Day 33, Orkney Islands – Mainland Island

Exploring the Mainland Island

Our first full day in Orkney, we decided to do some hiking and exploring of the main island. Our first stop was a hike in the northwest corner of the big island, they refer to as “the mainland”, around the Brough of Birsay. We originally thought that this would be a mellow coastal walk from the little hamlet of Birsay, along the coast and then back through farmers’ fields to Birsay once again.

We drove across the island and parked near the little church in Birsay, called St Magnus (indeed this is the first burial site for the St Magnus of the Kirkwall Cathedral fame).

Humble little church of St Magnus of Birsay.
Just across from the church was the remains of the Earl’s Palace, built in the 16th century by Earl Robert Stewart.
Once out of the small hamlet, we began a walk along a shale and white sand beach.

We soon came to a car park, that led to a path that literally crossed the ocean floor. On the trip, the tides were in our favour and we followed the crowd as they bravely crossed the stone and concrete path over to the island (Brough of Birsay). Originally, our walk did not include this, but we were delighted to discover it and the many things it led to.

This path, like to road to Holy Island (Lindisfarrne) is totally submerged twice per day! Not knowing the tide tables, we put on our big girl and boy pants and crossed!
The vistas of the rock crawling out of the ocean were amazing.

When we got to the other side, we were surprised to find ourselves in an ancient Viking village site!

This was quite a sophisticated village and is surmised to be the head village for the Vikings on Orkney.
The Viking settlement from above.

We then started to climb the shoreline path around the top of the Brough, and were amazed by the beauty and bounty of the coastline.

Inhospitable seas made for very hospitable cliff side dwellings for hundred of nesting birds,
While difficult to see, we even captured a glimpse of a pair of nesting Puffins. Avian flu has taken out a lot of these birds, and there was a worry that they would not have the numbers to return this year.
Dan caught me as I was in search of the birds in these cliffside nests.

We continued around the Brough, constantly amazed by the vistas.

Looking down the coastline from the top,
More stunning Ocean views.
In case you thought I was kidding about the land bridge! I just wouldn’t want to see the rescue bill!
Once back at the bottom of the Brough, we found a sheltered table and enjoyed a little lunch before we continued on our way.
We continued our walk along the coast, looking back on the Brough and enjoying the contrast of the blue blue ocean against the “sea pinks”growing wild along the path.
The erosion made for some interesting wear in the sedimentary rocks along the coast

We soon left the coast and headed back along secondary roads to the little village and picked up our car. It was time to do some other exploring: this time to Neolithic sites of the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stennes

The Ring of Brodgar is one of the largest and best preserved stone circles in Britain. Of the 60 or so stones in place originally, there are now just over 30 standing in a near perfect circle.
A view of the Ring of Brodgar as we walking back from Stennes.

We then walked from the Ring of Brodgar to the Standing Stones of Stennes, about a kilometer away.

There are fewer stones here, but we could get up close and personal.
Glenn and Gwen had to hold this one up for me to take the photo!
While Dan supports the stone so that I can have a much needed rest!

When I got back to the house that evening, I learned that these stones are only 15-25 cm deep into the ground! The Stennes stones were saved from the farmer who was tired of plowing around them, and decided to start pulling them down! He was quickly stopped!

We had had a full day of hiking and exploring. Our heads were full of sites that were 5,000 years old, and our legs were tired! Time to get home and have supper and save something for another day! Until then.

Categories: Hiking in Iceland and the UK

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