Viking settlement on the Brough of Birsay #Scotland #Orkney

Still catching up on my trip to Orkney, I’m taking us back in history again, this time to the Vikings.

I recently read a fantastic historical novel (3 books in 1, really): King Hereafter, by Dorothy Dunnett. Published in 1982, the language is far more dense than modern books, and more Tolkein-esque in style with a leisurely plot and many, many genealogies, but it is a wonderful story, filled with vivid characters, and action that sweeps through Scotland, and into Europe. The remarkable history covered in this novel takes in, amongst others, King Canute’s reign in England, the rise and fall of various popes and bishops, several Scandinavian monarchs, not to mention Scottish kings and war lords.

It is a fictionalised history of King Macbeth (yes, the Macbeth of Shakespear fame), otherwise known as Earl Thorfinn of Orkney.

I noticed right away, upon landing on Orkney, that Thorfinn (and others depicted in the book), is well remembered in many ways

This slight digression is by way of an introduction for our next visit, to the Brough of Birsay, a small island accessibly at low tide by a causeway, with a remarkable set of Norse ruins, thought to be the home of Earl Thorfinn.

The stones make for pretty rough walking, but it was worth the effort.

Standing on Birsay, above the Norse ruins, looking back towards Orkney Mainland
The main settlement is straight ahead, but you can also clearly see some less exposed ruins on the right, and the outlines of even more in the foreground.

There is also the remains of a 12th century church, almost certainly built over an earlier place of worship

Wandering amongst these remains was yet another absorbing and breath-taking experience, with time to speculate about the people who lived there over 1000 years before, and yet left such an impression on history.

You do, of course, have to keep an eye on the clock, arriving (and leaving) at appropriate times, taking the tide into account, but it was also very comforting to see this notice on the door of the small hut on site:

Or, unlike King Canute, you could always patiently wait out the tide…


  1. Amazingly, this looks wilder than Africa, Deborah. Great pictures.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely wild – I love it!


  2. […] was particularly on my mind after mentioning in my last post about reading Dorothy Dunnet’s book, King Herafter, the fictionalised tale of Earl […]


  3. Thank you for the enjoyable visit, Deborah

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As ever, my pleasure ❤


  4. […] quick trip forward in time on Orkney again, moving from the Viking settlement across the causeway to the 16th-century Earl’s Palace on the […]


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