Bernie Bell: Orkney Walks (with Stories)- Hoy & the Dwarfie Stane

For all these walks, take a good map with you, and wear stout footwear!

Hoy and The Dwarfie Stane

Orkney consists of a group of islands, not just the biggest island, which is known as Mainland.  This can be a bit confusing, as folk mostly think of the word ‘Mainland’, as meaning Mainland Scotland, Mainland Ireland, etc.  but, in Orkney, ‘Mainland’ refers to the largest island.

And, though the group of islands known collectively as ‘Orkney’ are  close to each other, geographically, and  are similar geologically and climactically, they can be very different from each other, in atmosphere.  Very different , indeed.  Hoy, stands out, as a unique and magical place, as well as ‘standing’ over a large part of the West Mainland, including making  its presence very much felt, at the Neolithic Heart of Orkney.

It’s easy to get a ferry.  We took our car with us, but some folk go as foot-passengers, and walk to the places they want to visit  – folk who are younger and fitter than us!  I’d advise, if you can, taking a couple of days, and staying on the island overnight.  We were limited by only having a day, and so, we just went to the Dwarfie Stane, and Rackwick Bay.  The other ‘main attractions’ of Hoy, are Berridale Woods, and the walk to the Old Man of Hoy.  We mean to, hope to, go back , one day, to visit these, as well, but, for now, I can only tell of the day that we had on the island of magic mountains!

We went over on the ferry, then drove along and parked , carefully, by the road, across from the Dwarfie Stane.  It’s not a long walk, at  all, to the stone itself, but, what a place!!!!  What a situation!

There’s a board-walk, as the land is boggy.  The bogginess, means that Bog Asphodel grows there, a sweet, strange little plant.  Please don’t just march to the stone!  Stop and look about you, drink it in, think about it, let the place , enfold you.

And so, you arrive at the stone.

Dwarfie Stane B Bell

Dwarfie Stane Hoy (B. Bell)

It’s said to be a ‘rock-cut tomb’.  It’s nothing to do with dead folk, it’s a resonance chamber.  We went inside it, and Mike made toning noises.  We hoped that Ben would bark, in it, to see how that would sound, but, of course, though he normally barked at any opportunity, when we wanted him to…..complete silence!

That’s terriers for ya’.  The Dwarfie Hammars, behind, make a natural amphitheatre/’sounding board’.  Also, if you look across the vale, there’s another natural amphitheatre, a big curve, in the hillside.  We both felt very much that it was to do with sound.  Use of sound for……Healing?  Change in consciousness?  Initiation?  All of those, or any of those, at different times, when needed?

A person has carved, in old Persian, “ I have sat two nights and so learnt patience.”  Indeed.  You would either find peace, find yourself, or go nuts!  Trying to put it as succinctly as I can…..Not a tomb, at all, a resonance chamber.  Either a person was inside it, and made noises, or others were outside and made noises. Possibly even folk away over by or on the Dwarfie Hammars, or in the other curving place in the hills opposite.  Imagine the build-up of sound, you could get there?  Especially with lots of people?

The only link I can see, with death, or being a ‘tomb’, is if one of the things it was used for, was to place a dead person, inside, and then, again, use the acoustics, in some kind of ‘send-off’ ceremony – like the Arab people, keening over their dead, or the Irish Wake, where everyone drinks, dances, sings and gives the passing soul, a good send off, so they don’t feel lonesome, on their way.  Maybe something like that.  All to do with sound, anyway.  The word ‘tomb’, is used far too freely in relation to these structures.  Whatever it was for, it’s a wonderful place.

When we got home, Mike went on the inter-web and found a piece by Aaron Watson, which is well worth looking at.  All of Aaron Watson’s work, is well worth looking at!

Rackwick Bay

Rackwick Bay Hoy ( F Grahame)

We then drove to Rackwick, parked in the small car park, and walked to the beach.  And how do I even attempt to describe Rackwick beach?  Those stones!!!  Something else, absolutely something else.

It’s not just a stony beach, there is sand, but the most striking, amazing thing about it, are the rounded, stripy stones.

I don’t know why the stones here, are like this.  The rocks in the cliffs nearby, don’t look like this.  There are nice, rounded stones at Skaill Bay, and Warbeth, and other places on Orkney, but the stones at Rackwick are…………………………..I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…………something else!

The whole place, is pure magic, as is the whole island.  In fact, I’m not sure if I could live there, there’s just so much there, I think maybe I’d go a bit crazy.  But to visit, yes, I/we love to visit.

And so, we caught the ferry and headed home.  “Where’s the story?” you may be asking. I suppose , the story is of our experience of the Dwarfie Stane and its environs.  What we felt there, and our awareness of the story, and stories, connected with the stane, going way back to the Neolithic and maybe beyond – then forward, through the centuries, to the person who took the time and trouble to carve how he felt, and what he thought to be the Dwarfie Stane story, and so, through to Aaron Watson, and us, and you, and………………………….

The whole of Hoy, is its own story.  We must go back.

Bernie Bell has written about many walks – all with stories – check them out in The Orkney News 

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