Daily Archives: July 7, 2022

Oh, tombolo!

Six years ago in Australia we went on a picnic hike with our friends Bruce and Di to Barrenjoey Lighthouse. When we got to the lighthouse Bruce informed us with great confidence that the sandy isthmus connecting Barrenjoey to the mainland is called a tombolo.

“What’chu talkin’ about?” we laughed, knowing Bruce’s penchant for pulling our legs, but he was adamant and the new fact was tucked away for future reference. So far it hasn’t won us any free beer at the pub.

Flash forward to 2022 and we parked up overlooking another tombolo, this one connecting St. Ninian’s Isle to mainland Shetland.

We still can’t believe how easy it is to find free parkups in amazing locations and we’re glad our camper is self-contained and able to take advantage of these places.

We stayed overnight just where the camera icon is on the mainland side.

Under an unexpectedly clear blue sky we walked across the tombolo to the island.

We soon learned an important Shetland skill: dancing around sheep poo in the meadows. This will soon be followed by another skill: finding a stick in nearly treeless Shetland to dig the sheep poo out of our shoe treads.

Sheep poo aside, it was a beautiful walk and it felt good to stretch our legs and start regaining the fitness we’ve lost over the last six months of low activity.

Our parkup put us in the exact right place to enjoy our first clear horizon sunset in recent memory. And with the long twilight this far north it lasted for nearly an hour. Life is good.


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We don’t talk about the Picts

First order of the day was a food run so we’re looking for a market with a US size parking lot. As luck would have it there’s a Tesco in Lerwick where we can stash the van, shop and then walk to a fairly complete restored broch and that, dear Escapees, is a trifecta of the first order in vanlife.

With our little treasures sorted in the van we headed out on foot toward the broch, located on a tiny island at the end of a straight but windy stone causeway, reaching out into Clickimin Loch. It’s kind of a ready made moat.

Quite fascinating, this Bronze Age construction. Almost every detail is defensive in nature. It suggests that maybe some people didn’t care for these folks.

The feature event for the day was not far away, but then nothing is very far. It’s a small island, so small that to get to the British Isles’ most important archaeological site one has to carefully cross over their airport runway, after looking both ways of course.

Prehistoric Jarlshof has Neolithic remains over 4,700 years old and was first visited 6000 years ago. It was successively occupied during the Bronze Age and Iron Age, and by the Picts, the Norse, and finally a 16th century Scottish Laird.

This poster in the visitors center shows the extent of the site.

So much of ancient daily life can be imagined from wandering through these dwellings. Iron age built right on top of Bronze, the Picts and the Norse in the same space. The audio tour guided us through the site and described the features of each era. Except the Picts. “We don’t talk about the Picts in this tour,” said the voice in our ears. Why? What did the Picts do to get erased?

Marce listening to an audio tour that explains what we’re looking at.

The extensive Norse settlements have typical rectangular long buildings as if chosen out of an IKEA catalog and while not nearly as old as the earliest settlements you really have to work to get any history out of the notoriously stoic Norse, with the possible exception perhaps of certain long winded poems.

The Laird’s fortified manor house, built in the 16th century, stands guard over all the millennia of history.

Back at the visitors center we asked about the line in the audio tour of not talking about the Picts. We said it sounded like they were outcasts. The young lady rolled her eyes and said, “I know! But really it’s only because the Pict layers are underneath other layers they don’t want to disturb, so they haven’t actually investigated that part.”

I guess that makes sense. But Marce has been singing, “We don’t talk about Picts, nix, nix” to the tune of “We don’t talk about Bruno, no, no.”

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