Thursday, 30 September 2004
Wednesday, 29 September 2004
Tuesday, 28 September 2004
Monday, 27 September 2004
Also have a look inside the ruined Earl's Palace, of which only a fewfeet now remain of its walls. In every room, a little note tells thestory about it. Having walked through the ruins, I finally make my wayto the Brough. This lies about a mile west of Birsay village and is atidal island, only accessible at low tide. A concrete slabbed walkwayprovides a fairly safe if slippery access route. On arrival at theother side, I say hello to the warden and start by looking round theViking settlement, of which only foot-high walls remain. It included achurch. Then I go on a walk around the island, which has some prettyhigh seacliffs, up to 40 metres / 135 ft high. Like the views down thecoast to Marwick Head, with cliffs up to 80 metres / 265 ft high. Passthe lighthouse, where a cleft, only a few inches wide, crashes down tosealevel. The coastline is eroding badly, and you have to be verycautious. I walk along, latterly with two other people in the distance.Cross the causeway back to the mainland at 4pm, and stay behind towatch the tide coming in. Have a little walk along the coastline toSkipi Geo, where people used to store their boats high up on the shore,in a shed. Sit down with two other walkers to enjoy the afternoon sunfor a while. Then head back to the carpark to watch the tide creep in.At 4.30, the flag is taken down at the visitor centre on the Brough,and the warden cross over. Shortly afterwards, the tide covers themiddle section of the walkway. We had a cup of tea from a van sellingsausage rolls, but when we looked round again, it had gone. Hobble backto the village to wait for the 6pm bus. It's a long and chilly wait.The return journey goes along the north coast of Mainland to Evie andLoch of Swannay. Pick up ferry passengers at Tingwall and return toKirkwall at 6.50
Sunday, 26 September 2004
Saturday, 25 September 2004
Friday, 24 September 2004
Thursday, 23 September 2004
Weblinks: Rousay on Undiscovered Scotland: http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/rousay/rousay/
Kirkwall Youth Hostel:
Wednesday, 22 September 2004
Tuesday, 21 September 2004
(Pictured: Carrick House, picture courtesy Peter Burges, 1970)
It's very wet and muddy on the far side. Start to trudge up thehillside, above the lighthouse. Once across a small stream, I take abreak for lunch and try not to get entangled in the barbed-wire fences.Rise up afterwards and proceed up the hill, to end up on Noup Hill.Views are very good. Because of the unstable, strongly showery weather,visibility between showers is excellent. Only problem is the force 9wind that roars over the top of the ridge. You see Westray to the NW,Papa Westray to the NNW. Sanday stretches northeast. Head back southagain, but do not go back to Carrick. Instead, I make my way southacross Vinquoy Hill. Although only 76 m in height, this again offersnice views, this time over the northern part of Eday. I proceed througha few bunkers until I come out on a raod. Go southeast along it for afew hundred yards, then strike off southwest along a path which shouldhopefully deliver me on the next road. Have all sorts of fun and gamestrying to cross fencing withouth damaging clothing. Finally gain theroad from North Ayre to Millbounds, which I follow as far as Newark.Head down a track through some fanks, which then passes thorugh somefields. Crossing the fences becomes ever more difficult as they fall indisrepair. Derelict houses provide a reason for that. Turn up by ahouse that is also empty, but not ruinous. I now look out over the Edayairstrip, which I cannot reach due to an insurmountable wall. I battlemy way through bracken to the hostel, which I reach at 5 pm. Engage the heating, do my laundry in the washing-machine provided and prepare my meal. It's cold outside, and the strong wind does not help. Taking a shower is not an option conditions like that, too blinking cold.
Monday, 20 September 2004
There is no mobile phone coverage in Pierowall, although at Noup Head I did manage a contact yesterday. Head off on the bus to Rapness. It's still blowy outside. Leave this very comfortable hostel with a certain degree of reluctance. The minibus picks me up at 11 a.m. to deliver me at the ferry terminal half an hour later. It's raining as we get there, so wait in the bus for the boat. This comes wallowing in through the swell, a little late. The two hour journey to Kirkwall is rather lively, particularly in that infamous maestrom west of Eday. There are white riders on the waves, and it's choppy. But at least the sun starts to come out, and once past the Galt Skerry buoy it gets positively exhilerating. Back in bonny old Kirkwall at 1.30. Make a quick phone-booking into the Eday Youth Hostel from the Orkney Ferries waiting room. Then I'm off to Safeways for shopping after a stint in the internet cafe opposite Tankerness Lane. Return to the terminal at 3.30 for the Eday & Stronsay ferry. Although the inward journey from Westray was bumpy this morning, things have calmed down since. As I sit on deck I get an emotional text message, for as much as such messages can carry emotion. This from a contact in South Yorkshire who is about to leave for Bangerland (no translation provided, sorry) to get hitched. I've been keeping her updated with progress of this trip since the start, but now I'll have to do without this moral support, at least until the end of the year. All morning, I've had messages to the tune that she was about to leave, but at 3 pm the time was there. I sit on deck in the sun, while the ferry cruises down the Wide Firth. It turns northeast at Galt Skerry, heads past the island of Muckle Green Holm and the south end of Eday, then it veers round to dock at Backaland Pier. I'm accosted by a lady with a minibus who tells me her name and that she's the taxi to take me to the hostel for £4. Eday looks empty, with only the odd house along the road. We pass a nice beach and the island's airfield, then we pull up by some old barrack type buildings. This is Eday Youth Hostel (pictured above), located next to the firestation. After Sue leaves, another car pulls up which turns out to be the hostel's manager. She shows me round the places, and after a few minutes' chat leaves me to my own devices. I arrived at 5 pm when the sun was out. This masked the fact that this place is actually freezing. As yet unaware of that, I go for a little walk downthe road to the airfield. This is called London Airport, named after the adjacent bay. It's a good one for a joke. Fancy London Airport with only one plane a week. Proceed to make my dinner at the hostel, where the temperature is dropping like a stone. After nightfall, I switch on the heaters. That means: two large rings on the kitchen stove and electric heaters in the common room. There is no-one else here. The heaters in the dorm are all broken. Furthermore, the dorm is a high-ceilinged affair, with single-pane windows. Go to bed at 10 pm under a pile of 6 blankets, but any protruding bodyparts are perishingly cold. I don't sleep properly and in the end I relocate to the Common Room to be a tad warmer. Jayz!
Sunday, 19 September 2004
Bis Geos Hostel: http://www.bisgeos.co.uk/
Westray on Undiscovered Scotland: http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/westray/westray/
Saturday, 18 September 2004
Weblink Stromness: http://www.orkneyjar.com/orkney/stromness/
Weblink The Barn, Westray: http://www.thebarnwestray.co.uk
Friday, 17 September 2004
Thursday, 16 September 2004
Wednesday, 15 September 2004
Tuesday, 14 September 2004
Start the day by booking my accommodation in Sanday, which will be at the Ayers Rock hostel. Then head into town for some purchases, such as a scarf, woolly hat and gloves. It's getting decidedly chilly now, although it's only mid September. Walk down the road to Old Scapa. it's brilliantly sunny. The main road to Orphir veers off after a little way, but a narrow single-track affair leads on to the shore at Scapa Flow. Sit in the sun on the retaining wall looking south to the hills on Flotta, South Ronaldsay and Hoy. Walk on to the Coastguard Station, where a memorial plaque indicates that HMS Ark Royal was sunk not far off-shore in October 1939, with the loss of 800 souls after being torpedoed by a German submarine. A simple green buoy marks the location of the wreck. Proceed round the bay towards the pier, but cannot reach it - restricted area. People are walking their dogs on the shore road as I return to the Youth Hostel. Later that afternoon, I disappear on the ferry to Sanday. It's a fairly sunny day. North of Shapinsay, the ferry branches off northeast at the Galt Skerry buoy. We head north of Shapinsay and south of Muckle Green Holm. The latter is a small island, with a ruined house on it. We end up in a rough piece of water south of Eday, then head NNE for the Loth terminal on Sanday. As I leave the ferry, the zips collapse on my rucksack and the contents spill out onto the slipway. Fortunately, the raincover keeps everything inside, but the minibus driver gets a bit ratty with me. Well, I can't help it, can I? I heave everything into the minibus, anger the driver even more by not having the exact far and get dropped off outside Ayers Rock at around 6. The lady of the house shows me round to the converted byre, where I'm the only guest. There are 2 or 3 dorms, a bathroom and a very cramped kitchen. Once I've laid out my wares, I proceed to the kitchen for supper. Cannot open my cans, because there is no can-opener about. So, I have to knock up the proprietrix for that item. Later in the evening, I can use the internet for a bit. It's windy outside.
Monday, 13 September 2004
Sunday, 12 September 2004
The weather is absolutely foul this morning, pouring rain and a full gale. A fishing vessel is nonetheless out in the NR firth, between this island and Sanday to the south. As the day wears on, the weather relents somewhat. The wind drops to force 6, and the sun puts in an appearance every now and again. I venture out alone just before midday, and head north along the island's west coast. After just over an hour, I reach the northwestern cape at Tor Ness, and veer east. The wind is now in my back. Have some very awkward clambering to do outside Westness House, and things don't get any easier around Garso. I resume the main road at Garso and head back to NRBO, where I rejoin my partner. She's been having lunch in the restaurant. I've gotto have something as well. Later that day, have a look down at the pier, where we were supposed to have landed on Friday. It's got a very nice beach behind it, South Bay. Forgot to mention the standing stone and the loch at Gretchen to the north of the Observatory. Watch a movie with the family who run the centre, and have a beer. Start preparations for departure tomorrow. This hostel is actually quite nice, well kitted out and fairly modern for its size.
Saturday, 11 September 2004
Today dawned foggy, you can't see a thing. The clashing habits continue, god, women! After breakfast, we go out for a walk across the island. The fog slowly lifts as we proceed north past fields to the airfield. We resume the road for a little while, then head north. The murk lifts very, very slowly as we return south, branching left at the war memorial. Stop off for lunch at one of the island's two pubs. Get into a right old discussion with the landlady of the Burrian. The landlord has a jewelry workshop round the back, which I'm shown round. Have to go through some very untidy bedreooms. As a said before, the landlady is right into a subject (which I cannot remember - I'm writing this a year later). Her house is full of paper, and she's quite frustrated that she can't seem to get the other islanders on board with it. But when you start to call them 'stupid' for not going along with an idea, that is not going to be a guarantee for success. Carry on down the road leading south. The local school stands on a hill overlooking the main road. A bull is roaring in a field nearby. Reach the shoreline at Howar, and we carry on outside the NR sheepwall. A large colony of seals, with one large bull guarding his harem. The sheep dabble amongst the seals, eating the seaweed. Spend quite some time there, then slowly head east. It's tricky walking in this rocky terrain, and you've got to watch your footing. The sun comes out by 4 pm, as we're heading round the corner to Bride Ness. Here we work our way inland again, and head up the road towards Hollandstoun. As I've said at the time of my first visit here, on 8 September, I'm not impressed with the general state of the place. Return to NRBO before 5 pm. Have some fun with cats, dogs and other wildlife. After supper, we have a drink in the lounge bar at the observatory. Night has fallen on return at 10 pm. The other thing is that the main door into the dormitory is very low, so I manage to bang my head on the lintel at regular intervals. Oh, and I'm out and about now for a whole month.
Friday, 10 September 2004
Thursday, 9 September 2004
I booked in with the Eunsons for two nights. Leave for the Shapinsay ferry with only a daysack. The boat goes at 10.45 and deposits a fair number of people on the island. I start off by taking a peep through the gates of Balfour Castle, only a hop down the road. Then I set forth down the village main street. Now, Balfour used to have a tidal loo. Everything you did in that wee hoosie would be washed away with the next high tide. Obvious disadvantage being the smell during low tide. Balfour main street is cobbled and lined with low houses, originally for servants at the castle. Outside the village, I catch up with a lady in a bright yellow jumper who is out on a daytrip herself. She is following the tourist guide. At one point, we pass a farm pond full of ducks and geese. At a church, we part company again, the lady goes to have a look inside the roofless building, whilst I carry on east. Opposite the road leading north to Haughland, I walk down to the shore at Haroldsgarth to have a cuppa. Look south across the water to Orkney Mainland. At 11.30 I continue up the road to the north and once again come across the lady in yellow. She is lying in the hay, watching two cows mounting each other. She expresses envy at their activities. I cannot suppress a few ribald comments on my part, and we carry on together. First of all, we go and have a look at the Mor Stein, a standing stone a little way off the road. We carry on north and 1 km further on turn left through farming country. A country road leads further north to Kirkton. There we cross west to the beach at Swartaquoy. It's quite warm and sunny as we head down to the sandy shore, with pebbles further back. Children are playing here and there. Other islands can be seen on the far northern horizon. After a lunchbreak and some paddling in the sea, we encoutner the piece de resistance: the Ouse. This is a tidal inlet with a very tricky crossing. Three wrecked cqars spoil the scenery. Further problems arise because of barbed wire. We head down a farmroad to a shop on the B9058 road at Astley Cottages. Treat ourselves to ice-cream. The road veers downhill towards Balfour. In the near distance, the valley of the Mill Dam Reserve looms up. This is a former loch, which is reduced to a wetland bog. Not much happening there in terms of wildlife. Back in the village, we have another icecream whilst waiting for the 4.45 ferry. The lawn off the pier is very pleasant for a spot of sunbathing. I get along fine with the lady, and ask her out for a meal on return to KW. She is more than happy to accept that. We natter our way to the town. Take her to a chinese place in one of the backstreets, which serves quite an acceptable meal. No, nothing else happens. We just got along fine. She invites me along to North Ronaldsay for the weekend, and who am I to decline? At 10 pm, we go our separate ways.
Wednesday, 8 September 2004
Today's activities start with a search for new accommodation in Kirkwall. The TIC are very helpful and fix me up in an address at the eastern edge of the town. Have to go up the hill past Orkney College on to the Berstane Road. As the road rises, the view widens to the west and south. can see a large school complex to my right. It's a nice, sunny day today. I finally reach Viewfield Terrace and knock on the door of number 3, where mrs Eunson affords me a cordial welcome. Pleasant bungalow in a cul-de-sac. Get along very well with the Eunsons. After a cup of coffee I return to Kirkwall, more specifically the airport. There is a dedicated bus which runs hourly. At lunchtime, I report to the inter-island desk at the back of the lounge,. Yes, I can go out on a return to North Ronaldsay. I have a couple of hours. When the time comes, I'm shepherded to a small, 8 -seater Cessna. You need to be failry gymnastic to prize yourself on board. Once everybody is strapped in, the pilot joins us. It's a case of "Everybody strapped in? We all happy? Let's go". Safety brief? What's that? We taxi to the runway where we accellerate for take-off. The hills above Finstown loom up to the left, then we veer north-northeast over Kirkwall, along the east coast of Shapinsay. We fly at 400 feet, and in the brilliant afternoon sunshine the sandy bottom can be seen underneath bottle-green seas. After ten minutes, we pass straight over the airfield on the island of Sanday; can even read the sign on the airport hut. It's quite interesting to see the islands from above. For instance, the number of ruinous buildings is quite high. Presently, we lose height on the approach to North Ronaldsay, and we land on the grassy strip at Hollandstoun. I can walk straight off the airfield, others wait for their luggage to be unlaoded, which only takes a minute. I set off north along the main road, a single-track affair. The houses here look rather run-down, and the place has an air of neglect about it. All around the island a wall has been built designed to keep the sheep out. The NR sheep live off seaweed on the seashore. Veer right in the direction of the two lighthouses on the far eastern point of NR. Pass Park House. The lovely sandy beach of Linklet Bay can be seen stretching south. I finally end up by the Old Beacon on Dennis Head, ¼ mile south of the present lighthouse. I have a nibble on the very rocky foreshore, beyond the wall. A clutter of unhappy looking sheep are ferretting about among the shingle. Can't stay long, so I quickly head back. I take the side-road to Garso. After the farmhouse, the road degenerates into a path. A hillock looms up to my left - the sea a little way to my right. Follow the road through the 'settlement' of Anamtown, then head back to the airfield. Have a natter with the airport crew and other passengers, until the plane reappears. The flight back is uneventful. I had a strange encounter at the airport in Kirkwall. Having collected my bags, I walked outside and noticed the hosteller from Papa Westray who was going to stay there for a month. Well, it's only 5 days down the line, so he never lasted. After the morning mists, the sun has come out at lunchtime. had supper in KW, then went to a lack-lustre ceilidh, which was connected with the science festival. I managed to keep my eyes open until 11.30. On return to Viewfield, I walked up the Berstane Road to encounter several cats out on the prowl. On erolled in the grass, wanting me to tickle her tummy and following me. The other sat on a wall and I snapped it with a camera. Had quite a pleasant chat with the Eunsons before retiring for the night.
Tuesday, 7 September 2004
Today, I'll be leaving Shetland to return to Orkney. At breakfast, I'm having a very pleasant conversation with a South African lady who is touring Scotland. She is going to Mousa Broch today. After flapping about in town for a bit, I jump on the bus to Sumburgh at 12, together with the SA lady. She gets off at the top of the hill from Mousa; I carry on to the airport. Plane not due to leave until 3.30, so I go for a walk round the airport. It's a pleasantly sunny day. Leave the terminal and turn right, past the end of the runway and on to a beach. A RIB is launched as I'm sitting in the dunes. Nearby is the Viking site of Jarlshof, which is comparable to Skara Brae in Orkney, but not as old. A boat leaves from Sumburgh to Foula. At length, I return to the airport to wait. YAWN. We finally, finally take off at 4pm, to arrive in Kirkwall at 5. I'm delivered outside the YH by the airport bus, but now there is no bed for me. Didn't book it. Try the B&B across the road, but no luck. Hobble into town and seated outside St Magnus I start to ring round. The St Ola hotel on the harbour still has a room. For £34 I get a posh, high-ceilinged, en-suite poo-poo room. Don't do a lot for the rest of the evening.
Monday, 6 September 2004
I start by going to the post-office, to the baker's for lunch and the hairdresser's. All in Commercial Street. Another sunny day, so I decide to go out on a rented bike. There is a bike and car rental place up the road, and I'm duly issued with a mountainbike for £7 for the whole day. At 11.30, I head out south down the A970. In a car, you don't really notice the inclines. On a bike you do. After the Clickimin roundabout, I'm pretty quickly puffed out. I follow the same route as yesterday, and head out towards Scalloway, 6 miles to the west. Just before the junction at the far end of the B9073, I take a wee breather. Then I go down that long and steep hill towards the Tingwall valley. Nice viewpoint about 1/3 way down. I'm not really happy to go thundering downhill, but I do manage to get to the bottom without mishap. Go uphill into Scalloway and ride around the harbour. Return to the far end of town, where I head south down the road towards Burra. It's getting fairly warm - sun is beating down. After a mild incline, the road veers west to cross a narrow bridge. Once vehicle can cross it at a time. After another short break on the far side, I press on and finally arrive into Hamnavoe. I proceed through the village. I'm now 10 miles from Lerwick and 4 south of Scalloway. It's 1 pm, so I've done well. Nip into the shop for some bits, then sit down at the harbour to eat lunch. Nice views to other islands. At 1.30, I head back up the hill and run into a funeral procession that is just setting off from the church. Turn off to the right at the roundabout and head down to another beach. Park the bike at the toilets and wander down the path. Several people on the beach. I proceed past the beach and up the hill. Path leads a little further, but I'm happy just to sit and enjoy the sun. At 3 pm, I head back to Scalloway. Just before the town, I go into the Tingwall valley, which I ride along its full length. In the village at the other end, I dive into the pub. It takes a while for a bartender to appear, but that pint of coke went down a treat. Had a chat with some of the locals, them jumped on the bike again to labour uphill to join the A970 back to Lerwick. By now it's 4.30 and very warm. This road is the arterial route through Shetland and I have cars, lorries and motorbikes flying round my ears. The orad is on a relentless downward slope to veer around a valley a 2km descent. At the bottom, the sideroad to Scalloway veers off south, but the A970 veers round the head of the valley and goes uphill again. The incline beats me, so I'm reduced to walking the bike up the hill. It is so warm and I'm perishing with thirst. Toil up the hill, then bomb down it on the far side, racing into the Lerwick rush-hour at quite some speed. A long line of cars waits at a roundabout; it's 5.30 and all are trying to get hoome. I deposit the bike at the shop and head into town for supper.
Sunday, 5 September 2004
Lerwick is deserted on Sunday morning. Go up Charlotte Street, come out by the Town Hall and the Museum at the top of the hill. It's 10 a.m., but nothing stirs. Return to the town centre to go on the first ferry of the day to Bressay. It drops me off there just before 11, giving me about an hour to hare round the island. From Bressay, you can actually cross to the nature reserve at Noss, but I won't have time for that. My tour starts at 1 pm. Walk down the shore road to the school and shop, then proceed to the little housing estate at Glebe. From here, a track winds uphill to the summit of the Ward of Bressay. Because of time-constraints, I can't go quite to the summit, so I turn back. Walk back to the pier via the Gunnista Road. Hop on the ferry and am back in Lerwick at 12.20. Have something like lunch in a takeaway bar at the harbour and eat it on a bench in the bright sunlight. A very large, yellow fishing boat from Whalsay is in port. Report to the TIC at 1 pm, where a pleasant lady, Sarah, is ready with her minibus for today's tour. We set off, with a compliment of 8, down the A970 to Hollander Knowe, from where the B9073 provides a shortcut through to Scalloway. This has the ruins of a castle. Scalloway used to be capital of shetland. We continue north, through the valley of Tingwall. This means Valley of the Althing, the old viking parliament. Nowadays there is the Asta golf-course. On the island at the northern end of Loch of Tingwall, called Law Ting Holm, judgement would be passed in the Viking era. If the culprit managed to outrun his executors and the rest of the crowd (who were all at license to carry out any death sentence) and reach the church, he would be safe. We proceed past Tingwall Airport up the A971 to a long stretched-out series of settlements on the Weisdale Voe. At the top of the Voe, we carry on north to Kergord, which has the only woods in the whole of Shetland. This is latitude 60°N. We rejoin the A970 and carry on to Voe village. We leave the A968, which branches off to the Yell ferry, to our right and carry on along the shore of Olna Firth to Brae. Just over a mile to the west lies Mavis Grind. That is not a female, but a narrow isthmus. To the west lies the Atlantic, off Mangaster Voe, to the east the North Sea, from Sullom Voe. The oil terminal at Sullom Voe is situated 6 miles to the northeast, but this complex is clearly visible. Oil has brought wealth to Shetland. For every barrel of oil that passed through Sullom Voe, Shetland Council would receive 1p. To date, this has amassed to a staggering £1,000 million pounds! Carry on north for another 6 miles, then fork west in the direction of Hillswick and Eshaness. Visibility is poor today; Foula nor Papa Stour are visible to the south and west. We go north briefly to Ronas Voe. This is a spectacular Shetland Ffjord, over which Ronas Hill towers at 450 m / 1500 feet. We alight from the minbus and enjoy the vista. Clouds clear from the summit of the mountain. Next port of call is Eshaness Lighthouse, about 7.5 miles to the west. This is situated amidst some spectacular coastal scenery, resulting from dramatic coastal erosion. The lighthouse is automated, but the outbuildings are occupied by a writer. She has just left for the winter. Out to the south sits Dore Holm, a natural arch that looks liek a crouching elephant. Finally, after about half an hour of looking round, we toddle off to a museum at Tangwick, which shows life in Shetland in times gone by. At 4 pm, we drive off under a glazing sky, back down the 35 miles to Lerwick. Shetland is bigger than you'd think from the map. We're overtaking by a motorcyclist who tops 100 mph. The descent into Lerwick is down a very long and steep hill. One of our group gets dropped off at the ferry terminal to go on the 7 pm ferry, the rest in Market Square. I dawdle around for the next piece of excitement: a trip in a replica Viking Boat, the Dim Riv. At 7pm, a group of seven are issued with life jackets and we board the boat. We motor into the haroubr, until we're abreast of the ferry terminal. There we cut the engine, and the sail is raised. Slight problem: we have wind force zero this evening. Oh, we do make headway tonight, but that's the tide carrying us south. I've been told that this boat has been as far as Dublin. She can be rowed, but us poor tourists are spared that ordeal. Once abreast of the harbour, we allow a skiff with 8 rowers to go in first, before we motor into port at 8pm. Go to the Queen Hotel for supper. They take their leisure at serving, but ok, it does come.
Saturday, 4 September 2004
Friday, 3 September 2004
The day dawned nice and sunny, but that wasn't to last. I set forth at 8.45, with Paul joining me as far as the airfield, carrying his coffeemug with him. Jeez. The plane comes and goes. We pop into the waiting-room at the airport, where I put my waterproofs on. Paul returns to the hostel, whilst I continue to the coast. The rain starts gradually, intensifying as I go. After a lot of bother with fences near the seashore, I reach my first reference point, St Boniface Church, at 10 a.m. It is dedicated to a man who was murdered in 754 AD at Dokkum in Holland. Have a look at http://www.papawestray.co.uk/papay/pw_official6.html. The church was rebuilt by the local community and taken back into service in 1990. Very small but pleasant building. I leave with a certain reluctance, partially due to the awful weather. I carry on north and finally reach the perimeter fence of a nature reserve at the northern end of Papay. The birds left several weeks ago, and I find myself trudging a sodden moor. The coastline veers round to the east. As I'm holding a high contour, I'm not presented with awkward surprises. Reach the northern cape at 11.15 and proceed south. Encounter two people on my way past various geos and cliffs, finally regaining civilisation at 12.30. The rain is beginning to let off as I make my way south. Not quite sure whether to stay high up or low down, I stick to height. I end up getting zapped by an electric fence before regaining the road. Return to the hostel at lunchtime. Just before the hostel are the local school plus health centre. Behind the hostel, in the same building, is the shop. They open at 3 today, rather than the usual 2.30. Some of the island ladies complain bitterly, particularly as someone had to come from afar. Yep, this island measures 6 km north to south, longest road distance 4 km. Having obtained my shopping in the confined space of the shop, I walk round to the other side of the building. Gather up my stuff from the hostel and start walking towards the ferrypier. Only a few hundred yards outside Holland Farm, the hostel warden pulls alongside to offer me a lift to the pier. I arrive there at 4.15, a wee bit early. Golden Mariana appears at 5 o'clock, to take me back to Pierowall in the statutory 23 minutes. The connecting bus returns me to the ferryterminal at the far end of Westray. A chilly wind blows, so I wait on the bus for the ferry to turn up. Thereturn trip to Kirkwall is uneventful, and we reach the town before nightfall. I manage to get a place at the youth hostel. There are some unusual guests in. As I'm heating my food, a gentleman who looks like (and actually is) an American Indian lights the hob on the next stove. He takes out a handdrum, about 30 cm across, and holds it over the flames. Concerned, and inquisitive, I ask him why he is doing that. "Oh, the drum is very moist it I need to dry it". The man is a member of a large group of Canadian Cree Indians who have come to Orkney to investigate their roots. In the 19th century, groups of men from Orkney emigrated to Canada. Some of them married native girls and the descendants have come back now. They are decked outin full regalia, as part of the Kirkwall Science Festival this month. They give performances of traditional dances in venues around Kirkwall over the next 2 weeks. Meals are provided by local ladies who cook in the hostel kitchen. The group are nice enough, but a little inconsiderate. If they want to go out, they do so through the nearest door. Even it's alarmed. At 7 in the morning, they start to sing and beat their drums, to the annoyance of other hostellers.
Thursday, 2 September 2004
After breakfast, I head into Kirkwall to go on the n° 8 bus. This is a tourist service, on one of its last runs of the seasons. We head down the Stromness road past Finstown, and turn off just before Brig o'Waithe to visit the first of a number of ancient sites: the Stones of Stenness, a hop and a step from the junction. These stones, only 4 of them, stand in a circle in alignment with Ward Hill on Hoy. At the winter solstice, the sun sets behind Ward Hill when viewed from that circle. The sheep within the circle were oblivious to that. When the allotted 15 minutes were up, we were herded on board the wee bus and transported a mile up the road to the Ring of Brodgar. This is a much larger monument, consisting of a circle of about thirty stones. One had been split in two by a lightning strike in June 1980. A sort-of heelstone stands to the southeast, and another stone is set apart to the northwest. We were allowed about 30 minutes to roam the circle, diameter 100 m, before rejoining the bus. Fairly sunny today. Next stop is the very ancient site of Skara Brae, on the west coast of Mainland, 6 miles north of Stromness. It dates back 5,500 years, and consists of a number of homesteads. Before I visit the actual excavations, I have to buy some maps and a cup of tea in the Visitor Centre. Also a disposable camera. Adjacent to the centre, there is a replica homestead from that era. It's very low, doorways only 4 feet high - I'm 6 feet! Interesting. Walked out along a path which was a walk back through time. From the present 2004 AD it went back to 3500 BC. Informations officers were at hand to explain. The homesteads are protected from encroachment by the sea by a strong seawall. It was erosion that caused them to be exposed in the first place. Some bits were already lost to the sea. After Skara Brae, I went on to nearby Skaill House, a former residence to the bishopric of Orkney. It contrasts sharply with the nearby ancient site. By the time I'm finished, I pick up my rucksack and head back to the bus. This returns me to Kirkwall via the other two site, which I don't really bother getting back into. The Ring is more intensively visited, and there is a coachparty of Dutch wrinklies at Stenness. They are herded off and on the Orkney buses coach. We head past Tormiston Mill and Maeshowe to Kirkwall. Do my bit of shopping for the next day and a bit, then head for the ferry terminal. You can't buy tickets ashore, they are sold on board the ferry. My ferry goes to Westray direct. You board via the vehicle ramp, leave your luggage in the locker on the vehicle deck, accept a boardingcard and head upstairs. It's a bit blustery today, so I position myself on the starboard (righthand) deck, well covered. We set off north past Shapinsay, which I first visited in 1990. See the quaint shape of Balfour Castle slowly moving out of sight. St Magnus, a conspicuous shape on the Kirkwall skyline, slowly recedes behind the vessel. We go closely inshore, halfway up the westcoast of Shapinsay, this to avoid a shallows. The ferry blows its horn at a party of walkers on shore, who are practically within hailing distance. Off the northwestern cape of Shapinsay, we can see several northern isles, as we pass the buoy for Galt Skerry. To the east lies an island with a few windturbines, which is Stronsay. To the northeast rise the barren moors on Eday. Eday's ferryterminal is on the far (that is: eastern) side of the island. Off its southern cape, the tides meet from about four different directions, so it gets very lively. The ferry sails the length of Eday's western shore, which show only a few houses. About halfway up, we encounter a stretch of very choppy waters, with many white riders. Past the north end lies Faray, which is uninhabited. At 6 o'clock, we are 'suddenly' at Rapness, the ferry terminal for Westray. I disembark and try to locate the minibus that is to take me to the next ferry, which departs from Pierowall, 7 miles to the north. Squeeze all my stuff on board and shell out £2 for the trip. We hare down a very straight but quite bumpy road. past an austere looking church and into Pierowall. We circle the bay and finally arrive on the quayside. My next transport, the Golden Mariana, is already waiting, and as soon as I'm on board, the crew cast off. Have a chat to the master and mate beforehand. We set off at 6.50 for the 23-minute crossing. Although it was bumpy on the way in from Kirkwall, the sound between Westray and Papa Westray is not too bad. At 7.13, we tie up alongside the quay at Papa Westray - which I'll refer to as Papay from this point onwards. I make an awkward step to the stairs, and am met at the top by the genial warden of the youth hostel at Holland. We drive there at a rate of knots, and duly arrive at Beltane House at 7.30 There is this cat, a beautiful ginger tom and a blackbird which always wants to go inside. The bird isn't allowed in, because once inside it suffers a panic attackand defaecates all over the place. Beltane is part youth hostel, part B&B. It has two dorms, one of which already has someone in it. This is a chap who tells me he's there for a month to watch birds. Hmm. It's September, not much to be seen in terms of birds. The kitchen is pokey and poorly equipped as far as pans and cutlery is concerned. I manage to cut myself on the baked-beans can, as a result of that crappy can-opener. Have my meal in Paul's company. Weird fellow. The concepts of table manners and proper food (:-x see my baked beans) are beyond him. I take myself off on a walk after supper and head down the road in an easterly direction. It's getting dark at 8.30, and I can see a lighthouse winking away to the east. This should be either North Ronaldsay or Sanday. I go as far as the shore, where I find a small harbour with some ruinous boats pulled up beyond the slipway. Carry on up the road parallel to the shore, and listen to the waves lapping on the shore behind the dunes. Return the way I came and head back to Beltane, where not much is happening.