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Saturday, 2 May 2015

A trip "out West" to Skara Brae and St Peter's Kirk

I had a friend from South, Georgina, visit for a few days last week and we went out and about around Orkney.  So come on our journey with us, first out via Stenness loch, with the snow capped Hoy Hills in the distance.  Georgina arrived on Monday night, stepping out of the aircraft at Kirkwall into a snow shower....hmmmm and it WAS the end of April, at least we had sunshine!

Anyway we set off with another friend, L, to Skara Brae.  This is a Neolithic (c4,000 to 1,880 BC) village uncovered in a storm in 1868 and excavated several times.  It's a wonderful place to wander about.  Historic Scotland have a great interpretation centre (and cafe!), and guides to answer questions too.

Each house was joined by a stone passage. Even if the people then were much smaller they would probably have had to crouch down to go through the passages, but at least safe from the elements!

This really IS as found. It's not a reconstruction!

In the background above is Skaill House, The laird owned the land on which Skara Brae stood and was intrigued by it appearance after the storm and started his own excavation but did not complete the entire site.  Further excavations took place around 1928 and revealed most of the site. It's believed there is an even older settlement underneath the village, but it can't be excavated without destroying the Neolithic houses so for the time being, we have to just wonder.

I love the stone dresser!  Not unlike those that grace many a house these days!  There would be a central hearth, and around the walls were beds. It's believed that people slept crouched rather than laid out, as that was connected with death.

There was an artist working among the stone houses.  A survey was conducted some 40 years ago and apparently the long awaited report is nearly due! I thought some of MY work projects dragged on but, 40 years, blimey!  The artist is doing some drawings and paintings to go in the final report.

Another of the houses with a "dresser".

To the right of the dresser is a stone with an indent (it might have been a quernstone used for grinding grain to make bread), which had filled with rainwater, and look, it's iced over!!  Brrrr!  Did I mention it was the end of April when these were taken??

Skara Brae is now right on the shore, and there is a battle to protect it from erosion. But when it was originally lived in, the sea would have been further out.  It's a beautiful bay and beach though.

A flat calm day with blue sky and sea....

And across the bay is St Peter's Kirk.

Come and have a look inside this lovely wee kirk. It was built in 1836 but is no longer used for services, although the kirkyard  is still used for burials in the parish of Sandwick. It was built by the local people for the people using the remains of an older kirk. There are stories of the women of the parish carrying stone on their backs throughout the winter it was built.  It's a simple kirk, with no adornment inside nor out.

The pulpit looks newer than the rest of the pews. The church was restored in 2003 and is now in the care of the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust. I can imagine some "fire and brimstone" sermons being dispatched from this pulpit!

The church is on the bay and in the past there would be shipwrecks during storms. There is a story that during one particular shipwreck, when the local people were salvaging cargo, a consignment of gin was found.  The local Minister instructed that it be taken to St Peter's Kirk for "safe keeping".  Yeah right!  (I didn't find the remains of any gin, sadly).

You wouldn't fall asleep in these pews! And if you did you would be admonished by the Minister.

I love the simplicity of the windows, here looking onto the kirkyard.

This is a photo of Rev. Charles Clouston, the Minister of the kirk at the time of rebuilding in 1836. Oh yes, definitely fire and brimstone!

There are still the original oil lamps, electricity was never installed.

The outside of the kirk is very simple too.

And in the kirkyard, among the family graves, the War Memorial to those who gave their lives in WWI and WWII

A very beautiful and peaceful "last resting place"...

I hope you enjoyed the trip!  In the next post we'll make our way to Birsay.


  1. Skara Brae is incredible. We loved the explanatory timeline on the pathway from the parking area to the site. You had a gorgeous day to explore.

    1. We were so lucky with the weather! The number of times I've taken visitors round in the pouring rain!! And yes I love the timeline too. Really puts it into perspective.

  2. You live in a wondrous area and I enjoy reading your historical background information.

    I'd love to visit Skara Brae.

    1. Oh you would LOVE Skara Brae I'm sure, and some of the other sites too.

  3. I like it this blog information, thanks for sharing