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Dragon's Tooth Isle

(The Brough of Birsay)


When I picked the place where the dragons and the dragon seers would live, the Brough of Birsay was an easy choice. The Brough of Birsay is a small island just off the coast of Mainland, Orkney. It's connected to the mainland by a tidal causeway, which means it's only accessible by foot when the tide is low.  We know that Picts lived there. Remains of a few small houses have been excavated by archaeologists. There was also a small well where metal smithing was carried out, and there are many signs of jewelry making. Pictish chieftains often gave jewelry out to the people under them. If you were a chieftain, you might hand out pins or brooches to those who paid tribute to you. A Pictish symbol stone, an important monument, was also found on the island. The Brough of Birsay is too small to be a farm. The houses just across the water on Mainland may have held people who did the farming there. All this suggests that important people lived on the island.

Later, in Viking times, a community was built on the island, with a church, stone houses and another forge for metal smithing. These ruins are still visible today. 

The Brough of Birsay a remarkably pretty place. The island tilts toward Mainland, and comes almost to sea level on the landward side. From there, it climbs steadily to a height of about 46 metres, then the island crests in cliffs that plunge straight down to the sea.

The Orkneyjar Brough of Birsay main page shows what the island looks like as seen from the shore at high tide and gives a short history.  There is also a page of Brough of Birsay wide angle photos. The same site has a page about the Pictish Period, which is when Dragon Seer is set. Most of the remains of Pictish settlement were obliterated by the people who followed, but you can still see the Pictish Well, one of the few remaining artifacts from the time of the Picts. In Dragon Seer, the forge where Brude works with Garit and Tollie is built around this well.

You can experience what it's like to visit the Brough of Birsay by going to these Quicktime panoramas from the Medieval North Atlantic website. Once inside these pictures, move the cursor left or right and up and down to move around.  If you want to view all four panoramas, you'll find links to them at the Medieval North Atlantic's Brough of Birsay Main Page. Click on the icons on the right hand side to bring up different information about this site.  "Text" will give you a history of the landmark and "Panoramas" will take you to a map which has all five video links at the bottom.

Or you can use the links below to go directly to two Quicktime panoramas. Click here to see the Brough of Birsay causeway at low tide. This shows you what the shore looks like when it's possible to cross over to the island, and what the island looks like from sea level. The straight-edged path that you can see is a modern cement path. Without it, the causeway would have been very rocky and slippery. 

 This second panorama shows the view from the island itself. Although the ruins you see in the picture are from Viking times, you do get a sense of the island. This video is taken approximately where the Dragon Seers' houses were located, and you can see the beach leading to the causeway where Madoca and Heather sat the morning after the naming flight.

The Birsay Heritage Trust page shows you a map of the entire area. The settlement of Aberl
kel would have been located where Earl's Palace is today. Barleyfields was directly across the water from Dragon's Tooth.

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