membership at any of these will get you the discounted rate at any of the other hosteling organizations.
      • These hostels tend to be better than most hostels.

Orkney Islands

Basic Information

How to get there:

Information by Wikipedia:

Website

Downloads:

Notes:

  • Leave the umbrellas at home.
  • Bring a good rain coat, rain boots, rain pants, and hope it doesn’t rain.
  • Before visiting any of the sights, get membership in either Historic Scotland (mainly if you plan to travel all over Scotland) or Orkney Explorer Pass.

Yesnaby

Basic Information

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • 24hrs

Notes:


Maeshowe

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • £6
  • Free with Historic Scotland membership

Hours:

  • 9:30 – 17:00

Videos:

Notes:


Earls Bu and Church

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • 24hrs

Notes:

  • This is the oldest surviving round church in Scotland.
  • This is near a walking path.
  • This is right next to the Orkneyinga Saga Centre.
    • It’s free and unmanned.
    • The door is left unlocked.
    • You can use the bathroom.

Skerries Bistro

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

Hours:

  • MONDAY 12-4 PM   &   6-9PM
  • TUESDAY   12-4 PM
  • WEDNESDAY 12-4 PM   &  6-9PM
  • THURSDAY 12-4 PM
  • FRIDAY 12-4 PM     &   6-9PM
  • SATURDAY 12-4 PM  &    6-9PM
  • SUNDAY 12-4 PM

Notes:

  • You can book and pay for your tour of the Banks Chambered Tomb.
  • Great local dishes.

Banks Chambered Tomb
Tomb of the otters

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • £7.50

Hours:

  • 11:00 – 17:00 (last tour 16:00)

Notes:

  • Personally, I think this is a must see.

Tomb of the Eagles

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • £7.50

Hours:

  • March          10:00 – 12:00
  • Apr~Sept     9:30 – 17:30
  • Oct                9:30 – 12:30
  • Nov~Feb      Closed

Videos:

Notes:

  • This is one of the oldest building in Britain.
  • You are given rain boots and rain pants so your clothes and shoes can stay dry and mud free.
  • It’s also a really lovely walk along the cliff.

Highland Park

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

Hours:

  • 10:00 – 17:00
  • Closed Sundays

Notes:

  • It’s best to book a tour in advance.

Don’t Miss:

Map:

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Posted in Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland, United Kingdom, The | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Departure of Summer

Posted by Heliocentrism on March 10, 2018

September 21st – 26th, 2017

You’ll be there at the right time

On my last night in Inverness, I was talking to two of my room mates. We were giving each other tips we’ve discovered on how to better travel through Scotland. I had mentioned that I would be leaving soon to visit the Orkney Islands. One of them asked me, “Will you be staying on the main island in the next few days?”

“Probably,” I told her. I didn’t know for sure. We would be in Orkney for almost a week and we had no plans for island hopping. I was fairly sure that we would be on the main island the whole time.

“There is a Druid celebration,” she went on to tell me. “It’s the summer equinox. They go to one of the ancient stone circles there. Anyone can go and join in.”

And, of course I went. I’m not turning down a chance to hang out with Pagans doing things they believe Pagans did thousands of years ago.

No one knows what exactly the druids did in their celebrations, but there are many really good theories out there. One of them is that some rituals started at the sight above, the Ring of Brodgar. The ancient people would walk around the ring and then down the road to the Stones of Stenness. There were commemorating their dead, nature, or maybe both.

Our Druids did not do the walk. They just met at the Stones of Stenness. This celebration was about the end of summer and the start of the new season.

The event started about an hour before sunset. We all stood around in a circle. Scripts were given out to anyone who wanted to read them, with a special paper given to the youngest female. I so badly wanted to read something, but I wanted to just relax and observe the ceremony. In the end I didn’t read any of the lines, so I could fully pay attention to what was going on.

You can see the drinking horn and the mead in the circle.

We started off by reading from a script. Some of them, more familiar with Druid activities, recited the lines from memory. Most of the people there were like Mark and me, not Pagan, but there to see what it was all about.

Some of the lines involved us talking to the 4 directions. When we addressed the north, we faced north. When we addressed the west, we faced west, and so on. After some reading, we shared a bottle of beer. I think it was referred to as mead. It was poured into a ram’s horn and passed around. Since I was one of the first to be handed the horn, I took a sip.

Next a pan of honey cake was sliced up and that too was passed around. Again, I was one of the first to be served. I took half a slice, not wanting the cake to run out before every one had had some. I think more people showed up than was expected. I began to regret that decision. The cake was really good and in the end there was a lot left over. I wasn’t the only one to take only half a slice.

After the cake, people were encouraged to share poems, songs, or dances they had created themselves. When no one came forward a talented lady who had written a few songs stepped up. She didn’t just sing, she taught us all a song.

After singing the lovely song, we went back to reading the script to close the ceremony. We talked to the directions again, facing each, and spoke of our hopes for the next season. We chanted for a little bit and then it was over.

It was a nice ceremony. I went over to thank the couple who put this all together before Mark and I left.

Overall, I felt it was a lot like church, only outdoors.


The United Kingdom

How to get there:

You can enter this country by land via an underwater tunnel, air, or sea.

Check with your local UK embassy for visa information.

Phone:

  • Use 112 or 999 for the police, fire department, or to get an ambulance

Website:

Data:

Videos:

Books: 

Notes:

  • If you’re going to do a lot of travel by train or bus, looking for a Rail card or buss pass before you buy your first ticket.
    • Railway Cards
    • Oyster Card
    • Even getting a day pass on a bus could be cheaper than getting 3 single passes, or a return ticket and a single pass.
  • If you are going to stay in hostels, join Hosteling International, or any of it’s subsidiaries.
    • YHA – England & Wales
    • SYHA – Scotland
      • Membership at any of these will get you the discounted rate at any of the other hosteling organizations.
      • These hostels tend to be better than most hostels.

Orkney Islands

Basic Information

How to get there:

Information by Wikipedia:

Website

Downloads:

Videos:

Notes:

  • Leave the umbrellas at home.
  • Bring a good rain coat, rain boots, rain pants, and hope it doesn’t rain.
  • Before visiting any of the sights, get membership in either Historic Scotland (mainly if you plan to travel all over Scotland) or Orkney Explorer Pass.

The Bishop’s Palace and Earl’s Palace

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • £5
  • Free with Historic Scotland membership

Hours:

  • 1 April to 30 September: 9.30am to 5.30pm
  • 1 to 31 October: 10am to 4pm
  • 1 November to 31 March: Closed

Notes:

  • Look for the statue of St. Rognvald on the outside of the Reid Tower.
  • Parking is between the Bishop’s Palace and the Earl’s Palace.
  • Built in the 1570’s
  • The was built by Patrick Stewart, not Patrick Stewart

St. Magnus Cathedral

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • 1 April – 30 September Monday – Saturday, 09:00 – 18:00 and Sunday 13:00 – 18:00
  • 1 October – 31 March Monday – Saturday, 09:00 – 13:00 and 14:00 – 17:00
  • (Cathedral is closed for lunch – 13:00 – 14:00)

Notes:


Grain Earth House

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • Since you have to get the key from Judith Glue, it’s only available within the hours of Judith Glue.

Notes:

  • Before you go, stop at Judith Glue to pick of the keys.
    • Judith Glue is right across the street from St. Magnus Cathedral.
    • Open M-Sa 9:00 – 18:00 and Su 11:00 – 17:00
  • Bring a flashlight.
    • You are provided with a flashlight, but the battery might be dead.
  • This one is a claustrophobic’s nightmare.
    • It’s a very cramped space, underground, and with no light.
  • Iron Age

Broch of Gurness 

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • £6
  • Free with Historic Scotland membership

Hours:

  • 1 April to 30 September: 9.30am to 5.30pm
  • 1 to 31 October: 10am to 4pm
  • 1 November to 31 March: Closed

Notes:

  • Building started from 500 to 200 BC.
  • Right outside, near the parking lot, is  St. Magnus Way.

Dounby Click Mill

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • 24hrs

Notes:

  • The path can be very muddy, wear rain boots.
  • You must park near the road, next to a sign that says, “No cars beyond this point”.
    • Walk the rest of the way.
    • It might not look like you are in the right place. You will not see the mill until you are quite near it.

Birsay Earl’s Palace

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • 24hrs

Notes:

  • built between 1569 and 1574
  • There is free parking across the street from the St. Magnus Church.
    • St. Magnus Church is free to enter.

Brough of Birsay

Basic Information

Websites:

Cost:

  • £5
  • Free with Historic Scotland membership

Hours:

  • Mid-June to 30 September: 9.30am to 5.30pm (tides permitting)
  • 1 October to mid-June: Closed

Notes:

  • You can only go during low tide.
  • Parts of the island can be muddy. Take rain boots.
  • The island can get very windy.
  • There is an unmanned light house in the island.
  • If you come at the right time of the year, you can see puffins here.

The Kitchener Memorial

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • 24hrs

Books:

Notes:

  • There is a 20 minute walk from the parking area to the memorial.
  • There is a walking path that goes past this memorial.
  • You cannot enter the memorial.
  • You will see many rabbits on your walk to the memorial.
  • The path can be very muddy, wear rain boots.

Wideford Hill Cairn

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • 24hrs
  • Though, it would be hard to get to at night

Notes:

  • Park near the tower.
    • Either walk past the stone block to find the path or walk along the road to find the path.
    • You will not see this cairn until you are very close to it.
    • Follow the path around the mountain. After about 10 minutes of walking down you should see a sign. There aren’t other signs or posts, just a footpath made by people walking on the grass.
  • The path will be muddy and there is poo everywhere. Why not wear rain boots?
  • Bring a flash light.

Rennibister Earth House

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • 24hrs

Notes:

  • The bones of 6 adults and about 12 kids were found in here.
  • 400BC
  • An easy 2 minute walk from where you must park.
  • Bring a flash light.

Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • 24hrs

Videos:

Notes:

  • Cuween Hill dates to around 3,000 BC
  • The path to the cairn will be muddy. …Rain boots!
  • Bring a flash light.

Ring of Brodgar

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • 24hrs

Videos:

Notes:


Skara Brae Prehistoric Village

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • £7.50
  • Free with Historic Scotland membership

Hours:

  • 1 April to 30 September:  9.30am to 5.30pm
  • 1 October to 31 March: 10am to 4pm

Books:

Videos:

Notes:

  • The settlement dated from around 500 BC.
  • Part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.
  • There is a really nice cafe and restaurant where you can get local dishes.
    • You get 20% off with Historic Scotland membership.
  • Your tickets include access to:
    • A short 5 minute film.
    • A small museum
    •  A recreated house
    • the actual prehistorical settlement
    • A visit to Skaill House

The Barnhouse Neolithic Settlement

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • free

Hours:

  • 24hrs

Videos:

Notes:

  • The settlement dates back to circa 3000 BC.
  • Very closes to the Standing Stones of Stennes.

Standing Stones of Stenness

Basic Information

Website

Cost:

  • Free

Hours:

  • 24hrs

Videos:

Druids:

Notes:

Map:

Posted in Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland, United Kingdom, The | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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