You are currently browsing the daily archive for 08/04/2012.

Herewith, the latest segment in the serialisation of Scubi’s trip of a lifetime to Scotland’s highlands and islands last year.

For those wishing to catch up on the story so far, a list of previous episodes is as follows:

  • Part 1 – Travelling
  • Part 2 – Clava Cairns
  • Part 3 – Banks Tomb
  • Part 4 – Tomb of the Eagles
  • Part 5– Crantit and Grain Souterrains, Rennibister Earth House etc
  • Part 6 – Stenness and Brodgar
  • Part 7a – Stenness and Brodgar
  • Part 7b – Skara Brae
  • Part 8 – Broch of Gurness and Cuween tomb
  • Part 9 – The Isle of Eday

and now, the story continues…

Today starts with yet another ferry trip this time to the much closer Isle of Rousay. This is just a short ferry ride from Tingwall harbour on the mainland which in turn was not that far from Finstown where I was renting my cottage.

After the previous days early start and late finish I was still feeling a little tired but nonetheless I set off early and was greeted with the water in Finstown bay perfectly still and like a mirror. Living in landlocked Wiltshire you don’t often get to see this sort of thing so I parked up to get a few shots of the blue-black water. I had the feeling this was going to be another lovely day in Orkney.

Finstown Bay © C Brooks

Arriving at Tingwall I parked up where I was told when I purchased the ticket and took a stroll around. The clarity of the water in this part of the world constantly amazes me so much so I could have donned my scuba kit and walked right into the sea there and then.

The ferry was arranged so that we had to drive on in reverse which was a little disconcerting but as it was quite small I took my seat on the open deck and we were away very quickly.

As we drifted along the very still water one of the deck hands pointed across to the Rousay coastline. There on the shore was a small group of seals basking in the ever warming sunshine. Just at that point my mobile started ringing… much to the displeasure of others on the deck. I hastily grabbed the phone from my pocket and answered it gruffly telling the person on the end I was busy. Unfortunately by the time I got back to the seals they were a distant image in my camera.

We arrived at the small ferry terminal on Rousay which lies in the Wyre Sound opposite the small island of Wyre. The ferry does stop on Wyre and other islands on its route so if you have time you could visit these also. Reversing onto the ferry meant that the drive off was so much easier and this time I knew where I was heading and it was probably less than a kilometre away.

I reversed into the small quarried out parking area which was actually about a minutes drive from leaving the ferry. You walk along a path up the hill for a very short distance before being directed to Taversoe Tuick. The cairn is surrounded by a wire fence and at first glance this cairn looks very similar to others I have seen so far on my trip. But a quick look at the information board revealed I would be in for a real treat… and I wasn’t to be disappointed.

Taversoe Tuick © C Brooks

For the want of a better description this cairn is a ‘double decker’ in that there are two main chambers one built upon the other. The information board says that these chambers were both part of the original structure and built at the same time but had independent entrances. One entrance is blocked off by a metal railing. There is also another third chamber a couple of metres away from the main mound and accessed by a rather heavy wooden door on the ground. This itself has a sort of vertically split entrance but both lead into the same single chamber. The chamber itself is quite small about 1.5m square with a number of upright stone pillars infilled with small flat stones very similar in construction to that of the main chamber at the Rennibister Earth House I saw on day 3.

Entering the cairn by the modern entrance door and wire gate, which faces away from the coast line and along the short low passage, you immediately know there is something very different going on here. However, but before I go into detail the only disappointment is this yet another concrete dome roof with the light hole in the top… but this soon fades into insignificance and on this occasion shows the interior off very well.

Standing there looking and trying to work out what is going on, I thought to myself of all the barrows and cairns I have visited (and I have visited many) this is probably… no, this is definitely the best and most fascinating.

In front of you is a rough chamber which is ‘D’ shaped plan view and you are facing into the ‘D’ so the far side metre high dry stone walling sort of arches around to either side of you. A sectioned off smaller side chamber comes off the ‘D’ immediately to the left measuring about a metre square. A much more open layout side chamber exists on the right and this measure about 1.5m by 1m or so. Then in front of you is very small chamber measuring about 0.5m high and wide and about a meter deep. This small chamber has a small cap stone still in situ.

Taversoe Tuick © C Brooks

As it stands this is a little bit strange but what surprises you most is the large square entrance to a lower chamber dead in front of the entrance passageway. This entrance, large enough for me to get into (for a change) is formed in the large flagstone style floor with a somewhat unstable ladder providing access. The lower main chamber is perhaps 1.5m to 1.6m in height (or depth) and as you decent into it you immediately see in front of you the long entrance passage leading into the tomb from the blocked entrance I saw earlier outside. Again the lower level forms a sort of ‘D’ shape similar to the level above and directly beneath it. To the left and to the right are a pair of two tier side chambers raised above the floor level. The upper tier of each being similar to the side chambers directly above on the upper level. The lower tiers of each of these chamber are about 0.3m high. Behind you under the entrance of the upper level are yet another pair of two tier side chambers of similar dimensions to the others on this level.

Taversoe Tuick © C Brooks

My photos did not do this place justice, this is a complex, interesting and very exiting tomb and definitely worth the visit to Rousey if not Orkney, alone… just one thing to be careful of when using the metal ladder, though strong it is not fixed and is quite unstable due to the uneven surfaces.

Leaving the site I spotted those seals laying on the beach I had seen from the ferry so I got a couple of snaps from the hillside. Moving on along the island ‘ring-road’ a short distance of less than a kilometer westward to Blackhammer Chambers Cairn. Accessed by a short but steep walk up the hill there is an information board giving you the usual insight into its construction. Although there is not much to see externally there is a plastic observation window allowing you to see part of the external wall construction. However the plastic had deteriorated and steamed up and in the strong sunlight it was difficult to see much. Mostly destroyed, the entrance passageway faces out towards the sea and the inside of the tomb is gained via a sliding door arrangement and a short metal ladder with a drop of about a metre.

Like the Tomb of the Eagles you enter the cairn at the centre point and the chamber extends out to the left and right of you by about 8m each. The width is a good 2m if not a little wider. The chamber is divided into seven stalls separated by pairs of vertical stones or wall constructions about half a metre apart so that you can walk right down the centre line.

Blackhammer © C Brooks

Apparently remains of only two individuals were found during excavations and a wall has been built later separating the left of the chamber off and restricting access. In this wall is a small side chamber. Opposite the entrance there is a worked stone with some strange shapes cut into it (a sort of deep ‘V’ or ‘L’ with a square hole next to it) which may well be modern but looked interesting anyway. After Taversoe Tuick it is difficult to be blown away by this one but taking it purely on its own merit this is a great tomb to visit.

Right, driving a little further down the coast road the next tomb for me to visit on this trip is Knowe of Yarso. You have to park (if you are driving) in the small car park area by the road and walk up the hill along a private access road. Keeping left wherever the road diverge,s it’s a bit of a slog up the hill. There are sign posts and after crossing a concrete slab bridge and then a wooden bride the route is marked by some black and white poles. After this the route flattens out and you can see the cairn a little way in front of you.

Again there isn’t much to see on the outside apart from the lovely view of the sea. The cairn in surrounded by a wire fence which on the seaward side is very much needed as the tomb is very close to the edge of a steep drop. The entrance faces along the coastline in the direction you have just walked but now has a sturdy wooden door instead of a long passageway. Like many cairns on Orkney this had two layers of walling with the outer layer being a sort of herringbone effect. Twenty-nine individuals were excavated from this site with seventeen of those being represented by skulls only and it is thought the tomb was in use for up to a thousand years.

The entrance takes you into the tomb at the eastern end and inside it is similar to Blackhammer with the inner chamber split into stalls but this time there are only four. Most of the bones found during excavation were located in the furthest chamber from the entrance. Again about 2m wide and about 9 or 10m long most of the stones are covered in an algae giving the tomb a strange green glow as the light from the glass covered holes above bounces around. I think I prefer this cairn to that of Blackhammer as it has a more aged feeling about it and again well worth a visit.

Knowe of Yarso © C Brooks

There is plenty of parking for Mid Howe tomb but it is a fair old walk down to the coastline to the tomb itself. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it wasn’t quite as grand as this. A huge stalled burial cairn (the biggest known) housed within an even bigger stone built building complete with roof for total weather protection. I know this greatly detracts from the environmental context of the tomb in the landscape but if you are going to preserve something this big I don’t think you can do it any better than this. You are requested to refrain from walking into the cairn itself (which I did) but a fantastic walkway has been constructed around the tomb to allow you to look down into the chambers.

Midhowe Tomb © C Brooks

Only natural light floods in giving a good feel to the place and the floor of the tomb has that green alge again making it look a little surreal. The are 12 pairs of very large stall sections, many having bed like arrangements similar to the single stalls found at Skara Brae and originally the inner walls would have leaned and been capped by large slabs of stone some three or four meters above. The outer wall was decoratively built with the interwoven slabs of stone leaning in one direction for a meter or so and then leaning the other way towards the top creating the now familiar herringbone pattern seen elsewhere on the island. From the walkway you can also see how the infill material between the inner and outer walls were sectioned off with upright stones placed deliberately to stabilise the material and reduce the weight on the inner walls.

Midhowe Tomb stalls © C Brooks

This place really is fantastic and as I was left alone for the majority of the time. I was able to totally photograph and take in the place without hindrance – a definite must see for the Orkney visitor.

While you’re here you must also walk along the coast a little further and take a look at Midhowe Broch. As the information board explains this broch and 8 others (including Gurness) stand like sentinels guarding the waters of Eynhallow Sound. In use between 2300 and 1900bce these huge structures and the smaller ‘village’ that surround them were self sufficient communities consisting mainly of farmers and fishermen. Many of the comments I made about Gurness on day 5 also apply to this broch. This broch differs really only that it is located bedrock being sited on a raised crag but again was probably built by a powerful local family and provided a degree of protection from invaders.

Midhowe Broch © C Brooks

The stonework is impressive with a self supporting double skinned wall wide enough to walk through and provide access to the upper floors. Also impressive are the great slabs of stone which formed the internal walls to the broch and some of the outer buildings. Many have crumbled over time and are held together using modern metal bracketry but you still have to wonder how they were able to take such large slices of solid rock. A new(ish) sea wall has been built to protect the coastline from erosion but the structure adds quite well to the broch itself and resembles some of the middle earth buildings described in the Tolkein books… well it did to me anyway. What can I say, take a butchers yourself.

Midhowe Broch © C Brooks

The only draw back with the Midhowe tomb and broch is the long slog back up that hill to the car… boy, that had me wheezing even with the wind and rain to cool me down.

Well, that was my final site visit while on Rousay and for the remainder of the day I took a slow drive around the island and spent a little time just wandering around before rejoining the ferry back to the mainland.

I would say it would be much cheaper and nicer to bring a bike over from the mainland rather than a car. There are a few hills but you can cycle to all the main monuments easily and probably take in the island a little better.


April 2012

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