Monday, 22 September 2014


Today we did not have that lucky transformation of weather at midday. It was mist; mist and more mist nonetheless dry. 

We had to work up an appetite for the afternoon’s tea and shortbread with another escapade. Not too far from Milbrig is another Chambered Cairn (mound) for us to pay tribute, at Unstan, on the southern end of Lock Stenness.
Wonderful stone work at Unstan

The Chambered Cairn at Unstan was discovered and excavated in 1884 and 1934. It is now maintained and left alone for us to visit by Scottish Heritage. Unstan is an example of another site looked after but not fussed over. Along a path of some hundred metres, as directed by a lady doing her garden, we came to this burial place for a farming community that lived here 4,500 years ago.

On hands and knees we made our way through the narrow entrance passage into a rectangular chamber in which we could stand up and admire the construction. There was perfect dry stonework with upright slabs creating compartments or stalls. One can only guess at the ceremonies that took place here. The effort to build this place and a number of similar Cairns that were in use for such a long period of time show that they were central to the society here for one thousand years.

On this part of Orkney there is an abundance of Neolithic treasures; Maes Howe, Barn house Farmstead, Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, and currently under wraps, literally, the Ness of Brodgar which is excavated each summer at moment. All testify to the depth and breath of a culture that grew up and thrived hereabouts.

Sunday, 21 September 2014


Swanister House in the middle distance
It was a grey and murky day so we headed into Kirkwall to do our business affairs and emails and came home to lunch. Immediately lunch after the sun came out and the sky was at its bluest.

Nothing for it but to consult the O.S. map for an adventure; Swanbister Bay is a few miles from where the road from our place by the Loch meets the A964. Drive along Westwards for a mile or so and then turn off down a farm track for a mile or so.

We parked off the track just past the entrance to Swanbister House, lovely grand farmhouse that looks out to sea. It was a walk in warm sunshine along the footpath by the line of low cliffs that often fell way to the beach.

On, past some farm buildings and one large ruin that we surmised might have even been part of a fish handling building? At the end of the bay there is what is left of a long pier. It looked to have been extended for naval activity and then fallen into disrepair. All along the beach on our way round we could see old rusting torpedo nets forming a frieze along the sand underneath the cliffs.

En route we nearly tripped over what was left of an old naval mine in the long grass. There is history at every turn on Orkney and the delight of discovering it. And halfway down the pier someone had thoughtfully placed a bench, facing the sun, for us to rest, before the walk back.

Friday, 19 September 2014


On the Ferry to Lyness

A grey day but dry and breezy; we caught the ferry from Houton to Lyness on Hoy. It was a forty-five minute crossing on a choppy sea. We looked out across the grey waters of Scapa Flow. We were sailing over the 23 remaining wrecks of the 40 strong German Fleet who, under orders, scuttled themselves in 1919.

This part of Orkney was home to the British Fleet in 1914-18 and 1939-45. The war being centred on the Atlantic shipping conveys by 1940 12,000 personnel were stationed at Lyness.

The Visitors Centre is a treasure trove of all kinds of paraphernalia and equipment and memento’s and clothing from both periods.

The trail takes one round the Naval Base and imagines what might have been
One of the huge tanks that once held 15,000 tons of fuel oil now contains interesting boats and tackle used in the base. There is film footage from   1940’s projected on one of the tank’s walls.

And then a trail takes you round the base which with map in hand you get a clear sense of the scale of the place which boasted several churches, a cinema and hundreds of accommodation huts. En route there are guns and sections of torpedo nets and propellers propped up on show. The slipways and piers are still visible and the building that was headquarters and communications centres still stands high above the base on a hill.

All in all the former Navel Base at Lyness is a fascinating and memorable place.

Thursday, 18 September 2014


In the Sunday sun we drove northwest back to the Broch of Gurness to again wander at this wonderful settlement and gaze at the stones. 

St Magnus Churchyard

It was a lovely day and each stone in each wall delighted in the sun.

On the way we stopped at Tingwall Dock, which serves Rousay and Egilsay. A lot of cars on the quay but no sign off life, everyone must have taken off for the day! Bird watching? Exploring? It was probably too windy for diving, maybe fishing?  

Weekend pursuits in Orkney.
The return to Gurness

Wednesday, 17 September 2014


Milbrig  Our home on Orkney
Saturday morning a bright clear morning with much sun. We sat outside and read and laid plans for Kirkwall Library and then onto Mull Head, Deerness on the East Mainland. We thought Kirkwall Library might contain records of where the Birmingham University’s Department of Ancient History, and therefore Sian was digging a Picts site in 1981.

No luck in the library and as we drove out to Deerness a thick mist descended on the peninsular! We drove on think we found the field, near Skaill Farm where most of the work was done.  Just before this we thought we found the old school when she and a group of 20 other students stayed during the three-week dig. Enquiring at Deerness Stores we met a farmer who confirmed the old school as the place and also supplied the wheelbarrows for the dig each year. So the mist (of time) partially lifted.

Orkney  Some of the places we have visited