Bernie Bell: Orkney Walks (with stories) – Mid-Hill,Stenness – A view from the hill!

walking boots F DriverFor all these walks, take a good map with you, and wear stout footwear!

Here’s a good walk, from Stenness village.

Take binoculars!

You can park your car in the car park of Stenness school.  Coming out of the car park, turn left, along the road, heading up the hill.    Just before you reach the crown of the hill, you’ll see a track, turning left off the road.  Go along this track, past a few bungalows, and past the Old Manse – a big house, to the left of the track.  Keep going along the track, for, maybe 10 minutes, looking out for a gap in the furze bushes, on your right.  If you find that you’ve come to a dead end, you’ve gone too far! Turn round, and now look out for a gap in the furze bushes on your left.

Go through this gap, and carry on along the track, rising up the hill.  You’ll find yourself at a certain point , standing with the whole of the Neolithic Heart of Orkney , spread out, below you!!   Sweeping round,  from Unstan Cairn and Stone, right round to Maes Howe and the Barnhouse Stone and everything in between.

I am sure that the ancient folk were aware of this ‘view from the hill’.  Professor Alexander Thom, in his paper in the Journal for the History of Astronomy, June 1975, discusses possible foresights at Mid Hill.  It’s easy to see it’s possible significance in relation to the Brodgar/Stenness sites.  Another  piece of the puzzle.

view from the Hill Bernie Bell

View from the Hill (photo Bernie Bell)

Where’s the story?

The ‘story’ is in front of you.  The whole wonder of the ancient sites in this bowl in the hills.

You can either return the way you came, back to the school car park, or, you can, definitely with the aid of a map, try doing a circuit.

If you go off the path, to the left, just slightly, in front of you, you can look down at the trees in Happy Valley (more of which, later).  Back on the track, to continue the walk, when you get to some old peat cuttings, if you look carefully, over to your right, you’ll see a row of old table legs!  marking a way across to the other side of the hill.  Seriously, a row of old table legs.  I just hope they’re still there, when you’re reading this, or it’ll make no sense at all!

Follow the table legs , (how many times have you been given that, as a direction?!) over the brow of the hill, and you’ll find yourself among more peat cuttings, and looking down over Stromness.  Curve round to your right to join a road, which takes you down-hill,  past some bungalows, with Maes Howe to be seen, in the distance, ahead of you, and you’ll come back to the school car park.

It’s a good walk, with lovely views, and all those ancient sites, laid out below you.

And there’s more…..

Mike and I went for a walk up Mid Hill again recently, and…….

we were standing at a point, up on the hill, and looking around us. It struck me more than ever…….

If you stand, on the path, there’s a whole stretch, where you can look and see……

The sea, a strip of land, dividing the sea and the sea loch ( OK, maybe not so much water, back then, but still, a strip of higher, drier land), then another strip of land, dividing the sea loch from the freshwater loch, and ….

Hoy, over-looking it all. The vista is….

Hoy, the sea, strip of land, sea loch, strip of land, freshwater loch – and, all the stones, cairns and monuments, placed in this landscape. O.K., a bit different then, but….

We were saying, that they would surely have acknowledged this, they would have gone up there, maybe at certain times, and, I was wittering, that there must be a stone, stone circle, or cairn, or something. I also thought that a stone or stone circle, could have been engulfed by the peat, by now, as often happens.

So, we were walking down, looking round and round, then, looking back, there’s a little ‘blip’ on the sky-line. Could be a cairn – would be the right place – any higher up, and the ‘view’ would be lost, as the accent then, is more to the other side. As we walked down, we kept looking back, and it struck me, more and more, that that would be just right, for a marker-place, for gathering, and ‘viewing’, and….

appreciating, and…

connecting, and…..

being visible, from below, too.
When we got home we looked at the map, and…….

there it is, a cairn, just right.

From that cairn, a vista, fans out, which incorporates the Neolithic Heart of Orkney, its waters, and its sites – linking that hill, to the sites, and, thereby, linking the sites, to each other – not forgetting Stony Hill, across the way.
A View From The Hill.

Bernie Bell is a regular columnist with The Orkney News and has written a series of ‘Walks with Stories’ – check out more of them.


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