Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday, August 30th, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


We drove to three of the four of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney's World Heritage sites today.  We'll see the fourth tomorrow morning (Maeshowe).  Though closed for the season, Caz gave us the details on the Ness of Brodgar, which is revealing new information on its role as the center of a huge ceremonial complex, including the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness.

Skare Brae has been called the oldest known village in Europe where you can still see the houses with their original stone furniture.  Built five thousand years ago, it consists of eight or more dwellings of square rooms with central hearths, stone beds on both sides, a shelved stone dresser opposite the entrance, covered passageways, and utilizing commons drains.
Revealed by erosive storms, its future is continually threatened.

The Ring of Brodgar, an almost true circle of standing stones, 104 meters in diameter, it is the third largest stone circle in the British Isles.

Thought originally to contain some 60 stones, the circle has lost stones to local destruction and at least one lightning strike.  Standing between two and seven meters high, the current count is 27 stones.

The Standing Stones of Stenness contains fewer, taller stones, arranged originally in an oval, built earliest, and with a hearth stone area in the middle.  A common misunderstanding is the depth of the stone in the ground.  The answer is much less than is believed, with wedged stones supporting a short burial.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Tuesday, August 30th.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday, August 29th, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


In the northwest of the Orkney mainland, across Eynhallow Sound from where we were yesterday, lies the Broch of Gurness.  An early iron-age, stone tower settlement, it is almost surrounded by three stone-faced ditches.  The main structure contained an upper story with a thatched roof and wooden floor, and was accessed by a wall walk linked to stairs to the ground floor.

Leaping ahead a couple thousand years, we visited the palace of a much-disliked son of the half-brother of Mary Queen of Scots, Patrick Stewart, who became the 2nd Earl of Orkney in the late 1500s.  Two years after construction began, Earl Patrick was imprisoned (1609) for financial mismanagement and his brutality against the local population, first in Edinburgh Castle, and then in Dumbarton Castle.  From the castle, he sent his illegitimate son, Robert, to seize the palace and most of the area around Kirkwall.  James VI's Privy Council ordered the Earl of Caithness to respond, and the rebellion was soon defeated.  Twelve officers were hanged at the palace gate.  Robert was taken to Edinburgh, put to trial, and hanged.  Soon after, his father was also tried and executed.

Driving west to nearly the northwest tip of Orkney, we crossed at low tide an up-ended seafloor causeway separating the mainland from the tidal island housing a 6th century monastery, 7-8th century Pictish, and 9th century Norse settlements.  The recovered evidence here indicates that the seat of power during these centuries may have been here, and the defensive attributes of the site reinforce that perception.

Barony Mills has been grinding barley (bere), tolerant of the cold weather and short growing season, since 1873.  Barley has been growing here since the Neolithic period.
Orkney Beremeal Bannocks 
There are various recipes for baking bere bannocks, but the most common is probably something like this:
2 c. of Birsay beremeal
1 c. of plain flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cream of tartar
salt (if desired)
Mix thoroughly, add milk, water or buttermilk to make a stiff but soft dough, roll out on a floured (mixture of flour and beremeal) board to form the bannocks (this will make 2 or 3), then cook on a hot, ungreased girdle 5 minutes or so each side until both sides are browned and the middle is cooked. Practice will make perfect. Consume with copious amounts of ale (plus plenty of Orkney butter and cheese.)
Ending the day at Kirbuster Farm Museum brought home to all of us how important the hearth was to families over the past milleniums. The museum was opened to the public in 1986.  It is the last un-restored example of a traditional "firehoose" in Northern Europe.  It has a central hearth, complete with peat fire, and a stone neuk bed, reminiscent of the Neolithic interiors that can be seen at the sites we have visited.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on: Monday, August 29th.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sunday, August 28th, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


Joined by Dave and Jane, Brian and Eileen, and Sophie and Odile, we were off today, led by Caz Marnwell of Orkney Archeaology Tours.   The group is full of interesting and traveled people, with whom we've shared four meals, two ferry rides, and four neolithic and iron age ruins.

On a warm, almost windless day, we drove from Kirkwall to the ferry at Tingwall, and sailed to the island of Rousay (population 300).  In the course of a day, we saw structures which spanned almost 3,000 years.  And the youngest of these was a thousand year old by the time of the earliest Mayan temple.  And what struck Pat most was the fact that these ruins are surrounded by only a few islanders, no facilities, hardly any signs, and certainly no other tourists.

Listening to Caz, displaying her passion for both the present islanders and those who lived here for the past five millenium, we were fascinated by how much these preserved stone tombs, cairns, and brochs could reveal to us.  And by how many questions they left unanswered.  Few other spots on earth contain such a long, continuous, record of occupation leaving such detailed fresh evidence to study.  Absent only greater organic materials, one can hardly imagine a more valuable documentary treasure of man's existence.

In the next five days, we'll accompany Caz on a journey across the hills, shores, and bays of Orkney Islands.  We'll see palaces, chapels, single and rings of stones, more tombs and cairns, more brochs and towers, and plenty of really, really, really old houses.  And we'll question and wonder how the people of this area lived and died in them.

To see the photos that were taken today, click on Sunday, August 28th.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday, August 26th, Kirkwall, Orkney


Hurry up, you'll be late for the wedding!

While wandering around Kirkwall, we discovered that a fairly well-connected local family was having a wedding at the town's church.  If you weren't invited, you were outside watching, waiting for the bride to show up.

Before the wedding, we walked through the three floors and garden in one of the best local museums we've seen in a long time.  There are few places where 5,000 years of history can be laid out in great detail, with displays containing evidence almost all from local sources, without having to explain that some foreign explorers took the best of it to museums in Berlin or London.  I could spend many more hours in The Orkney Museum.

The weather this morning appeared to be what most think it would be like north of Scotland - overcast and a bit a rain, so we had breakfast at our guest house (Castaway), and I composed a Google Map of our travels around the area for the next week.  Each red icon contains the itinerary for the day, and the blue spots are the sites we'll be seeing.  Be sure to zoom in using the plus sign and out with the minus, so you'll be able to accurately click on the site icons.  Use your mouse to drag around the map.

To see all the photos taken today, click on Friday afternoon, August 26th.

Thursday, August 25th, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands


Wednesday and Thursday, we traveled from Reykjavik, Iceland to Kirkwall, Orkney Islands.  Normally, it would have only taken one day.  But the flight from Iceland got into Edinburgh, Scotland about ten minutes after the flight to Orkney departed.  So we stayed the night just outside of Edinburgh.

The photos today show us coming in on the train to Edinburgh, spending the day visiting the Royal Botanical Gardens, and then using the tram to the airport.

We're now in Kirkwall, arriving a couple of days early, and we'll explore the town before we meet up with our archeological contacts on Sunday to begin our ruin adventure.

To see the photos taken today, click on Thursday, August 25th,

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Tuesday, August 23rd, Reykjavik, Iceland


We're back in Reykjavik, turned in the rental car, and picked up my wide angle lens at the hotel.  I'm relieved that no speeding tickets were waiting for me, they didn't notice the small pebble shatter on the windshield, or the plugged nail hole in the tire.  Of course, we paid a lot to cover more than that, so my worries (other than the tickets in the tunnel) were overblown.

If you really want to see what good photographers can produce from a stay in Iceland, check out the album from today.  I promise you'll have no trouble picking out the two photographs of mine from among the collection at Tuesday, August 23rd.

Tomorrow, we fly to London, Edinburg, and finally Orkney Island.  

Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday, August 22nd, Hellnar, Iceland


Nothing like a 5km walk over a coastal lavabed to test out your knees.  We made it, and are having lunch on a deck overlooking the cove back at the FossHotel Hellnar.  Two and a half hours from Reykjavik, we're sitting in 65 degree sunshine, with no-wind, watching a jet overhead fly back to Minneapolis.

A friend here provided some insight into why everyone seems to have found Iceland.  The answer:  Some tourist spots have become risky - Turkey, Egypt, France.  This is becoming the August vacation spot.

Our walk gave us great looks at basaltic hexagonal columns right at the cliff faces, and no one has a better blog about them than Shing.

But if you don't tire of her photos, check out these and other walk shots we took today at Monday, August 22nd.