Friday, January 30, 2015

Orkney Islands

The Stones of Stenness is one of two of Britain’s best-preserved prehistoric monuments (the Ring of Brodgar is the other).  The best guess as to their function is that they were involved in activities and ceremonies celebrating the relationship between living and past communities.

Archaeologists call monuments of this kind ‘henge monuments’. The henge itself was the substantial ditch and outer bank, a considerable physical obstacle around the circle of standing stones. The only way into and out of the circle was via causeways (one in the case of Stenness, two at Brodgar).

The two sites sit in one of the richest Neolithic landscapes in Europe. This was a place of stone circles, villages and burial monuments, where people lived, worshipped and honoured their dead.
The Stones of Stenness may be the earliest henge monument in the British Isles, built around 5,400 years ago. Yes - older than Stonehenge! The site now lacks its encircling ditch and bank, though excavation has shown the ditch to be 4m wide and 2.3m deep. The four surviving standing stones, stone stumps and concrete markers outline an oval that was around 30m in diameter.

The focus of the interior was a large hearth; it is still visible. That the hearth was significant can be seen from the line of features that marked the approach to it – a paved path, two stone settings, another setting that was apparently a second hearth, and finally the uprights of a three-stone ‘dolmen’. Pottery and animal bones recovered during excavation tell us that Neolithic visitors cooked and ate plenty of food at the site.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Orkney Islands

Then it was off to the barren and wind swept Orkney Islands. Orkney is a land of rolling green fields, rugged coastlines and spectacular pristine beaches. Approximately seventy islands and skerries make up Orkney, with up to 20 of those inhabited. Most of the 21,000 strong population live on the largest island, the mainland, though many of the inner and outer islands of Orkney also support thriving communities, each with its own distinct identity. The name "Orkney" dates back to the 1st century BC or earlier, and the islands have been inhabited for at least 8,500 years. Originally occupied by Mesolithic and Neolithic tribes and then by the Picts, Orkney was invaded and forcibly annexed by Norway in 875 and settled by the Norse. The Scottish Parliament then re-annexed the earldom to the Scottish Crown in 1472, following the failed payment of a dowry for James III's bride, Margaret of Denmark. Orkney contains some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe which is what I came here to see.
This Lighthouse known as Helliar Holm, Shapinsay, or Saeva Ness Lighthouse was built in at the end of the 18th Century by brothers David A Stevenson and Charles Stevenson. The Harbour Trustees of Kirkwall, the Commissioners of Supply, and the Road Trustees of Orkney wanted the lighthouse to be situated on a little island called Thieves Holm, but the final decision was made to situate it on Helliar Holm. The lighthouse, which is 12.8m (42 feet) tall was first illuminated in 1893. Adjacent two-storey keepers' cottages were built at the same time. Amongst lighthouse keepers were former joiners, seamen, fishermen, shoemakers, railway carriage cleaner, lorry driver, blacksmith or Farm hand. In 1967, when the lighthouse was automated, last of the keepers left Helliar Holm and this chapter in of its history was closed.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015


Then it was time to leave Edinburgh, but not before we had a look at the Royal Yacht HMS Britannia. It was home to Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family for over 40 years, sailing over 1,000,000 miles around the world. A little known fact - Britannia was the only ship in the world whose Captain traditionally was an Admiral. Nowhere on her side will you see her name, yet she is recognized around the world. She was built for the dual role of becoming a hospital ship if needed. Now retired and permanently berthed in Edinburgh as a museum and open to the public.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Monday, January 26, 2015

Friday, January 23, 2015


Scone Palace also had some rare white peacocks. Although commonly thought of as albino, white peacocks, or peafowl as they are known, are in fact a genetic mutation of the more common Indian Blue Peafowl. This mutation, called ‘Leucism’, causes a lack of pigments in the plumage which in turn gives them their stunning pure white appearance. However, unlike albino birds they have blue eyes.

Thursday, January 22, 2015


The lawns around Scone Palace are home to free-roaming peacocks.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


The Moot Hill was the Ancient Crowning Place of the Kings of Scots. It is located immediately in front of the Palace and is crowned by a tiny Presbyterian Chapel, which, like the Palace, was Gothicized around 1804. A replica of the Stone of Scone sits in front of the Chapel. The Stone of Scone, also called Stone of Destiny, Scottish Gaelic Lia Fail,  that for centuries was associated with the crowning of Scottish kings and then, in 1296, was taken to England and later placed under the Coronation Chair. The stone, weighing 336 pounds (152 kg), is a rectangular block of pale yellow sandstone (almost certainly of Scottish origin) measuring 26 inches by 16 inches by 11 inches.  A Latin cross is its only decoration.
According to one Celtic legend the stone was once the pillow upon which the patriarch Jacob rested at Bethel when he beheld the visions of angels. From the Holy Land it purportedly traveled to Egypt, Sicily, and Spain and reached Ireland about 700 BC to be set upon the hills of Tara, where the ancient kings of Ireland were crowned. Thence it was taken by the Celtic Scots who invaded and occupied Scotland. About 840 AD it was taken by Kenneth MacAlpin to the village of Scone.
At Scone, historically, the stone came to be encased in the seat of a royal coronation chair. John de Balliol was the last Scottish king crowned on it, in 1292, before Edward I of England invaded Scotland in 1296 and moved the stone (and other Scottish regalia) to London. There, at Westminster Abey in 1307, he had a special throne, called the Coronation Chair, built so that the stone fitted under it. This was to be a symbol that kings of England would be crowned as kings of Scotland also.
Attached to the stone in ancient times was allegedly a piece of metal with a prophecy that Sir Walter Scott translated as
Unless the fates be faulty grown
And prophet’s voice be vain
Where’er is found this sacred stone
The Scottish race shall reign.
When Queen Elizabeth I died without issue in 1603, she was succeeded by King James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England (or Great Britain). James was crowned on the Stone of Scone, and patriotic Scots said that the legend had been fulfilled, for a Scotsman then ruled where the Stone of Scone was.

Monday, January 19, 2015


We went into the countryside to visit the heart of Scotland's history - Scone Palace.

Scone Palace is a place that breathes history like nowhere else in Scotland. Today, in the 21st century, it is the home of the Earls of Mansfield, and a major attraction to visitors from all over the world. Fifteen hundred years ago, it was the capital of the Pictish kingdom and the centre of the ancient Celtic church. In the intervening centuries, it has been the seat of parliaments and the crowning place of Kings. It has housed the Stone of Destiny and been immortalised in Shakespeare's Macbeth.
Poised above the River Tay, the Palace overlooks the routes north to the Highlands and east through Strathmore to the coast. The Grampian mountains form a distant backdrop, and across the river stands the city of Perth. Two thousand years ago, the Romans camped here, at the very limit of their empire. They never defeated the warlike Picts, who later came to rule Scone, but the followers of St Columba had more success. By the early 7th century, a group of early Christians, the Culdees or servants of God, had established themselves here.

Here is a view of the Palace.

Friday, January 16, 2015


Then it was off to Edinburgh, Scotland where we received a royal welcome.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


Here is a swanling (also known as cygnets) fluffing up for the day in St. James's Park.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


It was a hot day in London when we saw this horse parade going by Buckingham Palace.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015

Friday, January 9, 2015


St. James's Park has some wonderful flower beds.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


Here is a Black Swan showing off his ability to stand on one leg.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015


St. James's Park has a large collection of birds. Shown here is a vocal Black Swan (Cygnus atratus).

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


In central London is the wonderful St. James Park. Within the park is the Duck Island Cottage - a Swiss Chalet for a British Bird-Keeper. This pretty cottage was built in 1841 as the home of the bird-keeper in St. James's Park. It also had a club room for the Ornithological Society of London, which once helped to look after the park's ducks and geese. The design, like a Swiss chalet, was intended to be a contrast to the grand architecture of government buildings nearby.

Monday, January 5, 2015


While in London we visited the Festival of Love which was held on Southbank (Thames River). This exhibit caught my eye.

Friday, January 2, 2015


New year, new adventures to share. Last Summer we were traveling again on another Grand Tour. Our first stop was London where we had this magnificent view of Big Ben from our hotel room.