Skara Brae, The Orkneys
In the winter of 1850 an unusually fierce storm battered the west coast of Orkney’s largest island and uncovered one of the most remarkable ancient ruins in the British Isles – the 5,000-year-old stone-age village known as Skara Brae (‘Brae’ means a ‘slope’ or ‘hillock’ in Old Scots). Designated a Unesco World Heritage site, it’s among Europe's most impressive Neolithic sites, and offers a fascinating window into the lives of the people who lived here around 3000 BC. Amazingly, it’s a life we can easily recognise, with a series of 10 clearly defined one-room houses, stunningly well preserved by the sand, complete with all the trappings of domestic life – hearths, tables, cabinets, even beds – that point to a settled, thriving community that lived from farming and fishing; indeed it’s thought that Skara Brae was inhabited for around 600 years: no mean feat in such an exposed location. A replica house adds to the picture, along with a modern visitor centre, plus there’s the inevitable gift shop and a very welcome café too. The location is the thing, though – a perfect spot to sip your cappuccino and gaze out at the sandy white beach and wide ocean and wonder what your ancestors would have made of it all.
Martin Dunford is Publisher of Cool Places, a new website from the creators of Rough Guides and Cool Camping, suggesting the best places to stay, eat, drink and shop in Britain (coolplaces.co.uk).
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