Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Monday, July 19, 2010

What We Did On Our Holidays

I promised last week I'd post about our holiday on Orkney. This was my (and Hilary's) fourth visit to the islands, and our first without fairly small children on tow. It was just the two of us plus Hilary's mother (who had been to Orkney even more often than we had). This time we only had a week rather than our more usual fortnight, so we decided against visiting (or revisiting as the case might be) the more distant islands, as they really benefit from an overnight stay. (We were based in Kirkwall, in a delightful flat.)



Our first visit was to Skara Brae, the neolithic settlement which Historic Scotland proudly proclaim as being "older than the pyramids". Which it is, but in fact on of the other Orcadian islands (Papa Westray) there are the remains of an even earlier settlement (Knap of Howar). Anyway, Skara Brae, now part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is just as wonderful as ever, and HS continue to improve its presentation. There is a full-scale replica of what a completed (ie roofed) version of one of the houses would have looked like, and we were amused to encounter in it a person in one of the electric buggies they provide for infirm visitors. The interior of a neolithic house is not a buggy-friendly environment, and her husband and I had to manhandle it part of the way out when she got stuck.



We revisited St Magnus's Cathedral, and managed to book onto a tour of its upper levels (there are four a week, each limited to six people). It was very interesting, as not only do you get to see parts of the cathedral not normally visible such as the belfry, and to go out onto the tower, but the triforium holds a small museum of items relating to the cathedral and to restoration work (especially the major restoration which occurred at the end of the 19th century). So we have the Kirkwall hangman's ladder (a double ladder: two went up, one came down), and examples of wood- and stone-carving, as well as the unused members of a set of stained-glass windows, ordered but eventually not all used.





We visited Hoy, the largest island after the Mainland. Hoy's main claim to fame is the Old Man of Hoy, which folk of my generation saw being climbed for the first time in a ground-breaking BBC outside broadcast. In the 1960s it took advanced techniques and three days: now its easiest route is graded a mere E1 and has been climbed solo by Catherine Destivelle.



We took a taxi fronm the ferry to Rackwick and walked out to the Old Man and back, then walked back across Hoy to the ferry. On the way back from the Old Man we investigated a marvellous little museum just outside Rackwick in an old croft. Mostly it contains a variety of furnishings and implements, but there are some great old photographs. Best of all, though, is a little display honouring fomer resident Andrew Muir, to whom we are all indebted for his inventive genius. Here are the displays:




and here are two examples of his great Orcadian-American invention:




Well, they do say travel broadens the mind.....

We also visted Rousay and Wyre. After Maes Howe, the biggest neolithic tomb on Orkeny is Mid Howe on Rousay. It is a stalled cairn, meaning that the various burial chambers are separated by stone dividers which give it the appearance of a gigantic urinal. It's undeniably impressive though.




On these small islands visitors attract attention:



The Community Centre on Wyre contains a copy of the Declaration of Wyre, an appeal to the crowned heads of Norway and Denmark regarding the perceived risks from nuclear reprocessing at Dounreay (just over the Pentland Firth from Orkney). Dounreay has gone now but the Declaration is still there.



We also visited the Brough of Birsay, a peninsula cut off by the tide for much of the day and containing both a splendid ruined 700-year-old palace and the nests of a large number of seabirds. For example, these young shags:



We rounded out the holiday with a meal at the Hamnavoe restaurant in Stromness, and vowed not to leave it so many years before our next visit.

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