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Sunday 27 July 2014

Ness of Brodgar dig 2014......

For a few years now each summer archaeologists appear at the Ness of Brodgar on Mainland Orkney to continue excavating one of the most amazing Neolithic sites. A frequent saying is "if you scratch the surface of Orkney, it bleeds archaeology".  There are many archaeological sites around Orkney, big and small, domestic and grand scale, but what is being uncovered at the Ness of Brodgar is just extraordinary and has, deservedly, attracted worldwide attention.  If you've not heard of this site before or want to learn more take a look at this comprehensive website on the dig which is part of Orkneyjar website.

Each year I've been visiting the site and it's brilliant to see the site unfolding and hear about all the amazing discoveries first hand.  I went for my first visit in 2014 on Friday and here is a snapshot (excuse the pun!) of my visit.   Tours are free so if you are in Orkney between now and August 20th do to along.

So.... above as you can see, to the untutored eye and at ground level it all looks a complete jumble.  How on earth do you make sense of THAT?  The black plastic is covering sensitive areas or areas that are yet to be uncovered. Because the site is only excavated 6 weeks of each year it has to be protected from the elements the rest of the time. So it's covered in plastic which is weighted down with tyres and sandbags.

Lots of fancy kit on tripods are used to measure accurately around the site.

Methodically the site is excavated - all the stone walls you can see are what have been uncovered. The earth running through the centre below actually contains the water pipe for the neighbouring farm so it's a challenge to excavate round it!  Some samples of midden (rubbish heap) have been taken - they are the small squares cut out of the earth bank.  These can be analysed to help build up a picture of the site - after it was "decomissioned" several thousand years ago it appears also that it was filled in with earth, so that too can tell something about farming practise at the time.

There are experienced archaeologists plus archaeology students working on the site. Some of the archaeologists work for ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology) which is partnered with the University of the Highlands and Islands, including the site director, Nick Card.

There are people digging, sifting, measuring, and...drawing.... in the background here, with heads bent are three artists who contribute to the interpretation of the site.

As I mentioned before - the stone walls are all part of the site. Some decorated stone has been found, which is quite unusual.  Some stone has been painted with pigments and some have "pecked" designs, made with implements.  It's all very fragile so will be covered for protection.

In recent years a viewing platform has been constructed for the tours so it helps get a better understanding of the site.

From the platform you can also see how the site sits within the surrounding landscape - one of the lochs and the Hoy hills visible in the background behind the site exhibition/shop.

I mentioned measuring earlier..... oh a lot of that seems to go on!

And while we were up on the viewing platform excited squeals came from one of the groups of excavators.  One of the team had found something. It turned out to be a damaged mace head, to the experienced archaeologists it wasn't anything special it seemed, but to the young archaeologist who found it, it was treasure indeed.  And for those of us watching it was exciting.... just think how many thousands of years that had lain buried, and the hands that last touched it.....

As we left the view platform we walked this wall with the flags on the floor - this is as it was found, really well preserved and with a lovely curve in the wall.

The viewing platform is on the left - swathed in blue netting for safety. You can get an idea of how huge this site is....

I mentioned earlier about the setting of the Ness of Brodgar in the landscape.  It's set among some of the best Neolithic structures, there is Maes Howe (you can just see the doorway on the right - this is aligned so that for a few days in mid-winter the sun which sets between the Hoy hills will shine the last rays directly through the door, down the tunnel to the back of the chambered cairn...... and all constructed without all the fancy measuring equipment builders have today!

The picture above was taken from the top of the viewing platform, and when I turned around I then took this photo.... where the sun will set in mid-winter....

And then to the right of the viewing platform is the Ring of Brodgar...... and nearby are the Stones of Stenness

And if you click here you'll see these sites in context on a map....

And a real treat, a short National Geographic film taken last year of the Ness of Brodgar and some of the finds, with Nick Card, the site director, being interviewed.....  click here

Hope you enjoyed the update on the Ness of Brodgar dig! I'm planning to go back again in a few weeks. I want to see some of the finds but had to leave the tour before the end as had to be in Kirkwall (and also couldn't stand around any longer!)

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Misty evening.....

I'm Back!  Yeah I know you didn't realise I'd gone. Humph!  But I've been "down South" for a few days (very down South actually in the wonderful city of Bath, but more of that later).  Just before I went on my travels there was a beautiful ethereal misty evening so I thought I'd share those photos, and a few others, with you.  (And yes before you ask Button is fine, she is well looked after when I'm away and doesn't sulk when I come home. Bless....).  Right....mist..... (Fran Gray a local musician wrote a tune called "Mist over Graemsay".....)

Anyway, I was driving up the island as I had to post a letter in our island post box (collected at 7.30am Monday to Friday by Mick our postman in his shiny red van) and the mist was just starting to come in.....

I love the way it softens the landscape....

Meanwhile, on the way back from the post box I stopped to say hi to some young calves that had recently been turned out into this field.  They are VERY inquisitive and I do love the young calves when they play together, just like kids in the school playground!

And someone had clearly got tired of cycling round the island!

And coming back round the bay the light was quite different though the sun has some way to go before setting.

I love the variety of clouds in the sky at any one time (well except the thick blanket of grey we had most of the Winter!).

Meanwhile the young stock in my field behind the house came to see why I was standing outside and had I got anything for them (No!).  These were calves born last year.  The yellow in the field are buttercups. Not sure the cattle are that keen on them which is a shame as we had a lovely display this year!

And now the sun is dropping behind Black Craig

And the mist is slowly creeping up the flow, covering the East end of Stromness like a gauzy blanket.....

Gradually getting thicker.....

And thicker.....

And then it was time to see if the hens were settled for the night.  Remember the wee fluffy chick of a few weeks ago..... well she (oh god she'd better be a she but I'm not convinced....she looks awfully like her father) has now exchanged fluff for some fine feathers!

And talking of feathers, these are the swallow fledglings.  NOW a couple of weeks later they are sitting on the hydro (electricity) lines and flying around the field and garden day and evening! Just think, in a few short weeks they will be on their way to Africa again!

Hope you enjoyed the misty evening!

Thursday 10 July 2014


Simmerdim is the short time between sunset and sunrise in mid-summer.  This is what it looks like through bleary eyes at 2am...... (thank you Button for this experience)..... Best I could do as I couldn't see the settings on my camera!  The tall blobby thing is Hoy High Lighthouse :-)

Wednesday 9 July 2014


The noise of a snoring Button!!   It amazes me how cats can balance on the narrowest of ledges and still sleep....

Meanwhile there are cows in my field behind the house enjoying some summer grazing....

And while rootling about in the garden I came across..... a pile of eggs!  A sneaky pesky hen is obviously hiding away!!  I haven't had time to investigate further so there may or may not be more chicks to accompany the lone chick of a few weeks ago....

Summer seems to have arrived now with sunny skies and warmer temperatures (about 17 degrees C which locaks say is "too hot" and visitors think is cold!  Hee Hee!

There are lots of young birds around and the swallows seem to be having a good year.  This one stopped by to say Hi....

And more flowers in the garden....did I mention I love the pom poms of the scabious?

This rowan is putting on a bit of a growth spurt this year.  I wonder if it will flower next year??

I love the big red blousy poppies.  I don't seem to get them to spread in the garden, but at least this one reappeared this year.

And the "main road" in Graemsay is disappearing under the banks of grass and cow parsley!

And on gazing out the window the other day it was a lovely surprise to see this "tall ship" sailing into Stromness Harbour!  Actually it was only built in 2000 in a shipyard in Devon (Appledore - one of my favourite villages).  It's used as a training ship to keep the skills alive.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

And relax.......

It's been a manic few weeks with work and other stuff so I have neglected answering comments and blogging.  And now I'm heading off for a few days.  In the meantime...I HAVE taken time to enjoy the sunsets and have a cup of tea in the garden now and again.  So here are some photos of flowers!  A few years ago the garden was just a sheep pen (will post links to those posts on my return) and it's a slow process developing such a big space.  Mostly I just have 5 foot wide borders around the outside for now. I've tried various shrubs but they haven't done well so instead I'm going for perenialls and deciduous trees/shrubs that drop their leaves in winter when the worst of the gales blow.

The bees just love the garden.  I put this photo on one of the Orkney Facebook nature pages to ask which type of bumble bee it was - it's a carder bee.  And apparently an aged carder bee as it looks a bit "tatty round the edges" - know how THAT feels!!  This one is sitting on a cornflower

I love columbines (aquilegia), and they do well in the garden. This is a new one and one of my favourites.

I go in for the "chaos" style of gardening ;-)  Mostly I try and keep the weeds at bay and try and ensure there isn't a monoculture and then the garden has to fend for itself..... So here is some sweet rocket, more columbine and some hawkweed, with some Welsh poppies thrown in for good measure.

I also like ornamental grasses.  This stripey pyjama grass (um...not the real name!) is rather lovely and makes a gorgeous rustling noise in the breeze.  MUST get more of that planted.

And I love this Libertia - it almost looks like an orchid from a distance but MUCH hardier - it grows out of very spikey leaves so there's colour all summer.

Along the outside of the garden wall is rosa rugosa a very tough plant - quite invasive if you don't keep an eye on it.

My personal favourite is this scabious - I just love the pom poms dancing in the breeze!

In the corner is a weigelia, with lovely ruby red flowers. This does quite well sheltered in the corner, though it's a bit overwhelmed by the sweet rocket this year.

The lawn is huge so I'm trying to break it up a bit, but it still needs to not take too much work.  So, I'm started with some wee trees, planted by the lovely Mrs Orkney Flowers.

This corner gets lots of sun and I planted it with some wildflowers last year which seem to be quite happy here, if a little over exhuberant!