There is nothing like a holiday on the Scottish islands for that feeling of getting away from it all. Total rest and relaxation – highly recommended.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have really enjoyed the slower pace of the islands, the chance to be deep in nature, and the delights of exploring new-to-us places. It has also struck me, however, how many connections there are, often in unexpected places, with fellow humans past and present.
Orkney is famous for its ancient history. People from the Neolithic age speak to us through their legacy right across the island. This is the Ring of Brodgar:
You can see standing stones everywhere. We walked past this one on our daily walk to the Bay of Skaill. Is it Neolithic? No idea. But it is evidence of someone wanting to make their mark on the landscape.
Here’s another example. I took this photo from the car because I liked the image of the ruined cottage and the cows. It was only later that I noticed the standing stone in the foreground:
Orkney is also famous for its sea stacks, like this one at Yesnaby. Might these, or ones like them have inspired something in the people who worked so hard to erect the standing stones? It was certainly awe-inspiring for us to stand and take in such a beautiful and dramatic landscape.
We can also connect to the ancients through storytelling. The Orkneyinga Saga is an incredible and fascinating 13th century account of the history of the Orkney and Shetland Islands. At the Orkneyinga Saga Centre there are the remains of this 12th century Round Church which is thought to be mentioned in the Saga. It is amazing to think about all the gatherings, discussions and fights that had taken place on this site for hundreds of years:
Even more remarkable for us was this gravestone behind the church, marking the life of a lady who died in the small town of Clevedon in South West England, where my mum and step-dad live, and where we got married 25 years ago. How incredible to see this link not just between one end of the UK and the other, but to the very place where we have such personal connections:
More modern connections now. On previous visits to Orkney, we have passed the Italian Chapel many times and were keen to visit properly.
The Chapel was built by Italian prisoners of war who were keen to have a place of worship while living so far from home. The photos on this plaque bring us face to face with the men involved. I was struck by the notion of ‘creativity in adversity’ and the need to ‘find something inside that could be set free.’
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
The drive to fashion the place where one lives to meet one’s needs, perhaps even in captivity, is a timeless urge. Here are a couple of shots taken at Skara Brae, the stunning 5,000 year old Neolithic village, where you can see the nature of the site as a whole and, in the second picture, one of the dwellings with stone beds, a hearth and even a mantlepiece. It is so incredible and moving to see how similar this is to the way we live now:
Orkney is truly a magical place. We’ll definitely be back. 🙂