Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Orkney Islands - exploring mainland

We drove off the ferry and parked-up immediately in the long-stay car park and then walked into Stromness itself.  The town has had a £3.5m facelift apparently though most of the funds were spent on the ground, as the narrow main street is also used by cars:


We visited the Stromness museum before lunch and then headed on to visit the first of the 'must do' archaeology sites on the mainland, Stenness Standing Stones:


Current thinking has Orkney as the centre-point and indeed origination point of the neolithic religion that included standing stones, stone circles, etc.   This 5,000 year-old stone circle at the start of the thin land bridge that also includes the Ring of Brodgar is as impressive as you would expect:


We enjoyed wandering around both sites before heading on to the coast and Skara Brae, the neolithic village found on the coast to the West of mainland:


And the beach/coast location itself:


It is amazing to think that 5,000 years ago these people were as sophisticated as they have demonstrated being.

Making the most of the lack of rain, given the prevailing forecasts, we headed on then to the Brough of Birsay, enjoying the geology of the coastline:


As well as the Viking settlement itself, this a mere 1,000 years old:


We headed on to our hotel late afternoon in Dounbsy and hoped for fine weather the next day.  I couldn't help but stop and get my picture taken with this signpost though:


Sunday was grey, showery and windy, but determined to make the most of the trip we headed out and to the far end of South Ronaldsay, passing on the way the visible remains of one of the Churchill barriers, the vessels sunk to make a protective screen around the natural deep-water harbour of Scapa Flow, at the start of the second world war.  You can also see the causeway which was subsequently built by Italian POWs shortly thereafter to make the defences impenetrable to submarine attack:


Our first planned stop was at the Tomb of the Eagles, a privately owned and run Neolithic archaeology site, discovered and explored by a self-learned land-owner as the authorities had ignored his initial findings and pleas for professional help.

His two daughters now run the operation and provide a very detailed understanding of the site, it's finds, history, etc, which we enjoyed.

It rained on the walk out to the Tomb, this is Helen pausing to take in the view and enjoying the weather on the way:



On the way back North we stopped on Lamb Holm to visit the Italian Chapel, built by the POWs so they had their own place of worship during their time on the Islands:


An impressive though fragile building it is too:


We explored the area around Scapa Flow and the coastline on our way back to the hotel as the wind and the rain increased.  We were thoroughly enjoying the trip though, there's so much to see and learn about.

Monday was the rain day we'd feared.   Winds from 25-30 mph and showers that were light or intense with no particular warning and no let-up in the rain, so we headed for Kirkwall the Capital to see what we could see there.

St Magnus Cathedral is a very impressive building, inside and out, and well worth a visit:



The same goes for the Earl's Palace next door.




After seeing these two impressive buildings we began a bit of a shopping odyssey.   There's a wood-smoking business located close to Stromness, which smokes cheese, fish, garlic, etc.  We wanted to see what we could find to bring home, particularly smoked garlic.  None of the produce shops we visited, in the pouring rain, had any and recommended in turn another.  We visited them all but no joy.  So we drove to Stromness, driving through rivers running roads, such was the rainfall, but we couldn't locate them.   We finally found them the next day on a second attempt, having been directed by a postman.   The building is not where the website says it is and they don't have a shop.   Nor apparently can you buy their smoked garlic anywhere on the mainland and the smoked foods they do provide to local retailers are fridge only.   It's crazy.   Surely they could seal smoked cheese in wax so people could buy it and take it home?   Surely they could do this with hot smoked fish too?   I think they are missing a volume business opportunity there...

Anyway having been bounced around Kirkwall we decided to head back to the car as the weather was getting worse, cue taking a wrong turn, walking half a mile and getting absolutely soaked to the skin, so much so I caught a chill that became a fever but that's in the future...

The next day Tuesday was our last day on Orkney and we decided to complete our tour of the mainland by visiting Deerness and some of the old military installations on the coast:


You're not supposed to go inside but the view from this old gun emplacement was worth it:



We visited the Gloup, a sea blow-hole worn into the coast and enjoyed another side of Orkney as the sun shone across the islands, really bringing out the colours of the landscape.

We enjoyed our last dinner at our hotel before leaving to board the ferry and stay in our cabin ahead of the 06:30 sailing to the mainland and the long drive from Thurso to Falkirk.

We really enjoyed visiting and exploring The Orkney Islands, as much as we could given the weather anyway, we'd have liked to visit Westray and Sanday but given the conditions it wouldn't have made sense.   We were delighted with the number of birds, everywhere, the lack of trees means there's no industrial shooting of birds, which means greater numbers and abundance, a rare sight in the UK and indeed much of the world these days.  The people we met were friendly, helpful and patient.  There's a real sense of the Viking heritage (one third of the population have Viking DNA) and it's a remarkably peaceful place to visit.

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