Posts Tagged ‘Orkney’

Looking back

December 31, 2014

It’s weird isn’t it? All year long I think that we’re just doing the same old, same old, which in a sense we are; daily routines are the same, seasonal activities too. But within that daily and seasonal rhythm, many changes have occurred. Of course the weather alone is responsible for many of those changes and our regular shot of THE VIEW demonstrates that to a certain extent.

The View

The view

the view

the view

the view

The view

The view

the view

The View

Of course our other view can sometimes take our breath away too.



This year there have been a couple of structural changes around the place; a new conservatory replacing the old…



…and a new cover for the polytunnel. (The hens are VERY pleased – no leaks in their winter spa!)


It’s the animals however, who contribute most changes within a year. There have been some new permanent residents arrive at Garybuie this year. The Three Musco-teers…

The Three Musco-teers

…and latterly, the Guinea-gang.


There were plenty of non-permanent additions too. BB became a mum for the first time…

silkie family

…and helped to increase our Silkie breeding stock by two! Thelma and Louise.


Later, she raised six ‘regular’ chicks. Trusty old Brenda raised an early brood of four chicks and the Nest Thief reared 7. We thought that poor Brenda was doomed after being hit by a car but after some R and R, she seems back to her usual self.


And how can we forget what was probably the highlight of the year? FORTY-TWO Muscovy ducklings and all within the space of a week!


muscovy ducklings

We were fortunate this year as we only lost a handful of young birds. Unfortunately, we also lost Dotty, one of the Musco-teers, who was determined to make a nest across the river, never to return. However, our big loss this year was Hamie.


Overall, we’ve had a great year at Garybuie, certainly more positives than negatives. A great growing year for the fruit and veg, more success than failure on the poultry front and our best season yet with the Bed and Breakfast side of things, meeting many lovely people from all over the world. We have taken some time out from our wee patch of Skye this year, visiting Glasgow’s artistic attributes for the first time…

Some furniture designs by C.R. MacIntosh

Some furniture designs by C.R. MacIntosh

Druids, mistletoe

'A Funeral Service in the Highlands' James Guthrie, 1881-82

‘A Funeral Service in the Highlands’
James Guthrie, 1881-82

…and the prehistoric sites of Orkney. Beginning 5,000 years ago in neo-lithic times…

Skara Brae

Ring of Brodgar

…moving on to the brochs of the Iron Age…

Broch of gurness

…through to the Vikings…

St Magnus cathedral

…and the second World War – with everything that came in between!

Created by prisoners of war

Created by prisoners of war

Further time out took us south to see our rapidly growing grandchildren.

Holly and Jake


Finally, I’d like to share a touching moment with you. Two of our guests this year, Hans-Georg and Barbara, commissioned a pet portrait for Barbara’s dad as a Christmas gift. Just after Christmas, Hans-Georg sent me this photo of when dad opened his gift. Apparently he was delighted. It was a very kind gesture to let me share in the moment – a lovely gift for me in fact!

Sammy for Xmas


Back to nature

May 19, 2014

O.K., no crawling into tombs, clambering into stone holes or standing around admiring stony interior design for you today. It’s cliff-top walks and nesting sea birds. When our ancestors first came to this land, it’s not hard to see why they stayed. The land is fertile and the climate was warmer then, allowing them to employ their ‘new-found’ farming skills. Fish, both freshwater and salt-water, were abundant, eggs from the plentiful sea birds and game meant that they had a healthy, balanced diet.

fertile land

And look at the rock. Virtually the whole island consists of sandstone, much of it in slab form just waiting to be prised apart to build a home. Pre-historic flat-pack in fact!

Brough of Birsay

Mute Swan

Mute Swan





Nr. tomb of eagles


sandy beach

Black Guillimot

Black Guillimot

Out to sea



View from Cuween Cairn

View from Cuween Cairn

Brough of Birsay

Brough of Birsay

Brough of Birsay

Cloud over Hoy

Cloud over Hoy

A hole, a passage and a tricky path

May 17, 2014

Early in 1946 an excavation was carried out at an earth mound in the Tankerness area of mainland Orkney and is known as Mine Howe. A deep rock-built chamber was uncovered which was interpreted, wrongly, as the remains of an Iron Age broch (tower) and the excavation was then filled in again. In 1999 the local farmer rediscovered the entrance and cleared out the chamber once more. Reading about this in our guide book got us quite excited as it seemed to be something a wee bit unusual and Kevin can’t resist going underground! However, when we finally found Mine Howe, the place was deserted. Kevin’s not to be thwarted if there’s a hole to be investigated, so off we went in search of said hole! Bingo…

There he goes!

There he goes!

What the farmer found was a passage that sank nearly vertically into the ground and was accessed by 29 steep stone steps.

mine howe

Half way down, these doubled back on themselves at a “landing”, and at the bottom there was a very deep step into the bottom of the chamber.

mine howe

Apparently, two long, low galleries extend outwards from the half way “landing”. There was evidence of electric lighting from when the site had been a visitor attraction, but as we only had a torch and no information, we missed these structures. Maybe that was a blessing or Kevin would no doubt have disappeared further into the hillside!
The roof of the main chamber is beautifully corbelled in from the walls and capped off with a large flat stone.

mine howe

Subsequent work showed that Mine Howe is a very important site, even by Orkney’s remarkable archaeological standards. The central underground structure is believed to date back to the early Iron Age and have a ritual purpose. It was surrounded by a massive causewayed ditch. A settlement grew outside the ditch in the later Iron Age or the Pictish era. There was evidence of metal working also. Unfortunately, as only two people at any one time can get into the structure, it was a logistical nightmare for those all-important money-making coach parties, which resulted in closure of the site through lack of funds. Hopefully in the future further work will be carried out on this fascinating and unusual site.
Next stop was the Brough o’ Deerness, just slightly further east. A gentle coastal walk, passing the intriguingly named ‘Gloop’…


…which is a collapsed sea-cave, led us to the brough. The site was once connected to the Orkney mainland by a land bridge, but a geologist’s investigation in 2008, confirmed this had crumbled away a long time before it was occupied.
Now the site is not one of the easiest to reach with a steep descent from the headland, followed by a steep, narrow ascent along the south face of the Brough to reach the summit. You can see the narrow path on the right of this photo. Believe me, it was a lot closer to the edge than it appears! At least there was a rope handrail for those of us not keen on heights! Also, on the summit, can you see what are the remains of a chapel?

brough o' deerness

Dating from the late Norse period, this chapel is, apparently, the focus of a complex archaeological mosaic, consisting of a bank and wall and a tight cluster of an estimated 30 structures, which are now just grass-covered outlines. There were a number of burials found during the excavation of the chapel in the 1970s. One of these was buried against the chapel wall, and was radio-carbon dated to the 11th/12th century. From this, it would appear that the chapel is contemporary with the later settlement structures.

brough o' deerness

The excavated later structures were domestic — finds included loom weights, soapstone pot, pottery and a spindle-whorl — but there also appeared to have been metalworking carried out on site. Used mould sections were found, but these were too fragmented to allow the archaeologists to ascertain what they were used for.

And to end the day? Well, why not go for a hands and knees experience, crawling into another tomb, the Cuween Hill cairn, by the village of Finstown.

cuween cairn

Although small, Cuween cairn is nonetheless an impressive feat of prehistoric engineering. It’s cut into solid bedrock, and comprises a main central chamber with four smaller chambers branching off from each wall.




Thought to date from around 3,000 BC, the cairn was excavated in 1901. Back then, the remains – mostly skulls – of at least eight people were found inside. This small number led to the suggestion that, during its use, the chamber was cleared out periodically, with only the most recent, or significant, skulls left within. Aside from the human bones, perhaps the most interesting discovery was that of 24 dog skulls. This led to the suggestion that the tomb’s users may have had the dog as their totem.

Don’t worry, your knees are safe – we’ll be above ground next time!

Something old, something new

May 16, 2014

Back to the stone-age with a visit to another couple of tombs, both similar but with subtle differences to make them unique.
The first one was the Tomb of the Eagles, so called because along with human remains were found many bones and talons of Sea Eagles. Neolithic tombs were not designed for the burial of whole corpses but selected bones only. This means that bodies would have primarily been de-fleshed, one method being to place the body out in the open to allow birds to carry this out.

stone age Burial

It is suspected that the Sea Eagle may have been the totem of this particular settlement. The visitor centre at this tomb was great! The staff were enthusiastic and there were lots of artefacts from the tomb, some which we could handle. On the same site a bronze-age building has also been found and is a suspected cook-house. There’s a deep hearth (covered), stone seats along the walls of the structure, a fresh water supply, which you can see in the picture, an internal well and a drain to take used water away.

Bronze age cook house

There are even a couple of prehistoric kitchen utensils!

mortar and pestle

As for the tomb, no crouching on this occasion but a state of the art transport device consisting of a trolley and rope!

Indiana Jones?

Tomb of the eagles

Inside there were burial chambers at either end and to the sides. You can see entrances to side chambers low down on either side of Kevin. Obviously concrete wasn’t a stone age invention, but this roof was constructed to protect the ruins. The original roof would have been corbelled as we had seen in Maeshowe.

Tomb of the eagles

tomb of the eagles

Not far away is another tomb: The Tomb of the Otters. This one is a relatively new discovery, unearthed during excavations for a new car park for a lovely wee bistro ‘next door’! I couldn’t get pictures of this one as it was quite small inside and five of us filled it! The entrance to this tomb was a hands and knees job! Here the bones and dung of otters accompanied human remains so perhaps we can surmise that the otter was the totem of this settlement.

Moving from pre-history into more modern historical times, on our way home to Peedie Hoose we visited an unusual church.


This is essentially a Nissan hut which housed Italian prisoners of war. Winston Churchill had these men construct several ‘Churchill Barriers’. These were built with massive concrete blocks to prevent U-boats entering the Scappa Flow, a safe haven for the British fleet. These barriers are now used as causeways between some of the Orkney Islands.

Churchill barrier

churchill barrier

In order to maintain the morale of the prisoners, they were allowed to convert the hut into a church, using only discarded materials at hand. This surely has to be some of the most beautiful re-cycling ever! The artwork is stunning.

italian church

Italian church

italian church

italian church

An adventure back in time

May 11, 2014

Yesterday we arrived back at Garybuie after a week-long adventure in the Orkney Isles, a ferry ride off the northerly point of Scotland. I think that one or two days is enough to share with you at any one time, so today I shall tell you of our first two days.
After breakfast was served and guest rooms were turned around, we departed on our northern excursion. Five hours travelling took us to the ferry terminal for Orkney. Now these islands are very fertile and were much favoured by pre-historic man as well as those Vicious Vikings! Orkney is crammed with pre-historic archaeology, so be prepared to spend a lot of time with us underground! Our first sight of Orkney consisted of bleak headlands…

Orkney, first sight

…and wartime look-out towers necessary to keep an eye out for German U-boats.

look-out posts

A lazy start to the day, with no animals to tend to, followed by a quiet stroll around Stromness. ‘Peedie Hoose’ (small house), the one with the tulips outside, was our home for the week. And very cosy it was too!

Peedie Hoose

The main street is not much more than the width of a car and has wonderful narrow passages either leading up to higher parts of the town or downwards to the shore.




Next came our introduction to the first archaeology of our adventure; Skara Brae.

Sign, Skara Brae

Neo-lithic (stone-age) people lived here, long before the pyramids were built in Egypt. They were more sophisticated than you would think. The very thick walls of the dwellings were built in part using material from an earlier, disused midden, (rubbish-dump), enabling the construction of ‘cells’ within them, probably used for storage. However, one cell in each house was higher than the rest and appears to be connected to drains that run under the houses. These are likely to be the earliest indoor toilets in Britain!

Skara Brae

Skara Brae

In order to preserve the site, there is a reconstruction of one of the houses which visitors can explore. We could clearly see the central hearth, a ‘dresser’ on the far wall, perhaps for displaying treasured items as we might today and box beds on either side of the room. All the houses were built to the same design.

skara Brea

And how about this nifty water-tight stone box for storing your freshly caught crustaceans!

Skara Brae

There were even some simple designs scratched into one of the edges of a bed box.

Skara Brae

It was a humbling experience to be able to walk around the dwellings of these ancient people. People who were completely self-sufficient; hunting game, fishing, gathering fruit and the eggs of sea-birds as well as cultivating cereal crops.

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