Orkney: Skara Brae, Ring of Brodgar and hand-dived scallops

Returned from a 5 day trip to Orkney, or more correctly, the Orkney Islands, awash with new knowledge, great experiences and some great photos. We sailed to Orkney with our long-time friends Ian and Isobel, who were celebrating a notable anniversary. We went across to Orkney on the Hamnavoe Ferry (see photos 1 and 2) and landed in Stromness. Hamnavoe is the Norse name for Stromness and is the title of a famous poem by the Orkney Poet George Mackay Brown. Our first visit was to Orkney’s most famous attraction Skara Brae (see photos 3 and 4). This is the site of an excavation of a 5000 (as in five thousand) year old settlement which is situated at the edge of a beautiful sweeping beach. When you are there are, and you touch the stones of the very well constructed walls in the houses, it is hard to conceive of what 5000 years means, and that you are handling the same stone as one of the people who lived in the house. The houses are of the same design, with a hearth in the middle of the house, stone shelves for keeping materials and small sections divided by thin slabs of stone, which were the bed spaces. The houses are what we now call open plan and are, by our standards, very small.

We then went the short distance to the standing stones at the Ring of Brodgar (photos 5 and 6). This is a ring of large stones which are built in a circle. One of the fascinations of stone circles such at this, is that little is known about a) why the stones were built there and b) what activities took place in and around the stones. There is much speculation of course – ancient rituals addressed to the gods of the time, ceremonies such as weddings, communal gatherings at certain times of the year? All are possible.

Back in Stromness, we were walking back to the car along the harbour front when I spotted a small fishing boat coming in to land. It had white sacks on the deck and from experience at Dunbar harbour, I knew these to be scallops. I talked to the fisherman coming off the boat – the Girl Kilda – and he confirmed that they were scallops but told me that they were hand-dived scallops, picked from the seabed individually by the three men on board, and you could see the divers’ wetsuits hanging on the deck. I had never heard of hand-dived scallops, only those netted by trawling the ocean floor. The fisherman said “Would you like a couple?”. I replied that I would and he proceeded to put twelve scallops into a bag, and would not take any money for them. Back at our rented flat, Isobel and I worked out how to open the lovely scallop shells with slicing the scallop itself in half – you push the knife in fully along the bottom of the lower shell and prise the shell open. It took a few halved scallops to work this out. We then cooked them in butter (photo 7) and served them on a bed of rocket with lemon (photo 8) – they were melt in the mouth tasty. The rest of the scallops landed, we were told, went to live markets in France and Spain and sometimes in Japan. The scallops are kept in pools of water and sold live. The end of a very memorable day.

Lifebelt on the Hamnavoe Ferry

Lifebelt on the Hamnavoe Ferry

Wake of the Hamnavoe Ferry

Wake of the Hamnavoe Ferry

Skara Brae

Skara Brae

Skara Brae house

Skara Brae house

Ring of Brodgar

Ring of Brodgar

Ring of Brodgar

Ring of Brodgar

Cooking scallops

Cooking scallops

A plate of scallops

A plate of scallops

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