Kirkwall, Orkney Islands

Archaeological Treasures of the Orkney Islands

Colleen Batey|July 3, 2010|Blog Post

An excellent way to start the day! Brunch, sunshine, and a full day tour of the stunning archaeology of the Orkney Islands. Of course, I confess to being somewhat biased in my enthusiasm—having spent some 30 years of my life digging in Orkney and discovering its Viking past—but enthusiasm is infectious!

The small capital city of Kirkwall, whose skyline is dominated by the magnificent red and yellow sandstone Cathedral dedicated to St Magnus, the martyr saint of Orkney, positively glowed in the morning sunshine. We embarked on a short drive to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, “Heart of Neolithic Orkney;” which includes the magnificent Neolithic tomb of Maes Howe, with its captivating runic graffiti left by the later Viking visitors; the atmospheric stone Circle of Brodgar on the Loch of Stenness; and its near neighbour Standing Stones of Stenness. Skara Brea is a large settlement of stone houses dating from 3100 to 2800 B.C. nestled on the sweeping Bay of Skaill in the west Mainland of Orkney. The residence of several families, who lived from the land and the sea, these homes were brought to life by the presence of stone furniture within. A dresser for display and storage, stone bed alcoves which would have been made cosy with animal skins, and grinding stones all framed the massive fireplace which would have been the center of the home some 5,000 years ago. It was all quite magical.

Returning to the ship alongside in Kirkwall, we passed by Scapa Flow, home to the navies of the First and Second World wars, and today the location of the mass grave of the Royal Oak, marked by a simple buoy. We can have been left in little doubt that this apparently remote island group most certainly punches well above its weight in terms of its cultural heritage.

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