The standing stone stands outside the shop.

The shop is situated beside the standing stone.

But which came first – the shop or the stone?

Odin stone

This is the new Odin Stone, on the corner of Junction Street and Burnmouth Road, Kirkwall, Orkney. Right across the road from Buster’s Diner and a long stone’s throw from the marvellous Bothy Bar.

It is a replica of the old Odin Stone, which once stood between Maeshowe passage grave and the Ring of Brodgar. This was destroyed by an over-zealous landowner in 1814 and apparently built into a barn.

This is a standing stone that was / is distinguished by it’s hole, through which (reputedly) arms were thrust and within which objects were balanced in ancient rites.

The Odin Stone (right) in 1807. The Watch Stone is on the left.

The new Odin Stone might have been erected to mark the launch of a fancy gift shop in Kirkwall in the early 2000s called Odin Stone. (The ‘the’ was dropped.)

Or was the shop called Odin Stone because there was already a replica Odin Stone on this street corner?

Which came first? What is the stratigraphy here?

Odin Stone shop frontage
From defunct Odin Stone website

It was a nice shop, and sold the kinds of things one would expect to find in a high-end gift and souvenir shop. I once bought a nice butter dish from there and from time to time browsed through boxes of expensive black and white prints with little intention of actually buying one.

One travelogue review described how the Odin Stone (the shop not the old or new standing stone) had the aspiration ‘to honor [the] spirit [of the Odin Stone] by representing local artists and craftspeople’ which is a curiously cynical way of describing what was in fact the kind of shop that one would have expected to do well in the new cruise ship reality of Kirkwall, a reality that has changed the character of the town over the last decade.

But sadly this does not seem to have been the case and on my most recent visit to Orkney in June 2019, the shop was gone. Probably long gone.

The standing stone – the fake Odin – abides though. And there is something rather comforting in that.

General view Odin stone 1

General view Odin stone 2

By the standards of replica megaliths, it is a hole lot of fun.

Through the Odin hole

But what’s this? A new business opportunity has sprung up. The Orkney Experience.

The Orkney Experience

The heavily painted windows make it difficult to see inside but this is clearly not a shop, more of an ‘experience’ as, to be fair, the name suggests. Cruise passenger fodder that promises OPTICAL & ORCADIAN on one window, and ILLUSIONS ARTEFACTS on the other. Beneath these bold words are pictures of a wee monster and someone running away from it, dressed like a stereotypical archaeologist. Wearing the books of a pirate.

He is running for the sanctuary of the Odin Stone.

Optical Orcadian

Illusions artefacts

Much of the imagery on the outside of this building now points towards the Norse heritage of the island, and mythology.

Norse imagery

This painted wall sign, to the side of the shop entrance, actually retains the ‘Odin Stone within the O’ motif of the Odin Stone shop, as demonstrated by the ghost sign of the old shop which still protrudes from one wall albeit with the stone viewed from different directions, inverted versions of one another.

Ghost sign

On another window of the Orkney Experience is a curious optical illusion, an Escher Trilithon, imported from Stonehenge. Beneath it, cards or CDs with standing stones on them line the window sill. A mirage of a man runs past in the rain, mirroring the optical illusions that this place seems to sell, obscuring the Odin Stone’s reflected doppelganger.

A trick of the light.

Illusionary trilithon

What is the Experience that this places sells? Entry has it’s price. I confess I couldn’t be bothered going in. It can’t be that big a place inside (the shop wasn’t) so what does £6.50 get an adult punter? Something like this according to BBC Orkney’s Huw Williams…


The Experience’s website tempts the prospective customer with this offer: ‘Come and dress like a viking, ‘visit’ a Sanday beach, or be caught by Cubbie Roo the giant’. Making a virtue of a small premises with illusions appears to be the name of the game. From various images available online, this seems to be a place with a complex combination of acrylic paintings that act as optical illusionary photo subjects, dressing up props, and real and replica objects, fixtures and fittings. Such as a Skara Brae dresser.

skara brae
From The Orkney Experience website

Not a lot of the consumer offer appears to focus on prehistory or archaeology however.  Is there no Odin Stone inside?

A magic window
A most marvelous confection
But windows are for looking through
Not for checking out your reflection (Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales)


The standing stone stands outside the experience.

The experience is situated beside the standing stone.

There can be no doubt.

This stone came first.


Sources and acknowledgements:

The old Odin Stone has National Record for the Historic Environment number HY31SW40

There is a fine account of the unfortunate fate of the original Odin Stone in the Orkneyjar website.

The 1807 drawing of the Odin Stone and neighbouring megalith is (c) RCAHMS / HES and was downloaded from canmore.

The pic of the original Odin Stone shop front came from the now defunct website for the shop – the link won’t go anywhere. 

Thanks very much to Huw Williams for permission to reproduce the photo of him with Cubbie Roo.

The lyrics towards the end of the post come from the track A Trick of the Light from the Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales album Room 29.

Finally, by way of balance, check out the wholly excellent and positive reviews (as of 17/6/19) of the Orkney Experience on Trip Advisor.

3 thoughts on “A trick of the light

  1. I do like your second rhyme…..

    “The standing stone stands outside the experience.

    The experience is situated beside the standing stone.

    There can be no doubt.

    This stone came first.”

    Yes – the experience we have, is by them, while they – stand by.

    And, it often happens – in the world of tourism, the ‘visitor experience’, takes precedence over ….what’s there. Often leading to what’s there, being ‘lost’. How many go to Newgrange Visitor Centre, and think they have been to Newgrange?

    I think – not sure, but, I think the stone was raised, to accompany the original shop.

  2. I’m going to witter a bit – feel free to ignore! I wrote this to someone, re. the Ness of Brodgar, and, in particular, Structure 10…..

    “The biggest, most impressive building, isn’t necessarily what matters. I’m put in mind of a place called Knock, in Ireland. Some time in the 18 hundreds, the Virgin Mary appeared at the gable-end of the church there ( I’m not saying what I make of this, I’m just telling the tale). She appeared to a group of children. This became a place of pilgrimage. When I was a little girl, my Mum & Dad used to take me there, to drink the ‘Holy Water’, as I had Asthma. (I should mention that, by this time, the ‘Holy Water’ was dispensed from a row of taps, which were periodically blessed by a priest! Still, maybe that still makes it ‘Holy Water’ – who knows!). At first, people could just go to the end of the church, and touch where Mary appeared. This was so, for many years. Then, next stage, they built a big, glass box round it, with statues representing Mary, and the children, so you couldn’t touch it any more, but people knelt and prayed at/outside the glass box. This was also the case for many years. THEN……they built a whacking great Basilica, not really near the church, at all. It looks like a flying saucer. They have non-stop masses going on ( seriously, one after the other). When you go in, you can walk round a covered walkway, (does that sound familiar?) so that you can ‘participate’ in the mass, without going in and disturbing people. The whole thing, is pretty horrendous. So……what I’m on about is……..the huge, great, Basilica, is now seen as the main event at Knock. Possibly, people go there, and don’t even go to the old church, may not know that the old church matters, at all! The Basilica has taken over, because it’s the most noticeable, impressive ( if you like that sorta thing!) building in Knock. And, again, New Grange, I know I’ve wittered at you before, about how people go to the Visitor Centre, and I’m not sure if they are even aware that the cairn exists! So, the massive big building, isn’t always the actual centre of what a place is about, it’s just what people have built, around what the place is about. So, yes, the big building at the Ness, is hugely impressive as a Neolithic building ( or am I not giving them enough credit?) , but I’m not at all sure if it’s what the place is actually about, or if it’s peripheral – more to do with what the visitors/pilgrims wanted or needed, than with the prime purpose of the place and area.
    There you are. I’d say to go to Knock and have a look, but it’s really not worth it! except as a prize example of a secondary, man-made artefact, taking over from the basic spiritual presence. So it goes.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s