The North Atlantic Arc


From Muckle Flugga to the Mull of Galloway





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Saturday 24 September 2005

Untouchable


The alarm wakes me out of deepest dreamland. I'm off to the south of Mainland today. First I visit a couple of ruined brochs. Many of these ancient stone towers were built on hilltops or on small islands, but the one at Clumlie is in the middle of pastureland, and is curiously surrounded by much more modern (but equally ruined) farm buildings.

At the far south of Mainland (as Shetland's main island is called), just past Sumburgh Airport, two headlands extend southward, parallel to one another. One is Sumburgh Head, which rises to a high knoll surrounded by cliffs, on which sits a lighthouse. The other headland is the Ness of Burgi, and that's where I'm headed. It is much lower, rolling land, and toward the end of it, there is a restored ancient "blockhouse". The walk out is pretty straightforward, except for a short stretch where the sea is steadily working at making the Ness an island; one must walk along a jagged ridge for a hundred feet or so, with sheer (but short) drops to either side. This is not quite as hairy as it sounds, for a chain handrail has been mounted through the worst of it. Still, it's pretty exciting, and the short scramble fosters a sense of isolation out on the Ness.

The blockhouse is interesting enough, but the spot itself is just enchanting, and I hang around for half an hour or so, all alone, the sea crashing almost on all sides.

Back near the airport, Jarlshof is my next stop. This is a fascinating site--five different civilizations have built here, one atop the other. There are substantial ruins of Bronze Age houses, early Iron Age houses, an Iron Age broch with surrounding wheelhouses, Viking longhouses, and atop it all, Earl Patrick Stewart's medieval castle, its corner sitting atop the wall of the broch. This is one of Shetland's two great archeological treasures, the other being the nearly complete broch on Mousa.

Saturday night in Lerwick...much like Saturday night in any small town in Britain, much too noisy and rowdy for an old fogey like me. I have a few pints and drams and go to bed.

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Mr Tattie Heid at the "fort" on the Ness of Burgi.


The interior of a prehistoric dwelling at Jarlshof.


Another ancient building at Jarlshof.


This triptych shows the various ages of human residency at Jarlshof. The roof of the medieval castle (from which the photo was taken)
is at left; below it, an Iron Age broch and a Bronze Age wheelhouse. Outbuildings contemporary to the castle are at right,
and the remnants of Viking longhouses are in the background.

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