Orkney Scotland

Tomb of the Eagles

A chambered cairn near Isbister, Orkney, reached after a dramatic mile long walk along the cliffs.

Tomb of the Eagles is a chambered cairn, perched on the cliff edge near Isbister, Orkney. It was discovered accidentally by local farmer Ronnie Simison in the 1950s, who subsequently excavated it himself before calling in the archaologists. The family still look after the monument and run an excellent museum where they positively encuorage you to get ‘hands-on’ with ancient artifacts discovered at or near the site.

I was priveleged to meet Ronnie himself on my first visit there, a man of such passion, stories, and gentle humour.

The walk to the cairn is about one mile, across a heath which in spring is bursting with wildflowers and birdsong, before taking to the dramatic cliff edge. My first visit here was an eerie experience. Thick mist shrouded everything as we carefully found the way, not knowing how far to go or if we were still on track. The surging sea crashed far below, echoing and booming against the cliff walls, yet muffled by the mist. Thankfully the cairn loomed in front of us, and while we gathered the courage to enter, a plaintive bird cried mournfully, lost in the mist.

Image showing Tomb of the eagles, Orkney

Entrance down the 3m long tunnel is by lying on one’s back on a trolley, and pulling on the fixed rope. Once inside, you can stand. Be prepared to get muddy, and wear stour footwear for the walk.

going into tomb of the eagles

Energetically, as with many cairns, there can be a lot going on! Its an interesting place to visit. Many human and Sea Eagle bones were found during the excavation, giving rise to the theory that the Sea Eagle was a totem animal here. New evidence from revised dating techniques suggests that the bones were placed up to 1000 years after the building of the cairn, ie it was only used as a tomb by later peoples who did not understand its true purpose.

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