Wes and I woke up super-early last Saturday morning to drive five hours and take the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness, Orkney. We drove the whole way sans caffeine as there wasn’t a coffee stop to be found the whole journey. Arriving at Thurso, home to the world class surf break we visited last year, we only had to wait ten minutes for an amazing cafe to open. Not only was the coffee better than average (which is much more than one can expect in a small town), but the Cullen skink (smoked haddock and potato soup, a north-east Scotland local dish) was the best I’ve ever had. And we order it pretty much whenever we see it, it’s one of our favourite things. I can already hear Colin Bennie’s spew noises, as he hates even the smell of it. Anyway back to the cafe. Wes’ bacon and egg roll was good too. And it all came in at the bargain price of £9! Value plus or what. So we took the ferry and I didn’t even get sea sick. Maybe karma decided a sore throat was enough for me. I cast on 156 stitches to start knitting a singlet top in the round, before I worked out I don’t know how to knit in the round and had to put it aside. Good thing I did because soon after we went outside onto the optimistically named ‘sun deck’ we went passed the old man of Hoy and even saw some minke whales! I happened to be lining up a pic of the old man sea stack right at that moment so managed to take this lucky shot.
Soon after landing in Stromness, we checked into our hostel for four nights and were warming ourselves with soup and beer at a local cafe with a harbour view, Wes likes his boaty views.
Then we were starting our ancient visits with Stones of Stenness and Ring of Brodgar.
Sunday dawned sunny and windy, a welcome change from Saturday’s rain. After a tour of the very interesting Neolithic tomb Maeshowe then a look at Scara Brae Neolithic village, we went to Appie’s Tearoom for a spot of lunch. Ooh my were we impressed! We went for the Orkney seafood platter, and it was amazing! We ended the day with a visit to Brough of Birsay, an ancient site on a tidal island.
The rain returned on Monday (and Tuesday, Wednesday, etc), so coupled with the gale force winds, made for difficult sightseeing. We managed a tour around the rest of the mainland, plus the eastern islands connected to the mainland by the Churchill Barriers. We visited the Italian Chapel, some wee coastal villages and the Tomb of the Eagles. This tomb is a privately-owned site, so we were allowed to handle all the 5000 year old tools and bones, amazing. They said they’ve asked museums and universities for advice, and handling them doesn’t affect them in any way, so they laugh at the other sites for having everything tucked away in glass cabinets. We were First to Find some geocaches around this side too, very exciting!
Tuesday was the last full day we had on Orkney, so we had to bite the bullet, face the weather and get our butts over to Hoy to check out the old man a bit closer up. We hired bikes and ferried over, landing at Moaness pier, an hour’s push bike ride from the start of the hike. An hour of undulating single track road which would in normal weather be rather pleasant. Add gusty winds, freezing sideways rain and you have a frustrating, sometimes scary (when cars pass quickly) ride! But we made it over to Rackwick Bay, had a squizz at the beach, got pelted by a hail shower, sheltered in an old shed to eat sandwiches, then left our bikes and started the walk. It was worth it, this is reputedly the tallest sea stack in Europe at 137m.
The return journey was nicer, with the rain and wind clearing for perhaps half an hour of sunshine, so we got the pleasant ride we wanted, albeit for a short time! We even braved a detour to have a look at the Dwarfie Stane, and the next hail storm timed itself perfectly for our arrival at the massive stone tomb, so we crawled inside and curled up to wait for it to pass.
As it was our last night on Orkney we bought some Orkney porter beers and drank Orkney whisky with some people at the hostel. Keep in mind though, if you want to save some whisky for later, don’t offer to share it with Scots!
We had a few hours left on Orkney on Wednesday morning before our 4pm ferry back to mainland Scotland, so we visited the Woolshed and I bought some wool from the seaweed-eating sheep of North Ronaldsay, so I can knit Wes a beanie. We also had time to check out one last ancient site - there are heaps of them up there. My voice had almost come back by Wednesday, but my throat was (and is) still sore in the mornings and at night.
We ended Wednesday with a monster drive from the Scrabster ferry to a b&b at Kinlochbervie, in preparation for our walk to Sandwood Bay on Thursday. Another story to come.