United Kingdom
Bay of Westness

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  • Day23

    The Westness Mile

    August 27, 2017 in the United Kingdom ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Described as the most important archaeological mile in Scotland, the Westness Mile on Rousay spans settlements from the first Stone Age settlers, the Pictish Iron Age, the Viking invaders, the period of the Earls and the troubled crofting times.

    We started this history walk with the oldest structure - the Midhowe Cairn. The cairn itself is housed within a large modern semi-circular brick building to protect the delicate structures within. Unfortunately the building was closed but we were able to peer through the windows. What an amazing structure! At around 23m in length, the cairn is divided into 12 chambers, each capable of housing numerous burials. Tombs like this were the collective burial places of communities of Neolithic farmers, dating as far back as 3000BC.

    The nearby Midhowe Broch is more recent, built during the Iron Age as a fortified residence during the Iron Age, and occupied from around 200 BC to 200 AD. Located on a cliff overlooking Eynhallow Sound, it's one of at least nine brochs that stand along the banks of the sound. As with the Broch of Gurness and at Skara Brae, internal fittings such as fireplaces and bed chambers were evident. It's incredible to think such structures could stand for so long in what is a very exposed site. What impressed us the most was the huge external buttressing that had been constructed to support the heavy stone walls (which are apparently more than 4m thick).

    Following the path along the coastline we moved forward in time, passing Brough Farm (once one of the most valuable estates in Orkney, dating back to the 1700s, but uninhabited since 1845), the Wirk, a ceremonial hall thought to date from the 1200s and the ruins of St. Mary's Church (1600s) which is built on the site of a medieval church. By this stage we were tiring (time travel is tiring), so we retraced our steps and continued our road trip. A little further on were remnants of crofting communities, victims of the clearances that we had observed in the Scottish Highlands.

    Rousay is more mountainous than its Mainland neighbour and the remainder of our circumnavigation took us along stunning clifftops with spectacular views. With time to spare for an Orkney ice cream, we boarded our Roro ferry once more before heading into Kirkwall for a quick dinner ahead of our 11.00pm Shetland ferry boarding.
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