Standing stones 2 – The Ring of Brodgar
I stick to the smaller roads heading north, via Inverness and Bonor Bridge. Thick banks of gorse line the single track roads, a profusion of mustard yellow. Gorse, often known as whin in Scotland was crushed and used as a winter feed for cattle. Highly flammable it was used in bread ovens to raise the baking temperature. Gorse looks very similar to broom, but broom lacks the unforgiving thorns and tend to flower a little later.
I know I am touring round some of the oldest stone circles in Scotland but I visit an old cemetery and find a very sad reminder of a more recent times. Often know as the Great War, the first world war which took place between 1914 and 1918, reaped a grim harvest of young men from Scotland. Whole families and sometimes whole villages were decimated.
Pushing on I spy a bit of a folly in Lairg. Everyone dreams of having their own house on an island; well, someone has just that in Lairg. Said to belong to the Broons, it might just be a bit on the small side for me.
I’d never driven the wonderful road between Lairg and Bettyshill before, but what a magical find. I spot a black throated diver, a kind of diving bird known as a loon in Canada, due to its haunting cry. I also come across another blot in our history. While the Great War took its toll a hundred years ago, a hundred years before that, around 1816, the Highland Clearances were well on their way. People were forced off the land to make room for sheep. I spoke to a class this week who were looking at the good and bad aspects. I presumed there were only bad implications, but the children decided that some people who left, although sad to leave their homeland, gained many more opportunities abroad than they would have done here.
The Ring of Brodgar is situated in the Orkney Isles. Which means a ferry trip over one of the roughest pieces of water around the British Isles. However, today it is almost flat calm and I get to see all kinds of wildlife on the 1.5hr trip. Puffins scuttle across the front of the ship and there are razorbills, guillemots, giant skuas, fulmars and gannets everywhere. I even get a glimpse of a Minkie Whale.
A crowd gathers as we pass the Old Man of Hoy. A giant stack of red sandstone that today, stands proud of the mist like some monster of the deep that’s risen from its lair. It looks like something out of a King Kong movie.
Once safely into the port of Stromness, I grab my bags and walk to the Primary school. Again, I want to see if I can spark the children’s imagination and harvest some legends. The school is just three years old and Neil MacIntosh, the head teacher, shows me round. The building is amazing and the classes have an uninterrupted view of the sea and the ferry port.
Unsurprisingly, the children are fantastic and the P 6 and 7’s are really engaged, drawing their new creatures and telling me some of the local legends that surround Brodgar. Here are three crackers from the children of Stromness Primary School. Listen out for Aiden’s ‘Witchcraft – Stone’ story. He had the class in fits of laughter.
After the school, I grab a bite to eat and then catch the bus to Brodgar. I pass the ring of Stennes on the way down the peninsula and stand beside a stone that must be almost 20 feet high. One of the stones has graffiti on there from the 1800’s.
I pass a newly excavated Neolithic palace and reach the Ring of Brodgar. This is a ring of stones with a diameter of 104 meters. Only 27 out of the original 60 stones remain in place, but it is still a very awe inspiring and magical place. The ring of stones sits in the epicentre of a huge basin, the hills of Orkney forming their own outer ring in the distance.
Features and Creatures
Today’s feature has to be The Old Man of Hoy.
Almost 500 feet high, this tower of stone sits off the coast of the island of Hoy. It was only created, by erosion, about 260 years ago and may, in fact, fall into the sea at any moment. It was first climbed in 1966 by Chris Bonnington, Rusty Baille and Tom Patey. Sir Chris Bonnington became the Old Man of Hoy when he climbed that stack again in 2014. He was 80 years old.
Today’s creature is the Minke Whale. I spotted one on the ferry over to Orkney but the last time I did the trip, which was many years ago, I spotted a Killer Whale. Killer Whales sometimes hunt Minke whales, so I hope this one will stay safe. Our second smallest whale, the Minke grows to about 8 meters in length and they can live for as much as 60 years, assuming they avoid predators and whalers.
Just a reminder that Strident Publishing will be sponsoring a children’s book pack which will be delivered to the school that produces the best story. The story must use a ring of stones as it’s starting point and be about a page long. Any school that has taken part in my trip or that has tuned into this video diary can take part. Good luck.