Neolithic art in Wideford Cairn

6 Feb 2016:

Wideford Cairn is a good destination when you want some fresh air, but don’t want a long or demanding walk. Just five minutes’ drive out of Kirkwall, you can drive up Wideford Hill for the start of the walk. As we parked, we enjoyed a spectacular bird’s eye view of Kirkwall looking east, and of the Bay of Firth looking west. You can pretend to be a bird – an eagle, perhaps – while following the high track to the cairn.

We also looked down the hillside to Smerquoy, where Christopher’s excavation is bedded down for the winter. Once, there would have been a Stone Age community here, with houses all along the lower hillside.

The cairn itself belongs to a belt of these Neolithic chambered burial mounds, which also includes Cuween Cairn in direct sight line for here, and the more famous Maeshowe in the next valley.

Wideford Cairn is built in layers, a bit like the pyramids of South America, with thick slate forming huge layers, withstanding five thousand years of time running by. A narrow passage leads from the front into the central chamber. Our boys are still small enough to go in that way, but we adults had to bring our somewhat larger bodies down the ladder through a Historic Scotland-sanctioned hole in the roof.

The torch-lit dimness inside can be a bit spooky, as if time doesn’t exist here. Smaller side-chambers lead off from the larger central chamber, and, un-spooked, the boys squeezed themselves in there to explore.

Meanwhile, Christopher made an exciting discovery on one of the stones forming the wall of the central chamber: Neolithic art! The stone had been rediscovered for carving purposes in the 20th century, and bore an array of boldly carved initials. But underneath, Christopher’s eagle eyes picked out the tell-tale tent shapes, which he spends so much time exploring and replicating in his own artwork. These finely lined “tents” have also been found in the Ness of Brodgar excavation, which has turned up so much beautiful Neolithic art, some of it even still in colour.

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