Culture

The Light in the Mound

By Bernie Bell

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 of 2006. That 21st December, Mike and I booked on the last tour of the day, at Maeshowe. 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 Maeshowe 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, you’re not, that’s all there is to it.

Cloudy Hoy

Photo B Bell

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 Maeshowe. 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 Maeshowe. 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 Maeshowe, 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 opportunity.  Here & now, on any fine, clear sunny day in mid-winter, we can nip along to Maeshowe, and, if we’re lucky, see the light return.  I was thinking, maybe for the Neolithic people, it was more like a trip to Mecca, as in, if you managed, even once, in your lifetime, to get to Orkney and go into Maeshowe when the light returns, you’d consider yourself blessed.  I honestly think Orkney was that important.  I think people came from very far away indeed, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  The fact that the light can go down the passage, over a good stretch of time in mid-winter, meant a reasonable number of people would get the chance to be there.  I was going to say, even with our weather, but the weather was better then, so there was more chance.

The work being done at the Ness of Brodgar is showing The ‘Neolithic Heart of Orkney’  to have been an important  place of pilgrimage, and, possibly, to see the sun shine into the mound of Maeshowe, was a once-in-a-lifetime, very ‘holy’ thing to do.

If we have a  stretch of lovely, cold, clear days, at this time of year, I look out and think, “This would be a great Maeshowe day”.  Aren’t we lucky, who live here – it’s right there – a bit more regimented, these days, but it’s still, right there.  And folk still come on pilgrimage, too – I hope we have a few ‘Maeshowe Days’ over the next few weeks, so that they can also see the amber light, feeling its way into the mound.

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!

Maeshowe

Photo Fiona Hunter

 And a Cool Yule to all my readers!

Link to LiveCam Here

Information

Maeshowe is in the care of Historic Environment Scotland. Booking is essential if you wish to visit Maeshowe. The visitor centre is located in Stenness village. You can book by clicking here.

Related story. Orkney Midwinter Solstice

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