You don’t need to know much about Orkney, or indeed be there very long, before its ancient past is mentioned, so it seems only proper to begin with an ancient hearth for our fire element.
For many people the main ancient domestic site on the Orkney Isles is Skara Brae, and while I fully understand why that might be the case to only visit that would be to miss out on its much bigger and better cousin the Broch of Gurness.
With its large tall central tower – the red dot is Hubby – told you it was big;
and its staircase, yes staircase;
You can read more about the Broch of Gurness here. While Skara Brae will no doubt remain the more famous cousin being older if smaller and without now being able to walk through the buildings as our ancestors did, the Broach of Gurness is a site not to be missed should you ever visit Orkney and those in the know are certain that a site the age of with the individual steadings more compact like this hearth like Skara Brae lie beneath it.
For both the neolithic people and the later vikings fire was vital for the high standard of life they enjoyed. This really is some fireplace, indeed I think we could fit our living room within it, set inside the kitchen of the Earl’s Palace in Kirkwall it screams of grand banquets of many courses with no expenses spared.
Of course you don’t need to cross the Pentland Firth for the next fire elemental, peat. Its properties as a fuel for fire have long been know of and used in the north of Scotland, and Highland Park whisky still roast their barley using a traditional peat fire which was wonderful to see and its sweet heathery smell was a surprise.
And while on the subject of fuel, just about anywhere you are in the southern islands and south side of the eastern mainland of Orkney you will see the oil flare of Flotta, from the terminal based on that island.
The lighthouses that dot every headland are now automatic, but once they would have been beacons of fire acting not only as a warning but also as a welcome home to the seafarer.
I found it hard on a clear night not to be mesmerized by their winking, making me wonder if those ancient fire beacons had acted as promising harpies telling the Vikings and others of rich elemental lands of Orkney.