01 October 2011

Down the hole

So, today was Spud's birthday and we celebrated by visiting St Magnus' Cathedral in Kirkwall. It dates to the 12th century with bits added on into medieval times. Ho hum. Just another pile of Old Rocks, right? It was truly exceptional and incredible to believe the stonemasons were able to build this with no modern tools etc.

This is the medieval front door. I love the iron work, don't you? I'm thinking our front door is in for a makeover when we get home!

The relics of St Magnus (ie his bones, including is cleaved-in skull) are buried within the stone columns of the church, to protect them from Oliver Cromwell's rampaging anti-idolatory troops passing through town in the 1650s. On the other end of the scale was Cuween hill cairn (http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/tombs/cuween/), thought to date to 3000BC. It was a truly incredible example of Neolithic architecture, similar to Maeshowe, with extremely well-formed stones forming the tomb. Interestingly, when the site was excavated in 1901, not only did they find the bones of eight humans but the skulls of 24 dogs, dating to the same era, suggesting dogs were very revered. Caz, our guide, had us crawling on our hands and knees, through the mud, into the tomb whe we could eventually stand. Not content with that, she encouraged us to climb into the side chambers, which we did (photo below - blurry because it was dark & creepy).

Above is the view from inside one of the side chambers, deep inside the mound. See the really well "cut" stone? How did they cut it? There were no tools, other than stone.... Amaaaazing, right? Look how straight the lines are.

The entrance into the mound.

This is Spud coming out of the ground at Mine Howe, another bloody hole but this time, down 29 incredibly steep, slippery, narrow Neolithic steps. It was discovered by a farmer in 1999 and again, is a deep, dark, stone-lined hole in the ground. No-one actually knows WHY the Neolithic and iron age peoples built holes deep into the ground but there is a suggestion that it was for some type of worship. It seems there are mounds, burial sites, Viking long houses, Norse burials & brochs all over Orkney and no-one except us seems to be overly excited about it today. I even have a piece of Iron Age pottery in my pencil case!! And below is my hand holding an Iron Age hammer stone - yawn, yawn... they are (apparently) lying around all over the place.

Look at the grass. It's SO green here! And most hilarious is listening to the Orcadians talk about how "hot" it is this week (18 degrees celsius).
After driving past the airport & spotting a private jet parked up, Caz informed us that it was probably the execs from Cartier Paris who come here every year for two weeks to stay at Balfour Castle on Shapinsay Island to shoot geese... Whatever floats your boat I guess. We saw seals yesterday & there are quite a lot of geese & eider ducks flying about.

This is the Italian Chapel, built by Italian POWs during WW2 in a Nissen hut. It's completely beautiful, especially the tromp l'oeil artworks inside, painted by a prisoner called Chiocchetti.
Tonight we are catching the 11:45pm ferry back to Aberdeen & tomorrow we are on the train to London. Should be fun - and will give me time to write postcards. There has been a bit of a party in the pub tonight as yesterday, the first ever wave-generated power system was installed in the Pentland Firth here in Orkney. All the workers (Scottish, Orcadian & Norwegian) are celebrating. It was built here & is still in trial phase but the concept seems brilliant. It is environmentally friendly and apparently sea-life can pass through it without harm. I am very interested in how the trials go & am thinking what a good story this might make. I had a chat with someone who seemed to be in charge but he was a bit reticent to give me too much info. I am going to have to be more daring, I think, if I'm to be a gritty journalist. Okay, time to brush my teeth. See you in London!

Location:Kirkwall, Orkney


John said...

Jen, great report...this is the kind of thing Dove loves to learn about!

John said...

great report, Jen...this is just what Dove likes learning about!

scouser said...

Hi journo extraodinaire and spud-u-like, looks like you're having a fun filled time in bonnie scoootalnd. It's going to get hotter as you travel south. Have been hearing about the heat-wave striking the country. So be prepared for 28˚c!! love to you both.