Saturday, August 04, 2007

History in the Orkneys

Sandcastles just don't cut it in the Orkneys. Kids work hard to line the shore with minature stone circles and chambered cairns. It's a beautiful reflection of the Neolithic sites up above.
This has been a grand weel of roaming, stepping back into history. It's rare indeed to step out of such places as Maes Howe and be told that those who built it 5,500 years ago looked out on much the same scenery as we are seeing today.
Whether the birds will be the same in years to come is less sure. We did a bird walk with Andy Knight, manager of the RSPB reserves here ... fields arranged carefullly to keep the corncrake from extinction in the islands, but the breeding of seabirds now tragically low for the fifth year in a row. We are late in the season, but have only eyeballed the one thick white cliff-faced ball of a fulmar chick so far.
Kirkwall is thronged with folk from two cruise liners today. Our second week is set to be quieter and more remote, allowing slow walking and reading time down in South Ronaldsay (Walter Isaacson's biography of Einstein proving my surprisingly racy read just now). I managed a mini signing of my new Haldane bio Suffer & Survive in the Orcadian Bookshop this morning, four copies now nicely on display. Hatchards on Piccadilly have ordered in a handsome 30 such signed copies (done in Simon & Schuster's HQ before I left). Let's hope the review promised in tomorrow's Sunday Times helps shift them (a fine one in the current Literary Review).
I'm stepping back in time in a different way next week ... following in Haldane's footsteps and doing a hard hat dive in Stromness harbour on Wednesday afternoon, in ancient equipment bought from the internet in Russia. A good dose of my own self-experimentation - though I won't match the bravado of Haldane's own plunge to forty feet. He did his despite being a non-swimmer!

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