|Surprisingly, it's quite a long drive down to the southern end of South Ronaldsay island, which you can reach from Mainland thanks to the Churchill barriers. But the Tomb of the Eagles is SO well worth it.
The tomb was discovered, excavated and is now run as a family business by Ron Simison, now well into his 70s, who had the vision to understand and realise the potential of the tomb and it's contents as a major tourist attraction. But don't be put off by that. This ain't Disneyland.
Part of the Simison family farm has been converted into a visitor centre with car park, shop and ticket booth (where Ron's daughter-in-law took our entrance fees of 3 quid) and a splendid exhibition area. Ron's granddaughter gave us a lecture on the artifacts found in the tomb and allowed us to handle some of them. She showed us the skulls of people buried there and put the whole of the place into the context of neolithic Orkney. We hadn't even seen the tomb yet and were already having a great time.
Next, donning foul weather gear to face the best of Orcadian summer days, we made our way down the path towards the Bronze Age house and Liddell burnt mound which Ron had also discovered and excavated. To my delight, Ron was there and would be our guide. Softly spoken, witty, knowledgeable and, refreshingly, without a care for diplomacy, he launched into his fascinating spiel. He showed us quern stones and tools he'd found and described everyday Bronze Age practices based on what he'd dug up here. All six of us thought Ron was a wonderful, admirable man. I felt quite starstruck to have met him, actually.
And then on to the main event: a short walk towards the cliffs and the tomb itself!
The tomb, built into the cliff edge like an eyrie, is certainly no more dramatic or unusual in it's construction than other Orcadian tombs, like Wideford or Unstan. What makes this special is the fact that it's so much part of the landscape; no wonder it wasn't identified until Ron stumbled across it.
The entrance is low and long and you get in by lying on an oversized skateboard and hauling yourself along with a conveniently placed rope. Inside the tomb there are stalls and side chambers, a bit like a cross between Blackhammer and Fairy knowe. For striking dramatic effect, one of the side chambers is lit from within and houses a collection of skulls.
All six of us were all very excited about this place. The whole 'Tomb of the Eagles Experience' was thorough, in good taste, personal, meaningful, informative and thought-provoking. Even Cloudhigh and Jamesie, who are not tomb-chasers like the rest of us, thought so. Certainly one of the highlights of Orkney.
We took the cliff top path back to the farm and below us watched fulmars and kittiwakes soaring, gullimots and razorbills diving and seals bobbing around in the sea below us.
Posted by Jane
9th August 2004ce