Orkneys Rich History
“On the far curving shore of the bay lies Skara Brae, hazy
through the sea-haar.”
George Mackay Brown – Rockpools and Daffodils
Skara Brae is a stone-built Neolithic settlement, located on the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of the Mainland. Consisting of a cluster of ten houses. The settlement was Uncovered by a storm in 1850, giving a remarkable picture of how life was in Orkney around 5,000 years ago. Skara Brae is one of Orkneys most popular neolithic sights drawing some 70,000 visitors a year who want to step back in time and be amongst the amazingly well-preserved remains. As well as the settlement there is a visitor centre and the stunning bay itself to enjoy.
All of the archaeological sights in Orkney were stone built and this is maybe why they have managed to stand the test of time and survived for thousands of years. One such sight is The Knap of Howar on Papa Westray. It is thought that the Knap of Howar may be the oldest house in northern Europe – it was occupied in 3700 BC – almost 6000 years ago. Orkney has an average of three archaeological sites per square mile!
The Ring Of Brodgar
The Ring of Brodgar (or Brogar, or Ring o’ Brodgar) is a Neolithic hengeand stone circle on the west mainland, Orkney. It is the only major henge and stone circle in Britain which is an almost perfect circle. The ring of Brodgar is 104 metres in diameter, and the third largest in the British Isles. The ring was originally made of up to 60 stones, of which only 27 remained standing at the end of the 20th century. The tallest stones stand at the south and west of the ring, including the “Comet Stone” to the south-east.
There are two major sites just a few miles of each other one such site is another set of neolithic stones, The Standing Stones Of Stenness. These impressive stones are a towering six metres, and date back to 3100BC.
The Ness of Brodgar can be found a mere mile away from the ring of Brodgar. This site dating as far back as 3300 BC. Was discovered in 2003, the owner of the nearby house wanted a wildflower meadow. A ploughman was hired to prepare the field. What was uncovered looked like the slab of a Bronze Age burial kist. The Brodgar site has been under excavation since 2004, revealing a massive complex of monumental Neolithic buildings. These have made the Ness one of the most important archaeological excavations in the world today. This changing our understanding of the culture and beliefs, shining a new light on the prehistory of northern Europe.
Moving to the East of the Island the Italian chapel can be found. In 1942, during World War 2, more than 1300 Italian prisoners of war were captured in North Africa and taken to Orkney. 550 were taken to Camp 60 on the previously uninhabited island of Lamb Holm, where they were put to work building The Churchill Barriers. Massive concrete blocks were used to block access to Scapa Flow. These four causeways were built after the sinking of the HMS Royal Oak while it lay at harbour in Scapa Flow in October 1939.
After the war, a road was built on top of the barriers allowing the south isles of Lamb Holm, Glimps Holm, Burray and South Ronaldsay to become part of the main roadway system. There are also diving classes popular in the area as well as stunning beaches perfect for some sea swimming.
In the main town of Kirkwall you will find the stunning St Magnus Cathedral. The Cathedral is dedicated to St Magnus, Earl of Orkney in the 12th century, at a time when Orkney was part of the Kingdom of Norway. He was killed on the orders of his cousin and rival Hakon. Magnus’s relics remain interred in the pillars of the choir. The cathedral has stood firm against Reformers, Cromwellian troops and wartime danger, and is the most complete medieval cathedral in Scotland