Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Day 9 Mainland, Orkney

The big island, or as Orcadians call “mainland” is home to numerous stone circles and structures dating back as far as 5000 years. Nowdays, the 17 or the 65 islands that are populated are home to 20,000 people, 100,000 beef cattle, 68,000 sheep and one fishing fleet, on Westray.

Maeshowe, a grass covered burial mound in the middle of a farmer’s field, is that old. You stoop low to walk through the 10 meter entrance tunnel before standing up inside a tall rounded chamber. As in all the sites, some of what the archeologists have found is known fact, other is speculation. Was it in fact a burial mound for the first peoples who build it, or a place of healing and rituals connected to the astrological cycle? In fact, each December the mound is equipped with 3 webcams where you can watch the light in the mound as winter solstice approaches. http://www.maeshowe.co.uk/ Vikings raided the mound in the 12th century and left many runic inscriptions. No great mysteries were revealed however once these inscriptions were translated as they say things such as “Ingibjorg is a beautiful woman.” The lion carving illuminated by our guide, some say is the most stunning carving in the mound.

From Maeshowe you look across a loch and see both the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar in the distance. Modern technology has shown that the stone monuments above ground are just the tip of the iceberg of all the ancient stone sites under the earth in this heart of the island. There is currently a new archeological dig exploring a newly found site not far from the Standing Stones.

Michael, our local guide while Richard had a day off, told us tales and speculations about these sites. Stenness means “stone point” and indeed the tall stones still standing are pointed on top, but just 3100 years old. Also known as the Temple of Moon, couples came to perform a marriage ritual which would bind them together for one year and one day. After that period, they would have to come back to the stones to renew that ritual or to break the contract. Thus was their system of “marriage in installments.” www.orkneyjar.com/history/standingstones/

The Ring of Brodgar once had 60 stones standing. Brodgar means “farm by the bridge.” This 2500 year old ring is said to grant the gift of fertilitiy to anyone who runs around it counter clockwise 3x without stopping. Considering the large circumference, this running ritual also meant you were in shape! As we walked the ring, many of us touching each stone, the wind blew us along, urging us to consider what ancient wisdom moved the people to build such impressive sites. What did they know, that we have long forgotten? www.orkneyjar.com/history/brodgar/

Skara Brae was uncovered when a storm hit William Watt’s farm in 1850 and eroded the beach front. The settlement wasn’t excavated however until 1928. This fine example of a stone age community was quite advanced as they even had a sewage sytem and a stone trough area they filled with water and hot rocks to steam the sea life they ate. www.orkneyjar.com/history/skarabrae/

Stromness is the 2nd largest town on mainland Orkney with a population of 2000+. Tait and Style studio sits above the harbour. For 16 years Ingrid Tait has run this company that creates knitted and felted scarves, throws, pillows, and accessories for the high fashion market in London and New York. She discovered a needle punching machine in Yorkshire that was used to make industrial materials. Sensing it could be retooled to work with wool fabric, she acquired the machine and has been punching or felting her marks with fleece or yarn onto commercially woven wool.

As the fashion industry constantly changes, Ingrid is flexible, open to taking commissions from both home furnishing and clothing fashion design houses to create new lines for each season. She is a sought after lecturer and also ofters workshops at the studio. Tait and Style's retail shop is now at The Longship Complex on Broad Street in Kirkwall. Ingrid also runs the jewelry company founded by her mother, Ole Gorie. http://www.taitandstyle.co.uk/ Here is a fabulous hand knit sweater that had Piper's name on it.
The Pier Arts Centre sits unassuming on Victoria Street just off the water front in Stromness. Inside, the centre houses a fine collection of contemporary art. I was delighted to find a number of pieces by British sculptor, Barbara Hepworth. http://www.pierartscentre.com/

Corrigall Farm Museum in Harray is a wonderful example of rural agricultural life on the island. Implements, tools and household furnishings from the 18th-20th century fill the buildings. Inside the buildings are all kinds of fascinating things like a simmon, rope that was made from twising grass, a spoon kaise, for holding cutlery and some North Ronaldsay sheep, the breed that eats seaweed! http://www.orkney.org/museums/

Each Wednesday night, the Orkney Accordian and Fiddle Club practices at the Ayre Hotel in Kirkwall. They welcome listeners and players alike. The night I joined in, they were practicing for their performance at the Orkney Folk Festival. The accordians outnumbered the fiddles, but thankfully some of the fiddlers read music and had notation I played from. The stamina of the players is mighty. After 3 hours I was ready to go to bed, and they kept playing!

The 26th Orkney Folk Festival, is May 22-25 with most concert venues in Stromness. http://www.orkneyfolkfestival.com/

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