After a good night’s sleep and breakfast in Thurso at St Clair Hotel it’s a short drive to Scrabster to catch the ferry to Stromness on Orkney.
Orkney comprises some 67 islands lying off the north coast of Scotland and they’re a short ferry ride from the mainland – 90 minutes from Scrabster to Stromness, passing the Old Man of Hoy.
From Stromness we head to the Ring of Brodgar to begin our exploration of neolithic Orkney. Ring of Brodgar is a henge and stone circle (henges are circular monuments of earth, comprising a flat central platform with a surrounding ditch and a bank around the outside) thought to have been erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC and is estimated to have taken around 80,000 man-hours to complete!
The centre of the henge has not been investigated by archaeologists so who knows what secrets of history it may hold.
The first building at the village of Barnhouse took place about 3200 BC. Today, only the lower courses of stonework are visible, and the village as presented is completely reconstructed according to the results of recent excavation.
The Stones of Stenness is a ceremonial site, in use by about 3000 BC was possibly erected by the peoples living in Barnhouse village.
Evidence suggests that the great tomb of Maeshowe was emptied long ago, but it remains one of the best preserved architectural monuments of prehistory. Maeshowe today appears as a massive grassy mound visible from the Stones of Stenness. You need to book in advance to visit Maeshowe and we managed to get a visit time for tomorrow.
Skara Brae was completely unknown until 1850, when a great storm removed the sand cover from part of the village. Since then it has been excavated on several occasions and the remains have been consolidated to provide a real glimpse of everyday life in the Stone Age – the village dates back to about 3100 BC.
We were staying in St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay in a great little hotel – friendly staff, good food, a bar and a pool table.
Reasonably early start to the day for a wander round the coast at Mull Head Nature Reserve, followed by a trip into Kirkwall to visit St Magnus Cathedral – the grandest and largest building in Orkney dominating the town and a landmark from the sea which began building in 1137. And The Orkney Museum – in what used to be a house, this museum contains a wealth of information and displays telling the story of Orkney, from the Stone Age, to the Picts and Vikings, right through to the present day.
Back to Maeshowe for a very interesting guided tour. Built around 2700 BC the burial tomb was designed in such a way that on the winter solstice the light of the setting sun shines straight down the passage and illuminates the back of the central chamber. The sun’s rays align with a standing stone, the Barnhouse Stone, standing 800m SSW of Maeshowe. Videos and live webcams can be viewed here.
On the way back to St Margaret’s Hope we stop along the way to read the story of how the land bridges were created to link together 4 of the islands with Mainland Orkney.
To end a fantastic first visit to Orkney we enjoy an awesome three course meal at The Creel restaurant in St Margaret’s Hope – Crab Salad, Avocado Salsa, Pickled Cucumber & Apple Mayonnaise to start, followed by Slow Cooked Brisket, Scotch Mince, Shallots & Gravy and a Lemon Tart with Marmalade Ice Cream to finish!