Mike Vickers' Blog

July 17, 2018

Orkney Islands: 5,000 Years of Civilisation

Filed under: Orkney, Scotland — derryvickers @ 9:35 pm

We had a great 2 weeks holiday in Orkney. We focused in the first week on the Saint Magnus Music Festival.

We stayed the first week in Stromness; the author and poet George Mackay Brown spent all his life there. Stromness has only one narrow street which reminds me of the hill towns in Italy. It has a well-maintained museum which is funded as a local charity; it also has an art gallery with a specific collection of artists of the Cornish School.

A view along the High Street

Stromness High Street

The Music was played both in Stromness and in Kirkwall; Kirkwall is the principal town and is where Saint Magnus cathedral is.

The music spanned mainly classical music but there was a group from Norway that played Alehouse music in the Town Hall Stromness. They held another session in the Cathedral. And they played wholly from memory. In general, all musicians came from the Nordic countries. There was also a play by Telemann again by a couple from Denmark brought up to date in English; this play was held in an impressive new school in Kirkwall. But the best session for us were Michael Foyle (Violin) and Maksim Stsura (piano) playing Janacek, Hesketh, Debussy and Respighi in Stromness Town Hall. Surprisingly the Festival did not contain much music by Maxwell Davis founder of the Festival

We took a day trip to Rousay; a smaller island where the feature was an archaeological dig on a site at Swandro; a team from the University of Bradford is working hard to record the details of the site before the sea washes the site away (sea level rise due to climate change). We were lucky in that the Site Director gave us a personal explanation of the site. The site was occupied from Neolithic, through Bronze age to through to the Viking period. You can follow the progress of the Swandro dig at https://www.swandro.co.uk/dig-diary. There are 3 small well preserved chambered cairns and a much bigger one. I had to back the car onto the ferry; I’m not good at that! We did of course visit Skara Brea, but this was the third time; the Stromness Museum has a great display on the exploration of Skara Brae.

Swandro in Distance

Swandro approaching

 

 

 

Swandro Director

The director came and talked to us

 

 

 

Small Cairn

A well preserved cairn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Large Chambered Cairn

LargeChambered Cairn: Rousay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I must mention the Arctic explorer John Rea from Stromness.  He discovered the final leg of the North West Passage a route that allowed Norwegian Roald Amundsen to make the first complete passage in 1903–1906.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northwest_Passage. Rea also discovered the fate of the Franklin Expedition for which he got no praise during his lifetime and only achieved posthumous recognition in 2013. In a recent conference on Rea, Maria Pia Casarini considers Rea as THE greatest Artic explorer of all time.

 

During the second week we went over to Westray and did a few short walks including one to the sea cliffs. We saw whole range of sea birds including puffins, I have never seen these birds before. We saw many fulmars flying and nesting; fulmars are to me the ultimate flying machine. And there are more sites.  One on the coast was explored a couple of years ago and has been covered over waiting a decsion as to cover over the dig or leave some part open

Massive dig in Westray

Massive dig that should be reburied?

to the public.

Puffins

Comfortable Puffins nesting

Fulmers - flying machines

Fulmers and Puffins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Westray is very go ahead – it has had a Development Trust for 8 years which has done wonders to the morale of the island; a major source of wealth is their investment in a 750Kw wind turbine. Read the Trust’s aims at https://westraydevelopmenttrust.co.uk

Returned to the Mainland (that’s what the main island in the archipelago is called) and stayed at the youth hostel in Kirkwall. We visited another Neolithic cairn up a hill; there are many cairns on Orkney and a lot seem to have weathered the 3000 years very well. But the prize was a new discovery between the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness; this is a major Neolithic village bigger than Skara Brea that is being actively explored now; the site had only been reopened for the summer digging season two days before we arrived for the second time to Mainland.  The miden is exciting too

Ness of Brogdar

The Dig at Ness of Brogdar

The Miden Ness of Brodgar

The Miden partly excavated

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A striking feature of Orkney is that it has been inhabited continuously for 5000 years. You can stand anywhere and see houses in all directions. We visited brocks at Gurness on the Mainland and Mid Howe on Rousay. And the remains of Stuart Houses in Kirkwall and Birsay. In Kirkwall there are delightful modern developments: the new secondary school (opened by Alex Salmond), a lovely new Library and Archive and a new hospital is being built; there is a clear resemblance to Skara Brea!.

Kirkwall Library and Archive

Kirkwall Library and Archive

Theatre

The New School’s Theatre

Kirkwell's New Hospital

Kirkwalls new Hospital

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