Mine Howe - south-east of
"Mine Howe ... may have been considered sacred since the
Neolithic period (between 4,000 and 2,500 BC) or earlier, but the style
of the construction is very reminiscent of the Iron Age (between 700 BC
and 500 AD)." (Mine Howe, The mystery of the 29 steps - Tankerness,
"Mine Howe has been causing something of a stir in
Orkney since its rediscovery in September 1999. The mound had been
opened up once before in 1946 but was then abandoned and covered over
for 53 years. Farmer Douglas Patterson re-opened the mound and a
curious structure was excavated." Mine Howe - Mainland, Orkney
Subterranean Passages - (Ancient Sites Directory)
|The narrow shaft where you
walk down a steep set of uneven steps to the chamber at the bottom.
There are several theories as
to the purpose of this deep well and "it is possible that Mine Howe was
in some way associated with ritual or religion." (Mine
Howe, The mystery of the 29 steps)
||We had an archeological
tour of Mine Howe and the new digs that are
under way here. A sizeable group of people were attending the tour,
likely attracted to the site partly because a skeleton had been
excavated just two weeks before we were
This new find had made big headlines in the local newspapers and all
Gurness on the Eynhallow
After Mine Howe we drove north
to the Broch of
Gurness on the Eynhallow
Sound. "The classic definition of a broch is a tall drystone tower, circular
in its diameter as it rises; ...
there is a single entrance and no windows."
They were built typically in the late Bronze Age or Iron Age. Their
apparently defensive architecture is often considered to indicate a
need for these people to defend themselves against invaders from the
outside or from each other. "The
word broch comes from the old Norse term for a fortification, 'borg',
which implies that many were in reasonable shape in Viking times." ...
are unique to Scotland, particularly to western and northern Scotland
where they must have dominated the landscape. They conform so closely
in design that it has been suggested that they were the
work of master craftsmen who travelled round undertaking commissions
from eminent households who chose to signal their wealth and status by
having a broch built." (Quote from 'Prehistoric Orkney' by Anna Ritchie
- Historic Scotland.)
"On an exposed headland of Aikerness, you'll find the Broch
Gurness, an Iron-Age stone tower with walls still standing to 4m
despite 2000 years of coastal erosion. ...This is certainly the best
preserved broch in Orkney and the main tower is surrounded by the
remains of a number of well-preserved outhouses. ...The visitors centre
has some interesting displays on the culture that built these
remarkable fortifications." (Scotland's
and Islands - Lonely Planet Publications)
took place from 1929, and lasted for several years. ... At some date
between 500 BC an 200 BC... a decision was taken to create a new
settlement at Gurness. ...Towars the western side of the enclosed
paltform work began on a circular broch tower, 20m in external diameter
and perhaps 8 to 10m tall, while around it constructrion began on a
settlement of small stone houses with attached yards and storage
sheds." (The Brochs of Gurness and Midhowe - Historic Scotland)
You can see
clearly the remains of the stone tower that made up the
center of this broch with the surrounding houses and ditches.
our way back from the Broch
a second visit to the Ring of Brodgar, to see the
enthralling sight once more.
the most majestic stones at the Ring of Brodgar with
the Loch of
Stenness in the background. This is the stone that
"was split in two
by a bolt of lightning" - well, some time ago.
We drove from Stromness, via Kirkwall and southwards across
Burray Island to South
Ronaldsay Island and St.
with picturesque stone houses. "St. Margaret's Hope has a post office,
two grocery stores and several friendly pubs". (Scotland's Highlands
and Islands) It also had a friendly tea room where we had scones
and 'a nice cup of tea'.
Crossing over from Mainland to Burray we saw this shipwreck, most
likely a relic from WWII.
Was it left there as a reminder?
Churchill Barriers were ordered
to be built by Churchill in 1940 after the sinking of HMS Royal Oak in
1939, to seal off the eastern approaches to Scapa Flow."
(A Souvenir Guide to Orkney by Charles Tait)
We passed close to the edge of several small islands surrounding
the half-way closed in sea called Scapa Flow (probably
the island of Flotta here). This was the area that was barred off
by the Churchill Barriers
warships during the war.
One of the small islands
Wind-blown Siv at the stern of the
closed in sea called Scapa
Flow, which formed
part of the Churchill Barriers
during the war.
We landed at Gills Bay and drove in very bad weather along the
east coast of northern Scotland back to Inverness, through the city and
on to Westhill where we had reserved a room at a B&B for our last
Scotland. It turned out to be something like a modern-day mansion, a
wonderfully beautiful and comfortable house which we will most likely
return to another year.
Balnuaran of Clava - Clava
The North-east Passage Grave and the Ring Cairn
on the left and farther back.
On our way to Inverness
airport we made a side trip to the Clava Cairns, east of Inverness
(close to the the
Culloden battlefield site, a totally different
story which we had to skip for lack of time). This is a Bronze Age
of cairns and stones - three to four thousand years old.
It was a rainy day but
we managed nevertheless to
take some pictures between the rain drops. Each cairn was accompanied
by its historical-information table.
|"The monuments here were built between
three and four thousand years ago.
The oldest are a circular walled enclosure - the central 'ring cairn'
and two 'passage graves'? The latest was a ring of boulders that
enclosed a grave, the 'kerb cairn'. Such Bronze Age monuments are a
feature of the inner Moray Firth ('firth' from Danish 'fjord') and as
these are the best preserved
examples, they are known as the 'Clava Cairns'."
Passage Grave which had a big puddle of water in the center instead of
the burial chamber which was there a few thousand years ago.
On the left is one of the easily recognized rectangular standing stones,
clearly indicated on the table below on the left.
|"Today it is open to the
elements, but originally it took a different form. The central chamber
had a dome-shaped roof that rose to around three and a half meters.
This was built entirely of overlapping stones closed by a single large
slab." (quote from the table)
||The North-east Passage Grave
surrounded by the standing stones and hanging birches. "On the shortest
day of the year the rear of the chamber is illuminated by the setting
sun. ... The monument probably contained burials but the record is
Central Ring Cairn.
Text from the
information table is on the right.
original structure consisted of a rubble wall
supported on both sides by a kerb. Both these kerbs were graded by
height, with the lowest stones in the direction of the rising sun, and
the tallest towards the south-west where the sun sets at midwinter."
information table illustrates beautifully how the passage
ways were built so as to point in the direction of the midwinter sunset.
||The clouds were closing in
as we were walking through
the beech forest and getting to the last one of the three
close to the open countryside, the South-west Passage Grave. Again, the
opening is towards the
midwinter setting sun in the south-west.
of beech forest which was well taken care of at this historic site
standing stones in the background, around the south-west passage grave
which is behind the
||John is standing at the
South-west Passage Grave. We can only imagine the burial chamber that
once in the center of this passage grave.
of the more spectacularly cup marked stones can be found around the
back of the NE cairn" (Clava Cairns - Highland, Scotland
- Passage Tombs, Ring Cairn and Stone
we left the
Clava Cairns, the rain was starting more seriously. A whole busload of
tourists were just arriving and, once again, we had been very lucky to
get to the place just in time.
We arrived at Inverness airport in pouring rain, returned the car and
caught our flight to London. It occurred to us that we had never
seen this airport in anything but starkly pouring rain.
So on to Heathrow and then Lyon Saint-Exupéry. A missing bag at
Lyon airport that got traced to our house the next day was the only
little hitch in a magically beautiful and eventful vacation.
We are certain to be back. If not next year, it will certainly be the
year after. We still have to see the Hebrides - Skye, Lewis and Harris.
And we would like to go back to some places we remember from
first trip as being particularly impressive or remarkable
in one way or the other.