A field trip to Sanday

Now that the Orcadian summer is as good as over, I am back in my office – and lo and behold, I have plenty of nice pictures to share showing my summerly exploits. I might have mentioned this before, but one of the best things about doing a PhD on runes in Orkney is the fieldwork.

Thus, one nice day in early summer, I jumped (or rather dragged my coffee-deprived self) on the early morning boat to Sandy, one of Orkney’s more northerly isles.

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It is an amazingly beautiful place, and, as you might have guessed, its name is derived from Old Norse and simply means “Sand island”. I must say, I have hardly ever seen a place with a more fitting toponym.

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However, I didn’t go there to enjoy the beach (mostly). In fact, Sanday has its very own runestone, or at least a fragment of it, Or 17 from the farm of Little Isegarth (some details can be found in Michael Barnes and Ray Page’s “The Scandinavian Runic Inscriptions of Britain”).

There are very few photos of it, and it is always best to see inscriptions with your own eyes. It is on permanent loan in the Sanday Heritage Centre from Orkney Museum. If you ever have an opportunity to travel to Sandy, you really should include the Centre in your planning, it is certainly worth the trip, and I’m saying that not just because of its runestone.

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It is a very interesting object, and I am glad that I got to examine it. After this, I had a close look at the landscape where it was found. This stone was discovered as part of a collapsed drystone dyke, clearly not its original location, but having seen the surrounding area, I have some ideas where it could have come from (no spoilers, you’ll have to read my PhD if you want to know more).

And in the end, my day of successful fieldwork in Sanday culminated in this view from the boat back to Kirkwall:

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Big thanks go to Emma Neave-Webb, the Sanday ranger, for arranging my visit and showing me around, and to Sanday Heritage Centre for making it possible for me to examine the inscription.

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