We are now nearly at the turning point of the year: the Midwinter Solstice. It marks for us in Orkney the end of the long dark nights when the days will be lengthening. This must have been even more important for our ancestors, the ancient farmers of Orkney who would have celebrated this time of year at the Stones of Stenness.
Celebrations still take place there and on Saturday 23 December at 2pm you can join with Spiritual Orkney who will be leading the festivities.
Another place to visit, if you can, is Maeshowe Chambered Tomb nearby which lights up inside with the setting of the sun.
Maeshowe is managed by Historic Environment Scotland and you must book in advance to go on a guided tour of the tomb. The midwinter tours are very popular so book early if you are intending a visit.
Free Download : Maeshowe APP for Android
Free Download: Maeshowe App for iOS Devices
If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try, try again – the light in the mound, isn’t just bang on the shortest day…………..
We moved to Orkney in the September off 2006. That 21st December, Mike and I booked on the last tour of the day, at Maes Howe. It wasn’t a very good day for it, not dreadful, but not great, either. The guide was hopeful, but the Cloud of Malice over Hoy Hills, dashed our hopes. To my mind, a visit to Maes Howe is always worth doing, so, Mike and I , didn’t mind too much. After that, we decided that we wouldn’t book again, we’d just take our chances. I also say this to folk who are avid to see the northern lights…..if you’re going to see them, you’ll see them, if you’re not, your not, that’s all there is to it.
A bit of explanation………When we first moved here, we lived in Stenness, in a house called Millhouse, which is no longer there, it’s been replaced, by a much more magnificent edifice! The old Millhouse, where we lived, was a modest little house, which we were very happy in, for 8 months. From the living room window, we looked straight across to the Stones of Stenness. A great place to live. We knew the people who ran the Standing Stones hotel at the time, so they didn’t mind my walking our little dog, Ben, along the back of the hotel. As you walk along the back of the hotel, by the loch, the whole Neolithic Heart of Orkney sites, are lined up, one after the other. Very good. So, one day, the 26th of January, 2007, Ben and I had had our walk along the loch, looking across at all the sites along the way, and I thought it would be a good day to go to Maes Howe. Mike couldn’t take the time to go there, that day, so he ran me along, and dropped me off in time for the last tour. I went in, with a group of people. Remember, this was the 26th January. The guide, Jean, took us inside and was telling us about what can happen, but saying it wasn’t likely, as it was a bit late. Then, I saw a thin line of amber light, coming quietly down the passage-way, and told Jean so. Everyone got very excited, and pleased, as it was un-expected. So, that was the first time I saw the light coming down the passage-way, in Maes Howe. I asked Jean if it was O.K. for me to stand in it, and she said it was. That was great.
It is a truly marvellous thing, to see, and can happen, as late as 26th January! Just pick the right day.
Mike and I both saw the light, another time. Again, I felt that I must go to Maes Howe, and the light came down the passage-way. The guide was Jean again, who was telling the assembled folk, that, when this lady turns up, the light turns up! Thankfully, after that build-up it did! Nothing to do with my presence, if anything, the other way round.
The ancient folk used to come from far and wide, hoping to see this – maybe a once in a lifetime experience. Aren’t we lucky, who live here – it’s right there – a bit more regimented, these days, but it’s still, right there.
(If you like the idea of walking along the back of the Standing Stones Hotel – do ask, first – it’s only manners. The food is very good there, too!)