Tuesday, May 15, 2012

In Love With Orkney (minus the wind)

We made it to Scotland! *dance of joy* After a train ride to Gatwick airport from the center of London, we took a plane to Aberdeen, then to Kirkwall in Orkney (islands in the upper north part of Scotland). According to the pilot, an "unruly passenger" on the flight before us (who required police presence!) caused our flight to be delayed, so we didn't make it to the hotel until about 8pm. Still, the hotel is beautiful, with antique furniture and spacious rooms. After the awful business hotel we stayed at in London (because everything is so expensive!), I was in love with Orkney before we'd toured it at all. Heated floors in the bathroom, no less! Ahhhh...heaven.

We took an organized tour with Explore Orkney and turned out to be the only ones scheduled, so we had a private tour throughout the island. How cool is that??? The first place we stopped was called Earth House. It's a tiny underground circle made of stones that has been buried underground for thousands of years and was only recently discovered when a farmer's tractor sank into the ground above.

Next, we traveled to Maes Howe, an impressive domed structure made entirely of overlapping stone slabs that was built about 3000-4000 years ago. They wouldn't allow photos inside but here's a site with good pics. The tomb (called a cairn in Scotland) has a skinny opening that is lined up precisely with the setting sun so that on the midwinter solstice in December, a shaft of sunlight streaks through the entry and lights up the back wall. But if you can't make the trip out for the celestial show, you can watch it through the site's webcam! In the 1100s, some Viking soldiers came through and wrote graffiti inside the tomb (in runes) that were along the lines of "I was here" and "For a good time, call..." While the content of the scratchings is not significant, the runes themselves are a neat piece of history. If nothing else, it is proof that human nature hasn't changed much in the last thousand years. LOL
After a nice lunch of soup and sandwiches, we ventured off to see two standing stone circles, the Ring of Brodgar (above) and the Stones of Stenness. The wind had kicked up to an unbelievable level by this point. If I'd unzipped my jacket and held it open, I'm pretty sure I'd have gone para-sailing across the island! We were incredibly blessed to avoid rain pelting us (it seemed to only rain when we were traveling in the car between sights), but the wind was something else. I've never experienced anything quite like it, but our guide was completely unaffected by it, having been born and raised in Orkney. Amazing!
The main reason I wanted to come to Orkney was to see the Skara Brae. In 1850, a terrible storm battered the Orkney coast and revealed a Stone Age village that was incredibly preserved, including pottery, dice, and tools. Underground passageways led from one room to another. It was just as cool as I thought it would be, though having experienced the bite of the wind, I can see why they had to build it underground! Not only that, but the sand from the coastline was like a compulsory all-over exfoliation treatment. I should have baby smooth skin now! *ouchie*
Skara Brae
Our last stop on the tour was to the Broch of Gurness. This was actually my favorite part of the tour because we were able to wander through the broch and the stone village.
Broch of Gurness today

Artist sketch of the Broch entrance
Along with the large multi-level broch (stone tower) in the back, this neolithic village has three stone walls surrounding it and several rooms off either side. Once we were up close and examining the layout, we could clearly see the indentations where the doors had been hung, the fire pits (hearths) in the center of each room, as well as their grinding stones and wells. It was incredible! In the visitor's center, we got to grind grain using a large round stone with a hole in the center. Out in the broch proper, several of the grinding stones were still there.
Grinding stone, well, and hearth at the broch
The tour through Orkney surpassed my wildest expectations, which were pretty high to start with. If you ever get the chance to come out here and experience it for yourself, I highly recommend it!! And if I haven't mentioned it already, I love comments, so if you're following our trip through the UK, please leave me a note to let me know. Cheers! :)


  1. Oh my gosh - so jealous! Thank you for posting such awesome photos. So glad it's all you were hoping for!

  2. A private tour!!!! Awesome :) I checked out all the links before commenting. Very, very interesting. It's hard to even imagine 3000BC. Mind boggling. We have Bob's Red Mill here and he still uses those giant grinding stones - imported from Scotland I believe!
    I'm so glad your hotel is better now. Can't wait to see what's next!

  3. This is something I would LOVE to see! It looks massively impressive! :)