An Orcadian Diary (5): The Broch of Gurness

I was struggling with the height of the walls – 10 metres. I am distinctly medium in height; my two sons tower over me, at six foot, three inches each. But ten metres is a long way into anybody’s domestic sky; and yet that’s how tall the central stone tower of the Broch of Gurness was.

The small cheeseboard (above) bought in Kirkwall, the capital, has served us well as geography prop. Locate the island of Rousay and, from its south coast, drop down to the shark-shaped headland on the West Mainland below. That’s where we are, at the Broch of Gurness, with Rousay opposite, so close you feel you could swim to it – but those waters are treacherous…

I hope someone else is asking, ‘What’s a Broch?’ It’s a well-known word north of the border, but I had to ask the Historic Scotland guide at the tiny visitor centre; and felt diminished by his incredulous stare. He wasn’t being unfriendly; he was genuinely surprised at my ignorance – but only momentarily…

… He ceased grinding corn on the rotary quern- just long enough to educate me – and then resumed his skilful use of the two stones; a steady stream of flour, below, being the result. Inviting me to have a go by way of penance, he explained that a broch (pronounced ‘brock’) was a fortified tower at the centre of an ancient settlement. In this case the settlement was a large one, and, 2000 years ago, would have been one of the most important places on Orkney.

The sea is everywhere on Orkney. Indeed, after a few days of meeting it beyond each bend in the road, or over every gentle hill, you come to realise that Orkney is the sea, and that you are in a kind of paradise where the gentle curls and fronds of the welcoming land live, in gentle harmony, with the mother force of the blue-green waters. We gave you this, the waters seem to say. Look after it and that which gave it life and it will become home in your heart.

The mysterious Iron Age peoples who lived here, two thousand years ago, felt that way. The sea was their highway, and probably a big part of their religion, too. Along with the fertile land, it fed them.

Ten metres. It’s a long way up for a drystone wall… though the full height of the cental broch tower is long eroded. Newly educated at the grinding wheel, I worked hard to recall what the guide had said: You build that big because you are important. The tower is domestic – being the ‘royal’ dwelling, but it’s also defensive; you can see for miles from a height like that, and Orkney has hills but no mountains. In addition, you can watch and manage those near to you – surveying the farmed land around. It was a really important place, concluded the guide, letting me leave my grinding duties and enter the historic site.

There are over 500 brochs in northern and western Scotland, but those with sizeable villages like Gurness are peculiar to Orkney and northern Caithness. The history of archeology is full of fortunate accidents that lead to discovery. The coastal storm that revealed Scara Brae being a very good example. The story of the finding of the Broch of Gurness is one of the best.

There had been a large mound (locally ‘knowe’ at Gurness, close to the shore, for as long as anyone could remember. One day in 1929, an Orkney Scholar, Robert Rendall, was sketching on the top of the mound when one of the legs of his stool slid into the ground. He dug to examine why the ground had given way and ended up uncovering the top of the staircase on the west side of the broch tower. There had been widespread interest in excavating Orkney’s ancient history and a series of donations enabled formal excavations, which began in 1930. It was soon taken over by the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, under whose aegis it continued until the onset of WW2 in 1939.

A similar mound at Midhowe, on the neighbouring island of, Rousay, was excavated at the same time, and skilled workmen were shared between the two sites. For its time, the work was very skilled and disciplined. The result was a great achievement for the people of Orkney, who now had living proof of the ancientness of their landscape.

The work continued after the war and, in the 1950s, consolidation of the work took place. Loose and broken stones were secured in place and all walls were made safe. A set of concrete cliff were constructed to offer some protection from the unpredictable seas.

The picture below, taken from the site’s visitor board, shows the extent of the excavation, as it is today. On the left hand side you can see how close it is (and was) to the sea. The picture also shows the dominance of the central broch tower, with its twin, hollow walls and vast dimensions.

Broch small

By about 100 AD, the broch and its village were abandoned. Successive failures in the structure reduced its size, and the remains were re-used by generations of later settlers, up to Pictish times, around 700 AD. The Vikings never lived here, but, in the 9th century,  they honoured the site by burying a noblewoman, along with her grave goods.

Further information from Historic Scotland.

©Stephen Tanham

An Orcadian Diary (4): The Light of the North


St Magnus x Cathedral keyarch

We could be in any of the great cathedral cities of Britain. If someone took off the blindfold and asked, we might say Salisbury, York, Lichfield or the wonders of Durham Cathedral. The latter is significant, because they who built Durham came here to add their skills…

We are in the capital of Orkney – Kirkwall (reference ‘F’ in the Northlink Ferry’s map, below), in one of the most splendid cathedrals I’ve every visited. And yet this town of Kirkwall, the commercial centre of the archipelago of Orkney, has a population of only 10,000 people. The rest of Orkney is compact, beautiful, and infused with a sense of ancient mystery. So why is this magnificent building here, so far from the rest of British ‘civilisation’?

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It’s a story involving Earls

Aha! I thought to myself, upon hearing this – some medieval outpost of early Britain, strategically important – as it was to be, a thousand years later, during WW1, when the British fleet was based in Scapa Flow. But these were not English earls; they were Vikings, albeit Vikings who had adopted Christianity.

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St Magnus Cathedral is referred to, historically, as The Light in the North. It’s not hard to see why when you stand in the west and look along the nave towards the chapel in the East.

St Magnus x Cathedral Lamps better

The Earls of Orkney were from Norway, and had settled in these fertile islands, as part of their vast and successful expansion. Modern Stavanger is a mere 300 miles to the East – no problem for a nation with the seafaring expertise of the Vikings. The Old Norse name was actually ‘Jarl’, rather than Earl; and the two terms only became synonymous during the 15th century when, under the Sinclair family, control passed to mainland Scotland.

St Magnus Cathedral x Full Arches

Until that time, the ‘Jarls’ of the combined territory of Orkney and Shetland (Norðreyjar) had a great deal of independence and local power. The office of Jarl of Orkney became the most senior rank in medieval Norway except for the king himself.

St Magnus x Cathedral side chamber1

Magnus Erlendsson was the Earl of Orkney in the early 1100s. He seems to have been a very spiritual man, which many contempory Norwegians saw as a weakness. Magnus once refused to fight during a Viking raid on Anglesey, staying on his ship, praying and singing psalms.

He shared the Earldom with his ambitious cousin, Hakon. The two men fought a series of battles, damaging the land. To settle this, it was agreed to hold a council of peace on the Orkney island of Egilsay. Each Jarl would bring only two ships, containing unarmed men. Hakon broke the agreement and arrived with eight ships, each fully armed. On his orders, in an act of humiliating barbarity, Magnus was executed by Hakon’s reluctant cook, using an axe.

Magnus prayed as the axe was swung towards him… He was buried at Birsay, in the north-west of the Orkney Mainland (see map, above). Over time, stories of miracles associated with the royal grave began to circulate. During this time, Hakon’s reign seems to have been blighted by misfortune.

St Magnus x Cathedral Font

Eventually, Magnus’ nephew, Rognvald, came from Norway to claim his uncle’s Earldom. He promised the people of Orkney that he would build a ‘great stone minster’ in honour of his uncle; and that he would turn it into a place of pilgrimage.

St Magnus Cathedral x East window

The Cathedral was founded in 1137 and inaugurated as part of the Archdiocese of Nidaros (now Trondheim) in Norway. Orkney became part of Scotland in 1468. A few years later, the cathedral was given to the people of Kirkwall by King James III.

St Magnus' skull
(And early photograph of St Magnus’ split skull, now interred in the cathedral)

After the Scottish Reformation in 1560, the cathedral was used for Protestant worship. Nowadays, it belongs to the people of Orkney. It is maintained by the Orkney Islands Council. It has a Church of Scotland congregation and can be used, by arrangement, by any Christian denomination.

St Magnus Cathedral x Roof thru pillars

Restoration work took place in the 1850s and again, following a large bequest from Sheriff George Thoms, during 1913-1930. Because of its great age, the cathedral structure is constantly monitored for stability.

St Magnus x Cathedral EntranceAA

The exterior of the building shows off the local sandstone, from which most of the cathedral is constructed.

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The north choir aisle is home to the brass bell from HMS Royal Oak, the battleship sunk in Scapa Flow in 1939. The case holds a Book of Remembrance to honour those who died. The pages are turned every week by the cathedral custodians.

St Magnus x Cathedral HMS Royal Oak panel

The chapel at the east end of the building is dedicated to St Rognvald, the founder. It was redesigned in 1965 by the Orcadian artist Stanley Cursiter. The wooden communion table and lecterns, incorporating medieval panels, were made by a local craftsman, Reynold Eunson. The left figure is Rognvald’s father, Kol Kalisson; the right is William the Old, Bishop of Orkney when the cathedral was built.

St Magnus x Cathedral East 3 fi

The central figure is that of St Rognvald, the founder of the cathedral. He is seen holding a model of the original cathedral building.

St Magnus x Cathedral East Rognvald - 1

The right side of the chapel is home to Dr John Rae, a resident of Orkney, who worked for the Hudson Bay Company, which explored the Canadian Arctic. He discovered the vital Northwest Passage, enabling the shipping of goods between Europe and northern Canada by a much shorter route. His remains are buried in the cathedral’s graveyard.

St Magnus x Cathedral John Rae Arctic

Sadly, the chapel area was being used for a lecture, which meant I could not get close to:

  1. The cathedral’s oldest gravestone, thought to date from the 13th century. Its golden sandstone face depicts a carved ‘morning star’ symbol and a sword, possibly indicating a crusader or a Templar Knight. Initials P and C were added at a later date, according to the guide leaflet.
  2. The chapel also contains some of the oldest carvings, including dragons, a small hooded imp, and a squatting female Sheela-na-gig. At the top of a column there are two Green Men, ones with distinct foliage coming out of his mouth – a deeply mystical symbol and one emotionally linked to my personal past…

The majority of the present stained-glass windows were designed by the Glasgow artist Oscar Paterson. They depict a variety of saints and biblical figures, as well as characters from Orkney’s Norse past.

St Magnus x Stained glass windowsAA

I have, therefore, many reasons to go back… something I look forward to very much.

Other parts of the Orkney series:

Part One    Part Two

Part Three

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham



Young Courage and the Old Man


I have always resisted the use of the word ‘courage’ to describe people who are suffering. Suffering is horrible, but, alone does not equate to courage, though I have every sympathy for those going through it. The newspapers, tabloids in particular, have a habit of using ‘courage’ or ‘brave’ when someone is dying of cancer, for example. We need empathy, certainly, and a lot of love, but courage and bravery are something else.

On Friday 8th June, Edward Mills, aged eight, climbed one of the most difficult coastal features in the UK – the Old Man of Hoy sea stack on Orkney’s archipelago; becoming the youngest ever person to do so. His mother, Bekki Christian, has terminal cancer. Edward climbed with his coaches Ben West and Cailean Harker.

My photo, below, shows the frightening prospect of that climb. It was taken from the cabin of the Northlink Ferry to Orkney, during our trip there in April, this year.

The island of Hoy (see Northlink’s  map, below) is a difficult place to navigate. There are few roads and to get to The Old Man from the main islands requires a ferry, car journey and a four-hour walk, each way. Young Edward had already made this walk, with his guides, before he started the climb on Friday lunchtime. The Old Man is 140 metres high and has been the subject of several historic televised features, starting in the 1960s when the BBC covered the first recored climb being made by some of the best climbers in Britain, including Chris Bonington. You can see some of the original reporting here.

Location of the Old Man of Hoy and Edward Mills’ climb.

Its was therefore a very difficult and courageous thing for a young man to do. Add to that the emotional situation of a dying mother and something remarkable was happening. It took Edward and his support team nearly five hours to complete the climb. They had to get back down as well, of course…

Edward knows his mother is dying. He and his father wanted to do something positive at this difficult stage in their family lives.

Edward is brave. He showed remarkable courage in undertaking this task at such an age, though he is an accomplished young climber. If, like, us, you wish to look at his full story, his JustGiving page is here.

I don’t normally circulate anything like this; but having recently sailed past the Old Man of Hoy, and shuddered at the prospect of climbing it, I thought it might be appropriate to ask anyone who would like to help Edward’s appeal to reblog this.

Thank you so much.

The Independent’s coverage of the event is here. Their report also contains a good photograph of the young climber.

An Orcadian Diary (2) Before History

Child Archeologist smaller

Continued from Part One

And now we should go back to an older time – a much older time – to flesh out the story of the islands of Orkney, north-east of the Scottish mainland.

The man in the picture is Gordon Childe. It’s 1927. He’s the newly-appointed Abercrombie Professor of Prehistoric Archeology at the University of Edinburgh. The photo shows him emerging from the first formal excavation of an ancient settlement named Scara Brae.

He’s an Australian and a Marxist, though his knowledge and insight have gained him an international reputation for other types of revolution. The depth of his understanding of ancient peoples is the reason he has been appointed to oversee the work at Scara Brae by the conservative Edinburgh establishment. He’s not frightened of proposing things that upset his fellows in the field… and he’s about to propose something truly shocking about Scara Brae…

Scara Brae lies on the West Mainland of Orkney (see map, below – location ‘B’) – a place that hosts one of the densest concentrations of ancient sites in the world. The remains of the ancient village are on the very edge of the sea in Skaill Bay. Here, the enemy is climate: high winds and storms batter this beautiful archipelago, passing quickly, but capable of doing great damage. There are (almost) no trees on Orkney; a result of the constant winds.

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The location of the Orkney islands, off the North-East coast of Scotland

In 1850 a great storm blew away some of the sand and earth covering what is now the Skara Brae site, exposing several intact dwellings of what were, then, considered to be Pictish remains dating from the latter half of the first millennium AD.

William Watt, was the owner and occupant of Skaill House – still considered the best example of a manor house on the islands, and which is now a museum.

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Part of the site, with Skaill House in the distance.

Watt carried out an investigation of what had been revealed. This was before there were any legal requirements for how such treasures should be excavated. He explored the two dwelling that had been revealed by the storm and removed many objects from the site. Unfortunately, he left little documentation of his work. In 1861, James Farrer, who was an archeologist and had discovered the burial chamber at nearby Meashowe, (see later post in this series) undertook his own investigations. Sadly, he, too, left little in the way of records.

When Professor Childe was appointed, the site had been exposed to the elements for seventy years. But, by then, the Scottish authorities had created a formal programme (which became Historic Scotland) to document and protect their ancient treasures. It was into this resurgent movement that Gordon Childe was appointed. He made an immediate impact, proposing that the coastal village of Scara Brae should not be dated to Pictish times (around 700 AD), but rather to the Neolithic period, around four to five thousand years old.

Scientific dating methods have proved him right, but there was controversy and even outrage in the mainstream press at the time. Some of this would have been due to him being Australian (the ‘what does he know’ type of comment) and also his well-known Marxist views on society. Nevertheless, Childe stuck to his conclusions, though he did his best to share the logic of his deductions. He became a popular figure–helping to promote archeology as a science having far greater implications that had previously been thought. It is ironic that, in the photographs at least, he resembles an early ‘Indiana Jones’ figure. The subsequent importance of Scara Brae is recognised in its being named a UNESCO World Heritage site – one of only a handful of such places.

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Scara Brae comprises ten houses set into the earth, near Sandwick; clustered together and linked by passages. The site is located next to the sea. The seafront has been reinforced to prevent further erosion. It is thought that there may originally have been hundreds of such dwellings in this location – all connected by an intricate system of shared living. It offers a glimpse into the lives of our shared ancestors from a time before Stonehenge was built…

Orkney offered the perfect home for the early agricultural settlers who came to farm here. Despite being on a line with Stavanger in Norway, Orkney has a relatively mild climate. People we met – all very friendly – said that, if there is bad weather, it blows over quickly. The islands also benefit from the Gulf Stream, which brings warmer water to its abundant shores.

Wind is the enemy, and is the reason there have been few trees here in recorded history. But that brings its blessings, too: the land was always fertile, and forests did not have to be cleared to create a farming landscape. The original Orkney peoples became expert in using stone for building, rather than wood. They also used it for furniture… We benefit from that in that, at least at Scara Brae, we can see the the more or less complete dwelling, and – uniquely – can see the actual furniture used by these families, five thousand years ago… This is what makes Scara Brae unique; we can form a real picture of how they lived and what they treasured.

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Everywhere you look on Orkney, you see the sea. We who have roads everywhere forget the importance of sea and rivers to earlier civilisations. The Orkney archipelago is a sheltered network of natural waterways and it is safe to assume that the original peoples were expert sailors, as well as farmers.

The visitor centre is excellent, and provides a complete reproduction of the most complete dwelling so that you can be prepared for what is later seen from the walkways.

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The edge of the central hearth and the ‘sideboard’ shared by all the houses in Scara Brae

Apart from one building, which is considered to be a workshop, all the family dwellings are remarkable uniform. They are partially sunk into the ground to give shelter and warmth. The walls between the houses are filled with ‘midden’ a mixture of shells and organic refuse which provides insulation.

Each house has a central hearth (see picture above), partly-recessed bed chambers, and, astonishingly, a toilet chamber – connected to a central flushing system! All the houses include a ‘sideboard’: a piece of furniture on which the families’ prize possessions, and possible tools, would be displayed. This shows a strong cultural ‘norm’, something that bound the villagers together into a shared and protective identity. These were peaceful and creative people. It’s no exaggeration to say that you can still ‘feel’ their presence in this beautiful place, which has been so lovingly protected and exhibited for all to see.

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The visitor centre reproductions of ancient life are exact

Each house had beds, located in separate chambers, though open to the central fire in the hearth.

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The separate bedchambers

The roofs were constructed using a mixture of wood, cloth and skins. This reproduction shows how they are thought to have looked.

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It is only when you walk the few hundred metres from the Visitor Centre to the actual settlement that you realise how effective the former is…

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Everything is now seen in context. The hearth, the bedchambers and the stone sideboards are see with clarity and you get that amazing inner feeling that you are actually sharing the homes of ancestors from an astonishing five thousand years ago.

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Orkney is a very beautiful place. Its beauty is not just in the landscape, but in its living history. There is no better example of this than Scara Brae. Much of that is down to Gordon Childe and the adventurous and open mind he brought to the task of revealing its true past…

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One of very few trees we encountered on our trip

By the time Stonehenge was built, the Scara Brae site had been abandoned. No-one knows why. That his wonderful piece of ancient history survived so intact is a miracle. But, Orkney has that special feeling about it; and the idea of miracles fits well, here.

Link to Historic Scotland’s website.

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham

An Orcadian Diary (1) Silent Guns

It ends beneath the ground; it always does. The bones of soldiers buried in fine ceremony, though the organic memory passed long before the corpse was glorified. Collective kindness crumpled by division in the face of another despot whipping up the many faces of our unhappiness.

But, perhaps, not always…

His name is Johnny Claude. He’s ninety-eight years old – the oldest man on Orkney who was born there.

The Historic Scotland guide for the Battery at Hackness, on the Orkney island of Hoy, had just talked us through the old man’s extraordinary life when his subject crossed the Battery courtyard behind us faster than anyone that old should be able to do… Glimpsing his movement, I turned, my camera phone poised, and caught the guide’s eye: yes, that’s him; take it quick, he doesn’t linger.

He had a stick, and used it with great skill. Somehow, it reminded me of the heroic artifice all around us: the Hackness Battery and the Martello Tower, with its state of the art gun – well, state of the art for 1812, the period when the fort was constructed on the strange and fascinating island of Hoy.

The mention of 1812 might have set you off humming Tchaikovsky’s overture of the same name, which, as we’ll see, is very apt.

The sea in front of the Hackness Battery might have triggered other associations of a military nature: Scapa Flow… though this part of it is known as Longhope Sound. One day in 1812, the guide says, there were over a hundred ships just off this stretch of coast. Every one of them seeking sanctuary; every one of them safe because of the presence of this naval battery and its ability to reach into space.

What reached into space was the presence of long-distance munitions: the kind of physics that blows apart large sailing ships. Graduating from the solid, spherical ‘shot’ shown above to the more complex spinning explosive ‘shells’ (in the box), the power of the impact became increasingly sophisticated as the years passed. Even in 1812, the heaviest of the shot – 24 lbs and very difficult to lift by hand – could be propelled over a mile with high accuracy from the battery. The gun at the top of the Martello tower was even deadlier. The additional forty feet of the tower allowed it to be more accurate and added a half mile to its range.


Johnny Claude has been here all of his life. Born in 1919 on Hoy, to a father who had bought part of the old Battery for the family home, he eventually enlisted and was based on Hoy in his late teens as part of the gunnery crew. His life had escaped the horrors of the First World War, but was imprinted by service, here, in the second. He never left.

Even his story was a hundred years after the rise of Orkney’s naval importance; something we find strange to understand now, when Orkney is seen as a place remote and ‘up-there’.

Up-there was one of the most important places in the ancient world because its open and deep waterways – like Scapa Flow – linked the North Sea with the Atlantic… and way beyond. In no other place could you gain so much distance simply by turning your ship. This story does not begin with the Napoleonic threat in 1812; it is the story of Orkney’s entire history. To begin to grasp it, you have to stand on one of the high places and look across the vastness of its waterways… They are also some of the deepest in the world.

The Battery at Hackness was established at the end of 1812, in response to the threat of naval invasion of Britain by Napoleon. We readily call to mind the threat from the Nazis during WW2, but, a hundred years prior, the French forces posed just as deadly a menace from closer at hand.

Napoleon dominated Europe, and was intent on starving Britain to its knees. The only surviving trade to the East was with the Scandinavian ports, who saw in Napoleon as big a threat as Britain did. Orkney sat at the crossroads of that lifeline of trade – and its protection was paramount.

The seaways of Scapa Flow are unique, and that Britain possessed them was vital to the country’s survival; something that continued right up to WW2, and carries on today with the fishing and submarine fleets. The two hundred ships sheltered in the sound off Hackness in 1812 were there for one reason only: the fort could protect them, and there was nothing Napoleon could do about it…

Beyond the Battery is the Martello Tower. Had a French frigate made it into Longhope Sound, its guns could have damaged the lower levels of the battery – though it would have taken great accuracy. But the Martello Tower, with its 24 pound gun and mile and a half range was indestructible, and one of most formidable defensive ‘machines’ ever constructed in the age before electronics.

The British forces did not invent it. Martello towers take their name from Martello Point in Corsica. In January 1794 two small cannon mounted on a coastal round tower beat off an attack by two British warships with a combined firepower of 106 guns. The navy learned from that, taking the basic design and commissioning the best engineering minds to refine the idea into an impregnable, if small, fortress.

The secret lay in its shape.

Photo of Historic Scotland’s information board

Seen in cross-section, from above, (lower right panel, above) it was oval in construction, with the sea-facing walls being a staggering 4.2 metres thick. The entrance was via an iron ladder to the second floor.


The gun was on the roof, which also was shaped to be a giant rainwater collector that fed a basement tank, using a filtering system. It was thought the Martello towers might be besieged, so the gunners had to be self-sufficient.


The gunpowder was stored in a carefully isolated chamber on the lower floor, reached from above, and entered only when wearing special clothing to prevent ferrous sparks.

The gun and its support structure on the roof had been designed very carefully. Such a powerful weapon had a strong recoil, throwing it sharply backwards when fired.

The mounting rails were angled upwards, behind the gun, absorbing the recoil energy as the gun climbed the gradient. At the end of the recoil, the gun locked itself in the elevated position, allowing easier re-loading of the shot or, later, explosive shells. The whole mechanism was mounted on a strong cast-iron ring set in granite which allowed it to be accurately aligned with its target. All of this was based on mechanical principles and the mathematics of the time. It was a masterpiece of defensive design.

Life in the Battery was primitive by today’s standards. But many, like Johnny Claude, served out their time here and even chose to stay on in Orkney.

Like his father, Johnny went on to marry a local girl and had several children. His father had purchased a section of the old Battery barracks in the 1920s, and Johnny inherited this for his own family. The photo shows him walking from the door of his lifetime home. His wife died some time ago, but this old figure is still wedded to this special part of Orkney.

There are many military graves on Hoy. The tall cross of the opening image marks the centre of an immaculately-kept combined services graveyard. But none of the graves contain the remains of those whose life was the Battery and Martello Tower.

It was never used in anger…

So potent was its fire, and so secure its design and position, that not even Napoleon dared risk an attack on Scapa Flow. Ultimately, it was an instrument of peace, not war. The fact that it was wholly defensive may say something about its effectiveness; and its longevity.

The presence of this very special old man of Hoy who holds so much of Orkney’s living memories is testimony to that.

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham