Posts tagged ‘Historic Scotland’

Skara Brae

Ever since I first heard about Skara Braesome 20 plus years ago (sitting in a dusty Archaeology lecture theatre at the University College of North Wales in Bangor) it has been on my list of places to visit. In fact it was one of the main reasons why we went on holiday to Orkney in the first place.

I knew that the 5000 year old remains of this once thriving little village were remarkably preserved and that the wealth of information gleaned from this site over the years, makes it one of the most important Neolithic monuments anywhere in the world. What I didn’t truly appreciate though, and I don’t think you can until you’ve seen it for yourself, is just how intact the dwellings, workshop and “streets” really are… isn’t difficult at all to imagine what this place must have looked like all those years ago and to put yourself in the place of one of its inhabitants as they went about their daily lives. 

I also didn’t realise the beauty of the location. The buildings that make up Skara Brae huddle together at one end of the magnificent Bay of Skaill, and on a sunny day it is easy to see why our Neolithic ancestors would have found this such an attractive place to settle. Having said that, on a stormy day in the middle of winter then I’m sure the character of the location would be transformed into something much more dramatic and inhospitable. After-all it was one such particularly violent storm in 1850 that revealed the remains of the village for the first time in about 4500 years.

The only slight downside of taking so many shots when you go away for a couple of weeks, is that it takes me so long to work my way through them all. Don’t get me wrong I quite like post-processing, I find it quite relaxing and therapeutic…..and it’s also fun to review the shots and relive the memories that they inspire. However I am slightly reluctant to get out and shoot any new stuff at the moment, because I know I have so many more Orkney images that I want to share.

© Mark Simms Photography (2013)

Brough of Birsay – Part 1

The Brough of Birsay is a tidal island off the northwest coast of Orkney’s mainland. When the tide is right it is accessible by a narrow slippery causeway, for the rest of the time it is totally isolated. There is evidence of both Norse (Viking) and Pictish settlement on the Island, no doubt attracted by the easily defendable nature of the site.

We visited twice whilst we were there, just walking on the beach, searching for sea shells and being mesmerised by the North Atlantic waves rolling in and crashing against the rocks. It is a beautiful and dramatic spot.


Just a quick note on the shot of the Common Seal (or at least I think it’s a Common Seal, it could be a Grey Seal instead). I’m not that pleased with this image, I was a little too far away for my 70-200mm lens and as a result I’ve had to crop this shot quite heavily. Also it’s not as sharp as I would like. I’ve included it here because it’s the only useable shot of a seal that I have. We saw quite a few in our two-week holiday, but unfortunately not many where I was in a position to photograph them.

Watch-out for more shots of the Brough of Birsay in my next post. 

© Mark Simms Photography (2013)

The Ring of Brodgar

The Ring of Brodgar is another of the remarkable monuments that make up the “Heart of Neolithic OrkneyUNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a fantastic stone circle over 100 metres in diameter that sits on a thin strip of raised ground between the Lochs of Stenness and Harray. It is contemporary with Maeshowe, circa 2600 BC, that I posted about here. Originally it would have comprised 60 standing stones, of which 27 now remain upright, surrounded by a 10m wide and 3m deep ditch. It is a remarkable site…..

I got a little carried away taking shots on our two visits to the Ring of Brodgar, the ten above are only a sample of the many images that I captured. However I make no apologies for this (well except to the wife of course…;0)…) because standing stones are incredibly photogenic and provide some fabulous landscape opportunities. Also the light on our second visit was really good…..I could have easily stayed longer.

Shots 7, 8 & 10 are all five exposure HDR shots processed in Nik’s HDR Efex Pro2 software, the others are all straight single exposure images. Because I took so many photos I decided to experiment in post processing with a few of them. I’m particularly pleased with the high contrast mono conversion for shot seven – this treatment results in a grainy, moody image that I think enhances the already dramatic, windswept and mysterious landscape in which the Ring of Brodgar sits.

Orkney has definitely left a lasting impression on Liz and I, so much so in fact that we have just booked to go back for another week at Christmas. That’s the first time in 15/16 years of holidays together that we will have returned to a destination…..normally our attitude is that we really enjoyed that vacation, but there are so many other places to go and see in the world that we probably won’t go back again. Who would have thought that a small collection of islands off the North coast of Scotland would have this effect!! 

© Mark Simms Photography (2013)


For my first post since returning from a fantastic two-week holiday to the wonderful Orkney Isles just off Scotland’s north coast, I’ve decided to share with you an image of Maeshowe, a fantastic Neolithic chambered tomb which dates from about 2700BC. I think this image encapsulates the essence of Orkney – big skies, wide open landscapes and stunning cultural heritage.

Maeshowe, which is run by Historic Scotland, is widely regarded as one of the finest examples of its type anywhere in Europe. It forms part of the “Heart of Neolithic Orkney” a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site that also includes the Ness of Brodgar, the Ring of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness and Skara Brae. The fact that all these occur in Orkney’s West Mainland makes it one of the highest concentrations of Neolithic sites anywhere in the world. The remarkable thing is that the UNESCO designation only covers a handful of the dozens of known pre-historic sites that are dotted through-out the rest of the Orkney Isles. If that wasn’t enough, according to the experts, there are no doubt more sites as yet undiscovered.

Unfortunately, although we were able to go inside the tomb on a guided tour, we weren’t allowed to take any shots of the interior. I’d love to return to Maeshowe for the Winter Solstice, because the tomb is aligned so that those fortunate enough to be standing in the main chamber on the shortest day of the year, get to see the light of the setting sun slowly creep up the narrow, low passageway and eventually fill the inner chamber with a magical golden glow. For those not so fortunate Historic Scotland do live-stream the event each winter at


The above shot is a HDR image made up of five bracketed exposures and then processed in Nik’s HDR Efex Pro2.

I took over 800 images in the two weeks we were up on Orkney and I’m just starting to work my way through them now to decide which I’m going to process and publish. Clearly this is going to take me a little while and I can already see that this trip will require a number of posts over the next few weeks to do it justice.

© Mark Simms Photography (2013)

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