We were just starting the second week of our three week journey through the Highlands and the Islands of Scotland. As we had traveled farther north, the weather became cooler, of course, despite it being near Summer Solstice.
To compensate, we had very long days. In the Neolithic Orkney Islands, we only had a few hours of twilight each night to mark the setting sun. This allowed us to visit many places, despite the cool weather and strong winds.
We headed out to one far end of the main island, to a place known as the Tomb of the Eagles. This was a place that, if it wasn’t the end of the world, it must be close. It felt isolated, desolate, in spite of the lush green grasses that grew all around.
There is a small museum for the tomb at the home of the farmer who discovered it explaining the cairn, its discovery, and the items found in the tomb which was built over 5,150 years ago and just recently unearthed. It is mostly noticeable due to the fact the structural rocks are straight, while all the natural rocks around are at a sharp angle.
We walked out along the coastal path to the tomb, about a half mile walk. Out into the ocean we could see forever, the rare sunlight glinting on the sea like a blanket of stars. The tall grasses on either side of the path swayed in the strong wind, and occasional needles of rain made their way into our jackets as we marshaled on.
As we rounded the coast and found the chambered tomb, we realized we would have to pull ourselves in on a low cart, on our back, using the rope affixed to the roof of the entrance. It was, so they said, tall enough to stand inside, but it was a very small entranceway.
We took the plunge and entered, finding three chambers. There had been 16,000 human bones at the site, and over 700 from sea eagles – thus the name of the tomb. Perhaps it was a totem animal, but these eagles had died out about 1,000 years after the tomb was built.
This tomb is one of the oldest buildings in the United Kingdom, along with Skara Brae and Maeshowe on the same island. The state of preservation of these buildings lent much to the fact they had been buried for so long, undisturbed over the centuries, waiting for time, luck, and perhaps a bit of divine guidance, to reveal them to the descendants of their builders.
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Christy Nicholas is the Author of Ireland: Mythical, Magical, Mystical; A Guide to Hidden Ireland
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