The Brough of Birsay and an Earl’s Palace

Orkney was totally different planned, with more trips to the other islands and lots more Neolithic graves and a visit to the Scapa Flow museum on Hoy. Turns out, you can plan all you want, sometimes the universe has other plans for you like a tide walk to the Brough of Birsay. When it comes to plans going awry, maybe the reason is just that one should really plan well in advance and not while on the move (mea culpa). We only explored Hoy, because there was no ferry on Sunday to make a return trip to any of the other islands. So that was bad planning from my side. The biggest Neolithic grave, Maeshowe, was closed due to the pandemic, and the Scapa Flow museum was undergoing a renovation. So there you have it. But we saw Birsay.

the small island of Birsay, Orkney

Birsay is all the way to the northwest of the Mainland. It’s a small island connected with the Mainland through a walkway, which you can only use when the tide is low. The nearby Birsay Bay Tearoom provides a relevant timetable, but you can also find the times online. Coming closer to island one can already see how far the water has withdrawn. It was time to start walking. On the first picture below you can even make out the lighthouse if you squint a bit.

the tide is low enough @Birsay

tidal walk to Birsay @Orkney

It’s really fascinating to see how the sea looks when the water is gone. There were no fish or mussels or anything living left, just a lot of rocks in all sizes.

what’s left of the sea when the water is gone @Birsay

Right away on the Brough of Birsay you arrive at the rest of a Viking stronghold and possible seat of Thorfinn Sigurdsson, the Earl of Orkney from around 1000. But already the Picts at around 600 used this site as can be seen by the traces of oval houses underneath the remaining walls. Not the I saw anything, but the Pictish symbol stone (a replica) was a good indicator.

rest of a Norse village @Birsay

replica of a Pictish symbol stone @Birsay

It’s short walk uphill but when you turn around the view on the Mainland is quite amazing really.

looking back on the Mainland @Birsay

The lighthouse is the main attraction point on this small island and the steep cliffs behind it. It’s another Stevenson lighthouse, in the end they all kind of look the same (here the one from Dunnet Head built by Robert Stevenson).

the lighthouse of Birsay @Orkney

The cliffs were totally amazing and honestly had quite a lot of overhang on the picture. I can’t remember that it looked like that in real life.

Pollybert on a cliff @Birsay

And to put it in perspective here is the cliff once again. That would have been quite a fall.

sheer cliffs @Birsay

The sea is rough here, even in calm weather. I love how the spray came up with the wind and how foamy the water was.

lighthouse and cliff @Birsay

The way back was suddenly full of sheep and at one moment everyone of them was showing their behind. Not sure if that says something about me.

sheep everywhere @Birsay

About a kilometer away, on the way to the Birsay Bay tearoom, the abandoned Earl’s Palace awaits you. It’s not that old, only from the 16th century, but built by Robert Stewart, the half-brother of Mary Stuart. The palace had a short life, by 1615 the Stewart Earls were overthrown. Best feature was the rainbow though. Yours, Pollybert

Earl’s Palace @Birsay

Let me know what you think

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