Earl’s Palace, Kirkwall

Orkney, Scotland. Days 23 and 25 , 21st and 23rd July.

Archaeology, Architecture, Birsay, Earl's Palace Kirkwall, History, Landscape, Orkney, Photography, Scotland, Travel

This is the Earls Palace in Kirkwall, the main town of Orkney.  I briefly stopped here on my way to my accommodation on the day I arrived in Orkney, for a few images from the outside.  Two days later I returned when it was open and photographed the inside.

 

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This is what it looked like after it was built.  The long building in the front right is the Bishop’s Palace (next post) and the L-shaped building behind it is the Earl’s Palace.  The inset for floor plans is for the Earl’s Palace (from an information board at the site).

 

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Two posts ago we saw the Earl’s Palace at Birsay, built by Earl Robert Stewart, illegitimate son of James V and half brother of Mary Queen of Scots.  He acquired the Bishop’s Palace at Kirkwell in 1570 from Bishop Adam Bothwell (who visited Orkney twice only).  The Earl’s Palace was built by his son, Patrick Stewart between 1601 and 1607.

The Stewart Earls had invidious reputations, especially Patrick.  He was known for cruel and arbitrary justice and building his palace with unpaid forced labour.  He conducted armed raids and seized houses of his rivals.  Notwithstanding inheriting an earldom already in debt, be undertook an ambitious building program including both the Palace here and a castle at Scalloway in Shetland (which we shall see in due course).

 

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In 1603 the King restored the Bishopric of Orkney and reinstituted the church estates.  This caused a great loss in revenue for Patrick who resorted to increased taxation on other landowners and thus caused intensified opposition.  In 1607 he was required to hand over his newly constructed palace to the Church.  He still occupied it in 1610 but by then he had lost the king’s support and was arrested and sent to prison for five years.

From prison he encouraged his son Robert to rebel.  In 1614 Robert seized both the Kirkwall Palace and the Kirkwall Castle (which no longer exists).  However, he was defeated by the combined forces of the Bishop of Orkney and the Earl of Caithness.  Both Stewarts were executed in 1615.

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Ground floor corridor

While Patrick Stewart had a reputation as a tyrant, that was mainly for the effect he had on other landowners.  Probably all earls were vicious suppressors of their poorer subjects.  The fall of the Stewart Earls, though, led to a change in the legal system.  The previous system or Udal Law, derived from the Vikings, gave freehold ownership to small farmers without the need to hold title deeds.  Scottish Feudal Law largely replaced this after Patrick.  I’m not sure how this played out but on the mainland all ownership was concentrated in the Lairds until very recently and still largely is.

 

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Cellar

In 1614, the Church took possession of both the Bishop’s and Earl’s Palaces but they did not hold them for many decades.  In 1638, when the Covenanters defeated Charles I in the first phase of the Civil War, they abolished Episcopy.  In other words, they abolished hierarchy in the Church and there were no Bishops.

In 1643, Charles granted the Earldom to William Douglas, Earl of Morton but the Earl’s authority did not survive the Civil War.  In 1653, the Palaces were used as accommodation for Oliver Cromwell’s troops.  Episcopy was restored with the Restoration and a Bishop moved back in in 1671 but this did not last long either because the Glorious Revolution in 1688 saw Episcopy abolished again, this time for good.  The Palaces were already severely deteriorated by this time and they fell into ruin during the eighteenth century.

 

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the Between Room

DSCF5172-EditThis is the Between Room and probably the room of the Steward, the person who oversaw the running of the Palace and controlled security.  It’s on the first floor and facing one of the corner turrets.

There’s an irony here.  From the 12th century to 1371 the High Stewards of Scotland were stewards to the Scottish King, for most of that period the House of Dunkeld.  This was an hereditary office and the family who held it were therefore called the Stewarts.  From 1371 the Stewards became Kings (and eventually gave rise to the current Elizabeth Saxe Coburg Gotha, alias Windsor).

So this is the room of the Steward to the Stewart who in turn was son of the bastard son of a Stewart who was King and whose family had for centuries been Stewards to the King.

 

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DSCF5184

 

This is the Great Hall, the principal public room in the Palace, where Earl Patrick dispensed his own peculiar brand of justice.

 

 

 

 

 

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DSCF5185-2

This is the Dining Room.  Its appearance is quite different without the elaborate wooden panelling and tapestry hangings it would once have featured.

As a stone building it would have been cold in winter and one wonders what it would take to keep that huge fireplace fed, especially in a land of very little wood.

 

 

 

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These are the stairs from the first floor to the second.  The wall seems to have been patched up with some incongruously new-looking mortar.

 

Archaeology, Architecture, Birsay, Earl's Palace Kirkwall, History, Landscape, Orkney, Photography, Scotland, Travel DSCF5186

 

This is the Bed Chamber.  Not just a bedroom but also a place where Patrick would have entertained visitors, friends and family.

 

 

 

 

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Here we are at a turret in the Bed Chamber,  looking past a turret in the Main Hall, to the corner of the L-shaped Palace where the entrance is.

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We can see the turret the previous picture came from.  This is from the end of the second story, now open to the sky.

 

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The Outer Chamber, originally a guest room.

 

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The Inner Chamber, also originally a guest room.  Both Inner and Outer Chambers had their own fireplace, latrine closet and access.  This one was also the quarters of Major Ponsford when he billeted here in 1653 with his Cromwellian troops.

 

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DSCF5203

 

This is the fireplace of a small room half-way up the stairs and above the kitchen.  It may be the one described as the Doctor’s Chambers in the inventory of 1653.  It is uncertain who this Doctor was, perhaps one accompanying the Cromwellian troops at that time.

Broch of Gurness

Orkney, Scotland. Day 25 , 23nd July.

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Early in the morning, as determined by opening hours, I visited the Broch of Gurness, not far from where I was staying.  The image is level, the broch is just built on sloping ground.

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This is what it would have looked like two thousand years ago, from the information board at the site.  Brochs are always circular stone towers.  This differs from most others, especially those on the mainland, in that it was surrounded by a fortified village.

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Here we can see the remaining lower part of the external wall.  In 1929, before excavation, there was just a large grass-covered mound here though there was rumoured to be a broch underneath.

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The sea was the highway of ancient times.  The broch is on the edge of Eynhallow Sound, between Mainland and Rousay.  I think the land in the distance on the left must be the small island of Eynhallow.

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Coming in a bit closer, we can start to see the remains of the village that surrounded the broch.

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There was a small fortified settlement here in 400BC, but the main period for the broch was between 200BC and 0AD.  From 200AD to 600AD, the community had gone and there was just a single family farmhouse on the site.  Perhaps the threat of attack and the need for fortification had diminished.  A Viking grave from around 850AD was discovered near here but by that time the site was deserted.

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This is the “Shamrock House”, a later Pictish dwelling with small radiating rooms.  Originally one of the dwellings adjoining the broch, it was painstakingly moved to near the Visitors’ Centre to allow excavating structures underneath.

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And this is what it may have looked like when in use, including a low thatched roof.

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The remains of a dwelling adjoining the broch, though I am unable to describe what we are seeing with any precision.  Perhaps the light brown stone square is a hearth.  Perhaps the recessed box beside it is a well, though the guidebook does not mention it.  There is a well within the broch, with steps down to water, but this is not usually open to the public.

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The path into the broch.

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This is what it may once have looked like.

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Past the houses to the door to the broch itself.

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Because it is surrounded by a fortified village, the door to the broch is taller than doors to brochs that stand alone.  They usually require that a person stoops as they enter.

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Archaeology, Architecture, Broch of Gurness, Brochs, History, Landscape, Orkney, Photography, Scotland, Travel

This is the interior of the broch.  Much of what we see dates from a later period.  There originally would have been a wooden ceiling above here for an upper floor, and a thatched roof above that.  The wall would have extended much higher.

The rectangular corner on the very front left is part of the hearth.  I would presume the trees were long gone and they had to burn peat or turf, maybe cattle dung as in India today.  The rectangular hole in the ground behind it is the well.  There are steps going down but access is closed.

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A trough for cattle and sheep, perhaps?

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Elegant stonework on the interior of the broch wall.

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Birsay

Orkney, Scotland. Day 24 , 22nd July.

From the Brough of Deerness I headed to the Brough of Birsay on the other side of the island.

The Brough of Birsay is a tidal island that you access via a concrete causeway provided the tide is not too high.  It includes a remarkable array of ruins, often with one era building on top of the other.  There are traces of a Pictish settlement from the 7th and 8th centuries, remains of a Viking age settlement and the remains of a church and monastery from the twelfth century.

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This is the remains of Viking houses and barns of the ninth or tenth centuries.   The walls would originally have risen to around two metres, with wooden roof and supports, covered in turf and with no windows.

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The structure in the left distance was a twelfth-century Romanesque church and the round part is the Apse.  It was influenced by international styles in design notwithstanding its remoteness and antiquity.  In the foreground are the remains of later Norse houses, mainly of the tenth century though built on top of earlier houses.

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This is thought to be the remains of a Sauna and is a small stone building from the eleventh century.  The upright slabs inside the wall supported seats along the walls.  Stones may have been heated in a brazier, then doused with water to produce the steam.  Perhaps they timed its use with high tide so they could then plunge into the sea.

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Looking east at Mainland and the coast, past later Norse dwellings.  This may be the dwelling from the eleventh century with ducts for underground heating.

In the distance on the right, behind the Scottish flag, on Mainland, is the Village of Birsay.

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Here are the remains of the Earl’s Palace from the sixteenth century, at the Village of Birsay.

The Orkeyinga Saga, written around 1200, tells of Earl Thorfinn having his permanent residence at Birsay.  This is more likely to be on Mainland near the village than on the Brough of Birsay.  Excavations near the Palace at the mouth of a burn have uncovered a tenth-century Norse hall, which may have been the home of the Norse Earls of Orkney.  Orkney was effectively an independent state at the time of Thorfinn and the language was the Viking tongue Norn, also spoken in Shetland.  It was widely spoken until the eighteenth century and survives today in many words in the local dialect.

The Earl’s Palace was therefore probably built here as a continuation of a tradition dating back to Viking times.

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The Earl’s Palace of Birsay was built by Robert Stewart, Earl of Orkney, between 1569 and 1574.  Robert was an illegitimate son of James V and half brother of Mary Queen of Scots.  Mary had created a Dukedom of Orkney for her later husband Bothwell in 1567 but they were overthrown later the same year.  Her son James VI (later James I of England) recreated the Earldom and granted it to Robert in 1581.  Robert developed a reputation for brutality that was surpassed only by his son Patrick and died in 1593.  His son built his own Palace in Kirkwall and the Palace in Birsay fell into disrepair after 1700.

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The palace was built around three sides of a courtyard, with a wall enclosing the north side.  There were towers on three or perhaps four of the corners and we are looking at one of those.  It was as much a fortress as a residence, with large windows only on the upper levels and small openings and gun holes on the ground level floors.  The grandeur of the Palace was a direct cause of the Earl’s unpopularity because to build it he raised taxes, confiscated land and manipulated the legal system to his own advantage.

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Archaeology, Architecture, Birsay, Earl's Palace Birsay, History, Landscape, Orkney, Photography, Scotland, Travel .

Archaeology, Architecture, Birsay, Earl's Palace Birsay, History, Landscape, Orkney, Photography, Scotland, Travel

From a noticeboard at the site, this is a representation of the West Gallery, a sparsely furnished long room that was a meeting place.  It became fashionable to hang paintings in such rooms, which is where our current term “gallery” derives from.

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This is the West Gallery as it appears today.

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A short distance south of Birsay, at Marwick Head, is a memorial to Lord Kitchener, he of the famous handlebar moustache on the First World War recruiting poster, also known as Kitchener of Khartoum after winning the Battle of Omdurman and retaking the Sudan in 1898.  He was Secretary of State for War in 1916, enroute to a diplomatic mission in Russia, when his ship went down nearby here after it hit a mine.  Almost all on board drowned, including Kitchener.

Deerness

Orkney, Scotland. Day 24 , 22nd July.

I flew in to Orkney on the 21st and en route to my accommodation, stopped by in the main town Kirkwall to briefly view the Earl’s Palace and the Bishop’s Palace.  I toured them in more detail later so I’ll include the images I took on arrival in a later post or posts.

Next day I was due to fly to the northern islands of Westray and Papa Westray.  This was to include the world’s shortest commercial air route between Westray and Papa Westray, early neolithic ruins on Papa Westray, massive bird cliffs and mediæval ruins on Westray.  I thought I could save time by flying there rather than taking the ferry but I didn’t count on the fog.  After more than half a day gone and with no plane in prospect, I abandoned that plan and arranged for a further night on Mainland (the main island of Orkney).

Next I had to decide where to go for the rest of the day, so I decided to visit the Brough of Deerness, which was near the airport.  I was caught out here as well, because I thought there might be a broch here, but no, it’s a different word.  A broch is a round stone tower from 500BC to 500AD and a brough is a headland or peninsula.  But having got to the Broough of Deerness I went for a walk.

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This is the Gloup.  It is a Geo, a deep cleft in the cliffs.  It was once a sea cave but has mostly collapsed.  The sunlight on the water at the top is through a tunnel to the sea.

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A view from the cliffs on the way to the Brough.

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Sea cliffs and fog, near the brough.  The brough itself is almost an island and is off to the right from here.  There is a climb down the cliff and then a path up the cliff on the other side.

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On top of the Brough is the remains of this ancient chapel.  It appears to have been a wooden structure before the arrival of the Vikings in the tenth century and was rebuilt in stone in the 11th or 12th century after the Vikings converted to Christianity.  We can see a stone altar against the back wall.  The chapel began to fall into disrepair from the 16th century but was a focus of devotion until the mid 19th century.

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Nearby was a farm with hay bales all rolled up for the winter.

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They have been making hay while the sun shines.

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Archaeology, Architecture, Deerness, History, Landscape, Orkney, Photography, Scotland, seascape, Travel .

Farewell to Hirta

St Kilda, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Day 20 , 18th July.

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Early in the morning, before we left, I took some shots of Village Bay from the ship.  This first one is a wide angle and you can see some naval buildings in front on the far right and a little of them on the far left.  “The street” stretches across the middle, with stone fences, enclosures and cleits behind.  (You can always click on the image to see that better).  There’s still some fog but the weather is much clearer than either of the previous two days.

Much of the sea wall at the top of the bank behind the “beach” was demolished by the navy years ago but remember that after the huge storm of 1860 the houses along “the Street” were knee-deep in water.

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This image and the following ones were picked off with a 300mm lens, though some combine multiple images for a panorama.  This shows a little of the density of cleits, walls and enclosures behind the houses.

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The cleits and enclosures continue behind the “head dyke” or back wall.

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A view of the Feather Store from the front and the wharf in front of it (with the tide out).  You can see why landings can be difficult in rough weather.

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Lady Grange’s house in the mid left foreground.  Behind that is the street and behind that the cemetery.  You can see the cemetery gate if you click on the next image and zoom in, though you can only really see the front wall of the cemetery.

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Click to view much larger image

The image above is a panorama comprising six images.  You won’t see much detail in it as it sits on this page, but you will if you click on it.  If you click on any image in the Blog you’ll see a larger one, but in this case you go to a huge image that you can zoom into.

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The cleits continue up the hills and beyond the horizon.

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Our last glimpse of Village Bay – these are some enclosures on the cliffs of Hirta near Dun, just south of the village.

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Looking back from the North-East coast of Hirta.  Village Bay is out of sight behind the headland and Dun is in the distance at the left.

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Sgeir nan Sgarbh

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Stac an Armin, Stac Lee and Boreray

These are two stacks and a corner of the island of Boreray, some miles away.  Stac an Armin, on the left, is where three men and eight boys survived for nine months when the smallpox epidemic laid waste to the residents at Village Bay on Hirta.

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Sea Cave

There’s a small line of black-and-white guillemots perched on a ledge high inside the wall of the sea cave.

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Abhainn a’ Ghlinne Mhoir at Gleanne Mor

This is our last glimpse of settlement on Hirta.  The creek is called Abhainn a’ Ghlinne Mhoir and the area is Gleanne Mor.  If you look closely there are a number of cleits in the landscape.  To the left of the creek, out of sight here, there are the remains of a number of interesting structures.  These include sheilings, or summer huts and the “Amazon’s House” (Taigh na Banaghaisgeich), thought to be a Pictish-era residence dating from 400AD to 900AD.  Mind you, there should also be sheilings within our field of view, though you’d have to be walking around to have a chance of identifying them.

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Mina Stac off Conachair

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Not so long ago, the inhabitants of St Kilda would have lowered themselves down these cliffs on homemade ropes and swung sideways to get to the birds and their eggs.

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The birds are guillemots.

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St Kilda Monochrome and Infrared

St Kilda, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Day 18-19 , 16th to 17th July.

 

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This is a series of monochrome conversions of selected images from the previous six posts on St Kilda.  In those posts these mono images appear as colour and there is often detailed commentary including historical notes.  For information and context about St Kilda and these images, see those previous posts starting at Arrival at St Kilda.

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photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared.

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared.

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

The following eight images are infrared, shot using an R72 filter.  Some are colour and some are mono conversions.  None have snow; that’s just how grass and leaves can come out in infrared.

Unlike the mono images, there are no colour versions of them in other posts.  The exposures were all taken within a half hour period.  I brought my monopod to shore (though it should really have been my tripod) and I then discovered that I had left the head for it on the ship.  Consequently they are all hand-held at high ISOs.  This produced a lot of noise but then this is in line with the excessive grain often found in monochrome infrared film photography and I think actually assists the images.

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photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared

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photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

photography, travel, archaeology, history, landscape, architecture, scotland, st-kilda, Hebrides, Monochrome, Black and White, Infrared .

A Walk to the Gap

St Kilda, Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Day 19 , 17th July.

Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

In the afternoon, we decided to go for a walk up to the Gap, beyond the top of the ridge behind the village.  I paused on the way for an image of this large cleit.

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Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

Another, looking back.  The dark roof of one of the restored houses in the street is visible at far right in the middle distance.

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Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

I had to be careful I didn’t fall too far behind….

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Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

We’ve climbed the slope to a flatter area near the top known as An Lag (An Lag Bho’n Tuath in full).  This is one of the large enclosures here, presumably for sheep.  There are four large altogether, two of which also have internal walls.

(The rest of the group are to the right of the enclosure, almost out of sight).

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Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

Only one entrance to the enclosure….

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Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

… and there is a number of small cleits.

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Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .

Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .

Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .

Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

We are on top of the cliff now.  This must be the Gap.  It would no doubt look very different in the absence of fog.

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Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

Here carefully I lie down full length on the ground so that just my head and my camera are over the edge of the cliff.  We are looking straight down, at the sea if we could see it.  The sea cliffs along here are the highest in the UK.  It’s probably higher a bit further along at Conachair but this is where it’s steepest, in fact vertical.  We can’t see much but we are therefore at the point of the highest vertical sea cliff in the United Kingdom.  Somewhere down below us there is also a sea cave and an overhang.

 

Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

The fog is even heavier at the top.

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Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .

Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel

We’ve walked back down and here we are overlooking the street again.

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Archaeology, Architecture, Hebrides, History, Landscape, Photography, Scotland, St Kilda, Travel .