Dreams of Stone and Sea- or, How I Ended Up in Orkney

I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to document and share my recent Orkney experience.  I decided that rather than squeeze thoughts and photos into a post, this might be the better alternative. My intention is to write a piece as often as I can manage, describing, roughly in order, how we got there, what we saw, what we learned.  So, these posts will be part travelogue, part archaeology, part natural history, part analysis.

Quick backstory:
I’ve been trying to get to Ireland and the UK for 30 years.  Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been drawn to NW European archaeology.  In the last decade or so since the internet has made it easier, I have been studying places I wanted to go.   One thing I will always try my best to avoid is traveling as a stereotypical tourist or ugly American… I don’t want to be clueless and I want people to know I care about them in the now, not just their history.

Especially since social media has made it easy, I’ve been following various on-going excavations across NW Europe.  The Ness of Brodgar was one of those.  About 7 years ago, I sent an inquiry to the site director about his call out for volunteers.  But my kids were small and the timing otherwise poor, and I decided I couldn’t do it.  But I kept reading, and following the progress as the Ness excavation grew and continued to astound and redefine our notions of the Neolithic.

Then the big article in National Geographic came out in Dec 2014.  Since then, the BBC has had several documentaries on the Ness but this past winter, they did a 3-part series that highlighted Orkney archaeology in general.  Then I attended a lecture by Nick Card, the director, in Ohio this past March.  A couple weeks later, there was an announcement on the Facebook page that several volunteer spots had opened up.  I stayed up until 2 am that night, crafting a fresh resume, and sent it.  Nick responded the next day, to say I was good to go; the rest is history now.

Thank goodness I didn’t try to travel alone for my first journey out of North America.  Word of advice: if you’re not going with a tour group, DEFINITELY bring a wingman.  My daughter and partner in crime, Hollyn, was mine.  Together, we faced the perils of driving in the UK.  It is fairEdinburgh defeated us, but in the rest of the country, we gained growing confidence until after 3 weeks, we knew most of the etiquette (if not all the roadsigns.)

We left our house at 9:30 am on Friday.  We drove to Purdue and took a shuttle to O’Hare. We flew Aer Lingus from Chicago to Dublin to Edinburgh.  We rented a car there at the airport, drove to Aberdeen, then took the ferry to Kirkwall, on mainland Orkney.  We arrived at our host, Mhairi’s house, on Sunday about 11:30 pm.  It could have been earlier in the day had we not tried to navigate Edinburgh, but best case it would be about 2.5 days at a fairly relaxed but steady pace to get there by those means.  I think the only thing we were missing was a leg that included a train and/or a hot air balloon.  (Flying directly into Kirkwall might have actually been less expensive in the long run, but we wanted to see the Highlands as well. When we go again, I’ll have to think about what makes the most sense, given what the goals are at the time.)

I want to share Orkney with everyone!  I do want to go back, and I’d love to go as a guide.  If you, or anyone you know, would be interested in going with a small and flexible group, drop me a line!  I would really like to take M.A.P. in this direction.  North American tours?  Ireland? the UK?  Let’s do it.

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