Tuesday 30 September 2014


Overland to go underground; down a farm track and through the farmyard is Rennibister Earth House. This underground Iron Age structure was discovered when a threshing machine broke through the roof in 1926!
Again it easy to get into, we climbed down some steps and had a good poke around inside.   It was probably where dairy products, meats and such were keep cool and fresh.  On emerging we saw the farmer and chatted to him for a while about the chamber in his yard, his livestock and his farming world; the price of a fat lamb and the cost of a fleece and the price it is likely to fetch this year.
We gaze across a wider landscape: punctuated by fields

Cuween Hill is further along and a steep walk up to a Neolithic Chambered Cairn. We crawl through a narrow passage to the main chamber that is over 2 meters high, to appreciate the workmanship of 4,500 years ago. Scottish Heritage thoughtfully provided two flashlights in a box by the entrance to ensure our enjoyment.

The Ness Battery at Stromness is another ‘that will be £6 please’ experience and we had not booked so did not get it. But through the mist and drizzle we saw enough of the Battery and the interesting buildings that surround it, search light battery, small gun emplacements to get some sense of how important these outposts were with their six inch guns with a range of 7 miles.
Again two World Wars have left a mark and points of fascinating interest.

A war mark

In Orkney there is a welcome and an adventure around every bend in the road. We were coming to the end of a wonderful two weeks and laying plans to come again next year.


We wanted a closer look at the woodcarvings and other loveliness with St Magnus Cathedral. When you look at the nave and chapel of Rognvald with a replica of a small Viking ship on the alter you appreciate the strong links to Norway and the Vikings. There are some lovely Romanesque features that probably created by the same English masons who may have worked on Durham.
Upon the Chapel a Viking Ship 

Across from the cathedral is the Orkney Museum into which we popped on several occasions. The Orkney Museum takes you easily from the Stone Age, to the Picts and Vikings, right through to the present day. On this occasion we were keen to see the box in which St Magnus’s bones were discovered in the Middle Ages. The whole place is a treasure trove!  It was great playing with the Runic alphabet to spell my name and making a rubbing of Viking Breast Plate.

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.