I haven’t posted in a while because we were on a field trip….to Scotland! One of the biggest perks of homeschooling is being able to travel any time of the year, and for us that usually means fall. Its a lot easier to use frequent flier miles in the fall and there are a lot fewer tourists to compete with. This year we spent almost a week on the island of Orkney off the northern coast of Scotland and then a few days in Edinburgh before heading home.
Orkney is a very remote location but the island, well actually it is a group of islands, is covered with sites of historical importance. Four of the sites, Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, Maeshowe and the Stones of Stenness are lumped together as a UNESCO World Heritage site called the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. Orkney is also home to the Ness of Brodgar, but the site is only uncovered for a short while in the summer months while they’re excavating. The Ring of Brodgar (photo above and below) is a ring of standing stones that predates Stonehenge and unlike Stonehenge, you can walk right up to the stones. Those are my two boys standing to the right in the picture below.
Maeshowe is a chambered cairn/tomb built about 5000 years ago. Unfortunately they don’t allow photography once you are inside, but here’s a picture of our approach. The fun thing about Maeshowe is that Vikings broke into it during the 12th century to wait out a storm and carved runes, graffiti, into the walls, things like, “Tholfir Kolbeinsson carved these runes high up”.
Skara Brae is a prehistoric village built about 5000 years ago (before Stonehenge) that was uncovered during a storm in 1850. What’s remarkable about Skara Brae is that the houses were very complete and give a great view of what life was like 5000 years ago. Furniture and carved objects were found in amazing condition. The shelves in the center of the picture is believed to be a dresser where people stored items and the box on the left was for sleeping. There’s a picture book for kids about this site called, “Skara Brae: The Story of a Prehistoric Village”.
We spent a day on the island of Hoy with our guide, Kinlay Francis of Orkney Uncovered (who I highly recommend), who gave us a tour of the Dwarfie Stane (another neolithic site) and some World War I and II sites. As you can see in the photo, we did experience some great Scottish weather on this trip, but being from drought ridden California we actually enjoyed the rain.
My oldest son was really into carnivorous plants when he was younger and I had read that some were native to the island of Hoy, so while walking through the bog in the rain to the Dwarfie Stane we were searching for tiny sundews. I was very surprised that we actually found some and we got to teach our guide some botany.
We also stopped by the Brough of Birsay, which you can only access during low tide, Broch of Guerness, the Stromness Museum and the beautiful coast at Yesnaby. Orkney is small island, but there is plenty to see and do.
After 6 days in Orkney we flew down to Edinburgh, spent a few hours in the castle. This was our 3rd trip to the castle so we had already seen it before, but if you go, plan on spending at least one full day if not two exploring the castle. The photo of castle was taken from the window of the Apartment by Castle where we stay. Its physically impossible to stay any closer to the castle and it is a great little apartment.
We only had two full days in Edinburgh and spent most of it in museums. The Surgeon’s Hall Museum had just reopened and its a fascinating museum about the history of medicine and anatomy with lots of body parts and tumors in jars. Fortunately for you, no photography is allowed inside that museum. We also spent a few hours at the National Museum of Scotland, which happened to have a special exhibit on Victorian Photography. The National Museum of Scotland has a bit of everything, natural history, geology, cultural history and of course Scottish history, definitely worth a few hours of your time, if not a whole day. The boys noticed on their own that a lot of the items in the museum actually came from sites we had visited in Orkney. We also stopped in at the Camera Obscura, a museum of optical illusions and walked down the Royal Mile to the Palace at Holyroodhouse.
We were only gone 11 days (2 of which were spent on planes…ugh) but we managed to cram in a lot of history. I think we all learn a lot more actually visiting historical places then just reading about them. Besides all the museums and historical sites we also managed to see the aurora borealis two nights in a row while on Orkney. A very successful field trip.