Talking Stones

A major archaeological investigation is getting under way this week  at one of Western Europe's most impressive prehistoric sites. The Ring of Brodgar in Orkney is the third largest stone circle in the British Isles, but little is known about it.

A month-long programme of investigations will be undertaken by a 15-strong team. The last important archaeological studies took place there in the 1970s. Historic Scotland said very little was actually known about the site, including its exact age and purpose.

A scheduled ancient monument, the stone circle and henge of the Ring of Brodgar is part of 'The Heart of Neolithic Orkney' World Heritage Site, inscribed by UNESCO in 1999. The project will involve the re-excavation and extension of trenches dug in 1973. Geophysical surveys will also be undertaken to investigate the location of standing stones.

Dr Jane Downes of the Archaeology Department, Orkney College, UHI, and Dr Colin Richards of the University of Manchester are the project directors. Dr Downes said: "Because so little is known about the Ring of Brodgar, a series of assumptions have taken the place of archaeological data.

"The interpretation of what is arguably the most spectacular stone circle in Scotland is therefore incomplete and unclear." Dr Richards added: "At present, even the number of stones in the original circle is uncertain. The position of at least 40 can be identified but there are spaces for 20 more."

Woody Woodpecker

It may not be one of the Great Trees of Britain but Kirkwall and St Ola Community councillors have recommended that the council go ahead and put a stabilising pole at Albert Street’s Big Tree — with measures to ensure youths can't climb it.

Chairman, Spencer Rosie, said the tree had to be protected or taken away, as it was no longer safe in its current state.

It was felt by some members that taking the tree away completely, or replacing it with another, would have to go out to public consultation.

After considerable discussion, members agreed that a “steadying column”, be driven adjacent to the trunk with a fastening to the tree.

More More ! Awards

The Pier Arts Centre in Stromness is one of two Scottish buildings among the 16 winners of the Royal Institute of British Architects National Awards, which were announced in London on Friday night.

According to the judges, the “extraordinary sensitivity” of the Pier Arts Centre has been achieved by architects Reiach and Hall by extending the original gallery building through adding a new zinc and glass building which can be viewed from across the harbour.

The Stirling Prize shortlist will be drawn from the 16 RIBA National Award winners, and the RIBA European Award winners which are eligible for the prize. The shortlist will be announced on Thursday 17 July.

Traffic warden reinstated - by popular demand

A Scottish traffic warden has been reinstated - after a campaign to save him by local residents and motorists.

James Dewar, 59, was the only traffic warden in the port of Stromness on Orkney until he was told his services were no longer required.

The local police force had increased its presence in the town and its constables were due to take over his duties, reports the Daily Telegraph.

Mr Dewar, who is employed during the summer when tourists double the population of the historic town, keeps the traffic moving in one of Britain's narrowest high streets.

He has done the job for 14 years and is regarded as a friend by many of the residents. He also helps children get home safely after school, and offers advice to tourists.

"To us he's a friend," said Sarah Taylor, who headed the campaign to keep Mr Dewar.

"Anywhere else people would be surprised that we want to keep our traffic warden, but he does an invaluable job in Stromness and he's a great asset to the town."

Mr Dewar, who runs a small croft outside Stromness with his wife Jenny, looking after sheep, goats and hens, said: "For a traffic warden to be wanted is unusual to say the least.

"I'm deeply honoured that the people of Stromness wanted to keep me as their traffic warden. I'm so grateful for their support."

Chief Insp David Miller, of Northern Constabulary, said he could remain in Stromness this summer and the force would consider expanding his duties next year.

Glass half Beerfull

Sinclair Breweries has opened the tendering process for a massive expansion of its Orkney Brewery, which makes its flagship Dark Island beer.

The plans will see the company triple its brewing capacity to boost production of its existing products, in particular Dark Island, but also its 8.5% Skullsplitter brew and Red McGregor.

Sinclair Breweries, which also owns the Atlas Brewery at Kinlochleven in Argyll, will open a visitor centre and events venue, which will host tasting events and Orkney evenings for visitors, on the site.

The expansion will see the company taking on two new full-time brewing staff plus three more full-time and eight part-time employees for the visitor centre. Currently the brewery can not host visitors.

Sinclair Breweries, which bought the Orkney plant two years ago, hopes work will start on the project in August with the brewery expansion completed in five months and the visitor centre opened by March 2009.