The Last & First of Brodgar

By Bernie Bell

Pics by B&M Bell

The Ring of Brodgar was the last place we got in the car to go for a walk – that was on the 22nd of March 2020. During lock-down, we’ve been walking close to home – the tales of which are there to be read, in The Orkney News!

I/we have been very careful during lock-down, particularly as I have asthma, and, if I caught Coronavirus, I think I would probably end up dead, however hard some wonderful people tried to prevent it.  Not to put too fine a point on it, basically, I’d probably, just …drown.

So, we’ve been very careful, not taking any chances and being very irate about those that do, as they don’t only risk themselves, they risk others, too.

The rules have now been  relaxed a bit.  When applied to mainland Scotland, people are still asked to stay ‘local’ for their outdoor recreation, but what about Orkney? .

It’s a bit hard to know what’s for the best – it’s one thing for someone to get in a car in Edinburgh, and drive fifty miles to a, possibly crowded, popular beauty spot  – I wouldn’t do that anyway, but, some do!  On Orkney – no-where is far.  We weighed it up, using common sense, and decided that we’d set off from home, and drive to Brodgar, which is about 10 miles away, and, if we met anyone, keep our distance, as we did last time we were there – surely that would be OK? A bit hard to know for sure, as island life, as always, is different.

So, on the last weekend of May, we were wondering where we would go as our first farther away outing – walking farther afield, outdoors, should be OK.

Having visited Brodgar last, we decided to visit Brodgar, first.  We went for it, and, if we did wrong – I can’t really see how.  And I have to admit – it did me a world of good – settled my head, which had been getting a bit wayward recently.

We set off, meaning to re-trace our steps, taking sandwiches, and hoping to see some of the wildlife, in real life, which we’ve been seeing courtesy of Nick Card’s fine photos on the Orkney Wildlife Facebook page https://en

Also, we were wondering how much of a difference we’d see in the Ring of Brodgar, since the place has had a rest from us humans.

On the way, I experienced the first examples of what I’ve been missing  – geese with goslings in a field, the bog-cotton in the boggy bits, the big orange poppies along the side of the roads – June in Orkney.

We parked in the car park by the Stones of Stenness – not much change there – the enclosure with the Stones usually has sheep grazing in it, which keep the grass well cropped.  The Stenness Stones don’t have such a heavy foot-fall as the Ring of Brodgar.  Thankfully, the car park can’t hold many coaches, so the land around the Stenness Stones hasn’t suffered as much wear and tear as the land around Brodgar has in recent years.

Stones of Stenness May 2020 Credit Bell

We’ve been visiting the Stone of Stenness for 20 years, yet we noticed something which neither of us had noticed before – a carved symbol on one of the stones – when is graffiti, not graffiti? When it’s a symbol known as the Broad Arrow, which has been used to indicate government property since as early as the 17th Century, or to indicate an Ordnance Survey ‘bench mark‘ or point of reference.  There is always something new to be noticed or discovered, and another little bit of history, added to the story of a place.

Stones of Stenness mark on stone credit Bell May 2020

We walked around the Stones clockwise, through the gate at the far end of the enclosure….pic shows how Mike – complete with lock-down beard – opens gates to avoid infection –

Mike Bell Stones of Stenness gate lockdown credit Bell

Then, turning left on the grassy track, we headed towards the Watchstone and the Brig O’ Brodgar, where we saw some of the swans which Nick has ‘caught’ many times, and placed on the Orkney Wildlife Facebook page.

We saw a swan here in mid-winter, skittering about on the frozen loch

Now, the swans are forming contented family groups with their cygnets – little scraps of life learning about the world from their parents.  The parents are beauties in their own way – big, white, elegant necks, smooth movement over the water.  And the cygnets are beauties in their own way, small, cute, fluffy, with tiny little beaks, swimming in a squiggly kind of way, or travelling pick-a-back on a parent.

The picture of the mother and baby, was taken from right across the road, as carefully as possible so’s not to disturb them.   Please – don’t disturb them. I doubt if they would have nested so near to the Brig, normally, and, hopefully, the cygnets will have grown up by the time this area gets busy again.  Meanwhile, it’s a rare opportunity to see them so clearly – from a safe distance – that’s the rule for everyone, at the moment!

Brodgar beckoned, so, crossing the Brig O’ Brodgar, we walked along by Harray Loch, then onto the RSPB Birdy Walk , heading for Stenness Loch.

dog on lead sign Brodgar RSPB Bell

Sitting on a bench,  conveniently placed on a small promontory, we hoped to see the dog otter mentioned and photographed by Mr. Card , and also featured on the Orkney Wildlife Facebook page.  He didn’t turn up – maybe he didn’t want to encounter this disreputable character, swigging whisky from a hip flask, filtered through the lock-down beard!

Mike Bell sipping whisky Brodgar May 2020 Bell

As well as being an ace photographer, Nick is also Director of the Ness of Brodgar archaeology dig, which has been postponed for this year, but is still much in need of funding  A man of many parts – he’s not just wandering around Brodgar, taking photos, he is working, at home!  Busy as ever with grant applications, fundraising, finishing touches to one volume to be sent off to publisher, plus writing and pulling together an interim monograph on the Ness with input from all the specialists who are involved with the work there ….. which should be in the bookshops by Christmas! …..  plus post excavation analysis etc.

I’m looking forward to seeing the results of his working from home labours, as well as his photographs of wildlife!

And then, we reached the Ring of Brodgar.  An air of peace prevails – not usually the case at this time of year. But, I’m sorry to say,  the path hasn’t healed as I hoped it might have done.

path at Brodgar May 2020 credit Bell

I realised that it would be difficult for the grass to re-establish, as the ground is still very compacted from the heavy footfall.  It looks like it wasn’t simply a matter of Brodgar being left in peace for a while – even though it will probably have less visitors for the next few months as well – I’m not sure what would encourage the grass to grow back, apart from it being left for quite a long time, with a program of seeding and watering taking place. I expect that Historic Environment Scotland are thinking about the options and possible ways to take advantage of this period of relative quiet at Brodgar.

I was hoping to see lush grass there – maybe not being very realistic, but characteristically optimistic!

Small birds are very much in evidence, possibly resenting the, now unfamiliar, presence of us humans.  We were ‘chittered’ at quite a bit – maybe there are baby birds in the heather in the Ring?  More new life.

We walked round the outside of the Ring of stones, and headed back, down past the Comet Stone

Comet Stone Brodgar credit Bell

and through an area set aside by the RSPB for wildflowers, which look appealing to humans, and to birds, for different reasons!

wild flowers May 2020 Brodgar credit Bell

Back across the Brig O’ Brodgar, when we notice many, many baby trout near the outlet pipe between Harry Loch and Stenness Loch

Baby trout Harray Loch May 2020 credit Bell

Spring, new life, heading for the longest day – in June, when the year will turn again and, hopefully, take us to better times, with more freedom of movement, enabling us to connect with more of these places of LIFE.

And, maybe we’ll go to some new places, too!  Ever hopeful.

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7 replies »

  1. My thanks to Fiona-Missus-Editor!
    I got muddled, and sent her the pictures in a right old jumble – she’s placed them all where they should be! She knows, you know.

  2. Interesting walk and nice to see that the ‘Boss’ carries his own spare fuel tank, LOL.

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