Stone village in Orkney proves one of a kind

A massive storm swept through this region and
so we remained tied up in Kirkwall. In retrospect, this looked providential. We
were able to visit the Broch of Gurness and the town of Stromness, and those of
us who had not yet managed to explore Kirkwall got to visit St. Magnus
Cathedral, with its John Rae memorial and gravesite, and the dazzling Orkney
Museum. At least eight people sallied forth to check out two distilleries — Highland Park and Scapa. They returned
expressing satisfaction.

Local guides joined Adventure Canada staff aboard the buses
and added colour and context. 
We got out to the Broch of Gurness, arguably Orkney’s most
under-rated archaeological site. Here an Iron Age dwelling tower stands at the
centre of a well-preserved stone village, offering a unique experience that
extends into the Viking era. Visitors can get right down into the site and poke
around in the ruins of ancient people’s houses.

This is vastly different from walking around outside
even the wonderful Skara Brae, where you are forced to become the 21st
century observer. At Gurness, you scramble over inconvenient slabs of rock and
march up a winding causeway to duck and plunge through an awkward low doorway.
More than one visitor predicted that ours will be the last generation to enjoy
Gurness with such freedom.

We drove also to Stromness, home to 2,500
inhabitants (Kirkwall, the capital, claims 8,500). Everyone loves the atmosphere
of this town, the main street winding along the coast, the sporadic views of
the water, the cobble stones in the streets. Three times a day the NorthLink
Ferry glides into the harbour from mainland Scotland to deliver and collect
cars and people.

Riding in buses, we visitors enjoyed the open,
panoramic views of the big sky, the rolling hills, the
expanses of water. In Kirkwall, St. Magnus is famous for obvious reasons. But
the Orkney Museum across the main street . . . that’s a happy surprise. Here we
encountered the Picts, the Celts, the Vikings, the Lairds. So much history, so
little time.

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