Orkney cliff

A Week in Orkney by Ruth Hackney

Nov 25, 2019

By Ruth Hackney

“When I was growing up I thought it was normal to have boxes of bones under the stairs” says Kathleen wryly, as she delicately handles the skull of one of our Neolithic “Ancestors”. It is day 2 of our Orkney tour, and we are standing spellbound in the small museum of the privately owned Tomb of the Eagles, listening to Kathleen describe how “Dad” discovered the cairn in one of his fields. We then walk to the cliff-top tomb, best entered by propelling oneself head-first on a trolley; a real bonding experience.  It has been an excellent afternoon.

Day 3: a short ferry ride takes us to Lyness on the island of Hoy. The bay is now deserted, making it hard to imagine that during both World Wars it was one of the UK’s most important naval bases. One gigantic oil storage tank remains, with a seemingly impregnable air raid shelter nearby, and the inevitable war cemetery. We then head over the pass towards the west coast, stopping to walk to the unique Dwarfie Stane, a Neolithic chamber tomb hollowed out of an enormous block of red sandstone. The lay-by is unusually busy and we learn that the guy in green wellies in the next car is monitoring a pair of hen harriers high on the hillside. Even the non birders in the group are caught up in the excitement of watching these rare birds through his pro’s binoculars, and we are all enthused by the dedication of this RSPB volunteer.

We park at the spectacular Rackwick Bay and, in glorious sunshine, enjoy an impromptu picnic. The Atlantic surf crashes onto the boulder beach below, while, overhead, Arctic Skuas entertain us, mercilessly dive-bombing an unsuspecting gull. We end our trip to Hoy with a beautiful walk to the remains of the scattered crofting township.

Later in the week, we wander the eerily silent, cobbled streets of old Stromness, once a bustling provisioning port for ships of the Hudson’s Bay company.

Another highlight is our trip to Rousay. The morning’s archaeology trail is fascinating, and the mother of a friend of mine has generously invited us to lunch in the cottage which has been in her family for countless generations. She speaks fondly of growing up here and attending the local school. Of course, most of the folk she grew up with moved away, and “New Folk” have moved in to experience a pace of life that makes even Mainland Orkney seem metropolitan.

And so the week unfolds, each day a multitude of unforgettable sights and experiences:  the Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe, Skara Brae, St Magnus Cathedral.  The hotels are comfortable, the food unfailingly excellent, and combined with the wonderful sense of camaraderie in our group, make it a truly outstanding holiday.

Walks and Neolithic History in Orkney
Next departure: 12 - 19 June 2020