Avoiding hogboons and torrential downpours while taking tourists on wild ride through 5,000 years of history is all in a day’s work for our Orkney Rangers. This World Ranger Day, four of our Orkney Rangers tell us what life is like looking after one of Scotland’s most beautiful places.
We are very aware today, World Ranger Day, there are colleagues elsewhere in the world who are working in dangerous situations some even losing their lives in the course of their work. However here in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage site I am very pleased to say we work in a beautiful, peaceful environment. We’re lucky enough to be surrounded by stunning open landscape, wild flower meadow and monuments that are world renowned.
This year, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage site celebrates 20 years.
In 1999 UNESCO recognised the unique experience we have here. Our prehistoric sites chart the cradle to grave experience of the people from 5000 years ago. The rangers based in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney do their best to bring the story and sites to life for the thousands of visitors who come to our islands every year.
No two days are ever the same. There’s regular daytime walks and evening tours of the sites. We keep visitors up to date with Ness of Brodgar excavations. We also provide special tours for school and community groups. That’s all on top of spending time answering questions and making sure everyone has the best possible experience of our fantastic sites.
Orkney Rangers Elaine, Sandra and Keith – and Orkney volunteer, Fraser – keep up to date with all the news from the annual dig at Ness of Brodgar and keep visitors to Orkney informed about all the finds.
On the “hottest July day ever”, in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage site, the rain was positively Biblical in its scale! Nevertheless, eight hardy visitors arrived at the Ring of Brodgar for the Rangers’ evening walk, Flowers and Folk Belief. On one of the more pleasant days this summer, we welcomed 30 visitors on the tour, making it one of our most popular new walks.
In a lull between downpours, we meandered through Brodgar’s meadow, keeping a wary eye on the knowes for fear of upsetting the mound dwellers. Trowies, elves, fairies and hogboons are known to live therein. If disturbed, the elves might fire arrows! Records show that flint arrowheads have been found around the mounds.
It is said that misfortune befalls those who dig into the mounds. There is no digging on our guided walks, but this was a very real fear when Sir James Farrer excavated Maeshowe, where a hogboy was known to reside.
We enjoyed the beauty of the wild flowers. We heard how the aromatic meadowsweet was used as croft flooring and as a painkiller, since its roots contain salicylic acid. And there was some useful information for anyone suffering from toothache. Apparently this can be treated by sucking up juice from the iris’s roots thought your nostril!
Heeding Burns, we kept a wary eye out for witches riding on ragweed nags. We were glad to find slender St John’s wort, without search or seeking. St Columba said that St Johns wort offers protection, and so we recited an incantation from the Carmina Gadelica, to ensure our further well-being, as we departed.
Group photo! Rangers Elaine, Sandra, Keith and Eleanor pile in for a photo with Fraser the volunteer on the the steps of the ranger trailer at Brodgar.
I joined the Orkney Ranger Service this May for the summer and it has been a great experience so far. I love that no two days are the same. Doing tours and speaking to people has undoubtedly boosted my confidence. I’m sure it will help me greatly with group work and presentations at university as well as many more things in further life. Some days if a cruise liner is in port it can be exceptionally busy but very interesting as I get to meet people from all over the world.
I’ve gained a huge amount of knowledge! Not just about the history of Neolithic Orkney but also the nature and wildlife of where I grew up. It’s very rewarding to see visitors appreciate and enjoy the sites in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney especially as I have visited each of them regularly for as long as I can remember.
The weather this summer has not been particularly good but as a local I knew what to expect! I am so glad I got the opportunity to join the Rangers this summer and I am looking forward to the rest of the season!
The Ring of Brodgar is just one of the amazing locations looked after by our Orkney Rangers. The Neolithic site is dates to at least 2000 BC and the surrounding area is a haven for nature.
After working and travelling in New Zealand and Australia for the past two years, I had come to appreciate working outdoors in unfamiliar places. This was primarily what drew me to the Ranger position in Orkney, along with an interest in archaeology and a fondness for personable interaction. I was therefore delighted to have been offered the Ranger position at the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site.
One of the most important things in my job is balancing conservation with visitor experience of the sites, particularly the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness.
After being in the position for around two months I would say the highlights have been meeting visitors from all backgrounds and nationalities, learning about the area, particularly the archaeology and wildflowers, and working with such friendly and knowledgeable colleagues.
There were some aspects of the job that were initially out of my comfort zone (not a bad thing!), such as leading guided tours to visitors. But overall the tasks required of a Ranger in Orkney are very enjoyable. I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to work in such an interesting and beautiful, albeit wet, environment.
Head to our website to find out about the 32 wonderful places we care for on Orkney.