Saturday, May 21, 2011

Day 12 West Mainland & Kirkwall, Orkney

Traditional Orkney Chair construction
You can't be in Orkney without spying old or new Orkney chairs. Locals made these chairs for hundreds of years with materials they had at hand and driftwood washed up onto the western shores of the islands. The chairs combine wood for the frame and  oat straw coiled and stitched with sisal for the chair backs. We saw the chairs being made first hand at Jackie and Marlene Miller’s workshop, Scapa Crafts in Kirkwall.
Jackie Miller, chair maker
 Jackie works with a joiner who makes the wooden part of the chair from driftwood, usually pine or beech, or oak or walnut. The oatstraw has to be cut with an old fashioned binder.
Tools of the trade
 It takes 4 sheaves for one chair back and more for a hooded chair like this. Each stalk in the sheaf is stripped by hand by Marlene.  Jackie carries on a tradition learned from his grandfather.
He has been making chairs for eighteen years full time and always has another order to fill. He is one of 3 professional chair makers on Orkney.
Robyn T. enjoying the comfort and warmth of an Orkney Chair
The big island, or as Orcadians call “mainland” is home to numerous stone circles and structures dating back as far as 5000 years. Nowadays, 17 of 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.
Standing Stones of Stenness
 We traveled west to the heart of Neolithic Orkney. 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 dig exploring a site found in 2009 not far from the Standing Stones of Stenness.
Doreen M. and Judy L.
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.” On a clear day as both groups had, you can stand here and see the larger, Ring of Brodgar in the close
One section of the Ring of Brodgar
 The Ring of Brodgar once had 60 stones standing. Brodgar means “farm by the bridge.” A ditch, 11 feet deep and 33 feet wide encases the stone ring. One story goes that giants came to this ground to dance. Hands joined, they danced around and around, forming the ditch. They were having so much fun, they didn’t notice the sun rising. When the sun’s rays touched them, they turned to stone, thus forming the stones in the ring. Each Dec 31, they come alive, rise up out of the ground, walk down to the lake and have a drink. Then they go back to the ring and become solid stone for another year.
Textile enthusiasts as we are, notice the pattern, color, and texture of the lichen and rock surfaces
The 2500 year old ring is said to grant the gift of fertility 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, some 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?

Ring of Brodgar looking back towards Stenness
Stromness is the 2nd largest town on mainland Orkney with a population of 2000+. The narrow main street holds a variety of shops and places to amuse the eye and entertain the mind. We especially like the bookstore,  Julia’s Bistro, the  museum, and the Pier Art center. Take a  walk through the street in pictures.

Northlight Tapestry Studio
Pier Art Center exhibits local art, currently showing the work of Jeremy Baster
and also international artists, a Barbara Hepworth sculpture at the Pier
Pier Arts Centre is built right on the water front and a building design to bring the light and life of the town into the space

The local museum has a fine exhibit of Hudson Bay Company artifacts
I always looked forward to eating at Julia's
Skara Brae was uncovered when a storm hit William Watt’s farm in 1850 and eroded the beachfront. The settlement wasn’t excavated however to reveal what we see today until 1928-30.
Skara Brae
This stone-age community was quite advanced as they even had a sewage system and a stone trough area they filled with water and hot rocks to steam the sea life they ate. The laird’s home, Skaill House, is also open for viewing.
Skaill House
 An excellent background of the area is presented at : Today, an exciting archeological project is ongoing at the nearby Bay of Skaill where a Viking long house was discovered in 2010.
Judy, Linda L., Linda Ru., and Evelyn observing simmon making
 Corrigall Farm Museum in Harray preserves the history of agricultural life on the island. Implements, tools and household furnishings from the 18th-20th century fill the buildings. You’ll find  fascinating things like a simmon, rope that was made from twining grass, a spoon kaise, for holding cutlery, an ingenious mousetrap, an old Orkney chair, loom, and spinning tools. 

A tour of the Highland Park Distillery in Kirkwall takes you through  the entire process of distilling single malt whiskey from the malting of the barley to the where the magic happens in the aging process. Highland Park single malt has a peaty taste and it light amber in colour. The taste comes from the malting process of roasting the barley with peat.
 This is one of just five distilleries in Scotland that malts their own barley. The barley comes from mainland Scotland. The barley is soaked in water for two days, so it sprouts. Then it is spread out on a concrete floor for five days and turned to prevent it from sticking together.
 The kernels keep germinating on the malting floor. Then the green malt is placed on a mesh floor far above the fire kiln where it gets two firings of 18-20 hours each. The first four layers of peat are used in the first firing to give the barley a smokey flavor. Then it goes through a second firing fueled by coke, a form of coal. This second firing dries the malted barley.
 After malting the grain is turned into a mash. The mash goes through three soakings. The distilling of the sugars into alcohol is a two-step process done in huge copper cookers. They age the whisky a minimum of twelve years in both Spanish sherry barrels.
 Nothing like a dram of whisky to rejuvenate the weary travelers!
Jeanne, Geri, and Robyn, "tak a dram and we be cheery"
Hazel and Jennifer Wrigley have traveled the world performing traditional music since their teens. Now they focus their time in Kirkwall running the The Reel CafĂ©, Bar, and Music School.  The Reel has become the epicenter in Orkney for music lessons taught by the sisters and others, and for sessions in Kirkwall.
 I attended the Saturday night session, a long running tradition for over 20 years (not in the same pub).  Two guitarists, a banjo player, and mouth organ player, members of the local band “Hullion” were leading the session. The session was open to any others who wanted to join in.  I heard many a fine Orcadian tune. The Orcadians are prolific tune makers and especially love their polkas and slow airs. The songs in the Orcadian dialect are sad or funny, or sometimes both! 
 There are two music festivals coming up on Orkney feature local, Scottish, and international musicians alike.
The Orkney Folk Festival in May
The St Magnus Festival in June

1 comment:

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