From the past to the present: ancient tombs and contemporary art

Having spent the morning packing up we visited two neolithic tombs on our way back to Stromness. Unstan’s Tomb is situated near the loch shore by a cottage. A couple from Aberdeen had cycled from Stromness and were having their lunch beside it. We chatted for a few minutes and then I went inside for a look. There was a short creep through a low passage and then into the chamber.

Unstan's Tomb 12 June 2015 (1 of 1)

There was even some 19th century graffiti.

Unstan's Tomb 19 Cy graffiti12 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Next on the list was Maeshowe. Entrance to this tomb is very controlled and regimented. You can only go on guided tours of up to 25 people. I am quite claustrophobic and was a little concerned when I discovered that there was a long (10 metre) passage into the chamber and wondered how 18 people would cram in there. When the guide announced that photography was not allowed that did it for me and I contented myself with the description and pictures in my Orkney history book. Back in Stromness, we discovered a little gem – the Pier Arts Centre. There is a permanent collection on display upstairs which has a number of Ben Nicholson and other 20th century paintings and sculptures. This Sean Scully painting reminded me of a textile project I am planning and I also liked Ross Sinclair’s Neon. Downstairs was closed as it was being rehung for the next temporary exhibition. The public library here is also very civilised with brown leather sofas for relaxing in.

Sean Scully Pier Art Centre Stromness 12 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Ross Sinclair 2007 neon Pier Art Centre Stromness 12 June 2015 (1 of 1)

After a final coffee in Julia’s cafe before they closed, we had a meal in the Ferry Inn and then watched the boat unloading. After the usual assortment of buses, vans and cars, the ferry turned around and then a large mobile home was slowly reversed off and into the car park. I am not sure how easily they will get it to its destination on the island roads. Then it was time to settle into our cabin and await the early morning departure.

Old stones – Skara Brae, Brodgar and Stenness

Many years ago, when our son was young, we had a number of trips to Brittany, Cornwall, West Cork and the Outer Hebrides. All these have important neolithic sites but his cry was ‘not more old stones!’. Hopefully now, he would be more appreciative. We had planned to start at Stenness and then work our way to Skara Brae via the Ring of Brodgar. However, just as we were about to get out of the car at Stenness, a very wintry shower fell and everyone ran for cover. We decided to do things the other way round as we could see that the clouds were clearing in the west. Skara Brae was a real treat as I had learnt about it in primary school but never visited it. We know something about those who lived in them but there is even more we do not know about their culture and language and beliefs. The exhibition in the visitors’ centre was very busy so we pushed on outside to look at the real thing and afterwards had a walk on Skaill Beach and looked inRing of Brodgar 5 7 June 2015 (1 of 1) the house.

Skara Brae 1 7 June 2015 (1 of 1)Skara Brae 4 7 June 2015 (1 of 1)-2

We then decided to head off to the Ring of Brodgar ahead of the coach and minibus who were gathering to leave Skara Brae. Once there, we got into conversation with a local guide about some comments we had heard from acquaintances in various parts of the Highlands and Islands relating to English people moving there (‘white settlers’) and the fact that very few locals want to work with visitors. She was more optimistic about Orkney, saying that some of the Orcadian diaspora (some of whom I have known at school and university) are now returning and that the population had increased by 5% in the last census. She also said that cruise ships now stop off in Orkney with 4,500 people on board. I was quite glad that the stones were quiet when we were there.

Ring of Brodgar 3 7 June 2015 (1 of 1)

Our last stop was Stenness, whose stones are some of the oldest in Britain.

Stennes 1 7 June 2015 (1 of 1)

The high winds today triggered my trigeminal neuralgia so I took some time out before planning tomorrow’s activities.