Holiday! Part Four – in which there is more History and all the Calories Burned Yesterday return with Reinforcements

As mentioned, the G Monster has friends living in Kirkwall – friends who, in a mild coincidence, moved here recently from the village next to ours. Not only did they save us from a long and tired wait for the guest apartment to be ready on Saturday, they had offered to show us the sights, hit us up with whale sighting info, and the hubby had even volunteered to be designated driver if we wanted to visit the Orkney Brewery. Well, it would be rude to pass that up, right?

Lo, today dawned bright and sunny with only a fraction of the rain we had yesterday. How typical. There were even a couple of wee rainbows here and there. It was nice enough to walk round to his place in the morning, and he drove us off to Skara Brae, where a 5,000 year old Neolithic village had been preserved under a giant sand dune until a big storm in 1850. The local Laird, who lived in Skaill House nearby, promptly undertook some archaeology and had it investigated and preserved for posterity (presumably not quite as well as reburying it would have done, but you can’t have everything). Apparently it was the owners of the Highland Park Distillery, a stone’s throw over our shoulder from this apartment, who stumped up for the Rousay cairns to be preserved too, so that’s quite nice.

All our Historic Scotland cards were promptly declined on entry, which was quite impressive, because they were from wildly different dates and places of purchase. We got in eventually, however, and went to the replica Neolithic house. This is pretty roomy! I said. We went to see a Mesolithic house on Santorini one time and I could have just about fitted in the rooms if I curled up, and I do mean just about. And I do mean length-wise, not width.

This one’s a to scale replica, was the reply. Oh.

Later on we saw the real one it was based on. Yeah, maybe not quite as big. Much more impressively preserved than other houses of the same period that I’ve seen, though; they still had a 5,000 year old stone dresser, beds, and even strange square boxes sitting about the floor. Neolithic storage units? My favourite part was how all the houses were built into a cairn-like structure and had passageways between them, so you could go visit your mates without having to go outdoors (I assume that was the point, anyway) – once you were inside the village, you were all snug and warm and safe wherever you went. The G Monster said that once you warmed up thick stone walls with turf over the roof they stay warm for ages, too, so it would’ve been mad cosy. Someone did ask the tour guide about the floors, and apparently they were flagstones in the corridor but sand inside the houses. The first example of the ‘shoes-off’ rule?

The G Monster’s mate said he had volunteered with the school trip one bank holiday, being off work, and they got to go down and in and out the ruins (if they could fit – well, the kids probably could) and that it was quite awesome. We didn’t get to do so, however. Well, the Big tour was off a cruise ship, and imagine if someone got wedged and delayed their schedule…

We had a brief shuftie round Skaill House as well. I had read up on the ghosts of Skaill House on the web the night before; several, apparently, and they found a whole raft of skeletons when they went to dig a patio and refloor the hall, which turned out to be a Norse graveyard, so they… put them back where they found them, and they are still underfoot today.

(I have to do something about the vast gaps in my knowledge of history, on that note. It goes ‘something Neolithic something something Iron Age Broch something Vikings something Victorians’, and that covers rather a lot of ground where I have no idea what went on.)

There were Owls on the terrace, because if you have any sort of stately home open to the public it is Mandatory these days that you have Owls on the terrace so that eejits like myself can stick a couple of quid in a bucket to hold their jesses (the leather things attached to their feet, not anything personal). Why this is mandatory, I do not know, but it works every time.

After that, we went to the Orkney brewery, which is round the corner, has a shop and a bar and a restaurant and does tours. The tour guide today looked not unlike Gerard Depardieu (which makes me wonder, where did Gerard Depardieu go?) but swore he was educated in Sussex, although, if Gerard Depardieu was undercover as a brewery tour guide, he probably would say that. This was a pretty decent tour, for the record. I’ve been round distilleries and breweries and stuff before and it’s all ‘and this is the big tub at X degrees where ingredient Y goes in and…’ but this guy did a lot of explaining of the why things happen. So we got it explained how the different kinds of malt barley affect the taste, and how the hops are used for two things, acids and aromatics, and therefore the type of hops is important and they get added twice, first for the acids, and second for the aromatics. And also, why the big kettles are the shape they are and how that affects the process. Definitely in my top five of tours, and that includes my all-time favourite, ‘The Fall of The Berlin Wall, Told in Reference to David Hasslehoff’s Career’.

There followed a lot of beer, and an enormous cheese platter (the guys went for gorging on cake instead, but each to their own), and then we bought a lot of beer to take home so I am now bankrupt until payday. Thankfully that would be the day after tomorrow, but there remains the fact that all that painful hard work yesterday is undoubtedly undone.

We got home to find a message from our designated driver’s wife saying there are Orcas in the area. Alas, we were too stuffed to roll over the moors in search of them. They will just have to come to us, if it was meant to be.

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