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Study Tour to Orkney

6 – 15 April 2021


Tuesday, 6 April
Pick up at London Baker Street
Letocetum (Wall Roman Site)

The site of Letocetum started life around AD50 when the Roman army built a military post here during their advance on Wales. Over the following decades a civilian settlement started to develop around the fort’s periphery, quickly expanding into a small town after the Romans finished upgrading Watling Street in the late 1st century AD.

King Arthur’s Round Table

King Arthurs Round Table is a prehistoric circular earthwork consisting of an irregular bank surrounding a circular ditch some 12 metres wide and 1.5 metres deep. In the seventeenth century two standing stones were recorded near the northern entrance, though both are now long since gone, and this part of the henge lies beneath the road to Ullswater.

Overnight at Carlisle
Wednesday, 7 April
Leave Carlisle
Castlecary Roman Fort

Originally founded by General Agricola as one of a number of outposts to control the Clyde/Forth isthmus, Castlecary Roman Fort was later rebuilt as part of the Antonine Frontier. One of only two masonry fortifications on that line, its stone was later re-used to build Castlecary Tower.

The Dunfallandy Stone

The red sandstone Dunfallandy Stone is one of the finest surviving Pictish cross-slabs. Carved into the stone are several human figures, along with animals and beasts that may form religious allegory.

The stone depicts:
a cross carved in relief on one face, with a background of figurative panels on the reverse, three figures, two seated and one on horseback
a pair of fish monsters clasping a human head surrounding the three figures
a ‘beast’ with an unfinished symbol, a double-disc, a crescent and a V-rod above the figures
more symbols above and below the horseman

Overnight at Inverness
Thursday, 8 April
Leave Inverness
Ferry Gill Bay to St Margaret's Hope
Orphir Earl's Bu

The Earl's Bu comprises the foundations of ancient buildings which have been identified as the remains of the early 12th-century seat of Haakon Paulsson, Earl of Orkney

Orphir Round Church

The church was built in the late 11th, or early 12th century and is believed to have been built by Earl Haakon. It was dedicated to Saint Nicholas, and its design was inspired by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

Arrive Kirkwall
Friday, 9 April
Stones of Stenness

The Stones of Stenness has been classed as a henge monument

The stone circle was surrounded by a rock-cut ditch (four metres across and 2.3 metres deep) with an approximate of 44 metres (144 feet). The ditched enclosure had a single entrance causeway on the north side facing the Neolithic settlement on the shore of Harray Loch. Little remains of the ditch today, although traces remain of the ditch today, although traces remain visible around the stone circle.

Barnhouse Neolithic Settlement

The village was discovered in the winter of 1984, after a field-walking exercise undertaked by archaeologist, Colin Richards.

Agricultural activity over the centuries meant that little remained of the site, but the resulting excavations uncovered evidence of 15 small dwellings in varying stages of development

The structures were round - perhaps with timber and turf roofs - with turf cladding surrounding the outer walls. Because there were no roofed passageways between the huts - such as those at Skara Brae - it appears that the Barnhouse dwellings were free standing and not encased in midden.

But particularly intriguing was the fact that each building appeared to have been deliberately demolished at the end of its life.

Maes Howe

Maes Howe is thought to date from around 2700BC, and is one of the monuments that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.

Approximately 500 metres from the south-eastern shore of the Harray Loch, Maes Howe is, by far, the largest and most impressive of Orkney's many chambered cairns. There are Viking Age runic inscriptions inside the chamber.

Ring of Brodgar

Because the interior of the Ring of Brodgar has never been fully excavated, or scientifically dated, the monument's actual age remains uncertain. However, it is generally assumed to have been erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC, and was, therefore, the last of the great Neolithic monuments built on the Ness.

The stone ring was built in a true circle, almost 104 metres wide. Although it is thought to have originally contained 60 megaliths, this figure is not based on archaeological evidence.

Skara Brae

The inhabitants of Skara Brae were makers and users of grooved ware. The houses used earth sheltering, being sunk into the ground. They were sunk into mounds of pre-existing domestic waste known as middens. This provided the houses with stability and also acted as insulation against Orkney's harsh winter climate. On average, each house measures 40 square metres with a large square room containing a stone hearth used for heating and cooking. Given the number of homes, it seems likely that no more than fifty people lived in Skara Brae at any given time.

Saturday, 10 April
Ferry Tingwall to Rousay
Taversoe Tuick

Taversoe Tuick Chambered Cairn is one of a concentration of cairns on the Orkney island of Rousay, and is one of four in care along the south coast. Each seems to have been used for burial over a long period of time.

The cairn has an unusual design. The main cairn has two burial chambers, one above the other - an arrangement seen at only one other Orkney tomb. Slightly downhill of the lower chamber is a third chamber.

Blackhammer Tomb

Blackhammer is a fine example of a Neolithic chambered tomb, of a type known as a stalled cairn, with a long central chamber divided into seven compartments, or stalls. It is one of 15 chambered cairns on Rousay.

Knowe of Yarso

The chamber is divided into compartments by upright slabs similar to the houses at Knap of Howar, also in Orkney.

Skaill, Westness

Archaeologists have found what could be a Viking Age drinking hall during an excavation in Orkney.

The site, at Skaill Farmstead in Westness, Rousay, is believed to date back to the 10th century and may have been used by the chieftain Sigurd.

Stone walls, benches pottery and a fragment of a Norse bone comb were found during the excavation.

Midhowe Cairn

Measuring some 23m long internally, and 32.5m long externally, Midhowe Cairn is a vast and hugely impressive stalled cairn found on Rousay's south west shoreline. While it lies just a hundred metres from Midhowe Broch it dates back to c. 3500 BC, more than three millennia before its near neighbour.

Midhowe Broch

Midhowe Broch is situated on a narrow promontory between two steep-sided creeks, on the north side of Eynhallow Sound. It is part of an ancient settlement, part of which has been lost to coastal erosion. The broch got its name from the fact that is the middle of three similar structures that lie grouped within 500 metres of each other and Howe from the Old Norse word haugr meaning mound or barrow.

The broch tower has an internal diameter of 9 metres within a wall 4.5 metres thick, which still stands to a height of over 4 metres. The broch interior is crowded with stone partitions, and there is a spring-fed water tank in the floor and a hearth with sockets which may have held a roasting spit.

Ferry Rousay to Tingwall
Sunday, 11 April
Brough of Birsay

The earliest settlement on the Brough is thought to date from the fifth century AD, perhaps Christian missionaries. By the seventh century it was a Pictish stronghold, and by the ninth century it had been taken over and built over by the Norse.

Most of the remains seen on the Brough today date from its final, Norse, period of use - giving buildings ranging from 800 to 1200 AD. This means that in some cases, different aged remains lie side-by-side, making interpretation by the visitor rather difficult.

Earl's Palace, Birsay

The Palace was built in two distinct phases, the first in the 1570's and the second in the 1580's

The first phase of work saw the construction of the Great Hall, the principal room of the palace, located initially in the south range and above the main door.

The second phase probably followed Robert's acquisition of the earldom in 1581. This saw the addition of a new range, containing a Great Hall and Chamber, built on the north side of the courtyard.

Brough of Deerness

The Brough of Deerness is a well-preserved Viking Age settlement set atop a c. 30 m high sea stack in Orkney's east Mainland. The summit of the stack is crowned by the ruins of a tenth- to twelfth- century chapel and the earthworks of approximately 30 associated buildings. The chapel was excavated in the 1970s when it was found to have a timber phase that preceded the extant stone building, with a coin of Eadgar (AD 959-975) stratified between the two. The chapel is thus among the earliest known evidence for Viking Age Christianity in the Scandinavian North Atlantoic region.

Skaill, Deerness

A Norse settlement, including the foundations of a 12th c Viking Age square stone tower, was excavated at Skaill farm by the Ministry od Works and by Birmingham University.

The existence of a Viking Period residence and the halls of Amundi and Thorkel at the farm has been suggested by the place-name and by the 11th century references in the Orkneyinga Saga.

Monday, 12 April
Ferry Tingwall to Egilsay
St Magnus Church

St Magnus Church on Egilsay is unique in Orkney and in Scotland as a whole in that it has a highly unusual Irish style round tower. Aside from the round tower, the church has a rectangular nave and a square chancel. Today, the roofless and the tower has been slightly truncated, but it is otherwise complete.

Egisay was the place where Earl Magnus Erlendsson (later St Magnus) was killed in 1117 by an axe blow to the head from his cousin and rival. For hunreds of years the story of St Magnus was considered just a legend until a skull with a large crack in it, such as from an axe blow, was found in the walls of St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall.

Hillocks of the Graand Chambered Cairn

The Hillocks of the Graand chambered cairn survives as a prominent mound at the south end of Egilsay

Ferry Egilsay to Wyre
St Mary's Chapel
< p> St Mary's Chapel is a small twelfth-century Romanesque chapel in the middle of the island.

Cubbie Roo's Castle

Cubbie Roo's Castle, built about 1150, is one of the oldest castles in Scotland and was mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga. It takes its name from Kolbein Hruga who is described as building a fortification on the island of Wyre.

In King Haakon's Saga, it is mentioned that after the last Earl of Orkney, Early John, was murdered in Thurso, his killers fled to Wyre. They took refuge in the castle, which proved so strong that the besiegers had to come to terms with them to get them out.

Ferry Wyre to Tingwall
Tuesday, 13 April
Kirkwall Cathedral

St Magnus Cathedral was founded in 1137 by the Viking, Earl Rognvald, in honour of his uncle, St Magnus, who was killed on the island of Egilsay in 1117. The cathedral has fine examples of Anglo-Norman architecture, attributed to English Masons who may have worked on Durham Cathedral

Leave Kirkwall
Ferry St Margaret's Hope to Gill's Bay
Mid Clyth Stone Rows

The Hill o'Many Stanes, is also known rather matter-of-factly as Mid Clyth Stone Rows. This unique arrangement of tiny stones (all less than 1m) is fascinating to see, if not ass impressive as some of the megaliths in Orkney just across the sea to the north. Originally there were 250 stones aligned approximately north-south.

Lothbeg Bridge Chambered Cairn

The chambered cairn is a mound of bare, boulder rubble, about 20m NW-SE by 18m and 2m high. The only structural feature which can now be identified is the back slab of the chamber, round the south periphery there are some earthfast slabs, which may be part of a perimeter kerb. The cairn material, generally, bears signs of excavation disturbance.

Immediately outside the cairn in the NW and extending for about 21m in a NW direction are the tumbled and overgrown walls of an enclosure of an 18th/19th century abandoned settlement, wrongly supposed by the RCAHMS to be the original bounds of the west end of the cairn.

Overnight Inverness
Wednesday 14 April
Leave Inverness
Govan Old Church

Govan Old Church houses the largest collection of early medieval Scottish sculpture not in state or public ownership. These monuments date to the time of Kingdom of Strathclyde (10th-11th centuries), when St Constantine's church was the royal cult centre and dynastic burial ground.

Overnight Carlisle
Thursday,15 April
Arbor Low henge and stone circle

Arbor Low is the most important monument in an area rich in prehistoric remains. The henge is huge with the bank having an outer diameter of between 85 and 90 metres and originally standing to a height of about 3 metres and being 8 to 10 metres wide, there is a later round barrow partly built on the southeastern side of the bank.

Arrive London Baker Street

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