Friday, 3 September 2010

Happy Ending After All

I am pleased to report my 'lost' rucksack has been found.  I got a call from the lost property at Waterloo Station to say it had been handed in at Guildford, and was ready for collection.

So, a big 'THANK YOU' to all Good Samaritans out there for being so honest.

It's strange, but there is an overwhelming sense of relieve when you are reunited with your 'lost property', especially when all is returned intact.

So, a happy ending after all . . . .and thank you again from a weary traveller.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Journey Home

Tuesday 31st August.

Sitting having breakfast at 8.0am I viewed Stromness for the last time, what I could see of it. Mist and cloud covered much of the town and the surrounding hilltops. However, during the time I sat eating the mist slowing retreated leaving the tops of the hills with the thicker cloud caps.

I said my goodbyes to Tom and Kate and hoped to see them again one day.

The ferry reversed slowly out of the harbour and headed for Thurso on a light breeze.

Photo opportunities arose again passing the ‘Old Man of Hoy’ and offered an interesting image with the top of the monolith shrouded in a light mist. (I will post all the photos on Picasa soon).

The connecting time between ferry and the Thurso train to Edinburgh was only
30 minutes, but full credit to the operators, as a bus was there to take us to the station in time.

The views going back were just as intoxicating as on the first journey last week, but now I was facing the front on the opposite side overlooking a flatter landscape, and for some of the journey, more locks and the North Sea.

The changeover at Inverness was very quick – just 8 minutes, then onto Edinburgh.

The Edinburgh leg was the longest, 7 hours. I would not recommend the ‘seat sleeper’ unless you went 1st class, as I am sure that would have been more comfortable.

So finally I arrived home, weary and cross with myself. I discovered I had done a very silly thing – I left my rucksack on the Waterloo to Guildford train. So far it has not been handed in but I have to wait until Friday to be sure all trains have been cleaned and any lost property sent up to London. Apart from my spare camera and passport, both of which can be replaced, I had a file of my travels including leaflets, maps and souvnir booklets I had collected during the week.

Luckily, I have all my photos, and memories of a great week which I will never forget.

As they say up there . . . . Hast ye back . . . . and I certainly will.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Day Six – Stromness and Kirkwall

            Before I get started, just a note to say thank you to all out there reading this. However, there seems to be a problem with ‘comments’ and ‘followers’ not appearing. I have looked at the user forum sites and these problems seem to be a cause for concern.  This is a Google run effort so not sure if and when any changes will happen, but please keep trying – I look forward to reading your comments eventually.

After another hearty breakfast I walked into town.  Maybe because it was the last visit, I don’t know, but I seemed to notice things I had missed previously.

Like the War Memorial with the stone angel looking down in deep thought on the departed.

The football pitch, which I’m sure, was just a field yesterday, but now with goal posts.  The only players today however are sea gulls and plovers.

The sun is out and the wind is now a gentle breeze.  I, however, took no chances and wore four layers of clothing; Ski vest, shirt, Gilet and fleece jacket.  Within an hour I had removed the fleece and the Gilet.

I walked around the harbour edge taking ‘still life’ photos; lobster pots, coiled rope and even an old rusty anchor.  The harbour was full of colour and activity.  The packing factory was stacking boxes of lobster and spider crab ready for collection, and I assumed to, if not Orkney, other cities in the UK.  As I was talking to one of the workers who had come out for a smoke, a lorry arrived to collect the days catch.
 I noticed the lorry was not UK licensed, and asked where it was from. ‘Spain’ he said. All their catch goes to the best restaurant in Spain.
 I looked surprised, ‘not much call for Spider Crab in the UK’ he said.

I drifted further along the harbour jetty.  Another guy was getting into a red divers suit and thought he may have some good tales of diving in these waters. I knew Scapa Flow has diving tours to see the wrecks, but we were nowhere near there.  I didn’t get his name, but it turns out this was only  his second time of wearing the diving suit. He was a fisherman on the reasonably modern looking trawler we were standing next to.  The first time he wore it was to have a lesson, now he was preparing to dive to look at the boat prop shaft.  He told me with some sadness he was the only Scotsman on board. The boat was owned by an Englishman and had a crew of two Lithuanians and one Polish, plus himself.  Not many youngsters want to go in to fishing now, because of quotas, upkeep and the long hours.

Leaving the harbour square I walked into the main ‘drag’.  To the casual observer this street looked very much like a pedestrian area laid with flag stones. Wrong! It is a main road, and two-way as well. Fortunately the traffic is scarce and slow, due to the narrowest of the road.

One documented feature of Stromness is the number of blue commemorative plaques – they are everywhere.  Explorers, builders, architects, writers, artists and the valiant – all immortalised in blue.
What is it about Stromness that created so many notable individuals?

Most of the morning is taken up with photographing anything that takes my fancy.  Crusted stone buildings, seascapes, landscapes, gulls (lots of gulls) and more boats.

I did find time to visit the Waterfront Art Gallery.  A modern gallery showing works from all over the World.  The focus this month has been    on Barbara Hepworth - painter and noted sculpture.  Admittedly I did not know her work previously, but was drawn to the soft round shapes and contours of her work.

I continued along the road to where it opens out, and sat on a bench on a grassy knoll, overlooking the harbour estuary for one last time.

Kirkwall – capital of Orkney.

Kirkwall is a major port, servicing the arrival of ocean going liners from all over the World.  The city is reliant on their day trippers with good money to spend.

Although larger and busier than Stromness, nearly everything takes place, again, along one very long thoroughfare.  I had been here on Saturday with my friend John, and he had shown me some of the popular landmarks, so I knew what to look out for.

Jewellery is one of the largest Industries here, and Orkadian jewellery is very distinct, taking its themes from the many ancient civilisations I have encountered these past five days.
Most is all silver, or sometimes embellished with soft pinks and blues that reflect the colours of the sky, earth and water.  It is also very expensive.

 As Carol will confirm I am an avid window shopper, so I enjoyed exploring the many gift shops and arts and crafts places that offer any holiday maker a memorable souvenir.

I was impressed with St. Magnus Cathedral.  I have learnt many things on this visit, but two notable things are that, one, Vikings where responsible for the construction of this Cathedral.   I must have missed the history lesson at school where we were told some Vikings where in fact Christians, and not all pillagers, rapists and drunkards. (the second noteworthy offering was that malt whisky gets its colour from the aging process in the sherry casks)  

Back to St Magnus – the first thing you notice is the entrance.  The large wooden doors are inlayed with plain wooden columns, but no intricate carvings of biblical characters found on most other cathedrals.

The interior is truly magnificence.  Notably all stone work with a very high narrow nave, and smaller than usual stain glass windows. 

Many notable tombs can be found there including the remains of St Magus himself, and John Rae of Stromness; surgeon, inventor and explorer.

Adjacent to the cathedral are the remains of the Bishops Place, which was built at the same time as the Cathedral, but around 1614, following a siege, it fell into ruins. (see my previous thoughts on old ruins and their occupants. More here on its history,_Kirkwall )

I felt by now I had exhausted the most interesting parts of the city, and returned to my B&B for a final siesta.

This evening I walked into town for a final view of the sunset, and a final meal. I decided to eat at the Ferry Inn, which I had been to for a pint but not to eat. The dinning room was full of men in three groups of 10 per table.  Two of the tables were either Scottish or English trawler men, and the third were from, well I’m not sure - probably Norwegian – on shore leave from the moored Hamnavoe ferry.  The conversations were loud, but it added a welcome atmosphere to the room. Three nationalities with one common interest –the sea.

So, tomorrow I leave this island and return home.  You may have gathered from these reports I have fallen in love with Orkney; the people, the history, the landscapes, the sunsets – the way of life – it’s a jewel of an island, and I hope to return one day to explore the many wonders I have left out of this visit.

Thank you for being with me these past six days. I have enjoyed the evening ritual of writing this blog, which has helped me to remember more of where I have been, what I have seen and  who I have talked to, but more importantly being able to put my own personal thoughts on paper has been an education and a delight.

I may add another chapter covering the return train journey home, so please tune in again.

On a personal note, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my daughter Lindsay for tomorrow (31st). Sorry I cannot be with you but will be thinking of you as always. Love &  xxxx

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Day Five – Down South

Well, eventually down south.  First I visited another seascape site that was recommended to me – Yesnaby.  After heavy rain in the early morning, the sky cleared but the wind persisted – force 6 -7 at least.  This did make for an interesting walk (the first of two) along the cliff tops at this beauty spot.  I had wanted to get some good photos of waves breaking on the rocks for Carol, and I certainly got my wish today.

I am sure I would have appreciated the surrounding fauna and flora more on a calmer day, but I was concentrating too hard on the rolling surf, and not being swept over,  to look anywhere else.
Because of the weather, and being Sunday, I had left the B&B later than usual, so I sought out a charming coffee shop not to far away.  However, the name of it escapes me and I cannot find the leaflet in my orderly bedroom!  The cafe was about 1 mile up a single dirt track in the middle of farmland, but it was worth it.  No only did they have excellent coffee and shortbread (again), but exhibited, and sold, wonderful phonographs of the Islands historic and natural beauty.

Feeling refreshed, I headed south, fist to Lamb Holm, and then across the Scacpa Flow to South Ronaldsay.
One of the most famous landmarks of all on Orkney is the Italia Chapel, built by Italian prisoners of war. It was started in 1943, but completed after the war.  It was built entirely out of anything they could find,  and was ornately decorated by Domenico Chiocchetti,   He painted the sanctuary end of the chapel and fellow-prisoners decorated the entire interior. They created a front facade out of concrete, concealing the shape of the hut and making the building look like a church.
Chiocchetti remained on the island to finish the chapel, even when his fellow prisoners were released shortly before the end of the war.

Moving on,  I crossed the four Churchill Causeways, erected again by POW’s to protect the British fleet in Scapa Flow. 
South Ronaldsay is long and narrow, and at almost any time you can see one side to the other. Like most of the Mainland it is also flat, and therefore very windy – no more so then on a day like today.
Not being deterred in any way, I headed to the much publicised Tomb of the Eagles.  This, again, was an important site found in 1958 by a local farmer. Having reported it to the authorities, and showing them some of the artefacts the had found, they told him someone would get back to him in a couple of years. After 18 yeasr without a word, he decided to excavate further himself. And the rest, as they say, is history. In fact 5,000 years of history.
Over 16,000 human bones were unearthed, plus numerous artefacts of everyday life in Stone Age Orkney.  The museum houses skulls, jewellery, spearheads, hunting tools and of course of remains of Sea Eagles, especially the talons.
Surprisingly, visitors are encouraged to handle these ancient relics instead of peering at them through glass tombs.

The actual ‘tomb’ however is situated 1 mile along a cliff walk.  Visitors are pointed in the right direction, without supervision, to make their own way there, and back, if not swept off the cliffs.
Entrance to the tomb is like several others I have visited this week.  On all fours, or, for children and the older generation, a ‘pulley-board’, which is great fun.  The interior however, stripped of all its historic content, is no more than a granite room dived into burial chambers.  Perhaps, by now, I am lacking a connection with these ancient relatives, having seen too many of their burial habitats.

Retracing my journey back north I stopped at the Fossil Centre and Museum at Burry. This was very interesting and well worth a visit.  It also had an excellent tea room, and superb scones ( I only had one – honest).  

The time had passed unnoticed again, and I arrived back at by B&B around 7.0pm. 
I ate in Stromness this evening and had an early night.

Tomorrow, my last day, I plan to see Stromness again as I have not walked around it when shops have been open, and will also visit Kirkwall for a walk-about.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Day Four – Free Wheelin’

Today I took the coast road to circumnavigate the North Mainland.  It was not a day for monuments or excavations, but places of natural beauty (although that is everywhere), and coastal walks. It is almost impossible to drive anywhere here without losing sight of either the sea or a Loch.  These natural features make the landscape far more interesting, as you are seeing, land, water, and then land again everywhere  –  imagine vast stretches of green, layered with shimmering blue water and topped with multi-coloured green and brown hills, interspersed with the mauve of the heather.

 I know I am going on a lot to how beautiful this Island is, but believe me, it is.

I walked along a stretch of coast at The Bay of Skail on the west coast, where there is a rock formation called  the Hole o’ Rowe, looking like the open jaws of a giant stone sea monster.

Further north a climbed a hill at Marwick Head to Kitcheners Monument.  I, like many of you may have thought he died in India, but no, he perished off the cost here on his way to Russia, on HMS Hampshire, in what the guide information says as ‘mysterious circumstances’ in 1916.

 As I have said before, it’s a photographer’s paradise here.  I have seen many species of birds, and been able to photograph them; lapwings, curlews, kittiwakes, terns and lapwings.

Further along I come to Birsay, and the main focus of interest is the Earl Robert Stewarts manor house – now just a ruin.  Old ruins of places like this do not do much for me, it’s usually the people who lived in them is where the focus lies; in this case the notorious 16 century Earl Robert Stewart (read more of his history here )

Nearby there is a cassowary, and at low tide it is possible to walk over to the Borough of Birsay for a couple of hours and explore Norse houses, churches and palaces.

For the next few hours I continue to follow the coast road, turning off here and there just to see what the view is like, and as always it’s breathtaking.

In the afternoon I visited the Highland Park distillery – home of the world famous Orkney Malt. Had an interesting 50 minute tour of the factory following the process of turning barley, malt and water into the finished product.  Quick question – no prizes – how does the whisky get its colour?

Later that evening I met my friend John Needham who lives in St Margaret’s Hope with his wife, who is Orkadian.  We ate in one of the best Indian restaurants I have ever been to (it had won best restaurant 5 years in a row). Afterwards we had a nightcap in a bar/cafe/meeting place and listen to a live ‘reel’ (traditional folk musicians, for the uninitiated}.

Tomorrow I venture further south to the fossil museum and the Eagle Caves covering Holm and South Ronaldsay.

On a personal note, I want to wish my daughter, Nicole, who is Abseiling down Guys Hospital in London on Sunday, for charity, the very best of luck, and congratulations on raising all that money.

Friday, 27 August 2010


Day Three – The Island Tour

Weather this morning is promising, but its only 7.15am.  Had fried breakfast to keep me going.  I was to meet the tour group at the Kirkwall visitor centre at 9.0am, so having done my homework, left the B&B at 8.05 to walk to the nearest bus stop.  My friend John who lives here, told me the bus will stop anywhere if you hail it.  Just as well, as I was nowhere near the stop when I saw the bus.

The group consisted of me and . . . the tour guide.  I asked if he was sure he wanted to still go with  just me, but he was fine with that.  My guide was Kevin from TourOrkney, a family run business.  Our transport was a Land Rover Defender.  Ideal for some of the terrain we encountered.  I won’t bore you with a precise report of every place of interest we visited– around six major sites in all, but just comment on some of the memorable highlights.

Many of the archaeological sites are either Stone Age or Iron Age, and surprisingly most have only been discovered over the past 100 years, mainly by accident, with the latest one only a few years ago.
Burial chambers are one group of discoveries that excite archaeologists.  The two I visited were very claustrophobic, and the only means of entering is by crouching with hands behind your knees and ‘waddling’ along a narrow, low tunnel, around 10 ft. Long and 2ft wide.
The larger of these is Maeshowe, dating to 2,700BC.  Here we joined a larger group and were taken by the sites guide to the chamber.  The interior of these tombs is impressive when you hear the size of  it, the weight of the stones that had to be carried 7  miles, and the fact it has lasted for so long.  Everything else is speculative, like ‘who used it?’  A lot of answers are ‘as far as we know.’  The more interesting part is what happened to it in the 12th century when Vikings plundered it and left the ‘Runes’.  From this mix of hieroglyphic text it is known they took what treasure there was, and left graffiti.  Nothing changes.

To me, the more interesting sites were Skara Brae, a stone age village dating to 3,180BC, and Brock of Gurness, an Iron Age village dating to 1,200BC.
For more detailed information look them up on-line.
At least with these, almost complete remains, it was possible to see how these people lived their lives, and the social standing they had.  It makes you stop and think when you are standing in a room once occupied 5,000 years ago by our ancestors.

The last two sites were the Ring of Brodar and the Standing Stones of Stenness.
There are many ‘stones’ dotted around the Island, all with individual names, but the most famous are the Stenness stones.  Originally a circle of 12, but now just just four or five if you include the broken ones. Again, the answer to what were they used for is ‘as far as we know.’  (It was here we encountered 5 minutes of torrential rain, then it was gone).

The Ring of Brodgar is around 2,500BC, possibly 1,000 years after Stonehenge.
It is 104mtrs wide and originally had 60 stones, of which only 30 remain. The stone is sandstone, but looks like granite. Many are half the width they were originally because of natural fault lines within the stone, causing vertical fissures.  One of these fissures was struck by lightning in 1998 and split the stone in half.

My driver and guide, Kevin, is an Orkadian, and was very knowledgeable, which made the days outing both interesting and enjoyable.

On by return to Stromness I hired a car for a couple of days, and went back this evening to the Rings, as someone told me that the sunset over the rings was very special.  It certainly was, and I have added some photos, including tonight’s outing.

Now I have the car I will plan a trip covering the rest of the mainland, and venture further afield over the weekend.