Yesterday (31st July) was the first Ness of Brodgar Open Day of 2016.There were displays in two locations that helped to tell the story of this amazing site.
The weather added something to the drama of the location by bringing in cloud at zero feet and horizontal rain for a few hours in the afternoon, but over 1000 people still braved the unique Orkney climate to sample a little of the Ness atmosphere.
And they came from all over the world. I talked to an engineer from Canada, a teacher from Wiltshire, a retired couple from Austria in addition to a man who could see the Ness from his kitchen window.
There were children of all ages engaged in activities from making seashell necklaces and pasta art to rope and willow working. There was even a chance to create a monster, create some neolithic art or rebuild Structure 10 in Duplo. And of course view the research work being undertaken by The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
In many respects the Open Day created an experience that gave everyone who visited, a few hours to soak up the atmosphere that makes the Ness a place that visitors return to day after day and year after year.
Talking to one visitor, he suggested that The Ness of Brodgar had a special atmosphere, even on a dull day….It attracted him to the place year after year. He suggested that the place, although a place of work, was also a place in which people feel something special. You only have to visit once to see for yourself.
You can’t help but talk to people who you have never seen before and will probably never see again. The volunteers themselves obviously possess a camaraderie that is hard to explain. Visitors stand around and for a moment in a busy world start asking questions about the people who built these structures. Some visitors set up easels and paint while others start playing instruments…all take photographs, but not in a way that most people do on holiday, but in a studied way as if recording something special.
For me, what made yesterday a special day was a conversation I had with an Orcadian on a subject that in many respects was not connected to archaeology, but in a way would not have occurred anywhere else. It went something like this….
I started the conversation “Hello…Have you been up to the Ness before?”
“Yes I have and I go every few days to see how it is progressing. It is something special.”
“How long have you lived in Orkney…?”
“Oh. All my life. My family are Orcadian.Our history is here.”
“Oh yes there are many famous Orcadians. Did you know that the first man back on the Mary Celeste was an Orcadian?”
(Pause)….”He was my great grandfather and he told me the story when I was 4 or 5.”
There is another Open Day on the 21st August.