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Just the ticket

12 December 2006

Many people associate the long winter months with the dark and the cold, but for Maeshowe chambered cairn in Orkney, the onset of winter quite literally sheds a whole new light on this fascinating and mysterious place.

For as the winter sun sets, the last rays stream down the entrance passage to the tomb bringing warmth and light to the inner chamber, the only time in the year this occurs.

Now Historic Scotland, which cares for the site, is giving visitors the opportunity to experience this amazing occurrence more than once with a special Winter Solstice Ticket.

For just £10.00 per adult, £5.00 per child and £7.50 for concessions, visitors can visit the site up to three times between 11 December 2006 and 5 January 2007, saving up to £3.50 per person!

Alan Jones, Historic Scotland Monument Manager said: "Visiting Maeshowe around the time of the Winter Solstice is something I believe everyone should experience at some time in their lives. Just to think that 5,000 years ago, the Neolithic architects of this tomb aligned the entrance specifically with the setting of the winter sun is truly fascinating. There are many theories behind this, but whatever the reason, it is a magical experience to behold, and with our new Winter Solstice Ticket, we hope visitors will come back to witness it more than once – without being out of pocket!"

Maeshowe comprises of a late Neolithic chambered tomb and is part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage site.  The mound, chamber and surrounding bank and ditch were probably built around 3000 BC (earlier than the pyramids of Egypt) by people related to those who set up the Stones of Stenness and lived in settlements like those in Skara Brae and Barnhouse.

There are many theories surrounding the significance of the Winter Solstice - Maeshowe phenomenon.  Some believe the death of the midwinter sun marked the return of life and light. The tomb, therefore, symbolises the continuance of life of those who had died within.

Others believe it was there to remind Orcadians through the long dark winters that light would again return once the days lengthened.
There is also no doubt in the fact that the sunset before the days started to grow longer held a great significance for the prehistoric farmers in the north and that maybe its importance was built into this, their greatest tomb.

Notes for editors
  • The Winter Solstice Ticket is available between 11 December 2006 – 5 January 2007: Adults £10.00, Concessions £7.50, Children £5.00.  This allows up to three entries to Maeshowe between these dates. Visits must be booked in advance, as there is only a maximum of 18 people permitted in the chamber at any one time,  Please call 01856 761606 to book. The site is open Monday-Sunday from 9.30am - 4.00pm (due to safety reasons, the last tour is at 2.15pm and coincides with the sunset).

  • Maeshowe is the finest chambered tomb in north-west Europe and more than 5000 years old. Access is by guided tour only with timed ticketing in operation.  Car parking and tickets are available from the nearby Tormiston Mill.  Adult £4.50, Children £2.00, Concessions £3.50 (for one visit).

  • It was broken into in the mid-twelfth century by Viking crusaders who carved graffiti runes on the walls of the main chamber.   This is the largest collection of runic inscriptions in the world, an assemblage of international significance for their nature and content, including examples of Norse humour.

  • In 1999, Maeshowe was designated a World Heritage Site with Skara Brae, Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness.

  • Historic Scotland has 345 outstanding historic properties and sites in its care. These include some of the leading tourism attractions in the country, including Edinburgh, Stirling, and Urquhart Castles, Fort George, Linlithgow Palace, the Border Abbeys, and Skara Brae.

For further information

Kate Turnbull
PR Executive
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8959