Monday, September 20, 2010

Orkney: In search of history.

An Autumn chill has settled upon Scotland...despite our best efforts at finding more Pictish stone circles and offering up sacrifices and dancing naked...too cold for that
We'd encountered a harsh change in the weather when we arrived in Thurso with gales screaming in from the Arctic.But a break in the weather convinced us to take the chance and make the ferry crossing to the Orkneys.We'd really hoped to get right up to the Shetlands taking ferry and buses as far up to Unst,the most northerly inhabited island of the UK, but the weather was against that! Puffins and the fact that a friend from back home now owns a wee stone cottage on the north coast of Unst drew us there.The M V Hamnavoe car and passenger ferry operates regular crossings between  Thurso's nearby port of Scrabster, and Stromness on the main  Orkney island called  the Mainland,oddly enough.From there, we thought it would be a very interesting journey taking the island buses, and inter-island ferries right up the chains of islands to Unst.But not to be, the weather was against us.Our naked stone circle dancing did not deliver enough power or energy for Sol to battle through those Arctic gales and smooth our crossings.I think he gave up on us, and took an easier station over southern Scotland.So I guess we should go seek him out down there.But first we're now on the Mainland of the Orkney's so we'd best look around here.
Our crossing was not smooth by any means,in fact Kay made sure a sick bag was handy.But once within  sheltered Scapa Flow  the vessel settled reasonably smoothly and ploughed ahead making fast knots. This was Scapa Flow, the famous naval base for the British Navy in two World Wars. And it was here in 1918 that 72 ships of the German Navy sailed to during the Armistice negotiations.The Armistice was not the end of the First World War, it was a cessation of hostilities while negotiations were conducted to agree terms for Germany's surrender.During this time the German fleet remained at Scapa Flow but without flying their flags, awaiting word for final surrender.
The whole German fleet was scuttled! Imagine that! 72 ships sinking in one place! Incredible!
Very few now remain as almost all were raised and salvaged for scrap iron, but the few left provide opportunities for scuba diving enthusiasts today.
Kirkwall is a fascinating ancient city with superb examples of architecture in it's old buildings.Dominating Kirkwall is St Magnus Cathedral, commenced in 1137, built of red and yellow sandstone and completed finally 3 centuries later.We were blown away with it's beauty.One of the greatest cathedrals we've seen. Soaring columns flowing into a marvellous stone vaulted ceiling,beautiful with  an intricate geometric network of supporting stone beams. It's a marvel of human achievement for it's time.

We were disappointed with Skara Brae being closed because of the gale lashing it's exposed west coast position. A place I really wanted to explore. More and more is being discovered about ancient pre-Pictish civilisations in the northern islands. In 2008,a new excavation revealed 2 new remains of large structures, on the Ness of Brodgar. These Neolithic era building remains are thought to possibly be places of worship,perhaps the centre or the heart of ancient Orkney cultural worship and the other stone circles may have been on the periphery.
It seems to me the more we learn about the great cultures that flourished on these islands, the more we'll come to understand our present, in relation to current climate change scaremongering. Neolithic,Pictish and Viking cultures colonised these islands and flourished in a much milder and warmer climate perhaps with a climate 2 degrees warmer than our current period.
We visited one stone age souterrain,and as we struggled against the gale to enter it,it was hard to imagine any great culture being able to develop in such climate as ours today. It would have been bare survival in such conditions if the weather was the same then, as today..
Current discoveries now indicate for humans to develop such a civilisation, climate must have been much warmer, and more conducive for farming to allow the inhabitants to develop such cultures.
And the decline of these northern islands cultures coincides with global cooling of the 1200's onwards, as the world entered The Little Ice Age.
So today,concern over global warming seems unjustified. Perhaps we have more to worry about from global cooling!


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