Wild & Ancient Britain - 2010

Wanderings in Wild & Wooly Ancient Albion June 17 – July 3,2010 Travel Arrangements: Zegrahm Expeditions Author: Lois Gray Photos: Kay Gilmour

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Author: Lois Gray Photos: Kay Gilmour

Many of the sites we visited were exceedingly small and difficult to locate on most atlas maps of the British Isles. We hope this diagram enriches your reading of this record of our exciting adventure. The numbers are in the order of travel.

T ABLE OF C ONTENTS

introduction.....................................................................................................................................5

Dartmoor National Park.................................................................................................................6

Isles Of Scilly....................................................................................................................................8

Skellig Michael...............................................................................................................................11 Skellig Michael Monastery .........................................................................................................11

Great Saltee Island .......................................................................................................................15

Isle of Man .....................................................................................................................................17

Giant's Causeway ..........................................................................................................................20

Holy Isle of Iona ............................................................................................................................23

Staffa Island...................................................................................................................................27

St. Kilda ..........................................................................................................................................28

Flannan Island...............................................................................................................................33

Orkney Islands ..............................................................................................................................34

Skara Brae .....................................................................................................................................37

Maes Howe....................................................................................................................................38

Ring of Brodgar .............................................................................................................................40

Shetland Islands............................................................................................................................42

Mousa Isle .....................................................................................................................................43 Broch of Mousa...........................................................................................................................43

Jarlshof ...........................................................................................................................................45

Noss Island ....................................................................................................................................47

Fair Isle...........................................................................................................................................47

Isle of May .....................................................................................................................................51

Bass Rock.......................................................................................................................................54

Edinburgh ......................................................................................................................................55 Holyrood Abbey ..........................................................................................................................55

Birds of The British Isles...............................................................................................................60

Animals of The British Isles..........................................................................................................69

Animal Stories ...............................................................................................................................71 Thomas, The Fair Isle Cat ...........................................................................................................71 Tale of Two Mice: ........................................................................................................................71 The Wren, Sheep, Puffin & Field Mouse ..................................................................................71 Herring Gull Eats A Rabbit..........................................................................................................72

The Lighthouse .............................................................................................................................72

Our Ship – The Island Sky ............................................................................................................74

Conclusion.....................................................................................................................................75

I NTRODUCTION “Wild & Wooly” probably is not a phrase most people would associate with Great Britain since it is such a venerable country with a long established culture and civilization. However, this trip with Zegrahm Expeditions would teach Kay and me that there are still “wild and wooly” places in the British Isles and we were also reminded about the older name for the country itself. The Romans called their northernmost colony Albion. The “wild” places we visited were the islands off the Irish Republic, Southern England, Northern Ireland, the Inner and Outer Hebrides of Scotland, and the two northernmost counties of the United Kingdom, the Orkneys and the Shetlands. What qualified these places for an adjective like “wild” you may justly ask? And the answer is easily given in one word: seabirds! All of these places had amazing bird colonies, mostly beyond the easy geographical reach of human beings. The birds live in the most remote places in the British Isles. They are wild; too wild even for exhibitions in zoos. OK, if you have accepted the above definition, then I'll explain the “wooly” part of my title. The simplest justification for that term can be seen all around a visitor to almost any part of the British Isles where sheep are raised just about anywhere there is a blade of grass! And even more pertinent to this journey — we saw two primitive breeds of sheep: one of them called Soay which exists nowhere in the world except in the Outer Hebrides and the other the 4-horned sheep of the Isle of Man. So we were constantly among the wooly creatures! One more question needs to be answered—why use “ancient albion” in my journal title? That too is easy to explain: while watching the seabirds in their natural homes was half the purpose of the trip, the other half was exploring really ancient sites of human habitation found there. Some of these sites date back 5000 years and are of great interest to archeologists and historians studying the populations of these islands. There are other more recent but still very old places to visit in pursuing this interest as well: sites connected with early Christianity during the Roman times, Viking settlements after the Roman times, and medieval castles and fortresses to bring us even closer to the modern day. Because the Zegrahm philosophy stresses education as well as adventure on its expeditions, we were accompanied by at least one each of the following experts:a qualified archeologist, historian, geologist, two ornithologists, a horticulturalist, and a marine biologist. During our 12-day sail, each of them gave us interesting lectures centering on what we would be seeing and experiencing at each stop along the way. Needless to say,

these lectures were vital to understanding not only the natural histories of the bird species and marine mammals, but also the contexts and perspectives on the human historic sites we were privileged to see and explore. At bottom, however, Zegrahm trips are just plain fun! It is exhilarating to hop into the Zodiacs (rubber runabouts invented/developed by Jacques Cousteau) and ride the waves to a site where unpredictable sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and even textures await you. The places are often so beautiful they take your breath away, the creatures so fascinating that you can sit and watch them for hours, the history so “present” to you that you learn volumes without any effort at all!Painless enlightenment while enjoying the adventure, physical exertion to reach some sites, patience-building as you wait for the “action” of the birds and mammals, and happy camaraderie with fellow travelers of like enthusiasms. Along the Way Even though Great Britain and both parts of Ireland are islands off the coast of Europe, these were not the islands we visited. As a matter of fact we barely touched on the “mainlands” of the British Isles except to arrive in London to join the group and then to leave from Edinburgh on our way home. Our visits were to very small dots in the Atlantic or the North Sea. No wonder they are such havens for the seabirds; many of them are so remote they are only reached by ships (sometimes ferries) and some others never see commercial transportation ships at all.

D ARTMOOR N ATIONAL P ARK

Above Plymouth, # 2 on map The first really ancient site we visited was on the English mainland in Devon County. We elected to tour Dartmoor National Park rather than the port city of Plymouth because we wanted to be outside and maybe see some wildlife. Dartmoor is the largest national park in Europe (770 square miles) so we saw only a small part of it. The “old” part of the park is centered on the tin mining tradition which was carried on from 2000 BC to l939 AD. We saw the entrances to mines, the stone structures used to process the tin ore and the mounds created by the slag removed from the mines. The park is quite beautiful and interesting with rolling moorlands, many birds, very few and stunted trees, a prison from 1790 where American POWs from the Revolutionary War were held.

It's still in use for local criminals serving life sentences. There were cattle and sheep grazing on the lush grasses. The old Warren House Inn where a coal fire has burned continuously since 1846 still serves customers. There are many Neolithic village sites in Dartmoor but we did not visit them. Undoubtedly, the most curious and well-known thing in Dartmoor however is the strange stone formation called a “tor.” We were told that the granite intrusions are the same phenomenon called “kopjes” on the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania. They are granite and basalt pushed up through the limestone basement forming “plugs,” “chimney-like structures,” or granite “outcroppings.” Wildlife can use these formations for homes, birds can put their nests in them, and they provide some shade for the cattle and sheep.

I SLES O F S CILLY

#3 on map Warning! It is a big no-no to call this place “the Scilly Isles” since the proper pronunciation is “silly.” As you can see from the aforementioned map of our itinerary, these islands are off the westernmost tip of land in England (Lands’ End). About 60 miles from the mainland, they sit out in the Atlantic, the first to greet hurricanes, enemy ships in days gone by, and the constant pounding of the ocean waves. Over 900 shipwrecks have been recorded in the islands' history, making it the most dangerous place in the world for ships in the past. Three different lighthouses (all called Bishop's Rock Lighthouse) have existed on the most distant of the islands. The first was completely washed away in an Atlantic storm, the 2 nd was overwhelmed with spray and wave action whenever there was a storm, and the third was built to 175 feet in 1887 and is now automated. The shipwrecks and the engulfed lighthouses testify to the dangers in so exposed a group of islands. However, in compensation for their perilous location, the Isles of Scilly are richly rewarded by receiving the gift of the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, which gives them an amazingly temperate subtropical climate. However, our guide told us that the last two winters have been particularly hard and many of the most sensitive plants were killed. The change of climate we are experiencing all over the world can make for some peculiar weather in places. He also reported that a hurricane in 1989 killed more than 600 of their trees in less than 5 minutes! So all the weather is not benign there. There is some controversy about how many islands comprise the archipelago (one of the largest in the world, strangely enough) with estimates ranging from 55 to 150, but the truth is that only 5 of them are inhabited by people, a total of 2000 of them at the last census. The major industry of these folks is flower exportation, because of the Gulf Stream. Fishing, piracy, and smuggling were the major occupations in the years past. Tourism is fairly important now too, chiefly because of the island we visited, Tresco, consists of only 750 acres. Tresco is a privately owned (leased) island (from the Duchy of Cornwall) where blooms the most amazing garden. The garden sits among the ruins of the 10 th century Benedictine St. Nicholas Priory which fell into disuse and disrepair in the 16 th century. Mr. Augustus Smith founded the Abbey Gardens in 1834 and his descendants have continued to improve and manage their heritage. There are over 20,000 different species featured in the gardens from more than 80 countries: from Brazil to New Zealand and from Burma to South Africa. Tresco

boasts 1752 hours of sunshine yearly as compared to London's Kew Gardens which receives only 1514 hours per year and most of the time it is completely frost free. No wonder horticulturists yearn for the 10 internships offered every year.

The walls and arches of the old Priory certainly qualified Tresco to be among the historic places we visited and the way these romantic ruins were incorporated into the design of the Garden was masterful. Those old stones must have many stories to tell of the days when monks lived there in religious isolation and contemplation. Now they provide a dramatic backdrop to the stage where the trees, shrubs, and flowers provide the excitement. It is very hard to describe so beautiful a place as a fabulous garden, so maybe it's better that you check out Kay's DVD to see the site for yourself. Though some of the indeterminate number of islands in the group do host important seabird colonies, our visit did not encompass those places. Certainly there are birds living in the gardens and they add greatly to the charm of the place but there are no rookeries here. Such an enchanted spot was a great start to our remote islands visits. Not too much “wild” here though, except for the songbirds.

S KELLIG M ICHAEL

#4 on map Michael's Rock, in non-Irish English, is a precipitous rock island (755 feet high) rising straight out of the Atlantic about 9 miles off the coast of County Kerry, Republic of Ireland. There is no real shoreline so landing here is always chancy, very dependent on sea conditions and weather. But it has been attracting people, the faithful in the past and the modern tourist nowadays, chiefly because of the monastic ruins at its summit. The monastery was founded in the 7 th century as a home for Irish Christian eremitic monks. It is believed that there were never more than 12 monks and an abbot here at any one time. The Vikings perpetrated several raids on the monastery in the 9 th century believing that the monks were sitting atop a treasure of gold instead of a solid granite rock formation. Still the monastery persisted until the 12 th century when the monks abandoned the site and joined a religious community on the mainland of Ireland. Part of the fascination with Skellig Michael lies in the amazingly intact ruins of the old site. Another draw is the difficulty of reaching the place by scaling the 740 vertiginous stone steps without handrails to achieve the magnificent views from the top. Unfortunately, 2 tourists fell off last year and perished. Skellig Michael Monastery The monastery shows evidence of really monumental labors. First, the top had to be terraced by hand in order to provide enough fairly flat ground to build upon. There are two levels, both of which had to be created by hand digging and leveling. The “beehive” buildings are constructed in the “dry stone” fashion meaning there is no mortar between the stones. They are often “corbelled” at the top to create a roof and this technique involves cantilevering the stones inward against one another until the top is closed. This technique requires the stones to be piled atop one another in just the right balance so that they do not fall in. This stonework is very intricate and quite beautiful as well.

Each of the eight little beehive residences had one tiny window, air holes, and a short narrow doorway. There was a cemetery for monks as well as a fine example of an early Celtic cross. On the upper terrace, there is a later chapel built with mortared stones and, interestingly enough, it is in a much worse state of ruin than the non-mortared buildings. There are other smaller buildings which are believed to be storehouses for foodstuffs, clothing, blankets, and the like. This monastery stands as a monument to a spiritual tradition that has mostly died out in the Christian tradition. Their very isolation was the largest part of their sacrifice but it also made them very vulnerable to the Vikings who believed that these few lonely men were sitting atop piles of gold and treasure instead of spiritual riches.

Finally, the marvelous puffinry attracts bird-lovers from around the world. The little birds nest in the rare grassy ledges, even digging their burrows along the stone pathway. Little Skellig, a companion smaller rocky island, is also part of the bird sanctuary and other seabirds in addition to puffins nest there. Because the Skelligs have achieved UNESCO World Heritage designation, the Irish government protects them as a bird sanctuary in addition to the cultural importance. A limited number of persons are allowed on the “rock” per day and only two ships are allowed to land per year. Besides that, the ocean and the weather also insure that not very many people get to visit there in a year.

We were very fortunate for two reasons on our visit. First, the weather could not have been more perfect for a landing and for climbing the scary stone steps. We had sunshine and no wind so the steps were dry and there was no gale to blow us off them. Second, and probably, equally important, we did not know that two tourists had perished there in 2009 from falls off the sheer steps! I was really grateful that I did not know that history since I had already been alarmed at the descriptions of the steps. So Kay and I did make it to the very top of this “sea stack” of an island without incident.

G REAT S ALTEE I SLAND

#5 on map This small island (220 acres) lies just 2 1/2 miles off County Wexford, Irish Republic. It has a smaller neighbor (Little Saltee at 16 acres) separated by St. George's Channel. Together they constitute one of the most important bird sanctuaries in Ireland. Both have been privately owned by the Neale family since 1943. Visitation to Little Saltee is prohibited and people are allowed on Great Saltee only from 11 AM to 4:40 PM. There is a remarkable and large gannetry on Great Saltee with at least 60,000 breeding pairs on site. Other birds also use the island for their breeding sites: puffins, cormorants, razorbills, guillemots, kittiwakes, and a rare Manx Shearwater colony is there as well. Equally important, the tiny preserves offer a breeding ground for the Atlantic gray seal too. What a wonderful service the Neale family has performed in keeping the islands as wildlife preserves.

Though there is evidence of Neolithic man on the islands, we did not see those artifacts or sites. Supposedly there is also evidence of religious settlements on Great Saltee as well, but again we were birding, not doing archeology there. It is interesting to note that linguists and historians believe the name for the

islands comes from a Norse word (saltey) meaning Salt Island. They conjecture it was so named because the low lying islands (highest point is only 198 feet) are often swept by salt spray during high winds and waves, especially during the winter months. Zegrahm had received the required prior permission for an intrepid few of us (about 15) to go ashore at 5:00 AM for some very early bird watching. It was truly magical on that quiet island with only the birds for company; well, there were some twenty or thirty Atlantic grey seals swimming below the gannet rookery. What wonderful assaults on our just awakened

ears those beautiful birds were making calling out in raucous tones constantly. What pungent attacks on our olfactorys as well; quantities of guano wet in the morning dew do create an unmistakable perfume. What aerial acrobatics they performed for our entranced eyes (& cameras). Though we were on the island for about 10 hours, walking all over the 220 acres, we never tired of the experience. Though our Zodiac landing site was “dry” in that we did not get our shoes wet, walking through the tall bracken (higher than my head in places) and other thick and wet, bedewed grasses did insure that our shoes were thoroughly soaked within 10 minutes of walking. But we were thrilled to see all the wildflowers we were among too: sea pinks, buttercups, wild iris, and purple thistles. The sandy bottom of the Irish Sea around the island made for beautiful Caribbean colors in the waters and out beyond the shore was a deep marine blue. With the merry sunshine over our heads and the green moors all around us, we had a gorgeous day on GreatSaltee.

I SLE OF M AN

#6 on map Such a curious place, this. All I knew about it before this visit was that the famous tailless Manx cat calls the island home. The Isle of Man has been a Crown Dependency of the British Monarchy since 1866, with its own Parliament, the House of Keys, which is considered one of the oldest continuous legislative assemblies in the world. Its history is similar to the Thingvir of Iceland, being about 1000 years old now. There is a measure of Home Rule under this Parliament but it is difficult for a visitor to understand the complexity of its relationship with Great Britain and the European Union on the basis of a day's visit. Suffice it to say that Westminster handles the Isle's foreign affairs, but the local government issues the Manx Pound, regulates the Post Office, and creates the local laws affecting the people's daily lives. Unlike the Mother Country, however, the Isle of Man has some sort of trading relationship with the European Union in an economic sense. It is readily acknowledged by everyone however that Elizabeth II is “Lord of Man” (the old title of the ruler of the island because one king of the Isle renounced that title in favor of “lord” because he said he preferred to be an important lord rather than a pettyking”). The Isle started out physically connected with both Ireland and Great Britain but about 8000 BC the sea rose and eliminated the connection.The island is about equidistant between Ireland, England & Scotland in the Irish Sea. Archeologists state that the first human colonization of the island occurred about 6500 B. C. There has been Irish influence, Scottish domination, a suzerainty under Norway, and finally English dominion in its history so it has threads from all these cultures in its language, traditions, mythology, and everyday life. There are no native speakers of Manx left, the last one having died in the 1970s. However, the government has been following a policy of cultivating the revival of the language in public education. That effort has had limited successapparently. We really enjoyed our time on the Isle of Man because it has so amazingly retained much of its rural tradition and its air of being a big village. Actually it is rather like a miniature English village. The best word to describe it is “twee.” The Isle is only 227 square miles and the population is 76,200 people, so it's easy to understand how that quaintness has been preserved. University education and business is centered on the chief “industry” of the Isle of Man - acting as a “tax haven” for the world. The people don't like to label their economy that way, but they admit it is true. The former main livelihood for the people revolved around tourism,

but that has taken a big tumble recently due to the world economy and the preference among Europeans now for visiting Spain and the Riviera. We left the modern capital city of Port Douglas and traveled by vintage steam railway, the Manx electric tram to Castletown .

There were three highlights of the visit to the old capital of the Isle of Man. The first is simple to explain. We had the chance to see the odd 4-horned sheep native to the island. The two sets of horns sit one behind the other in front of the creature's ears. One set is smaller than the other, but the animal is very strange looking. The second highlight was a visit to the town's Nautical Museum -- a place made interesting and charming by the enthusiasm of the local guide, Billy. The purpose of this museum is the display of a racing craft called “Peggy” built in the 1780s by a Mr. Quayle. It was quite an innovative vessel for several reasons but the main one was that it had keel slots for super supporting of the masts. That design had been borrowed from the American Colonies and enabled Mr. Quayle to win several races. The original design was probably of Chinese origin. What was so amazing to Billy, and he managed to convey his awe and pleasure very charmingly, was the survival of this old boat. After the death of Mr. Quayle, the boat was “lost” for 225 years—at least no one knew anything about it. It was rediscovered in 1935 when the

old house under which it sat was being renovated. The discovery raised a bit of a stir, but then came World War II and everyone was concentrating on other more serious matters. So the Peggy continued to sit under that old house.

During the War, some RAF pilots and their crews were billeted in the old structure and because it was very cold and they had no fuel, they started to burn the ship. Billy was touchingly grateful that WorldWar II ended before they had destroyed more than the decking of the old vessel. So now here it is housed in the very same place it has been since Mr. Quayle died all those years ago and tourists come in to marvel over its design and its survival! After our visit to the museum, we visited the third attraction – an 11 th century castle. It was well preserved and had an interesting self-guided tour that told of the many people who had been held prisoner here through the ages. Yikes! One last thing about the Isle of Man must be addressed and that is the strange figure on their flag of three human legs in a bent position connected in the center in a wheel-like presentation. It was very difficult to get an explanation for this odd item. But my explanation here is the best I could gather. The figure is called a “triskelion” and is used on other flags as well as a

symbol in other cultures. But on the Isle of Man, the figure goes along with the motto of the Isle: “Whichever way you throw me, I will stand.” Some islanders say that it means “we do not kneel to the British.” Others say it is a representation of the myth about the god Mananan who turned himself into this figure to roll down a hillside to escape his enemies. So take your pick but whatever is the true meaning of this figure, it is a strange emblem for sure.

G IANT ' S C AUSEWAY

#7 on map This geological phenomenon lies on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland. It is the most visited site in this part of the United Kingdom. The “causeway” is formed of 40,000 interlocking basalt columns resulting from an ancient volcanic eruption that occurred at least 60 million years ago. The tops of the columns form stepping stones leading from the cliff foot and disappearing beneath the sea. Most of the columns are hexagonal, but there are some that have four, five, seven or 8 sides. The tallest are 36 feet high and the solidified lava in the cliffs is 92 feet thick in places.

The entire complex has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. It is managed by the North Ireland government as a nature preserve as well, a sanctuary for many species of seabirds, many of which we were already familiar with by the time we visited this site.

TomSharpe, our geologist guide, explained to us how this strange phenomenon was formed. Millions of years ago when the North American tectonic plate was pulling away from the European plate, magma and lava squirted through the fissures created by the separation. The flows ran down into a valley and “puddled” there. This action permitted cooling at both the top and the bottom of the flow, allowing the formation of those hexagonal basaltic columns separate from eachother. Of course, the Irish are great storytellers and you would know that they have a myth to explain how the Causeway came into being. Geological, volcanological, and plate tectonical explanations don't play well in Ireland. Their story involved the Giant Finn McCool who decided that he needed to challenge another giant living across the Irish Sea in Scotland to see who was the strongest. Legend has it that he built the causeway so that he could cross over to find this Benandonner as the Scots giant was called. There are at least three major versions of the story of how the two came together and what then ensued, but all include the following details: Finn was shocked to see how huge Benandonner really was and decided that he could win only by duping the Scot. So he and his wife concocted a scheme

which involved building a huge cradle, sewing really large baby clothes, and putting Finn in the clothes and the crib. When Benandonner came to the house seeking Finn, his wife told the Scot that Finn was out chopping wood. Then she slyly asked him if he wouldn't like to see their baby son. There lay Finn, sucking on a pacifier in the baby crib. Benandonner was horrified at how big Finn's son was and decided he did not want to see Finn McCool in person. So he dashed back to Scotland destroying the causeway as he went so that Finn could not come to find him! Interestingly, the Irish legend fits pretty well with the geological explanation because right across the Irish Sea lies Staffa Island in Scotland and there sits the other end of the Giant's Causeway. How about that for truth in Irish mythology. You can decide which version you prefer, the geologist's or the Irish myth-maker's.

H OLY I SLE OF I ONA

#8 on map This little island is a treasure belonging to Scotland, but it is definitely inhabited by some hardy and spiritual people who tend the old Abbey and try to promote a more peaceful world. The island is located one mile from the town of Mull on mainland Scotland and it is only one mile wide and three miles long. There is a resident population of only 125. These folks are served by a couple of small stores, a public library (hours - 12:00 to 12:30 on Tuesdays), a primary school, post office, 2 hotels, the ruins of a Benedictine nunnery, and the magnificent Abbey. Very few mechanized vehicles are allowed on the island and none are available to tourists nor can they bring their own over on the ferries which serve Iona from the mainland. Visitors total 220,000 annually. St. Columba came from Ireland (after having been banished from there for supporting the wrong side in an internecine battle) in 563 AD to found a monastery with 12 companions. In imitation of Christ, they set out to convert the pagan Scots & northern English Picts to Christianity. Iona's fame as a place of learning and Christian mission spread throughout Europe and it became a popular place of pilgrimage for many people. It was also recognized as a “holy isle” and many kings of Ireland, Scotland, Norway, and even France chose to be buried there. The famous Book of Kells (early illuminated manuscript of the gospels) is believed by some to have been created on Iona though it is now housed in Trinity College Library in Dublin. The manuscript in Latin dates from the 800s and is often called the Gospel of St. Columba. A series of Viking raids on the island started in 794 AD and the treasures of the monastery were plundered again and again. Finally the relics and remaining treasures were disbursed to other safer locations and the monastery abandoned in 849. The Benedictine Abbey was built in 1203 and the Benedictine Nunnery, now in ruins, was established in 1208. The Nunnery is lovely in its ruined state but is too fragmentary for restoration.

The Abbey is a jewel of medieval architectural detail with monuments from several periods in its history. It is now ecumenical and is protected by Scottish Heritage, an agency of the government. In front of the Abbey stands St. Martin's Cross, one of the best preserved Celtic crosses in the British Isles. A replica of St. John's Cross also stands at the front. The fragments of the St. John's original stone cross are housed in the Abbey Museum. There is an ancient burial ground adjacent to the Abbey with many grave-slabs and stones, most of which have been eroded away over time.

Of intense interest to our avid (aka crazy) bird watchers, was a very rare bird, the corn crake. Iona is one of the few places on earth where it can be seen. It is a very elusive small brown bird undistinguished except for it rarity. The “corn flakes”, as we respectfully named our fellow travelers, were determined to get this bird on their life-lists. Peter led the group's search out into the tall grasses. And to their delight, the hunt was crowned with success; they saw five of the birds! We were particularly pleased with the evolutionary trajectory this holy isle has taken: from a strict Benedictine order of Christianity to an ecumenical and ecologically involved community bent on healing the earth and all its inhabitants, human and animal. It's a great sanctuary for the corn crake.

1

S TAFFA I SLAND

#9 0n map

Now we are in Scotland, seeing what Benandonner left of Finn's work. The same columnar basalt towers fill the cliffs and create the stepping stones. On this side of the sea, however, salt tides, wind storms, and rain have created huge sea caves in the cliff walls. Inside the caves, the columns form the roofs, sides and walls. Fingals' Cave is the largest (a Scottish name for Finn McCool gives the cave its name) at 65 feet high and 246 feet long. This is the formation that inspired Felix Mendelssohn to write his “Hebridean Overture.” It is a tradition among tourists and tour boat captains to have a recording of this piece playing as the zodiacs and small boats enter the cave. We could hardly hear the music, but were still captivated by the idea. The Norse provided this island with its name too; the word staffa means “stave” or “pillar” island. Pretty apt we had to agree. The island has been inhabited in the past but not in the last 100 years because the weather is so severe here. Atlantic gales lash the island without pity during the winter and the size of the island is really not large enough to support much

more than one family. The last family finally tired of such harsh and lonely conditions and abandoned the island which then came into the hands of the Scottish Trust. The island is but 82 acres and its highest point is 138 ft. above sea level. Staffa works well as a seabird sanctuary and has been quite useful in that regard. Though it is the other end of the Giant's Causeway, the area does not receive near the number of visitors as the Northern Ireland side. That fact stands the birds in excellent stead. They don't need many alien visitors to their remote homes.

S T . K ILDA

#10 on map What a haunted place this was! It is the most remote archipelago of the Outer Hebrides and faces the fury of the Atlantic alone. St. Kilda consists of three islands, the largest, Hirta, which we visited is 1656 acres, Soay of 247 acres and Boreray of 213 acres. There are also three very high sea stacks close by. Two of those stacks are Britain's highest at 626 feet and 541 feet. However the highest point in the archipelago is the cliff on Hirta Island which is 1410 feet above sea level—a magnificent home for seabirds.

The group is 100 miles from the mainland and at least 40 miles from the nearest island. This isolation is what makes the island so evocative when you realize that it has been inhabited by humans for 5000 years. It lost its last permanent residents in 1930. Remaining on the islands now are primitive houses, sheep enclosures, the famous cleits which are small round stone structures used primarily for food storage, some mysterious cave-like structures of unknown usage, church ruins, an intact stone “feather house” where the bird feathers were stored, and some modern buildings used by the military and the summer volunteer workers concerned with archeology, monitoring the Soay sheep, and reconstruction and repair crews. The earliest human inhabitants were neolithic peoples and Vikings. Not much is left to testify to the presence of these people except for some stone tools, Viking jewelry, an ancient stone with a carved Celtic cross the “moderns” worked into an outer wall of a home and a few spears. In more modern times, starting around 1650, the islands were colonized by crofters from Scotland who were tenants of the Laird of Bute who owned the islands. These farmers and their descendants wrote the visible story of St. Kilda. The 36 people who requested evacuation from Hirta in 1930 are the progeny of these 17th century colonizers.

The life these people led was pretty much unchanged until the late 19 th century when their isolation was punctured by tourism, organized religion, and disease. Up until then, the life was arduous and perilous but perhaps satisfying in its familiarity. The chief staple among these folks was seabird eggs and seabird meat. They grew a few root vegetables and grains

(barley, mostly) but the growing season was short and there was not much variety of vegetables that could withstand the constant salt spray and the peaty soil. So the menfolk plied their dangerous trade: scaling the steep and sheer cliff walls of the islands and the stacks to steal the bird eggs and the chicks. The eggs were eaten as quickly as needed, but the birds were plucked of their feathers and then the bodies would be put into the cleits to dry out in the winds that rushed through the mortar-less walls. Because of the Soay sheep, the farmers did have meat and because of the cows they had milk and cheese. The work to maintain the village was constant and involved everybody. The women were often called upon to hold the ropes which carried the men down the cliff faces to obtain the eggs & chicks. On days when it was too dangerous to climb around those narrow and slick ledges (barefooted too, remember) then other farm tasks would be undertaken. Because the laird in Scotland would send his Factor out yearly to collect the taxes (these people were only renting the land), they had to have sufficient feathers to send back as barter for the money owed.

Back in Scotland, the landowner could sell the feathers for mattresses, furniture, dusters and the like, so the feathers were their “money.” Actually until the late 19 th century when tourists and ships visited the archipelago, the St. Kildans had no need for money. Unfortunately, the contact with the outside world brought in diseases like cholera and smallpox and also created in the hitherto apparently satisfied folk a desire for a different sort of life. So the island began to depopulate as the young men decided to leave to seek a new beginning. The diseases hit the folks who stayed hard because they had developed no immunity to these bacteria andviruses. It must be admitted that the arrival of organized religion in the islands also helped in the gradual demoralization of the people. The first two ministers who came to St. Kilda as representatives of the Church of Scotland were not determined to change the people's way of life. Instead, they tried to introduce new ideas for labor saving, better hygiene practices, and even help in constructing more comfortable dwelling houses. Hence the difference between the “black houses” with no windows which characterize the 1830s “village” and the healthier living quarters of the 1860s, where the stone houses had windows and room divisions, and better construction to prevent drafts and dampness inside. The third minister was a martinet and was absolutely bent on changing what he considered the folks' pagan ways. He demanded church attendance on Sundays for at least four hours even when the day was bright and dry and the men needed to go out to the cliffs to obtain the food the village needed. He would have none of that so precious work time was lost. The St. Kildans had previously amused themselves with song and dance in the evenings, but this minister forbade that as well. So the food supplies dwindled and the morale of the people steadily declined. No wonder the younger men began to look at greener pastures. Between 150 and 200 people constituted the peak of ordinary population numbers, but through disease and disenchantment, those numbers dropped. Finally, in 1930 the remaining 37 people requested to be evacuated because they were not able to maintain their lifestyle with so few people, especially because there were too few men to perform the difficult task of abseiling down the cliffs to get the birds. It was said that in earlier times each St. Kildan ate 115 fulmars yearly and that the islanders often took almost 90,000 puffins annually as well. The women and children could not collect or grow sufficient food to feed even the few left at the end. So St. Kilda has been uninhabited since August 1930.

No one knows for sure how the name St. Kilda was attached to the archipelago because there was never a saint named Kilda. Most historians and linguists believe the name came from the Norse “skildir” (meaning “shields”). Actually, many of the place names in the island group are from Norse words. So it is clear that the Vikings did visit and perhaps even have campsites on Hirta (the biggest island).

F LANNAN I SLAND

Not shown on map but rightnext to St Kilda This small island is the only place we were unable to land because of the sea conditions. Large swells, though not rough, over- washed the landing site and it was considered unsafe to launch the Zodiacs so we did a circumnavigation on the Island Sky (our mother ship) and learned about the mystery of the island. That mystery centers on the lighthouse built there in 1899 and made operational on December 7, 1899. The lighthouse was designed by a member of the famous Stevenson family which through three generations built most of the lighthouses in Great Britain and in many places around the world. This architect was David Alan Stevenson, the uncle of Robert Louis Stevenson of “Treasure Island”fame. The strange occurrence began a year after the lighthouse was first lit. A steamer, the Archtor, plying between Philadelphia and Leith, Scotland, passed very close to Flannan in heavy weather on December 15, 1900, and noted that the light was not functioning. When the ship arrived in Leith, the problem was reported. Nothing happened very quickly, but finally a lighthouse tender was sent out to check on the three man team of light-keepers. The Hesperus arrived at the landing site on December 26, and the crew was surprised to see that no flag was flying at the lighthouse. Neither were any of the provision boxes at the landing waiting for new supplies. More ominous still, none of the three men was there to greet the tender's arrival. The relief keeper went ashore alone and found that the entrance gate to the compound and the main door to the lighthouse were both closed. He went inside and found that the beds were unmade, the clock had stopped but the lamps had been cleaned and were refilled. A chair at the kitchen table was upturned. There was no sign of any of the three men anywhere around the lighthouse nor on the whole island. The three men had simply vanished nor were any traces of them ever found.

Many stories arose at the time to explain the disappearance ranging from a rogue wave that washed over the island and carried them off to a ghost ship and its crew taking them captive. A Lighthouse Board investigation concluded that they had been washed away in the enormous seas that the Atlantic Ocean is capable of producing in that area. The Board investigators believed that the men had been trying to make some sort of repairs or to prevent something from happening to their supplies and had gotten too close to the crashing waves. Nothing more definitive has ever been decided. O RKNEY I SLANDS This group of islands is another of the Scottish archipelagos, but this one is far to the north of St. Kilda, actually 10 miles north of the Scottish mainland. Seventy islands make up the chain, but only 20 are inhabited by human beings. The largest of these is called “Mainland” and it is 202 square miles in size. Kirkwall (#11 on map) is the capital of the archipelago. The name of the islands dates to the first century BC or even earlier and the islands have been inhabited for at least 8500 years. There are evidences and sites of Mesolithic and Neolithic peoples, Picts, and Norsemen. It was actually annexed to Norway in 875 AD and then later surrendered to Scotland because the Norwegians failed to pay a dowry to James III for his wife, Margaret of Denmark, in 1472. However, it is clear to the visitor that Orcadians feel a closer affinity with their Scandinavian history than with the Scottish heritage. The climate in the islands is very mild, thanks chiefly to the Gulf Stream, and the soil is quite fertile. Almost all the land is farmed on all 20 of the inhabited islands. Agriculture is the most important sector of the economy. There are plenty of boulders and rocks to be removed for farmlands and pastures, but there are no native trees on the islands. The population of the Islands is about 25,000 and there are more sheep than people. Seventy-five percent of the people live in the capital, Kirkwall. Most conspicuous on the skyline of Kirkwall is the St. Magnus Cathedral, started by the Vikings in 1137 AD. Of course, like most of the big cathedrals in Europe, many years were required to complete the edifice—600 years in the case of St. Magnus. Magnus was a cousin to a rival for his throne, Haakon. When it became clear that there would be civil war between them, Magnus apparently decided to capitulate to Haakon to avoid that catastrophe. Haakon killed him and thus Magnus was proclaimed a martyr to peace in the OrkneyIslands.

The church is built of red sandstone atop soft sand and it must be shored up periodically as it sinks and shifts. When the construction was begun, the boats came right up to the site and unloaded the supplies. Now the church stands quite a bit away from the shoreline since there has been a retreat of the sea since 1137 creating more land for theMainland. The islands were owned by Norway's kings until 1472 when they were ceded to the Scottish crown in payment of a dowry debt. The name of the group has been used since the 1 st century BC and references to it can be found in Old Norse writings, Irish Gaelic stories, as well as in Roman chronicles. Depending on which source you depend on, the name can mean Island of the Pigs, Island of the Orcas, or Island of the Seals. The Orkney Islands' biggest draw for both tourists and historians is the wealth of Neolithic ruins to be found here. From Skara Brae, Maes Howe, and the Ring of Brodgar, as well as many other sites of brochs and standing stones, this island group has the best preserved Neolithic sites in Europe. These will be discussed at greater length in a section on the archeology we were exposed to on this trip. The Mainland of the archipelago is quite beautiful, soft and green with rolling hills and neat farms with healthy cows and sheep. Driving was interesting since most of the roads are one- way with little passing areas (wide spots in the road) to allow for efficient traffic flow. The houses are usually painted white so they stand out against the green. Many private homes and lawns are decorated with “standing stones” from the Neolithic period. These are mysterious structures, probably akin to “stelae” other places in the world. They usually contain decorations and runic inscriptions, most so worn now that it is not possible to translate them. But they add to the ancient atmosphere of the “Mainland.”

S KARA B RAE

Outside Kirkwall # 11 on map This Neolithic village is the very crown of preliterate history in Great Britain and Mainland Orkney, is its home. The excavated buildings date back to 3100 BC, back when human beings in Europe were just learning to cultivate crops, to domesticate animals and to create some useful tools. At this same time, Egypt was becoming one United Kingdom combining the Upper and Lower Nile Valleys. Their civilization had advanced way beyond the Neolithic criteria. The site is quite beautiful, set on a seashore with the dry stone buildings emerging from the green grasses overlying the village now. Hill of Gulls is the translation most historians tend to accept for its name. Gulls still wheel over the residences and the “workshop” building. The ocean has actually eaten away part of the village through the relentless tidal assaults on the hillside. That is how the site was discovered; the rock houses were found sticking out of the sea side of the hill. The Bay of Skaill had been eroded back from the sea for thousands of years, but one night in 1950, the sandy dunes of the bay were bombarded by a huge storm. In its aftermath, a Neolithic settlement was revealed. In 1927, an organized excavation was begun. The subterranean site revealed that the inhabitants of Skara Brae left their homes in a hurried way, for what reasons we will probably never know. The huts were linked by interconnecting passageways which had specific entrances into the complex from the outside and the walls were made of sandstone slabs, with cobbled walling forming the roofs. It is believed that the huts, which were all of similar design, had thatched roofs due to the discovery of whalebones in one of the dwellings. The interior of the huts showed a dresser, made of flagstone shelves and stone supports, which may have been used as a larder or similar storage area. There was a rectangular hearth in the center of the room used for cooking and heating. “Box beds” made of upright slabs of stone on three sides with the walls of the hut making the 4 th wall revealed the sleeping arrangements. There were recesses in the wall above the beds creating more storage space, perhaps for personal items. Another similarity in the huts was the presence of “limpet boxes”, the rectangular boxes of stone lined with clay to hold water for use in the huts. The fine stone work and the details in the huts show that the people living in this area were skilled with their stone tools.

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