Orkney is home to one of Scotland’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. This World Heritage Site includes Maeshowe, the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness and Skara Brae. These sites give us a glimpse of what life might have been like for the people living on the Orkney islands some 5000 years ago. Day 6 would be full of adventures, exploring and learning as we visit 3 out of the 4 major locations of this World Heritage Site!
From our hostel, we set out for our first stop of the day – Skara Brae.
Skara Brae is a Neolithic village that has been remarkably preserved. It is estimated to date back to 3100BC, which is older than Stonehenge and the pyramids! Skara Brae was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999, as part of the aforementioned Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.
If you are travelling around the Orkney islands, we would highly recommend making a visit here. There is heaps of history to learn about, plus the preserved settlement is in the great outdoors, meaning you aren’t stuck inside a museum for your whole visit! And… did we mention that the settlement faces a beautiful beach? Well, now you know! 😄 If you are travelling independently, more information on tickets, opening hours and location can be found here.
The visitor centre is the first stop – where you can learn more about the discovery, the history and the people who lived here.
Back in 1850, the Orkney islands were battered by a storm. In the aftermath, the outline of some stone buildings were discovered. It is said that the local laird decided to excavate the site. A number of stone houses were discovered, before work stopped on this project in 1868.
Fast forward to the 1930’s, when modern day excavations started at this site. At first, these buildings were thought to be 500 years old. But radiocarbon dating finally placed this settlement in the Neolithic era, much older than previously thought!
Inside the visitor centre are various artefacts, from jewelry to pottery, that were discovered during the excavations. It is incredible to think these artefacts survived some 5000 years! There is also a replica house, that you can step inside and imagine how your life might have been like back in the Neolithic era. After wandering through, it was time to head outside to see the actual village.
This village of prehistoric houses is viewed from a series of elevated walking paths, with informative signs sharing more details on what you are looking at. To preserve these delicate houses, you cannot actually walk through the village.
Each home had a similar design, with furniture that we would recognize today! What can you spot in this photograph?
There seems to be two beds, some shelves and even an inset shelf built into the wall that might be for displaying something special!
Remember that beach I was talking about earlier? Well, here it is!
Since this site is so close to the beach and the Bay of Skaill, there is a risk of erosion by sand and water, that may damage these prehistoric buildings. We hear, though, that there are measures being taken to minimize the damage and protect this UNESCO world heritage site.
After spending some time exploring these Neolithic homes, we were off to explore something that was built closer to present-day. Can you spot our next destination in the background of this next photo?
Also included in our ticket to Skara Brae was admission to Skaill House.
Skaill House is “the finest 17th century mansion in Orkney.” The mansion house was originally built in the 1620’s by Bishop Graham and subsequent lairds have enlarged it, added more rooms and wings to the mansion. This property has been passed down through the family for almost 400 years. Of particular note, it was the 7th Laird, William Graham Watt, who discovered Skara Brae in 1850 and started the excavations!
The current owner of Skaill House is the 12th laird – Major Malcolm Macrae. He inherited the mansion in 1991 and started renovations to restore it and eventually open it to the public. In 1997, Skaill House was open for visitors.
There are some spooky stories surrounding Skaill House… When the mansion was being renovated, skeletons were discovered buried under the house. It was discovered that Skaill House was built on top of a Norse graveyard. Tales of ghosts have been reported by the current laird, staff and visitors!
The mansion is styled as a 1950’s family home. After walking through Skara Brae and seeing homes from the Neolithic times, it was time to see what a home in the 1950’s would have been like.
What a beautifully set dining table! I think we would enjoy a nice dinner here. 🍷
This could be a cozy room to do some reading and writing, with a warm fire glowing in that fireplace!
A bedroom decorated in the fashion of that era.
I learned that the Hudson Bay Company, previously a fur-trading company and in modern days more known as a top Canadian department store – the Bay, used to have an agent stationed in Stromness. And many Orcadian men and boys as young as 14 years old would go to Stromness, sign a contract and leave Orkney to work for the Bay in Canada. At one point in time, around 80% of the Bay’s employees were from the Orkney islands!
This artefact was something that was brought back to Orkney via the Hudson Bay Company.
Here’s another little Canadian connection that we found in Skaill House. If we ever find ourselves in Manitoba, we’ll have to make a stop at the town of Binscarth.
We had a grand time walking through Skaill House and imagining our lives in this mansion! For more information on Skaill House opening times and admission, check out this link here.
We really enjoyed our visit to Skara Brae and Skaill House. It was a unique opportunity to learn more about the history of the Orkney islands and also of human civilization. It was remarkable to see the furnishings – the beds and the shelves, that these Neolithic people had built over 5000 years ago! And this is what I love about travelling – learning more about the place I am visiting, the history, the human connection and impact.
Before we left Skara Brae, we had to try their scone, which Andy had recommended as one of the best! This scone was buttery and dotted with raisins – a nice mid-morning snack!
After our little ramble and archaeology lesson at Skara Brae, we headed off to our next destination. Check back next week for more!
From Vancouver with Love,
Ioana and Natalie
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