A Walk Through Time in the Rousay Landscape

img_0980To me, an element of archaeology is about inspiring individuals to consider how people lived in the past….and perhaps reflect on the way we live today.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute welcomes and encourages involvement from people outside academia and we receive many comments from people across the world.

Sometimes we also receive written articles outlining people’s experiences of archaeology landscapes and how they perceive and interact with them. 

A few days ago, a story arrived in my inbox from a resident of Orkney who visited the archaeologically rich island of Rousay and was so inspired by the landscape that she committed her thoughts to paper. I’ve put in links to Historic Environment Scotland web pages on the sites mentioned, but I’ll let Bernie take up the story in her own words…..

“I’ve called this tale, ‘A Walk Through Time’, and I’ll start at the beginning……………..of the tale, not of time!

mid-howeFirst, we visited Mid Howe Chambered Cairn.  You park, by the roadside, and walk down, across the fields, to a big shed!  It’s a slightly strange set-up; a huge, Neolithic cairn, enclosed in a huge, modern, shed!

When inside, and faced with the monument, for some reason, you get the impression of a ship.  I think that this has been mentioned before, by other people.  Maybe it’s the shape, and the way the interior is divided up, like ‘below’ on a ship.  A magnificent monument, but, maybe because of the shed, there is something sad about it.  Boats always look wrong, indoors, even if it’s the best way to preserve them.  They’re meant to be outside, preferably on the water.

We then visited the Mid Howe Broch.  This is an impressive, and appealing structure.  Brochs are understood to have been defensive structures, though maybe not so much actually, actively defensive – more a case of saying “We’re here.  We’re strong.  Don’t mess with us.”  If a people, or a person, gives out that message, often, actual defence, isn’t needed!

This broch, has a good, domestic feel to it.  You can imagine the people, living there, going about their daily business.  This site to me is a family place. I liked it and it’s wonderfully well built.

img_0972And now, we head off on the actual walk.  This is the part of the Walk Through Time, which particularly appealed to me.  Basically, you walk along the coast, from Mid Howe Cairn, through an area called Westness.  What I love about this area is……………you can tell by the place, that the land has been cared for, for a very long time.  Worked, but not worked until it was tired out.  Worked, cared for, fed, tilled, considered.  You can feel it, in the land, and see it, as you look around you.  It’s not worked, now, but the centuries of care, are still evident there.  It appeals to my land-loving, farming ancestry soul.

Then, you come to a little group of buildings and again, the feeling of care is strong.  A group of people, living closely, helping each other out, ‘keeping an eye’.  Probably arguing, too – only human! Working together, working the land, the sea and the little brewing kiln!

I’m not trying to paint an idyllic picture, here.  It will have been a hard life.  My parent’s families were farming in the West of Ireland, in much the same way as these folk.  I remember visiting my Auntie Bridie and Uncle Anthony, in my mother’s family home.  A two room, thatched cottage, with no piped water and no electricity.  They lived there, raised a family of five and worked their farm (what would be called a croft in Orkney), right up until the early 1970’s when they had a new house built in the top field.  The old house became a cow-shed.  A bit hard to take after all those generations caring for it and loving it as home.  But re-use of buildings was not uncommon down the ages and was very necessary, when your resources were limited.

img_0994There’s a lot of archaeological investigation being done along here at the present time by a combination of the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, the University of Bradford and the University of York (see the Swandro Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust).  As in many places the sea is encroaching and land and sites of historical interest and significance are being lost.  The archaeologists are hoping to record as much as possible to help to place some more pieces in the puzzle before even more is lost to the sea.

The world has been changing for a long time, is changing and will continue to change.  It seems a shame to lose these places, but in the whole scheme of things, it’s just what is so.  And other places are appearing, such as the Ness of Brodgar and the ever-increasing number of sites around Wideford and the Bay of Firth.

Taversoe Tuick is a strange, unique, intriguing little place.  The cairn itself is a little gem.  Getting to it was very difficult.  The land surrounding the monument was very difficult to walk over and it was a matter of leaping from tussock to tussock.

Back to the cairn.  It’s built on two levels, which is unusual.  It also has an off-shoot – an extra little chamber, lying just outside the main cairn.

We recently attended a seminar at Orkney College UHI, where Julie Gibson ( County Archaeologist) mentioned that there is a small ‘channel’ linking this side-cell, to the main cairn.  If sounds are made in the side-cell they can be heard in the main cairn.  All very interesting.

My Walk Through Time on Rousay was a delight, a wonder and provided a slice of human life – even in the pouring rain!”