ODIN LANDSCAPING

Almost everyone visiting the Brodgar area of Stenness recognises that it is a very special place. The Neolithic people clearly felt the same way. They recognised the unique atmosphere which results from this configuration of land, water and sky. So, wherever they lived in the islands, this became their ritual and social centre.

Staying at Odin one has the extraordinary possibility of sharing some of their experiences.

Certainly the views from the house are exceptionally fine. They give pleasure from sunrise to sunset as the weather and light change. Captain Cooper made an inspired choice of site when he built the house in 1936.

In the last few years the garden has been simplified so that it both reflects and contributes more appropriately to its surrounding archaeology and landscape. Houses, farm buildings and the agricultural pattern of fields have always made their essential contribution to the numinous atmosphere in this area. Odin has been opened up to its surroundings.

COMMENTS ON THE GARDEN AND VIEWS
From the front of the House At the entrance, or sitting comfortably in the porch and looking left, it is the Stones of Stenness that dominate the view. The low horizontal garden wall sections with sheep fencing have been built to enhance the experience of their proximity.
Moving ones gaze clockwise one is looking in a more southerly direction. In the foreground one sees a group of objects including a rectangular wall, a clipped sycamore tree, a recently built square pillar, the impressive Neolithic 'Watch Stone', the not so ancient telegraph pole, a smaller pillar, and the splendidly constructed twentieth century road bridge. The recent work knits all these elements into a balanced, coherent sculptural group.

Stenness Loch and Hoy Hills taken from Odin
More distantly, beyond the road and the Watch Stone, lies the loch of Stenness and on the distant horizon one sees the hills on the island of Hoy. These are of great visual importance under some light conditions. They are particularly striking at sunset. At the winter solstice a truly awesome spectacle is the sun sinking into the valley between the two hill masses on Hoy. This must have been an important part of the Neolithic winter festivities which were centered in this area. Perhaps this is why the Stones Stenness, the Ness of Brodgar 'cathedral' which lies just beyond the bridge and the Ring of Brodgar are all crowded into this area.
Current Ness of Brodgar archaeological dig with Odin and Standing Stones in background copyright ORCA
From the west of the house
Walking clockwise round the corner of the house, in the foreground one sees a sheltered corner of the loch back by the bridge. The intimate scale makes a very satisfying composition with eighteenth century landscaping overtones. (The resident swans help!)
Continuing along the side of the house the view of Harray continues to open up with the shore line receding towards the Ness of Brodgar. To fully enjoy the proximity of the water, the wall edging the terrace has been kept to the minimum height that is compatible with the strictly horizontal platform for the house.

Early morning Harray Loch

Sailing towards the distant horizon
Continuing clockwise to the corner of the terrace one finds the loch stretching into the far distance. Also a narrow spit of land extends from the garden into the loch. One feels as if the house and garden are sailing toward this distant horizon. So this corner of the terrace has a nautical flavour with a hint of a 'Viking' prow and ship foredeck. On the electricity pylon are flown the flags of the Northlands which are Orkney's essential context.

From the north-east of the house

Continuing to walk clockwise along the terrace one finds the character of the view changes completely. The loch is now middle ground to a bare agricultural landscape of rectangular fields and cuboid farm buildings on gently undulating hills. This combination of water and bare rectangular fields provides an essential component of the unique Orcadian experience of light and sky.


6am May sunrise "Sheep"
looking across to Ness of Brodgar

On the near side of the loch is a field in which a flock of sheep often graze. Their visual separation from the garden is minimised by using a simple barbed wire fence. Just within the fence is a group of cuboid stones has been grouped. They echo the farm buildings on the far side of the loch and fit unobtrusively into their surroundings.
Arrival of Stones - very cold December morning


Arrival of Stones
very cold December morning

The stones were blasted in the nearby quarry at Finstown and are oolitic in character. An extra reason for placing them in the garden was to refer to the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay. He was a poet, artist and a very influential landscape designer. His seminal 'Little Sparta' is near Peebles. In that garden, and in other sites across Europe, similar groups of cuboid stones have been placed
Each stone had a single engraved word. He always referred to these groups as 'flocks', and indeed the stones are usually grey and about the size of a sheep. However, this description and their significance for Finlay must stem from his having been a shepherd on the Orkney island of Rousay when he was young!

A single word is engraved on each stone

A single word is engraved on each stone Such a 'flock' is particularly appropriate in the agricultural landscape surrounding Odin and it is good to reference a great landscape designer and to acknowledge the Odin garden within its European context.

Just before his death Finlay returned to Rousay to install an engraved block. Some of his graphic work can be seen in the Stromness art gallery. Following Findley, each of the Odin 'sheep' has one engraved word. Together they constitute a 'concrete' poem.

Rod Room and House
Looking from between the Rod Room and house the views of the Stones of Stenness are very fine at sunrise and in the mornings. So a bench and table have been built in the sheltered corner of the house. The nearby limestone block carries an inscription suggested by a poem by the Orcadian poet Edwin Muir.
Together with the 'crow stepped' edge between lawn and pavement, they are part of the next construction proposed for this part of the garden. Next winter it is intended that a freestone panel is built onto the rod room wall together with a short length of wall and a pillar. This will complete the Rod Room, Stenness Stones and House as a sculpture group.
From the Pictish Eagle

Inset into the lawn between the 'flock' and the house is an inscribed stone. The eagle is similar to the Pictish symbol on the Burrian stone which was uncovered in 1936 at the nearby Knowe of Burrian and now in the Kirkwall museum.

It marks a very significant position in the garden. It is from here that the Odin landscape can be most fully seen: the rectangular wall of the rod room, the Stones of Stenness, complex shape of the house, the ship's prow, the Watch Stone, the bridge, the foreshore of the Ness of Brodgar, the distant reaches of the loch, the agriculture pattern on its far shore and the nearby 'flock'. This position seems to be the centre of the Odin garden.

Stonework and Woodwork

Neolithic craftsmanship can be admired at many sites near Odin, particularly at the current excavations at Ness of Brodgar.

The recent Odin garden constructions were carried out by three master artist craftsmen. The superb walls, pillars etc were built by Kevin Shaw, who has a croft on the far side of the loch. The stylish chairs, tables etc were made by Stephen Clouston who lives in Stromness. The inscriptions were by the late and much lamented John Dowell of Kirkwall and his son Malcolm.

Those who stay at Odin have the privilege of enjoying their work.

Dr Tom Smith

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