Older than the Pyramids

Trip Start Oct 22, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United Kingdom  ,
Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Today we had to get up very early, around 5.30am, to catch a bus up to the Orkney Islands. We decided that it wasn't worth driving all the way up there and back again, as it would be easier to do a day tour. On the way north we passed a few oil rigs in Cromarty Firth. Up at John O'Grouts, regarded as the most northerly settlement on the mainland of Great Britain (the actual location of the most northerly point is at nearby Dunnet Head), we caught the ferry across to the Burwick on South Ronaldsay Island.

On Ronaldsay Island we jumped on another bus, the driver having quite a dry sense of humour, pointing out all of the five or so trees they have on the island. We drove past Scapa Flow, with a few oil tankers anchored in its safe natural harbour. Scapa Flow was used as the Royal Navy's base during both the First and Second World Wars. During both World Wars, German U-boats tried to attack British ships in the harbour, thus Winston Churchill ordered the construction of a series of causeways to block the eastern approaches to Scapa Flow. We drove over these called the "Churchill Barriers" as they now provide road access from Mainland to Burray and South Ronaldsay.

Our first stop was Kirkwall. We didn't have much time here but managed to grab a quick bite to eat and see both the Bishop's Palace and the Magnus Cathedral. Our day trip was turning into a whirlwind tour of the Orkney Islands. As soon as we'd get somewhere we'd be off again at a frantic pace. Onwards, again, to Skara Brae.

Skara Brae, situation near Skail House, is a large stone-built Neolithic settlement that has recently been given UNESCO World Heritage Site status. It was discovered in 1850 after a severe storm stripped away the covering grass and sand. Inside each dwelling there are stone stone-built pieces of furniture, including cupboards, dressers, seats, and box beds. A sophisticated drainage system was even incorporated into the village's design, one that may have included a primitive form of toilet in each dwelling. The site is believed to have been occupied from about 3100 BC, for about six hundred years. It was amazing to see a place built before the pyramids!

Onwards yet again we stopped at the Ring of Brodgar and were able to wander around the site. Our bus driver told us if you walked around the ring, clockwise three times you may be pregnant by the end of the year. Megan raced out of the bus, but Rick quickly caught up. For your information we walked anti-clockwise, once. From the bus we also passed the remaining Standing Stones of Stenness and the tomb mound, Maeshowe. To finish off the trip we stopped at the Italian Chapel, built by Italian prisoners of war during the Second World War. Getting onto the return ferry Megan was attacked by our fellow day-trippers, the "Grey Haired Brigade", as they pushed and shoved their way on board, scrambling to get the best seats.
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