|Visited 11th August 2012
We set off early from Kirkwall to catch the first ferry of the morning to Hoy, taking advantage of one of the extra sailings taking place that day due to the Kirwall County show being on. It’s severely foggy as we drive to Houton to get the boat, although I’m putting my trust in the weather forecast which is predicting a fine day later. I’m hoping this is the case, having experienced the bleakness of Hoy in grim weather before. My previous visits to the Dwarfie Stane have been via the foot passenger ferry from Stromness, and it’s nice not to have the long walk on foot to reach the tomb, with the ever present threat of missing the boat back and having to emulate Mr Mounsey by spending a night inside the Stane itself.
Arriving at Lyness is like entering an eerie otherworld, as the shapes of the large WW1 era oil tank, and the battleship guns outside the Scapa Flow museum loom out of the mist. The three other vehicles present on our crossing zoom off, and within ten minutes of disembarking we are alone, not a soul visible anywhere, and the feeling of being marooned on a deserted island all pervading.
By the time we have driven to Betty Corrigal’s grave the mist is thinning, and the lonely white gravestone is just visible away from the bleak road, which as it climbs higher breaks out above the fog to a gorgeously clear sunny blue sky. The Dwarfie Stane is well signposted from the road, and pulling into the nice roomy layby opposite the path, you can just make out the stone block of the tomb hunkering beneath the cliffs of the Dwarfie Hamars. Once again I’m struck by how remote this place feels, although now with sunny blue skies and the sparkling azure sea in the background things don’t feel as brooding as when I was last here.
The path to the stone is well defined, although rocky and occasionally rough going, and seems a further walk from the road than I remember, but once you reach the tomb it is so worth it! Such a unique monument, and I love the rich and redolent folklore surrounding it. It’s a truly magical location. Inside things are just as spectacular, surprisingly roomy and comfortable, I waste no time in reclining on the stone ‘bed’ and if I were camping in this desolate landscape I can think of worse places to shelter. I could certainly see Snorro the dwarf making a comfortable home here!
It’s also worth mentioning the incredible resonance of the acoustics inside the stone, in one particular area near the centre of the chamber the bass reverberations, even just from normal speech can be felt as a physical thing. It also looked as if there might be at least one large cupmark on the interior face of the blocking stone, which interestingly enough would have meant the carving was for the benefit of the interred occupant, rather than any sort of external decoration, and reminded me of the positioning of cupmarks on the interior cist slabs of tombs in the Kilmartin valley.
To echo Carls fieldnotes, this place is a definite must visit, and if you’re ever on Orkney it would be remiss not to visit the Dwarfie Stane, although taking the car over to Hoy is not cheap if budgets are tight the Stromness foot passenger ferry is more reasonable, although it would involve a long fairly strenuous walk to the stone, it makes it feel even more of a pilgrimage when you get there! (I think there may have been a place that hired out bicycles near to the ferry pier at Moaness on Hoy, last time I came via that route, but that was quite a while ago!)
It’s hard to leave on a day as glorious as today, but we pressed on to Rackwick, a few miles further along the road, and as beautiful a setting as ever you’re likely to see, surrounded by the sea and mountains, in splendid isolation with the islands of Orkney stretching before us, it reminds me again just how wonderful these islands are.
Posted by Ravenfeather
8th October 2012ce