On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions. From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
This series was created by Alain Chamot (1971-2020) as a place to share our adventures and observations, no matter where we are.
There will be one last Scotland post from Albatrossity next week, and then it’s goodbye to Scotland for awhile. I have grown fond of Scotland, so I figured advance warning for everyone might be good. ~WaterGirl
Albatrossity in Scotland
The Orkneys are a group of small islands north of Scotland proper, and are the site of many archeological treasures from the Neolithic age, some of which are 5000 years old. See here for lots more information. Intriguingly, the largest and most populous island is called Mainland, and that is where the ferry from Scotland (which is also on an island and not the mainland) dropped us off. We only visited sites on Mainland, since we only had two days there, but those were two very full days. I’d love to spend a month there, although, given the northerly location (59 degrees north, the Arctic Circle is approximately 66 degrees north), it would preferably not be in the winter!
This cheerful and personalized sign greeted us as we headed from the ferry terminal to Kirkwall, the largest metropolitan area in the archipelago. I hope that they do this for every visitor!
Kirkwall is the administrative center of Orkney, and the population was about 9,000 at the time of our visit in 2008. The harbor (and another famous harbor to the south of Mainland, Scapa Flow) is mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga (History of the Earls of Orkney, dating to 1046). We spent some time wandering along the breakwater in the harbor, and found these darling young Common Eiders resting there. Momma Eider was not very far away.
Another cool bird along the breakwater was this Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus), which looks a lot like the American Oystercatcher (Haematopus palliatus), which is found on the east and west coasts of North America. Since this is the only Oystercatcher in Europe, it is of course “The” Oystercatcher to European birders.
Some of the major attractions of Orkney are the standing stone circles, including this one, which may be the oldest stone circle in Britain. Dating back 5000 years, the Standing Stones of Stenness are, like the stones at Callanish, open to the public and you can walk around amongst these monoliths. Be mindful of the potential for stepping in sheep poop, however!
The other big stone circle is the Ring of Brodgar, not very far from the Stenness stones. This is a large circle, 27 of the original 60 stones are still standing (or have been re-erected in their original sockets). Here’s one of them with a view of one of the nearby lochs. If you are interested in learning more about this site, check out this informative link.
The strangest place on Mainland Orkney is a Neolithic village, Skara Brae. It brings home the “lithic” part of the age; not just the house walls but the beds and even some furniture are all made of stones. Here’s one of the houses; those two smaller areas on either side of the main room are sleeping areas, with stone headboards and side-rails. I half expected to see Fred and Wilma Flintstone popping in for a visit.
Exploring the island the next day, we found this spotted pony. It was not as trusting as the white horses of the Camargue…
The ferry trip back to Scotland a couple of days later was bright and gorgeous, allowing great looks at this tall sea stack near one of the other islands. That island is Hoy (high), and the stack is known as the Old Man of Hoy.