Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Neolithic Orkney

And it was the concentration of neolithic sites which was one of the highlights. Here is the dig going on at the Ring of Brodgar (free talks each day by one of the archaeologists involved; the large hall like building narrows to an apparently ceremonial fire place), a small house at Skara Brae (part of a coastal village village uncovered by a twentieth century storm; the domestic fire place at the centre and beds built into the walls), and the entrance to the Unstan tomb (one of many left unattended for tourists simply to let themselves into). This is without starting on Maeshoe (the entrance passage lit up by the setting winter solstice sun; I feel a Christmas sermon developing including 'to satisfy which instinct are we brought to church this Midnight?') and the neighbouring Barnhouse village and Stones of Stenness (between which the central fire place stones appear to have been moved).

Saturday, 27 August 2011


This vole run was pointed out to us by the Ranger at the neolithic Ring of Brodger. There is evidence that voles were present and eaten in neolithic Orkney, but there are none in the Shetlands. There are thus also vole predators such as hen harriers and short eared owls in Orkney but not Shetland. Unlike the voles, other animals such as fox and snake have not crossed the Pentland Firth, so Orkney also has many ground nesting birds.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


Jacob named a place Beth-el (God’s house) because he’d had there his vision of angels moving on a ladder between heaven and earth and then God had spoken to him. ‘This is none other than the house of God,’ he said, ‘and this is the gate of heaven’. Thus many Chapels are called Bethels and many churches (the latest I noticed on our recent holiday in Orkney was St Magnus’ Cathedral, Kirkwall) have this text above their doors or in their porches. But it strikes me yet again reading the story at Matins for St Bartholomew’s Day this morning how wrong headed this is. Jacob is terrified when he wakes to think ‘surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it’, and, most crucially of all, the encounter with God came while sleeping out in the open air in a stony place. Surely the name or the text, if either is used in a church building at all, should be on the inside of the gate or somewhere similar where it can be read on the way out; there is a soemtimes terrifying challenge always to recognise the outside world as God's house. Meanwhile, the easily eroded local red and yellow sandstone with which St Magnus’ is built creates these effects around its main door.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Matinlight (revised)

I've tightened up the poem so that it now reads:

On rare days, light falls slant though the east window
catching the plain north wall and playing with it:
the leaves of an ash tree almost brush the glass
so dapplings of colour take the breeze’s lead
and pools of liquid light baptise the lime-wash;
then I find that I’ve stopped piling on new words,
like those moments when a phrase in the Psalm
unexpectedly become translucent.

Meanwhile, Anglian Water was digging up the green outside St Michael's yet again yesterday. The workmen told me that it was to do with a meter monitoring the flow of the main pipeline into town.