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Maes Howe winter solstice webcam

(10 Posts)
Elegran Tue 20-Dec-11 11:27:06

For a few days each year, around the winter solstice, the sun as it sinks below the horizon shines down the long passage into the mound at Maes Howe in Orkney and lights up the far wall of the inner chamber. We have crawled along this low tunnel in summer (mind your head) and even then the experience was impressive.

There is a webcam placed to catch the moment. Right now (11.22 am on 20th Dec) there is just a dim patch of light, but at sunset tomorrow (21st) the last rays of the sun will shine on the back of the chamber.

About Maes Howe -

Webcam site -

jingl Tue 20-Dec-11 12:46:13

Have they got a problem with the exterior camera, which should be showing the interior now? Will look later on when interior camera comes into play.

Sort of stuff that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Will read site more fully this evening. Thanks Elegran.

Elegran Tue 20-Dec-11 13:10:05

The exterior camera usually shows the scene outside - it seems to have gone wrong. The inside is shown from the camera fixed above where the long tunnel opens into the chamber, pointing at the wall where the light falls. At the moment it is pretty dark inside, as the only entrance is the tunnel 36 feet long., so there is only a sort of square of glimmer showing. At the right moment the sun is low enough to shine straight down the tunnel and show up the back wall, then it is all golden light for a few minutes. You have to catch the right few minutes though.

It must have seemed like magic to them 5000 years ago.

jingl Tue 20-Dec-11 15:51:41

Looks like it's sunset tomorrow we need to look. I suppose its weather dependant though.

Elegran Tue 20-Dec-11 16:08:08

The effect spreads over several sunsets as the sun sets in slightly different places each day, but when I looked a couple of years ago it was best on the actual solstice - shining directly through.

If you get a chance to go to Orkney, take it, summer or winter. See Maes Howe, Skara Brae, Mine Howe, the standing stones in the circle at Stenness - more complete than Stonehenge - and stacks more. And the people are wonderful.

Elegran Tue 20-Dec-11 16:14:43

Jingl Suss it out a bit before sunset. There should be a glimmer for a short while before the sun gets dead ahead, so you can know you are on the right track.

Hope it works OK - bit of a disappointment if not.

Elegran Wed 21-Dec-11 15:58:31

I think this whole webcam site is on the blink. Sorry, folks, it was working a year ago.

crimson Wed 21-Dec-11 17:01:28

Elegran; I logged onto it and found one from 2008[?] and it was wonderful and quite fascinating to watch, so I can only thank you for telling us about this. Quite magical. I was trying to explain it to my daughter today, especially the bit where they said it was as if it was like a passageway to the afterlife.

jingl Wed 21-Dec-11 17:05:20

Apparently, they were talking about these 'caves' on the Today programme this morning. (I turned radio off just a minute or two too soon) People stand in them waiting for the first rays of sun to light them up. I had never heard of it before.

Elegran Wed 21-Dec-11 17:49:56

We visited many sites like that in Orkney, and they had the most striking "presence" you can imagine. I can only compare it to standing in an old cathedral which has seen many centuries of worship - (the best cathedral I know for that is the tiny St David's in West Wales, which has a wonderful atmosphere of peace and warmth)

Not that peace and warmth were the feelings permeating Mine Howe. That felt far more sinister. It is a narrow uneven spiral stair cut down 15 feet or so into the rock and ending in a small still dark pool. Halfway down there is a sort of small gallery where someone could lie hidden. Nearby outside is a complex of iron-age forges where ore was smelted into iron for swords and tools and plunged into water to harden it.

Working with iron was thought to be a magical secret skill and the smiths probably reinforced that by initiating apprentices with a terrifying ordeal where they went down into the earth (iron ore came from underground, though not from right here) heard the voice of the underground gods, and saw or felt the icy water. All in the dark.