LIKE all good yarns our tale begins on a dark and stormy night. It was in the winter of 1850 that high seas and ferocious winds battered the shores of Orkney, washing away part of the sand dunes that fringed the Bay of Skaill to reveal the clutch of ancient dwellings we now know as Skara Brae.

It is a story that has captivated generations of Scots, with many of us having read, spellbound, The Boy With The Bronze Axe, the seminal children's book by Kathleen Fidler, in our primary school classrooms.

Published in 1968, the novel paints a vivid portrait of what life in the Neolithic village might have been like some 5,000 years ago.

The plot centres on the adventures of siblings Kali and Brockan, rescued by a mysterious stranger called Tenko when they become trapped by the tides while collecting limpets. Their new friend arrives by boat and carries with him a glinting metal axe.

Fidler, who wrote more than 80 novels and non-fiction books during her prolific career, was inspired after a trip to Orkney where she visited Skara Brae and found herself fascinated by the mysterious site. 

HeraldScotland: Skara Brae in Orkney. Picture: GettySkara Brae in Orkney. Picture: Getty

Constructed from flat stone slabs and built into large mounds of midden, the houses are linked by a series of narrow passages.

Each dwelling, comprising a single room, is furnished with "fitted" stone furniture, including a dresser, two box-beds, a central hearth and small tanks – possibly for preparing fish bait – set into the floor.

Stone utensils, such as hammers, axes and knives, were also found, along with pottery and necklaces made from bone and animal teeth.

Some signs pointed to the former inhabitants, who were likely farmers, hunters and fishermen, having left in a hurry, yet there was no evidence of battle, no corpses and no fire damage.

This has led some to believe that the villagers of Skara Brae fled to escape a suffocating sandstorm, while others argue their departure could have been a more gradual process.

Today, Skara Brae is managed by Historic Environment Scotland and considered the best-preserved prehistoric settlement of its kind in Western Europe.

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It forms part of the UNESCO Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, along with Maeshowe, the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness.

Peering into the surviving abodes – there are nine, all but one of which can be viewed from the path above – raises goosebumps in anyone who loves history. Don't forget to pick up a souvenir copy of The Boy With The Bronze Axe in the gift shop.