With thanks… Orkney to the Western Isles…

November 19, 2013 at 2:56 am (Uncategorized)

With thanks… Monday November 11… NaNoWriMo – 1295 words… Orkney…

Today I am grateful for lying in bed for a while, listening to the waves lap around our little pier. So soothing, and gentle after last night’s wind.

We had a slow start to the morning (stupid migraine, sigh), but after painkillers and a little more sleep I got up and did Jillian yoga, then the sun came out again, and we set off for another adventure. We headed to the main town of Kirkwall first, to the laundromat (oddly enough most places we’ve stayed at have had a washing machine but no dryer, and we didn’t fancy risking all our clothes to the strength of pegs versus the Orkney winds). We explored the town for a bit as our clothes washed – there’s a pretty old cathedral, and a cute little harbour, and lots of narrow winding streets that seem like they’re just for pedestrians, but are in fact for cars. (It does my head in driving in the towns here, always terrified there’ll be another car coming in the opposite direction, and nowhere to pull over to let them pass – there’s been lots of crossing of fingers so far…). Then we had lunch in a cute café while the clothes dried, then wandered a little more. We were going to head down to the Tomb of the Eagles, but by the time our washing was done it was after 2pm, and there wasn’t a lot of light left in the day (such a strange thing to try to get our heads around!). So we headed back towards Stromness – and stopped off at Cuween Hill Chambered Cairn, an awesome old burial chamber covered with a huge grassy dome. It was a little way up the hill, so we set out, a little nervous about the steep muddy path – and so grateful for our boots, even though they look a little beaten up and muddy at the moment. It looked like there was a stone circle just above the cairn on the hill, but as we got closer we realised they were just strange stacks of rocks. But the tomb didn’t disappoint. It’s not closed off to the public like Maeshowe, which requires that you take the official tour, and which you aren’t allowed to take photos inside. This one you can go inside if you dare – there’s a torch in a little wooden box outside – and you can take as many pics as you like. The entrance tunnel is tiny though, low and narrow, and pretty long – you have to literally crawl along it in some bits to get inside, and the torch light is pretty feeble. I did pause for a moment before going in, and had to summon my courage, but I figured I’d come all this way, halfway around the world, so I may as well do it. I did send a quiet thanks to Jillian and Kenta for all the duck walking and similar in Body Revolution – it was hard to get through the tunnel, and I banged up my left knee and right elbow pretty hard, and was filthy dirty by the time I emerged back into the light, cos there was a bit of the tunnel where I had to get down on my hands and knees (the irony of having just come from the laundromat did amuse me for a moment). But it was worth it, and all part of the fun (right!?)… At the end of the tunnel I almost turned back, because the last little bit was even lower, and harder to get through, but finally I made it inside, and could stand up, and look around. There are four side chambers built into it, L shaped like Maeshowe, but it’s not as large or elaborate as that one. They found the remains of eight humans inside it when this tomb was discovered, along with the bones of several dogs, which has made archaeologists speculate on its totemic significance. And yes, it was kind of creepy being inside, but also really amazing. It was built around 3000BCE, which blows my mind. And the whole having to climb inside it yourself, in the dark, without a guide, made it even more awesome 🙂

By the time we got back down to the car it was close to dark, so we headed back to our little cottage to light the fire (Juz has made two valiant efforts with the open fire so far), and make dinner (salad again, hooray!), then drink tea and eat shortbread, before I did a little more NaNoWriMo-ing…

 

With thanks… Tuesday November 12… NaNoWriMo – 2500 words… Orkney…

Today I’m grateful for another magical day in Orkney (not so much the nasty migraine that stuck with me all day, despite a ton of painkillers, and made everything harder than it should be, but I refused to let it ruin my day)… I did Tapout while Juz did Jillian yoga, then we visited Skara Brae, an amazing archaeological site that an Aussie archaeologist, Gordon Childe, worked on in the 1920s and 30s. It’s the remains of a village that was built in 3100BCE – so it’s older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids – and it was so awesome to see it, right there by the ocean (although the ocean was further away back when it was built), and picture how it would have looked, since there’s so much more of it than at Barnhouse, and it was lots of fun to then visit the reconstruction of one of the houses back at the visitor centre, to walk inside and see where the beds were, how high the roof was, how cold it would have been in there… and kind of mind-blowing, how well they constructed things back then. Skara Brae is part of the Neolithic Heart of Orkney, along with the Ring of Brodgar stone circle and the Stones of Stenness, and Maeshowe Burial Chamber, and the newly discovered Ness of Brodgar, which is revolutionising the way archaeologists are seeing all the monuments of the Neolithic Age.

Then we headed north, up to the Bough of Birsay, which is a little island you can walk across to at low tide. Which it most certainly was not when we got there! There were gale force winds that we could barely walk around the car to take a photo in, and the sea was really stormy, which was fascinating in its own way. The sun came out when we got to the ruins of the earl’s palace, which was pretty cool, but when we got to a place called Yesabny, which on a calm day has beautiful cliffs and sea stacks, the sky turned black, the rain poured down, and the waves were flinging so much water up on us that we couldn’t get out of the car. But we liked seeing some real Scottish winter weather 🙂

I’ve also loved the moon while I’ve been here – it looks huge, and seems brighter than usual, not sure why. It was a gorgeous smiling golden crescent in Edinburgh, but up in Orkney it’s been a golden half, first quarter moon, so vivid in the skies up here, peeking out from clouds. And it will be full when we’re in the Outer Hebrides – hope we get to see some of it there, sailing over the lochs, or shining down on the Callanish Stone Circle. But here it is beautiful too…

Tonight I told myself I couldn’t go to bed until I’d reached 10,000 NaNoWriMo words… Which I just did, phew – 2500 today. Still behind, but catching up… Sweet dreams from Scotland! xxNeolithic Heart of Orkney, along with the Ring of Brodgar stone circle and the Stones of Stenness, which we visited the other day, and Maeshowe, an incredible burial chamber you can go inside… which was almost topped by the one we visited yesterday – no guide or tour – I crawled along the tiny narrow tunnel to get inside it, with the faint light of the torch left in a little box outside for anyone who’s brave enough to enter. It was a struggle to make myself go in – the tunnel is so short and narrow – and I emerged filthy dirty, from literally crawling, but it was so cool… And then tonight I told myself I couldn’t go to bed until I’d reached 10,000 NaNoWriMo words… Which I just did, phew – 2500 today. Still behind, but catching up… Sweet dreams from Scotland! xxrt of the Neolithic Heart of Orkney, along with the Ring of Brodgar stone circle and the Stones of Stenness, which we visited the other day, and Maeshowe, an incredible burial chamber you can go inside… which was almost topped by the one we visited yesterday – no guide or tour – I crawled along the tiny narrow tunnel to get inside it, with the faint light of the torch left in a little box outside for anyone who’s brave enough to enter. It was a struggle to make myself go in – the tunnel is so short and narrow – and I emerged filthy dirty, from literally crawling, but it was so cool… And then tonight I told myself I couldn’t go to bed until I’d reached 10,000 NaNoWriMo words… Which I just did, phew – 2500 today. Still behind, but catching up… Sweet dreams from Scotland! xxrt of the Neolithic Heart of Orkney, along with the Ring of Brodgar stone circle and the Stones of Stenness, which we visited the other day, and Maeshowe, an incredible burial chamber you can go inside… which was almost topped by the one we visited yesterday – no guide or tour – I crawled along the tiny narrow tunnel to get inside it, with the faint light of the torch left in a little box outside for anyone who’s brave enough to enter. It was a struggle to make myself go in – the tunnel is so short and narrow – and I emerged filthy dirty, from literally crawling, but it was so cool… And then tonight I told myself I couldn’t go to bed until I’d reached 10,000 NaNoWriMo words… Which I just did, phew – 2500 today. Still behind, but catching up… Sweet dreams from Scotland! xxrt of the Neolithic Heart of Orkney, along with the Ring of Brodgar stone circle and the Stones of Stenness, which we visited the other day, and Maeshowe, an incredible burial chamber you can go inside… which was almost topped by the one we visited yesterday – no guide or tour – I crawled along the tiny narrow tunnel to get inside it, with the faint light of the torch left in a little box outside for anyone who’s brave enough to enter. It was a struggle to make myself go in – the tunnel is so short and narrow – and I emerged filthy dirty, from literally crawling, but it was so cool… And then tonight I told myself I couldn’t go to bed until I’d reached 10,000 NaNoWriMo words… Which I just did, phew – 2500 today. Still behind, but catching up… Sweet dreams from Scotland! xx

 

With thanks… Wednesday November 13… NaNoWriMo – 1100 words… Orkney…

Today I’m grateful for another awesome day. After our Jillian yoga we headed out to the Stones of Stenness for a ranger tour. It was just the two of us in the biting cold wind, and the ranger, Sandra, who knows so much about the site, and about the whole Neolithic Heart of Orkney World Heritage Site, so it was so cool to have her show us around and talk about it all. We started down at the Barnhouse Neolithic Village, and she explained about their building techniques, what the archaeologists think would have been the purpose of each house – quite different to Skara Brae, as there is more differentiation in the size and status of the buildings. They think it was the people living here that raised the Stones of Stenness, and probably the Ring of Brodgar too – and it’s all part of the amazing area, including Maeshowe, which is right nearby as well as the newly discovered Ness of Brodgar, which they are starting to excavate, and which has heralded so many amazing new discoveries, and which is casting new light on all the monuments of Orkney. Up at the Stones of Stenness she talked more about the people of that time, and what they may have believed spiritually – lots of emphasis on the ancestors and preparing for the afterlife, and one of the buildings nearby had bones included in the foundations of the building, as though they were keeping their family with them. I got some beautiful pics of Maeshowe outlined by two of the stones – there are so many cool alignments here, matching up to each other.  By the end of our hour with her though it was really really cold 🙂

Then we headed across the island and down, into East Mainland, then further down to South Ronaldsy Island. We passed the Italian Church on the way, which has a beautiful story attached, of Italian prisoners of war building it from scrap metal during their internment. Then we finally got to the bottom of the island, to the Tomb of the Eagles. It’s another amazing burial chamber, Neolithic, which a farmer discovered on his land in the 1950s, and excavated. There was a great visitor centre, where we started, which had a lot of the things he found – skulls, pottery, bones, carvings, tools, jewellery etc – and we got lots of background on the tomb as well as the Bronze Age building they found close by. It was on the way to the tomb, and was pretty cool too. The mile long walk in the absolutely freezing wind was a bit of a challenge – but we’re never ones to shirk from a challenge, ha ha, so we kept on going, admiring the dramatic cliffs on the way. When we got to the tomb the entrance tunnel was as low and narrow as Cuween’s, but they had a kind of skateboard thing that you could lie down on, and drag yourself down the tunnel and into the tomb. It was pretty cool inside, awesome stone work, and three small chambers coming off the main chamber that were filled with skulls when the tomb was discovered, plus two end sections where the rest of the bones were. Then we battled the wind on our way back, then continued around the cliffs to the seal colony – and there were heaps of baby seals, which were so cute. They were mostly all with their mums, some of them being patted. A few of the mums looked up at us with their big eyes. So sweet. Then we headed back to Kirkwall for a late lunch, then back to our little cottage before going over for an elderflower juice with the couple who are renting the cottage to us.

I’m also very grateful for our boots, mud-caked though they are, because we would have had very cold, very wet feet if we just had our sneakers. And I’m grateful that, on a whim, I bought myself boots the day before we left on this trip, and glad I could buy Juz some (early Christmas present) in Birmingham. Orkney might have been a little on the miserable side without them…

And now to do some NaNoWriMo-ing before bed…

 

With thanks… Thursday November 14… NaNoWriMo – 1441 words… Orkney…

Today I am grateful for a magical (if a little on the freezing side) last day in Orkney. We really don’t want to leave in the morning, it’s been so amazing, but there are new adventures ahead, so I can’t be too sad…

This morning after Jillian yoga (level two), we wandered around Stromness, exploring the little village we’re staying in, and marvelling again at the narrowness of the main street, which looks like a pedestrian path (was a bit nerve-wracking every time I had to drive along it). It’s a pretty little town, on the harbour, with views out over the hills of nearby island Hoy. (Interestingly, Orkney was once one big island, before the last Ice Age and its upheavals broke it apart into seventy islands (not all of them inhabited). Then we headed down to Ophir to the Earl’s Bu, the remains of a Norse homestead once inhabited by some of the Norse Earls who were so important in Orkney’s history, and the ruins of the Round Kirk next to it, Scotland’s only circular medieval church, circa the twelfth century. Then we drove back to the Brogdar area, and visited the Unstan Cairn, which was very cool. It seemed like we were driving up someone’s driveway, and we kind of were – here lots of farmers have amazing Neolithic monuments in their garden or paddock, and are respectful of them, and allow access to those who want to visit them. This one had a slightly higher entrance tunnel than some others – we only had to crouch down to walk into the tomb, rather than crawl on our hands and knees. It was excavated in 1884, and lots of pots were found in it, as well as some skeletons. It has a new roof with a small skylight, so it’s not as spooky as some of the others 🙂

We had lunch at the Standing Stones Hotel, overlooking the loch and the stones, then went up to the Ring of Brodgar for the talk by Sandra from Historic Scotland. It was awesome to visit the stones with her, even though we spent a fair bit of time there the other day. She walked us around the circle and past the burial mounds, explaining all the information and theories they have at the moment, and approaching the circle the way they believe it was done in Neolithic times, as well as explaining its place within the greater sacred area. It was so fascinating, and added so much to our trip, and she was so lovely and knowledgeable, and so funny, and also very honest about what they don’t know about the sites – while being excited about the ongoing discoveries that are being made every year here, which adds to their understanding of the past. It was SOOO cold though – by the end of our time with her and a bit more time alone there with the stones, my lips had turned blue, and I was ready to admit that yes, it was frickin’ cold! So we headed back to the hotel for hot tea, to warm up our hands and unfreeze our faces. It’s kinda funny, when our faces go numb and it’s hard to speak. The rest of us is warm, with beanies and gloves and scarves and layers and jackets, but there’s not much we can do about our faces! Still, it’s all part of the adventure 🙂

We headed up the east coast once we’d thawed out, to the Broch of Gurness (a ness is a projecting coastline: a section of coastline that projects into the sea – it’s been bugging us all week, so I finally looked it up 🙂 ), Orkney’s best preserved broch, dating from the first century BCE, and occupied by both the Picts and the Vikings – it’s fascinating, the Norse history here, so different to the Celtic influence in the Western Isles, where we head to next… We didn’t stay long though, cos interesting though it was, it’s on the ocean, and the wind was crazy cold, and my lips started turning blue again, so we headed back to our cute little cottage for our last night. I wandered through the town again late at night, when it was dark and so calm, with no cold wind, and really pretty. And now here I am, feeling sad about leaving, but so happy that we had this precious time here – and off to do some NaNoWriMo-ing before bed, then our super-early ferry in the morning…

 

With thanks… Friday November 15… NaNoWriMo – 2500 words… Orkney to Ullapool…

Today I am grateful for beautiful views and dramatic coastlines and breathtaking lochs next to sweeping mountains. Not so grateful for the 6am ferry from Orkney back to the mainland, which made us both really ill. Note to self, don’t drink orange juice on stormy seas. Most of the passengers seemed fine, eating away at their sausages, bacon and eggs while the boat dropped over waves like a rollercoaster. Us, not so much. But we were back on dry land after 90 minutes of hell, and settled back down to enjoy the beautiful drive west across the very top of Scotland, then down the west coast to Ullapool for our ferry (um, yeah, eek!) tomorrow morning to the Outer Hebrides. It was a long journey today – the scenic route is one-laned for much of it, so there was quite a bit of me pulling over in the passing spots for people to overtake me, and lots of stopping for photos. It was rainy for a fair bit of it – not too heavy though – but still so beautiful.

We stopped off in Durness, near the most north-westerly Scottish point, for lunch in a cute little pub, and got to Ullapool in the late afternoon (three o’clock, but practically nightfall here, ha ha), and went to a little tea house for a cuppa, then had a little wander around the harbour – it’s a sweet little town – then did our Jillian yoga before dinner. Am proud of us, that we did it despite getting no sleep last night and being violently ill all morning 🙂 Then we went down for dinner in the little hotel where we’re staying, before I came back upstairs to do some NaNoWriMo-ing… 2500 words – still behind, but catching up! Poor Carlie is having a harrowing time at the moment though…

 

With thanks… Saturday November 16… NaNoW0riMo – 3250 words… Outer Hebrides…

Today I am grateful for our beautiful cottage in the Western Isles, on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides…

We got the morning ferry over from Ullapool – and thanks to anti-nausea tablets taken last night and this morning, we had no problems this time. I even wrote 2770 words of my novel, hooray!

We got to Stornoway, a sweet little harbour town that looked so beautiful in the sudden sunshine, at half past one, and the guy who lets our cottage met us and we followed him here, to a tiny village just north of Stornoway. It’s a traditional Hebridian house, two up and two down, which he bought as a gutted ruin and rebuilt when he retired from teaching. We settled in, had some lunch, then went on a drive around the island. We were intending to go straight to Callanish, where the stone circles and alignments are, but my very quick glance at the map meant we went further than intended – disappointing in some ways, but each twist and turn of the road brought a beautiful new landscape, from heather-clad hills and cute sheep to stunning lochs with mountains in the distance. The sky was amazing, the sun setting in the west, and the almost-full moon rising in the east, bigger and more golden than I’ve seen it in ages. There were occasional brief showers, but then they would clear, and a new vista would emerge. We found our way to the stone circle after nightfall, and started up the hill to visit them, thinking how magical they would look under the moonlight – but there was a bog or two on the path, and having promised Juz I would not lead him into any bogs this trip, we decided to come back tomorrow.  

So we headed home and I did a Jillian cardio workout while Juz did yoga, both so happy to have the room to stretch out, reach above our heads and move around. We loved our cosy little Orkney cottage, but we had to modify the sun salutes because the roof was so low 🙂 Then I made a big salad, and we worked out how to turn on the heaters, and now I’m off to do a little more NaNoWriMo-ing before bed (an extra 500 words). I’m suddenly not sure whether Carlie’s journey should be quite as harrowing as I’d planned though… Interesting!

 

With thanks… Sunday November 17… NaNoWriMo – 2200 words… The Western Isles… Outer Hebrides…

Today I am grateful for rainbows and stone circles and fun despite the intermittent rain…

After Jillian yoga and yoghurt, fresh raspberries and sunflower seeds (I was so excited to finally find them in the supermarket!), we headed out for the day, admiring the pretty beach where we are, and the blue skies, and the war memorial that looks over the town (and looks a little like Rapunzel’s tower). More men from the Isle of Lewis died per head of population than any other place during the first world war, which had a huge impact on the Hebrides, even today… It’s a beautiful memorial, with a stone circle with names inscribed on the stones, overlooked by a grey tower that has the names inside as well. A touching blend of new and old…

Then we made our way to the stones. We started at Achmore Circle, up on a hill with beautiful views, although sadly most of the stones are now lying down. But you can still see the slabs of rock where they used to stand, and there are alignments and sight lines to the monuments at Callanish. The next one, driving north, is Callanish 3, a cute stone circle up on another hill (and past a bog or two – it was an adventure reaching it).  

Climbing towards it the sun was blazing down, turning them to dark silhouettes against the radiant blue sky, but by the time we got to the top, dark clouds were closing in. We could see Callanish 2 at the bottom of the hill, near a majestic old ruin, but after we’d spent some time at the first one, we decided to head back cos the rain was coming. It started as we were leaving, so we ended up running down the hill, almost upended at the bog, but making it to the car before it really pelted down. It stopped as quickly as it started though, and left the most amazingly vivid rainbow I’ve ever seen – it was so incredibly bright, and was a double no less. Truly breathtaking. Then we headed for Callanish 1, the main monument, and it was stunning. Possibly my favourite stone circle ever, which is saying something. We spent a while there, marvelling at the structure, at the stone avenues leading to it, the circle within a circle, the beautiful views and different angles, some with its own rainbow over it. And then the rain approached again, and we raced back to the car – our time cut short, but we’ll return there again. I really want to go to the visitor centre too, although it’s closed Sundays (along with everything else, evens Tescos, because this is a very traditional-religious island) and Mondays.

We drove back to Callanish 2, but the rain was staying put this time, so we headed a little way north, to Dun Broch/Carloway Broch, the ruins of an amazing old structure, which the creators of Brave modeled some of the castle in the movie on. It was so cool, all blue skies and sunshine as we approached, and played inside, and explored the old stairways, then the sky coming over all grey and threatening again as we left. We continued on, stopping off for pots of tea and homemade shortbread at a hotel that thankfully flouted the closed-on-Sundays rule, then heading up to an incredible standing stone, reached through an incredible but alien landscape (I’m running out of adjectives!)… We made it back to Callanish for moon rise and sun set – but sadly the weather was against us, all grey-black clouds hiding the moon and the sun, and threatening to rain on us again. The moon peeked out a little on our drive back to our little cottage, and we had a quiet night in with salad and many cups of tea, and I read for a while (which felt naughty but luxurious), before heading upstairs to do some NaNoWriMo-ing – which I will start now (2200 words, yay!)…

 

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