So on to air. Maybe due to there not being too many mountains or trees one of the things that struck me about Orkney was the big skies.
We did waste many hours – although not sure you can really waste time on holiday if you are doing something you have chosen to do – so on second thoughts we spent a lot of time simply watching the changing cloud formations sweep across the massive canvas. The colours and shapes meant that the easel and paints came out as I sat in front of the big windows trying to capture something of their beauty.
The air was also a place to be claimed, with ancient stones stabbing upwards into it:
Who where the people who heaved and placed the stones that make up the Ring of Brodgar? What purpose did it have, the stones grounded in the earth, placed beside the water of the Stenness lochs, some of its now knarled fingers still pointing up into the clean fresh Orkney air.
The Ring of Brodgar is a beautiful tranquil place, probably best known in Scotland for Billy Connely running around in the buff, because apparently that is what the ancients once did – yeah right. Billy obviously didn’t do his filming on a breezy spring day, for the air that swept through that glen left us with numb ears and cheeks. I am pleased to announce that Hubby kept his clothes on. You can read about the Ring of Brodgar here.
Today there are more wind turbines capturing the rushing air than standing stones reaching up into it in.
While some things reach up into the air rain also showers down through it and in the big Orcadian skies you can see just where the rain is coming from and just who is currently getting wet while you stand in the sun.
Meanwhile each and every day the air was filled with the sound and sight of birds. Around our temporary home it was house sparrows, starlings, mallards, chickens, swifts, herring gulls, the grouse with its early evening call for a mate and a short eared owl. In the fields wagtails, curlews, gaggles of geese, dancing shelducks, colourful partridge, a stranded sparrowhawk and beautiful snowbuntings. Then of course on the coast the sea birds any number and variety of gulls including the fulmars with their blue lumpy beaks. Guillemots and their bridled cousins perched in colonies on the cliffs backs turned against the spray and wind from the sea. Cormorants standing wings stretched out on rocks, or perched high on the crows nest of one of the Churchill barrier ships. Razorbills paired off thinking about the next generation while the turnstones kept busy doing what their name suggests. Not forgetting the cosy eider ducks well camouflaged as if large hard pebbles when on dry land and the Ringed Plovers who are the greatest of the beach camouflage artists. The ever present oyster catches, the cliff climbing crows and sea sprayed hooded crow and of course the puffin which I finally spied as we left the islands. Some of these I never manged to get photos of as I was driving or they flew too fast or stayed out of range of my camera lens, others you will see pictures of over the coming weeks as one of my afternoon photographs, but for now I offer this story of the shags we happened upon.
Where the land meets the sea earth is seen and in the Orkney Isles that can mean both hard jagged cliffs of North Tang:
and cattle, like the young ladies who lived on the farm where we stayed:
along with the chickens that picked for goodies in the earth if we had not thrown them something tasty to pick at already:
Those who have lived off the earth down through the centuries for many years had their own existence buried beneath mounds of earth.
Like Maeshowe you can read about its possible story here. I say possible because what became increasingly clear to us during our stay was the one common denominator between all these neolithic and early sites is that there is no real evidence, only theories, as to what these structures and standing stones were really for. Just how were they used, how did they mange such engineering without modern day tools and why they were abandoned? Maybe we will never know, maybe the more recently found Tomb of the Otters will give us some clues, either confirming current theories or opening up new horizons as to how our ancestors lived and the rich variety of their lives and culture.
The Tomb of the Otters, or Banks Tomb, had remained undisturbed since it was last used and while it has now been opening it still containing layers of human remains between layers of otter scat and clay. It is not just this site however, but also many other sites which still lay beneath mounds of earth all over the islands, some silently declaring their hidden presence by the great mound of earth on otherwise flat lands. You can read about Tomb of the Otters here.
I can’t really pass by the earth element without this picture from the Ring of Brodgar:
there will be more pictures from the UK’s third largest stone ring in a future post but for now it is just this one stone. On the 5th June 1980 this stone earthed a lightning bolt as its energy fractured the ancient stone sentinel. I suppose I maybe should have started with this picture as fire the element from yesterday meets finds the earth.
What will people in 5,000 years time make of Stroma, the now abandoned island in the Pentland Firth technically just south of the Orkney’s and part of Caithness. The last resident left in the early 60′s now only sheep graze and shepherds visit its earth.