Orkney: Maeshowe & John Rae

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The wonderful mesolithic mound, raided by vikings and other adventurers, but still containing treasures.

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A brisk day indeed, but we were prepared. Of course by the end of the day it was clear a storm was on its way. A wild night of wind!

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Maeshowe is one of the greatest treasure troves of runes; bored vikings + a long storm = a fantastic collection of runes and a dragon.

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Of course you can’t take photos inside, as our guide Sarah reminded us, so you’ll have to imagine it – or go to maeshowe.co.uk and see how the winter solstice light shines through the entrance.

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All the cats in Stromness seemed to be ginger; maybe there’s a single ginger matriarch a few generations back…

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John Rae’s Close, commemorating the Arcadian explorer, whose effigy can be found in St Magus Cathedral. Vilified by Lady Franklin and celebrities like Charles Dickens, Rae has been proved right by history.

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The Stromness Museum featured an exhibit of Rae’s artifacts on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his birth including this bear claw crown. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Rae met the Inuit and other first people with respect.

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Rae learned from the Inuit of the failure of Franklin’s foray to find the Northwest Passage; his wife didn’t appreciate the news or its source and fought to send numerous expeditions to ‘prove’ his discovery all of which came to nought of course.

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I had to share this one just for the initials 😉 From a bootlegger ship that went down; ‘spirits’ that were poisonous to drink but sold during Prohibition causing blindness and even death.

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Stromness is a lovely town with houses jumbled close together for warmth and protection against the wind. Be sure to lunch at Julia’s Café when you get off the ferry.

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We drove to Orphir to see the area where Rae grew up, which he described as a boy’s paradise of hunting, fishing and rambling. A rainbow showed us it was truly golden.

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Dramatic skies; the weather was about to change for the worse, but it was lovely nonetheless.

More on John Rae

Maeshowe Official Site

Be sure to drop by A Knife & A Quill to read my Allan’s latest review

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