Orkney Islands

This morning, our car hire fellow came and collected us to take us to Kirkwall, do the paperwork and off we go.  This is a klunky, expensive way for me to have planned this, however, I think in the long run, it will actually be less expensive since the hotels in Kirkwall are twice the cost as where we are staying.  Coming in at night and after car rental hours throws a wrench in the works.  So, why are we ferrying instead of flying?  For comparison:  Ferry from Lerwick to Kirwall:  £20.20 ($32.95) vs Air: £96,62 ($157.59).  Of course, the flight is much shorter in duration, but multiply that by three and the savings add up quickly!  Also, that is the cheap airfare and they don’t offer very many seats at that rate – you’d have to be very flexible in travel dates to get those, or just get lucky that they were available on the day you wanted to travel.

Despite a cloudy start to the morning, by 9am, the clouds had rolled away and the most stunning, sunshine broke out – honestly, it was as everything was glistening brilliant green and blue.  Orkney is clearly a more agriculturally based economy than Shetland.  The grasses here seem beautifully designed to finish cattle and indeed, we have seen far more cattle here than on Shetland.  And huge cattle they are!  Although these animals are, and I’m guessing here, are in the 1400-2000 lb range and the soil is moist and soggy, they are not wading in mud!  The grasses form a fabulous sod, but yet are succulent and rich.  I’m going to try and find out what they are using, but i fear they won’t be as useful in our area since we get so much hotter in the summer and colder in the winter.  But it is worth exploring.

Orkney Day One 9-25-14 162 Orkney Day One 9-25-14 109

Before the afternoon is far gone, we drove to Liddle, South Ronaldsay to tour the Tomb of the Eagles.  This very informative neolithic tomb (see Dallas pulling himself out of the tomb) and Bronze age stone building were well worth the effort.  About a mile in pasture walk to and from the tomb with stunning views along the cliff overlooking the North Sea.

Orkney Day One 9-25-14 140Orkney Day One 9-25-14 135

We started Friday morning with comfy temperatures and brilliant sunshine, however, the wind was practically gale force at 37 mph with gusts over 60 mph!  If this was happening in north Missouri, we’d expect a storm in short order.  However, here it was sunshine, punctuated with short bursts of rain showers.  Except for our tour at Broch of Gurness, which the attendant closed right after we entered, all other outdoor venues were closed because of the dangerous wind.  We cut through to Dounby to a famous butcher shop, The Dounby Butcher, which we found has been recognised as one of the butchers in all of Great Britain, and, yes, she is a woman!  We visited with her dad at the shoppe; he was rightly  proud of her!  She did explain that the Aberdeen-Angus cattle they butcher are all grassfinished and the one she just did today weighed 320 kilos (704 lbs), in the meat.  She also revealed that most of the cattle are kept in the barn during the winter and fed silage since, although there isn’t any snow, it does rain a lot and the fields are too muddy for these heavy cattle.  Of course, then the manure must be cleaned out of the barns in the spring, then spread on the fields when ground conditions will allow.  Thanking her for her time in answering our questions, we then picked up some meat items and brought a scenic route back to our apartment and spent the day here.

Restless, I bundled up and went outside for short walks all afternoon and chanced a quick chat with the neighbor boy who had come out to collect hen eggs and feed them.  Here’s a quick shot out our door as the evening wore on – that’s our ride in the car park.

Orkney day 2 056O

Sun is shining and wind has laid quite a lot, so off we go to tick off all the activities we had planned for yesterday.  First up was Skara Brae, an excellent venue for getting inside one of the stone homes from the Bronze age.  It had been rebuilt, but was designed on an actual footprint of the real thing.  Toured other ruins of life in the old days – and, no, i don’t believe they were the ‘good ole’ days.’  Life was exceptionally hard.  Then the tour of the local laird’s and archaeologist’s home.  Much more plush .

After learning from the clerk at Skara Brae that at 3pm the tide would be low enough to allow access to Brough of Birnsay, we planned the rest of our day around that.  So it was off to the Ring of Brodgar, Standing Stones of Stenness, then the Maeshowe , and by 2:50 pm, we were hurrying back to Brough of Birsay.  Interestingly, there are so few tourists this time of year, it seems we are just following each other around!

Standing Stones of Stenness
Standing Stones of Stenness
Ring of Brodgar
Ring of Brodgar

The journey to and around Brough of Birsay was a wonderful way to finish a great day.  Walking across the ocean bottom at low tide was just the coolest thing to me, but I’m easily amused.  The ruins were of different ages and we walked around them some, but the best part was taking the seaside cliff walk around this small tidal island.

The rocks below define the ocean floor during low tide.  We crossed this area to get from the car park area to where are here.
The rocks below define the ocean floor during low tide. We crossed this area to get from the car park area to where are here.

Cooling off next day, with quite a lot of mist.  We headed east through Kirkwall to Mull Nature Reserve for a walkabout.  Muddy and wet, but nothing to be done for it.  After viewing the Gloup, we then hiked around Mull Head and carefully traversed the slippery, steep steps down to the sea, then up again to the  Brough of Deerness.  Unfortunately, this is the only way in and out, so i had to control my fear of heights once again to get back to the main island.

Orkney Day Four 9-28-14 031

It was time to find our way to Stromness for our ferry trip to Scrabster on the northern edge of mainland Scotland, with only a quick stop to top off the fuel tank in Kirkwall.  Despite the unfortunate loss of nearly an entire day of touring, we visited all the places we had planned for Orkney.  A beautiful island and friendly people – a jewel for Scotland.

We leave the car in the long term car park in Stromness – take photos of it, so the company will know that we didn’t leave any dings in it, lock it, toss the keys into the boot, shut it, stashed our luggage in the ferry office and went for a short walkabout of Stromness and enjoyed a nice late lunch/early supper at The Ferry Inn.  On the ship by 4 pm, departure scheduled for 4:30 pm and in only 1 1/2 hours we’ll be in Scrabster, then taxi to our hotel in Thurso only a mile away.

Northlink Ferries ship MV Hamnavoe
Northlink Ferries ship MV Hamnavoe