Maeshowe, a grass covered burial mound in the middle of a farmer’s field, is that old. You stoop low to walk through the 10 meter entrance tunnel before standing up inside a tall rounded chamber. As in all the sites, some of what the archeologists have found is known fact, other is speculation. Was it in fact a burial mound for the first peoples who build it, or a place of healing and rituals connected to the astrological cycle? In fact, each December the mound is equipped with 3 webcams where you can watch the light in the mound as winter solstice approaches. http://www.maeshowe.co.uk/ Vikings raided the mound in the 12th century and left many runic inscriptions. No great mysteries were revealed however once these inscriptions were translated as they say things such as “Ingibjorg is a beautiful woman.” The lion carving illuminated by our guide, some say is the most stunning carving in the mound.
From Maeshowe you look across a loch and see both the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar in the distance. Modern technology has shown that the stone monuments above ground are just the tip of the iceberg of all the ancient stone sites under the earth in this heart of the island. There is currently a new archeological dig exploring a newly found site not far from the Standing Stones.
Michael, our local guide while Richard had a day off, told us tales and speculations about these sites. Stenness means “stone point” and indeed the tall stones still standing are pointed on top, but just 3100 years old. Also known as the Temple of Moon, couples came to perform a marriage ritual which would bind them together for one year and one day. After that period, they would have to come back to the stones to renew that ritual or to break the contract. Thus was their system of “marriage in installments.” www.orkneyjar.com/history/standingstones/
The Ring of Brodgar once had 60 stones standing. Brodgar means “farm by the bridge.” This 2500 year old ring is said to grant the gift of fertilitiy to anyone who runs around it counter clockwise 3x without stopping. Considering the large circumference, this running ritual also meant you were in shape! As we walked the ring, many of us touching each stone, the wind blew us along, urging us to consider what ancient wisdom moved the people to build such impressive sites. What did they know, that we have long forgotten? www.orkneyjar.com/history/brodgar/
Skara Brae was uncovered when a storm hit William Watt’s farm in 1850 and eroded the beach front. The settlement wasn’t excavated however until 1928. This fine example of a stone age community was quite advanced as they even had a sewage sytem and a stone trough area they filled with water and hot rocks to steam the sea life they ate. www.orkneyjar.com/history/skarabrae/
Stromness is the 2nd largest town on mainland Orkney with a population of 2000+. Tait and Style studio sits above the harbour. For 16 years Ingrid Tait has run this company that creates knitted and felted scarves, throws, pillows, and accessories for the high fashion market in London and New York. She discovered a needle punching machine in Yorkshire that was used to make industrial materials. Sensing it could be retooled to work with wool fabric, she acquired the machine and has been punching or felting her marks with fleece or yarn onto commercially woven wool.
The 26th Orkney Folk Festival, is May 22-25 with most concert venues in Stromness. http://www.orkneyfolkfestival.com/