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

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