Monday, 8 September 2014

The Old Men of Orkney...................or five go off to five islands...................................September
 After the success of last years trip to the Orkney Islands we decided to make a return visit. On Saturday August 30th five gadgies (Ben, Dave, Harry, John and me) squeezed into a Ford Mondeo and left Newcastle for Scrabster on the north coast of Scotland. Rather than stay in the YHA at Kirkwall we rented a holiday cottage named Loretto, in Stromness. Leaving home about 9 am we arrived at the ferry sometime after 5pm and after a crossing of one and a half hours docked in Stromness. Limited space in the boot (one rucsac, one small bag and one boot bag each) meant our first call was at the Co op supermarket to load up with essentials for the next few days.
Once settled in to the cottage, which had four bedrooms we headed for the bright lights and enjoyed a couple of pints, one in the Ferry Inn and one in the Royal Hotel.

                                                Loretto, rented from Mary and George, 
                                                  teacher and dry stone waller respectively
                                                 and poker players on Thursday.
Sunday, August 31st.
Although we did not have tickets for the ferry to Rousay we took the chance of getting on without booking and arrived at Tingwall in good time.
Sure beats the jolly jock on Look North
                                                                                 Fortunately there was car space on the small ferry to the pier near Trumland so we took it. From the landing stage we drove to Westness, walked down towards the sea across a few fields on the Heritage trail until we reached the settlements and old church of St. Mary's.

                   Church, information and a ruined broch
A little further on, in what at first appeared to be a farm building, we came to the Burial Mound at Midhowe. Protected by a modern building this is certainly the best burial mound I have ever seen, not that I've seen too many. Sectioned off into stalls it apparently contained a fair number of skeletons when first opened.
Midhowe burial mound, divided into stalls and about 5000 years old. Like the pyramids!
There was a broch too. Sitting by the ancient ruins we declared the day's Herbie Spot. After lunch we returned to the car and drove all the way round the island before visiting two burial mounds, The first at Taversoe Tuick was a special, a double decker, room on both floors for a good number of neoliths who had passed on to the great stone yard in the sky.

Entrance to the lower level at Taversoe Tuick. Of course the ladder is modern, the grave is stone age.

Black Hammer burial mound, with stalls
The Rousay ferry.
Back on the Mainland we headed to the chip shop for a fish supper. 
We had wandered about five miles and not surprisingly the bird watchers had had a good day:
Hen Harrier, Fulmar, Buzzard, Redshank, Gannet, Turnstone, Hooded Crow and Lapwings, plus LBJs.

Monday September 1st.
Breakfasted, healthily I might add, on cereal and fruit, toast and tea, we headed for the island capital, bustling Kirkwall to book ferries for several of the days to come. (Scotland is very generous to gadgies, fares are low for folks and the car was reasonable too.)
Booking complete we headed for the Broch of Gurness, which had been visible across the water from Midhowe. Disappointingly for Yorkshire folk there was a charge to see this one. Had we waited a few minutes we could have sneaked in like an American did because the warden cycled off for his lunch, but gadgies are honest. 
A well preserved broch it was and we got our money's worth, declaring it a Herbie Spot too. dining with the spirits of long gone bronze age warriors.

                                                 Gurness Broch. The stones before the wall
                                             are the remains of houses, similar to Skara Brae.

                                     Neolithic Harry contemplates his domain.
Broching over we drove north to the Earl's Palace at Birsay. Built by an illegitimate son of JamesV of Scotland the ruins are quite impressive.
                                                   The Earl's Palace, impressive but
                                                so is this real tractor.
                                             Somewhere here is a seal
View of distant Marwick Head.
As the tide was in it was not possible to walk the causeway to Brough Head so we walked the cliff tops towards Marwick before turning and returning.    
Adding to yesterday's list the ornitholos watched Tysties(Local for Black Guillemot), Banxies(Arctic Skuas), House Martins Little Ringed Plovers and a Raven.
Back at the ranch we dined well on Harry's pasta.

Tuesday September 2nd.
Ferry from Houton to Lyness. We drove north to Rackwick and followed the well maintained path to see the Old Man of Hoy, that famous stack 450 feet high (137 metres to the rest of the world) first climbed in 1967 and shown live on television. I found it quite frightening just looking at it.
Sadly the walk was ruined by trillions of midges, ( but that's Scotland this time of year).
                                         Thought you might get away with it? No chance.
                                          This is the car park at Rackwick.
 And this is the view looking south from Rackwick, looks like a ship coming round there.
                           And this is the famous Old Man of Hoy, all 450 feet of it.
Herbieing in the car park after a 6 mile walk, but hurrying because of the midges, we then left to see the Dwarfie Stane, a large slab of rock in the middle of nowhere which had at one point 5000 years ago been hollowed out to act as a burial mound. Easier to build one I would have thought.
                                                The Dwarfie Stane of Hoy
The squiggle bottom right was written in the tomb by a pretentious Victorian who found patience here. He wrote his name in Latin too, Biggus Dickus.
Outstaned we headed for Lyraway, a viewpoint overlooking Scapa Flow. The flow was used by the Navy in both world wars,the German fleet was self scuttled in 1919,  HMS Royal Oak was sunk in 1940 by a U-boat that sneaked in before the Churchill Barriers were built.
Having admired the view we went to the Lyness Naval Museum, the remains of the once vast base that serviced ships in both wars. Very interesting but we were short of time, must return.
                                                  One of several guns at Lyness
This memorial is quite recent. Behind it were the flags of the UK and Russia although I thought it should have been the flag of the USSR. I also think there is a spelling mistake in the Russian inscription. Any Russian, or other, who agrees could let me know. We all agreed ours is the luckiest generation.
From the ferry deck on the journey back to the Mainland we saw porpoises, more of the same birds as yesterday, and a heron which, of course, has special significance for gadgie days out. On the way home we stopped in Orphir to see a heritage centre, medieval church and graveyard.
Dinner in the pub.

Wednesday September 3rd.
Another ferry trip, this time to Westray from Kirkwall, a journey that took an hour and a half,and we caught it at 7am.
Westray was closed at 8.30 am and we could have murdered for a cup of tea. We drove to Noltland Castle, built in the late 16th century by Gilbert Balfour, one of Mary Queen of Scots advisers. Great castle too, lots of holes at all levels for shooting anyone coming too close without permission. It also had a fine spiral staircase although a bit of it was concrete.
From the castle we walked to Noltland Links which has a golf course, and a prehistoric site that looks as if it could be bigger than Skara Brae when it is fully excavated. An archaeologist working on the site gave us a tour of what has been recovered so far. I think Dave, our pet archaeologist could have stayed, but we walked on and returned to the castle for a Herbie.
 The heritage centre had a display for WWI and some stone from the Noltland site, plus the Westray Wife, a small piece of carved stone representing a female and considered to be some thousands of years old, also from the Noltland site. (Apparently Noltland refers to cattle in Viking).
To finish the day we went to the Cross Kirk  Medieval Parish Church, ruined of course, followed by a stroll along cliff tops  at the Castle of Burrian. Not a puffin in sight.
                                            Noltland Castle, Balfours are still in the building trade.
                                                   Cross Kirk Parish Church
                                           Near Castle o' Burrian. A whole geography lesson. It is really a stack.

Thursday September 4th.
A day on the mainland. We returned to the Earl's Palace at Birsay and walked across the causeway to Brough Head which has the remains of a Viking settlement, and a lighthouse by the Stevenson family. They built most of the lighthouses in Scotland and produced a good writer too.
                                                            Decorated by Stevensons, now automatic and sun powered.
                                              Brough Head Viking Settlement. 
After walking back across the causeway we drove to Marwick  and walked the cliff tops to the Kitchener Memorial. Lord Kitchener was sailing to Russia in 1916 for tea with Nicholas and hoping to encourage him and his army to try a bit harder when HMS Hampshire hit a mine and sank with the loss of nearly all the crew, and the Earl. The grateful islanders built a large memorial......


                                                        Plaque on the Kitchener Memorial
                                             The Kitchener Memorial, and Ben
                                                    Is this deceased creature the fabled Orkney Vole?
                                                   Answers please.
Back in Stromness we visited the Battery, a wartime base that has been converted to a museum. Unfortunately it was closed!
Back at Loretto we had another of Harry's Pasta dinners, and very good it was too.
Total walking for the day about 7 miles.

Friday September 4th.
Another ferry, this this time to the pretty island of Eday. The journey from Kirkwall took about an hour and a half.  I talked to a young lady on the voyage and discovered she had been to University with a girl I taught some twenty years ago! Small world, and both doctors, good things come from Blyth.
We followed a heritage walk at the north end of the island which, surprisingly, included several burial mounds and a standing stone. One of them, Braeside was a double decker, but without access. But Huntersquoy was big enough for us all to fit in.
                                                               The Stone of Setter on Eday
                                              Shadow over Huntersquoy
                                                       Inside Huntersquoy
 We walked past another Stevenson lighthouse and back to the car which was parked at Mill Loch, a smallish stretch of water which supports red throated divers, but not today.
After visiting another heritage centre (with a WWI display) we drove  to the Bay of Greentoft and walked round War Ness through miles of Lauder Grass before returning to the ferry jetty and sailing home. It was Friday and a number of children were on the ferry from Kirkwall where they board during the week at school and come home to the islands for the weekend.
Back in Stromness we went to the Ferry Inn for fish and chips, and beer.

Saturday September 6th.
We caught the ferry to Scrabster and drove the 370 miles back home after a good week away.
A few more pictures:
                                                       Cut away of the Midhowe Broch
                                                    The Earl's Palace, Birsay
                                                          Figures in a seascape at Marwick
                                            Aboard the ferry
                                          Lyness, the tank holds part of the museum
                                               On the cliffs near the Old Man of Hoy
                                                     Arctic Convoy Memorial
                                                    Anchors Awestray
                                                  Whale skeleton, Westray
                                               There are many cattle on Orkney, mainly for beef

                                                 Is it a bird, is it a plane?

See also, Tomb Raiders, The Orkneying Saga August 2013 for more about Orkney