Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Orkney and Scotland 2008

Just got back from Orkney and a few other places in Scotland. I like being on tour. It was an excellent trip mostly spent with the family - both nuclear and extended plus a few days backpacking to boot.


I started in Edinburgh and spent some time with my Aunt and Uncle and my cousins. I saw a show at the Edinburgh festival which was a fairly mixed quality reviewed here in the Scotsman. It was great to see all the family here. Edinburgh is a lovely city but vastly overcrowded during festival time - my presence notwithstanding of course. Didn't really have enough time there but it was great to see everyone. Sadly, only one cousin shown here and she is not the guy with no hair.


On then to Aberdeen. A city I had wanted to see for some time and the only major city in Scotland I had not visited. I quite liked but I didn't really get on well at the hostel where I spent some time in fourteen-bed male dorm. Yes, it was noisy and smelly. How many times would you get up in the night multiplied by fourteen? I liked the museum and art gallery in Aberdeen though and was pleased to have seen the sparkling granite.


I then got the train up to Thurso which takes about seven hours from Aberdeen. The second part though, from Inverness, is a really nice trip along the coast. Sandra's backpackers in Thurso is a cool place. Sandra is a very nice lady and has made a nice space for travelers getting round Caithness or going off to Orkney as I was. You get a nice view of Hoy from the beach. The island sometimes appears in relief when the weather on Hoy is sunny and the weather in Thurso is cloudy. It gives an intriguing glimpse of what might lay in store over the water.


The ferry over to Orkney is great; you get to see the Old man of Hoy at no extra cost and trailed by a lot of seabirds during the crossing.

We were staying in Kirkwall which was a good location for seeing the mainland. The accommodation was above a shop on Albert St.

Day One
We drove down the causeways through the Southern Isles. The highlights were seeing the Italian church, the block ships and Churchill barriers. The village of St. Margaret's hope is a good place to have lunch if you can stand the midges.

Day Two
We went up to Marwick head and saw the Kitchener memorial which stands in a great location full of wildlife. Here we saw Great Skuas gliding above the cliffs on thermals. Then, driving round the north of the Island, we passed through the village of Evie and visited the Broch of Gurness; a much preserved two-thousand year old village. Life eback then looked pretty cold with everyone also living at very close quarters.

Day Three

Iain arrived and we went out to see some of the main sites of historical interest on the island. We started at Skara Brae which is an outstanding old village next to a really nice beach; Skail Bay. No wonder they decided to build their village there. After that we went on to Maeshowe which is thought to be some kind of burial chamber although when it was discovered there was nothing inside expect Viking graffiti saying something like 'we stole all the treasure'. The mainland also has some stone circles to visit with slabs of quite considerable size.

Day Four
Iain and I went over to Hoy; the volcanic island south of the mainland. We got the ferry over for about seven quid. Loads of sea birds evident in the harbour. On the way back a man walked up silently behind me and exclaimed 'ganet' in a very dead pan tone. It seemed to be something on an initiating into the ornithology community.

On the island we walked up Ward Hill, the highest hill on Orkney. Some very good views from the top. Walking back down the ridge, I spotted a mountain hare with black ears. There were loads of Great Skuas around too. We got a bit too close to a nest at one stage and almost got dive bombed.

Day Five
In the morning Iain and I looked round the cathedral and saw a scripture on a plack that he had told me about the previous day, "Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you." Ephesians 5:14. Then we walked round the Earl's and the Bishop's palaces. In the afternoon we went to Scapa Bay and saw Oyster Catchers in quite large numbers then went on to the pier arts centre in Stromness which has a great collection upstairs and is housed in a very contemporary building.

Day Six
We went out to Birsay and checked out the ruins of another village. This one was rather modern though - only eight hundred years old. Then we walked round the mini-island there. In the cliffs we saw what we believe to be Guillemots nesting in the dramatic cliffs there. Also, there were some birds diving for fish that may have been 'divers' of one sort or another. It was pretty much a case of packing in the evening but we managed to get a nice Chinese meal in too.

Back to Inverness
We drove back to Inverness via Dunnet Head and John O'Groats. It was interesting to see the west coast and we stopped off for tea on the way. Inverness was quite busy compared to Kirkwall and it was a bit of a shock to the system checking into the Student Backpackers Hostel which was a metal-loving, hard-drinking joint whether you didgeridoo or you didgeridon't. It was nice to see the river and atmostphere on the weekends. The locals say that the town has changed a lot in the last ten years for the better. The castle there is used as a court now which creates a slightly uneasy mix of tourists and defendants hanging around the same space.

We had meal out a restaurant next to the river for Mum's birthday where they served a pretty decent steak I must say.


Nobody had done any major socio-cultural rennovations on South London since I had been away. Back in the news loop and getting fed lots of downbeat economics forecasts and trying to cut down on my sports news intake. Wondering if Orkney still exists or it disappears when you get back to London.

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