27 Feb 2016
Yet again we are back at the Castle of Breckness looking for the missing piece of our rune stone.
The whole thing started back in 2001, when Chris and I were very young. We were having this romantic walk along the shore near Stromness, and came to the ruins of Breckness. As the sun was setting, Christopher’s special eye for archaeology picked up on the way that the golden rays were shining across some vertical lines on a piece of old red sandstone that had tumbled down from a stone wall. “Are these runes?” he asked me. “I have no idea” the 22-year-old me replied.
I would later go on to study runes at university, because it did indeed turn out that we had found a real Norse rune stone! Or rather, a fragment of it, which is now in the museum in Kirkwall. It looks like it might be a piece of a memorial inscription, but the remaining text is too short to work out with certainty.
So since then, we have regularly come back to Breckness to have a look about for the missing part of the rune stone, but have not yet been lucky.
The Castle of Breckness is a spectacular site, on the edge above the churning and crashing waters. It overlies a broch which is just visible in the steep bank below, as it’s slowly being eaten by the sea. The “castle” or mansion was built for Bishop Graham in the 17th century, and the local story is that the family took some of the carved stones with them when they later moved to Skaill House near Skara Brae. Still, you can admire the grand cornerstones and the beautiful arches of the fireplace in the kitchen.
Even though we didn’t find the missing piece of the rune stone this time, we instead found something else that was interesting: A kelp-pit. This is a little round hollow by the shore, which was used in the 18th century to burn a type of seaweed called kelp to extract chemicals. Many landowners made themselves richer by having tenants gather and burn kelp for them, and the laird of Breckness was no exception. An innocent looking little dip in the landscape was suddenly pregnant with history.
The sunset was like liquid gold.