By Bernie Bell
Pics by B&M Bell
It was Sunday, the 14th June, we’d had two days of thick fog, and I’d had two weeks since I’d been further than the garden. We were thinking of where to go – not too far – and we settled on Evie Sands (aka Aikerness Beach). It’s just up the road from us, was where we stayed on our first holiday to Orkney, and has been a favourite place, ever since.
We thought/hoped that it might not be as foggy there, and it wasn’t. It was …atmospheric. Eynhallow was seen through a shifting mist. A day which gave credence to the tales of Eynhallow as a ‘Floating Isle’ – sometimes there, sometimes not.
We walked along the beach, accompanied by a lark, way up high, singing its little heart out. How does such a small thing, make such a strong sound?
The tide was right out, and the river was low enough to cross, so we crossed, and walked on, up the far side of the river, passing a bank of Butterburr, and the sweet little flowers of Sea-rocket, on our left.
I thought I’d found a piece of Viking treasure, sticking out of the bank….
…but no, it was just the end of an old ring-pull drinks can. I’m ever hopeful of finding something wonderful near the ancient sites.
We then joined the tarmac road, heading for the Broch of Gurness, and standing, looked out over the sands of the bay…
…then, a little further along, three Mergansers, on the water, in a row…fine fowls!
In the car park for the Broch, we came upon an information board, and a carved stone relating to the section of the St. Magnus Way https://www.stmagnusway.com/ which goes from Evie to Birsay.
The theme of this section of the Magnus Way, is ‘Loss’, and an excerpt from the text on the sign, seemed very relevant to these times…….
The words on the stone, carved by Frances Pelly, read………..
“Some good can be retrieved from loss
Though it takes some work.”
We stood, and looked about us – over the sea-ways between Mainland Orkney, Eynhallow and Rousay, and we paused, for thought.
In the car park, there is also an information board with a brief guide to what you will find inside the enclosure containing the Broch, which is useful for when the visitor centre is closed.
The Broch of Gurness is in the care of Historic Environment Scotland, and is open to the public during the ‘season’ – not so, this year. Access is by a kissing gate, so we could go through anyway – pic shows me, negotiating the kissing gate, taking care not to touch anything!
As you enter the enclosure, to your right is a Pictish house, which was originally next to the Broch, but the need for thorough excavation meant that it had to be re-positioned…
And then on, curving round to the right, towards the entrance to the Broch itself. The enclosure is usually carefully mown. This year, the grass and wildflowers have been left to grow, which is lovely.
As you approach the entrance-way to the Broch, there is the site of a Viking burial, which is nearly lost in the long grass.
For me, the more natural grassland somehow adds to the feel of the place. They didn’t have mowers in the Iron Age – though maybe they let sheep roam around the site – they’d keep the grass short!
These remains of the grave of a Viking woman, always remind me of a noust https://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/noust . Not surprising, really – nousts – boats – Vikings – boat burials.
Passing by the woman’s grave, we get ready to approach the, very impressive, Broch itself. There is a new information board, which shows what the structure probably looked like when it was complete. It’s a good image, which shows people approaching the doorway, just as we did.
Inside the broch, there is much of interest, as the original structure is plain to see, in what remains…
There is a well, as previously mentioned here….. https://theorkneynews.scot/2018/11/05/wells-springs-of-orkney/, which, on this visit, had an inhabitant – a wee spider ….
I don’t know how many times we’ve visited Gurness, but there is always something ‘new’ to notice – the same can be true of anywhere you go. This time, I noticed a slab of ‘ripple rock’ – rock which was once the bed of a sandy sea or river, with the ripples, frozen in time.
As we headed out of the Broch, I also noticed for the first time, the ripple-rock used for the lintel of the door…
Maybe because I’d noticed the other slab, my eye/mind was ‘attuned’ to seeing ripple–rock?
In the side-chamber by the door, a pair of starlings had nested. They weren’t too pleased about us being there, so we didn’t linger – just long enough to take a picture of the post-hole for the door mechanism, as put in place, all those years ago.
As with the swans by the Brig O’ Brodgar, these starlings wouldn’t normally have nested in such a busy place. Different times, when wild thing are returning to places usually dominated by us humans.
We walked back round, below the Broch, noticing some every fine stone walling lining one of the ditches.
On leaving the Broch, in the car park, I noticed one of the signs which direct folk along the St. Magnus Way…
There is a plan to produce a St. Magnus Way virtual pilgrimage, so that folk who can’t manage to actually walk the Way, for one reason or another, will still be able to connect with it, through the wonder of the Internet. https://theorkneynews.scot/2020/06/08/creating-a-virtual-pilgrimage-the-st-magnus-way/
It won’t be the same as actually walking the Way – up hill, down dale, by the shore and along cliff-tops, but it will mean that folk can tune in to the virtual experience, and thereby, maybe, tune into the thoughts and meditations, which, when it comes down to it, are in ourselves, and are prompted or released by the process of walking and/or seeing.
We then walked back along the beach – good to see children playing there again. Family groups and dog walkers, keeping their distance, saying ‘hello’ in passing.
A good way to spend a not-so–foggy-after-all Sunday.