Ancient Orkney. 2018

Date:  26th June 2018

Travelled:  98 kilometres from Stromness to Kirkwall both on the Orkneys.

Visited: Standing Stones of Stenness, Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae, Skaill House, Birsey and Maeshowe.

Stayed:  Kirkwall free parking on the waterfront, N58.98589, W02.96888

Budget: 24 days @ €89 per day


After a great couple of days, we say goodbye to Jo and Ian after breakfast and go our seperate ways.  They have a ferry booking for the mainland tomorrow and we will go the day after, but I am sure we will catch up again.  We have a big day of touring the northern mainland today, so we get a move on at 9am.

Its only a relatively short drive north and across the Loch of Stenness to our first adventure…


Our first stop is the Standing Stones of Stenness.  It is not lost on me that one of the main characters on the TV show, Game of Thrones was named Stenness.


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These stones were placed here some 5000 years ago.  Even more amazing is these stones are up to 5.7 metres in height.  Over Pam’s left shoulder you can see the stones are a popular spot for the local sheep.


They think there were originally 11 or 12 stones in the circle but a few have gone astray.


Maeshowe is just up the road so we drop in and book tickets for later in the day, then continue on.


We turn around and cross the Ness of Brodgar, a narrow strip of land that separates two adjoining lochs.  Continuing north up the hill to the Ring of Brodgar.


Some 21 of the original 60 stones are still standing.  Pretty good after 4000 years.  Within the ditch the site is closed as they are re-doing the walking path, so we cannot get close.


Thanks to the Laird of Skaill House (next door) and his interest in ancient Orkney, Skara Brae is an amazing stone age village captured in time to wander and imagine.


There is a replica of a stone age house in there, with turf roof.  Only put this photo in as Pam has done a hat change.


At first glance there is so much to take in about this cluster of 8-9 houses.  Suddenly it struck me, it looks like a links version of a put-put golf course !


Skara Brae village is only 50 metres or so from the beach.  All these structures were buried in sand dunes for thousands of years, until uncovered during a storm.



Anyway our membership also entitles us to visit Skaill House, only about 200 metres up the path.  This 17th century mansion was originally built for the Bishop.  But extended and renovated every 100 or so years.


The dining room set for visitors.


Found this cabinet very interesting.  Captain Cook departed on his third (and last) great voyage only to be struck by gales for several days.  He took refuge in the nearby bay for several days, staying in Skaill House.  He presenting this dinner service to the Laird on his departure as thanks.


Michael and Pam doing a mirror selfie.


Back in the Hymer we continue on to Birsay in the north-west corner of Mainland Orkney.  Lots to see here, there’s another Stephenson lighthouse and the Brough of Birsay on the headland, then into the village to see the Bishop’s Palace.  Access is subject to the tide and luckily enough its low.


Being low tide we can walk across to the headland with dry feet.



Arriving at the Brough of Birsay.


The outline of the buildings, of this viking village and the ruined church are all that remain of the Borough of Birsay. Established in 1065 by Thorfinn.


Another view of the borough and its foundations.



The 12th century church and abbey ruins are more substantial.



We continue up to the crest of the headland to have a look at another Stephenson masterpiece.  Perhaps not at majestic as Cape Wrath but still doing it job a 150 years on.



On our way back to the Hymer, note I’m wearing our national costume (winter).


Back in the village, it would be hard to miss the ruins of the palace.


It really is a huge ruin.


The Bishop’s Palace was founded by Patrick Stewart in 1574.  By all accounts he was a ruthless character and traitorous to boot.  He is eventually executed.


Its been a long day as we depart Birsay and head back south for Stenness.  Our tour time for Maeshowe is fast approaching.


Must be good !



This mound in a farmer’s field is Maeshowe.  Constructed some 5000 years ago as a burial tomb.  Anyway we are bused out, then walk the last 300 or so metres.


So we arrive at the entrance and you cannot take photos inside, so that’s it.


Entry to the tomb requires you to move through the long passage in a very low crouch or crawl.  This opens into a large chamber about 6 metres square.  There are 3 small burial chambers set into the remaining walls within.  We found it all a bit underwelming really.  The woman guiding our group gave an interesting talk but other than some graffiti added by the vikings almost 4000 years later, nothing.  When this site was finally excavated as part of an archeological dig last century, nothing was found.  Frankly watching some very overweight and immobile american tourists make their way through the passageway was a highlight.

PS:  All the sites we visited today were free for us as Historic Environment Scotland members.  Very worthwhile for visiting Scotland.

So we aim the Hymer for Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkneys.  We saw a small free parking area on the waterfront with a few motorhomes there a couple of days ago so we head for there.


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Parked on the waterfront at Kirkwall, watching the sun set, it’s now 10pm, this sunset will last more than an hour.




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