I pulled over at the truck stop on the A66 westbound high up at Stainmore, it was a wonderful clear and warm sunny April day. Turning the big 2.5 litre engine off the red truck shuddered to a standstill I slipped out and went for a coffee and breakfast, I’d been on the road since about 09.00 it was now almost 11.30. I was on my travels again this time heading into Scotland. I’d decided a couple of years ago to start visiting the Scottish Islands and today I was heading towards the very top right hand corner of Great Britain to a small ferry terminal in the village of Gills, this would carry me across the North Sea to The Orkney Islands..or just Orkney.
It was the first outing of 2015 for the Oztent and all the associated camping equipment, so I’d sat on the drive way back home with Julie and ticked off hopefully all that I would need, I’d packed and re-packed my stuff a few times down in the cellar and was pretty sure I’d got all I wanted, if I hadn’t it would be hard lines for me! I’d packed the boxes in the usual way, I smiled to myself at the small amounts of red dust that clung to the corners. “Aha Sahara soil” I chuckled. Julie was standing in the lane wishing me “Bon Journey” she’d waved me off with rather too much glee I thought…
I’d planned to stay overnight in Pitlochry then run up to Thurso for a second overnight stay before catching the ferry the day after that. It wasn’t a race to get up there and I was going to meander, take in some new sights and hopefully capture some great images on camera.
The A1 is pretty boring after 50 odd yrs of travelling it so I’ll skip that bit! After brekkers I continued on my way on the road to Penrith which I got to in good time, dropping eventually onto the M6, passing Carlisle where it turned into the M74 and began to rain, it only lasted a short while and wasn’t very heavy. The traffic was light so progress was good. over an hour later I was nearing Glasgow and looking for the M73/A80/M80 turn that would take me north-east before hitting the city and in the direction of Sterling. So there I was back in bright sunshine with window down and right elbow resting on door “Land Rover” style, actually this is because the driver’s seat is plonked really close to the door and one’s elbow scuffs up the side of the piggin door and one’s right thigh rests up against the window lever too so one has to half crack it open to be properly comfy. An ex RAF type I know who is a wider girth than I swears he will never ever drive a fekkin Defender again because of this. He’s now got a Range Rover with a special nad vent….This is his air vent that blows directly into his crotch. The ultimate in, in flight driving…. Ah well that’s the glory boys of the RAF for you I guess….
I hit the M9 and soon spied a sign for STIRLING, looking to my right I soon saw the huge imposing castle as it sat on an outcrop of rock and commanded all it saw. I pulled off the motorway to find the right spot for a photograph, I buggered about for half an hour stopping and starting, eventually I drove onto a little lane and took the shot.
Tooling back to the motorway I encountered the first Volvo driving caravan and he was all over the damn place, unsure of his lane the guy took all of them, is it any wonder they are hated along with motor-homes!
The motorway soon became the A9 and a dual carriageway, I was now heading towards Perth but found an alternative route on B roads that took in Muthill.. Crieff.. the wonderful Glen Almond, through Amulree and Aberfeldy before turning back onto the A9 and into Pitlochry. This route was a slow road with many twists and turns on quite narrow roads, it was here I saw the first sign of snows on the distant mountain tops. I stopped loads of times for photographs and a brew from the old gas Jet-boil on the shelf at the rear of the Defender. I passed a silver Defender 110 with big trailer, inside was a family of 5, I paused to see if they were OK and got a thumbs up in reply.
The first sight of snow in Glen Almond
The mountains are sooo far away they are sharp and blunt points with tints of purple and blue
Standing there with my coffee I was thinking, “it doesn’t get any better does it”?? But of course it did….as it always does!
I pulled into Pitlochry by the early evening, having taken some great and long detours and meeting maybe a dozen other vehicles. There is something to be said for travelling NOT at the weekends, today was Tuesday.
I had stayed in The Arcasaid Hotel a couple of years ago with our Appy Wanderers Honda Goldwing riding group, I thought it was OK but have to admit it was looking very tired and in need of some TLC. Today it was getting that and looked wonderful for it. New paint job, new furnishings, new wallpaper, in fact new everything. I had booked this hotel through BOOKING.COM an online agent I’d used them for years home and abroad. I’d got tonight’s single room for £30 plus breakfast, the lassi on reception had upgraded me to a full blown double room. Dropping my kit in the room I went out and had a look up and down the busy high street before settling for dinner in a quiet place beyond the railway bridge after which I walked back to the hotel. As I walked I heard aircraft engines and looked round I caught sight of a large dark green shape dropping below the roof tops! I stood looking across through a gap between two buildings and saw it, a large dark green Hercules C130 four engined transport aircraft, it was flying low down the valley, it was still light so I got several fleeting glimpses as it went along its way ‘Lovely’ I said to myself. Finally back at the hotel I sat in the large front area amongst the easy chairs and sofa’s looking at the map when the young man chirped up from his corner “Are you going far?” We chatted until about midnight about this and that. Chris was actually the contract painter and was working his way through the hotel. I thought Chris looked quite the Bohemian with Dahli like features and non conforming ways and thoughts and was interesting to chat with for the last hour or two of Tuesday.
In the morning I had a traditional cooked breakfast of bacon.. sausage.. egg.. haggis.. potato thingi.. baked beans and toast with a large coffee. I would deffo recommend the hotel to anyone, I would have done even in its tired state, I’m not that fussy besides.. “tired” does not always mean rubbish. I’d forgotten one item and that was a toothbrush so a quick stroll up the High Street to purchase one I went. On the way back I saw these beautiful seats by the village memorial. Pitlochry may well be full of non-British workers but they had a brilliant and clean tidy memorial to our fallen.
Chris the painter
Off I went up the A9 towards Inverness slowly the elevation increased and we steadily climbed towards the Cairngorms National Park. The truck was taking the pace in its stride 60 MPH was enough to let me look around and keep safe on the empty road. At first they were so far away they were purple lumps on the horizon but soon grew colour as I got closer and all had a hand full of sugar on the tops. I pulled over at a small village called Newtoenmore for fuel and a break. To my left stood the Monadhliath Mountains their tops averaging 7 to 800 metres but to my right standing at 1000 to 1200 by far the largest, these guys were the Grampian Mountains and their tops were so high they were covered in cloud. On I drove, passing Aviemore and was still steadily climbing.
There were some of those yellow average speed camera jigs over the A9 periodically. The sign says it’s an experiment aimed at lorries and that they should refrain from going over 50MPH. The A9 has been a fantastic smooth clear fast road especially going downhill in a southern direction but I guess there has been too many accidents? I’m not going soft from my usual stance regarding speed camera’s but its obvious trucks can really get a lick on down the A9 loaded or otherwise, over the years too in the motorbike magazines its been well advertised as a brilliant fast road. I personally used it many times going balls out coz it’s so smooth wide and fairly straight so perhaps this end result was inevitable? These days going fast isn’t part of the game when driving the TD5 Defender, it’s neither possible nor desirable, especially on bloody corners….
The A9 between Pitlochry and Inverness
We topped out and began to drop down again, dropping away from the cloud that surrounded me here in the mountains, toward Inverness city which was another half hour away and bathed in sunshine The Moray Firth to its east and the start of Loch Ness to its west, down to the edge of the city up over the hill and down again towards the long road bridge over the Moray Firth.
The traffic was very light so I stopped a minute or two on the bridge, got out and looked around I took a few photo’s before I climbed back in and carried on.
On the bridge over the Moray looking back over my left shoulder
I drove over the next island, called the Black Isle and over another smaller bridge on towards Invergordon still on the A9 This water was the Cromarthy Firth and was full of oil rigs!! I think it was probably a huge repair and maintenance facility. Once again I looked for the best spot to take a photo trying various roads, if I were to get stopped I’d say I was lost!
A nest of Oil Rigs!
I think its worth the effort sometimes to be particular and to get the best shot though I’m not sure a passenger would appreciate the constant U-turns and 5 point turns, my truck must have the same turning circle as a London bus FFS so my shoulders will have had a good workout by the end of the day. Thank God I had powered stearing! I heard on the local radio that the road at Tain was blocked completely because of a serious accident. Tain was about ten miles ahead so I looked at the map and chose a detour up through the hill on my left taking a B road then a single track road with passing points to the northern edge of Tain, re-joined the A9 crossing yet another stretch of water heading for lunch in Golspie a coastal village next to a castle named Dunrobbin….I kid you not! Hopefully it wasn’t the final home of a chavvy thieving git from Issix innit!
Near Brora on the A9
Nr Berriedale A9
Near Janetstown A9
I think this stretch is one of the most picturesque I’ve ever had the pleasure to use, I’ve never actually been on the A9 as far up. To my right lay the sea, inlets and some small beaches and on the other side stood the cut rock and open rolling headlands I passed through nice village after nice village, now and again the road suddenly tipped inland and dropped sharply as we negotiated one of several small inlets, I had to break here and there as the corners tightened and I began take on a lean. Wick was about 30 miles ahead when my road forked at the small town of Latheron, the A99 carried onto Wick whilst my road the A9 turned directly North to Thurso on the Scottish northern coastline, this was about 40 miles away and reached in surprising time, it was just so quiet with very little traffic nor anything else for that matter, I think I went through three villages in total, a clean narrow twisting undulating beauty of a road. Now THIS little belter is a proper motorbike road! But hey it’s not too bad in a Land Rover either though pushing much over 60 MPH induced seasickness as we rolled into the corners!
I’d booked another hotel stop here in Thurso because my ferry wasn’t until midday of the next, I couldn’t have done Pitlochry to the ferry in half a day, unless I’d set of at silly O clock! Besides it would give me the time to explore the pubs and stuff in Thurso town and would also allow me to have a look around the top right hand of Scotland in the morning before the ferry.
I checked into “The Royal” in the main square parking opposite on the main road. It was a huge but old hotel and had so many corridors turns gantry’s and landings that by the time I got to my single room I felt like I was on the edge of town, It’s no wonder the old girl didn’t show me to my room she’d have been dead before we got there! They must have spent a small fortune on brass wall signs with the words RECEPTION and a black arrow on it..”Best not get sloshed tonight or I’ll get bloody lost” I laughed to myself, I was happy with my room which was fine clean and tidy, it was just a bit old and tired looking. I took advantage of the free Wi-Fi for half an hour before going to the main precinct to check out the place and then head off down to the beach. I was back in a couple of hours baffled at the lack of pubs, several hotels along my street had private one’s and the bistro looked tempting, but nay Pubs! On the road in I noticed quite a lot of housing over the estuary way so yes I thought Thurso town centre was very small and quite the disappointment The beach however was not.
I came across these three guys staring at the waves, I stood back a minute to watch them… and there he was…. The Silver Surfer! He emerged from the white stuff to some impressive moves. I understood now. These guys and the other dozen on the prom were Scottish surf dudes and they were watching a couple of pals in the water, I stood with them and watched a while…then took a couple of photo’s.
Hawai 5- O!.. Off the Northern coast of Scotland
On the beach looking the other way as sea spray drifts inland
Beautiful as it was my eyes were drawn to this sign, Im in Scotland..I’m on the coast…and the sign says what?
After some tomfoolery with the camera phone I went back into town, I say town I meant the couple of streets that led to the square, I’d already investigated the small precinct, its was just two dozen shops or so, the Co-Op was behind the shops, a couple of hotels on the main drag and hey a pub on one of the back streets. Three guys stood in the doorway drinking from cans of tenants, I’ll give that place a miss. Walking in a diminishing square I found two take-aways a chippi and a “chinese” and a dark dirty looking ruin that looked like it used to be a pub Hmm it’s not looking good! I thought it had been shut down it looked that grubby. I sat back on the bed after a shower and studied my I-phone, I’ll ask it where the pub is, you know like they do on the adverts? I turned it on and feeling just a bit self conscious I said to it “where is the pub”? Quick as a flash she shot back”To the west in 10 metres” Well I’ll be fukced I replied. Impressed I grabbed my wallet and walked the half a mile from my room to reception, I got to the street and realised the pub she pointed me to was the hovel next door. No not having that it’s bloody shut I’m sure. I headed back to the old precinct, this time checking the ally ways and Bingo! I found the pub! I walked in and ordered a pint, and said hello to Davy the other guy at bar.
Our Barmaid was Jilly. The night got back on track, Davy’s brother came in to join us and after giving the low down on Mothers health we got to know each other I admit we had moments of blank stares as accents stalled the conversation, actually we had lots of these moments but it was fun and we got on really well, I got into a pint with a chaser style of drinking and learned some fascinating stuff like how there were seven dangerous tides and stories about the local Dounreay nuclear power station, where many of the locals worked
Davy the carpenter
including our barmaid Jilly, it was her day job. Davy was a carpenter himself and told stories of when he worked in London on the building sites, of the vast amounts of money he used to make. I told him of my days in “the smoke” too and we got on like a hoose on fire!
Jilly the barmaid
Jilly spoke of her work at the Nuclear power station and the stories that go with it in between pouring lager and chasers. I left around midnight after learning some great stuff and of a place I MUST visit before catching the ferry. I went back via the chinese and smuggled the hot curry to my room, I didn’t think I was that drunk because I got to the room ok and spilled nothing, however, in the morning my body disagreed and so the first hour or two was hard work even after another wonderful cooked breakfast. I had a walk to the Co-Op and bought something to snack on later, I also bought some light socks, it was day three and it was still warm and sunny with hardly a breeze, all the socks I’d brought were of the thick variety. So it was mid morning before I left Thurso. I was amazed to learn it was the surf capital of Scotland AND they held a couple of festivals though the summer, me thinks that pub is going to be busy at times!
Dunnet Head was my destination this morning, according to Davy this was actually the furthest North one could go in the UK and not John O Groats, I followed the small road around the headland and noticed the fencing these farmers where using up here to keep the “beasties” in the fields. I thought they are either really strong or they have had a glut of stone tiles, I could not decide which it was.
Heavy duty fence
Everywhere I looked every field was fenced with these wonderful tiles. I was also keeping an eye out, watching out for the small sign to the left somewhere about here, THERE it was! Indicate and turn left and yes I actually did go further north! I made my way two and a half miles further north than John O Groates along tracks that followed the edge of the fields, John O Groats is the furthest from Lands End, in other words from the very tip at the South West to the very tip at the North East of the UK, makes sense when you really think about it, but I bet not one of you has heard of Dunnet Head..the furthest most northern point of the UK eh?
The few small houses dotted here and there looked self sufficient, I guessed they were all farm workers of some kind. Today was a nice day with clear blue skies (again) but I couldn’t help but imagine how desperate it must get in winter?
I pushed on further until finally I reached the end of the track with clear blue North Sea in front of me and a lighthouse, in the car park was a German Motorhome, following behind me was a car with two Lithuanian lads in so I got out to look and take some photos, I asked one of the guys to take a photo.
Most northern point of Great Britain…Dunnet Head
I turned around after a good look around and headed back towards the road, about a mile down the way I spotted a narrow stone track that headed off up a hill and away over the top. “I’ll have that track” I said to myself, slowed down engaged low box and crawled up the hill on the stones, I’ve seen similar on other Scottish Highlands, there are old military tracks leading to coastal defences so quite safe to go with a 4×4.
An old Military track
These tracks were built for the Defenders grandfather and old heavy English Morris and Austin trucks of the 1940’s so quite safe, though I wouldn’t like to swing off into the tussock or I’d soon be up to my own tussocks in cold wet swampy shit!
I pulled onto the concrete and brick remains, no sign of anything else just foundations, on the above photo the truck is actually sat on a concrete square, I’m stood on two tussock of grass and hopped around on them rather than get the water over my boots, it really is that boggy though it doesn’t look it. The views back down the hillside to the little road then back to the northern road were fantastic unfortunately I would have been pointing the camera into the sun and you’d have seen nothing in the photos.
I had plenty of time still so took the slow road to Gills Bay and the ferry. I wondered why I’d got co-ordinates with my ticket info, strange I thought until I got the village of Gills, there was no sign at all of the ferry terminal or any ships or masts or anything. I saw one old battered sign and followed it down a crack in the hillside, it went steeply down and then I saw it..the bug hut and the ticket man…this was where the boat comes in! Aha so that’s why we have co-ordinates. My sheet of paper in my folder was my ticket, the “harbour master” would be along 30 minutes before the boat arrived to check us in and that was about it, not much of anything else around save for the rusting open-ended hanger full of rusting old equipment, the small jetty was being shored up by a crane on one side with rocky ballast to give added strength. It appeared to be slow slow work in progress! I sat in the truck out of the cold wind and waited for boat to come. Other vehicles began to arrive as well as a group of bikers, these fellas pulled in front of me, I got out for a chat, they were from the capital and were heading to Orkney for a two-day biking holiday. The ferry came around the headland and parked up pretty quickly, actually it wasn’t a normal ferry it was a fast catamaran, we were loaded in 10 minutes, probably had a capacity of about twenty cars and a couple of containers down the middle, the motorbikes were squeezed in here and there, everything was lashed down, cars left in gear and some big rubber wedges were kicked in behind wheels.
The boys on their biking weekend
I changed the lens of the camera before locking the truck and got settled up top behind the wheelhouse and out of the stiff breeze, we would be at sea for an hour and I wanted to take some wide angled shots as we entered Scapa Flow and the little port of St Margaret’s Hope. The “cat” was making good progress then slowed to a crawl as we came close to one of the nearby islands, watching the swirling waters as we passed by rocks was all a bit odd, great patches of water suddenly went flat calm then a bit further on it was shuddering and small waves formed and swirled in circles, closer to the island he took us and there I saw three or four grey seals and one brown one basking on sloping slabs of rock they were looking at us with the biggest of blackest doe eyes ever… and I had the wrong lens on the camera! I took a couple of shots but they were rubbish, I couldn’t get to the truck as passengers are not allowed on the car deck during the voyage so I was stuck with the wide angle lens on the camera.
A few minutes further on he cut the speed again, this time we had three Danish warships sailing across our bows. it was only an hour but it certainly wasn’t all plain sailing today. The first one sailed by slowly about a mile or two away, then came two more and a lot closer, the bigger one suddenly increased speed, its bow wave got bigger and the stern sank lower as its screws bit into the ocean.
Two of three Danish warships cross our bows
Orkney also known as the Orkney Islands Orkney comprises approximately 70 islands, of which 20 are inhabited. A historic page on the web says this….The name “Orkney” dates back to the 1st century BC or earlier and the islands have been inhabited for at least 8,500 years. Orkney was invaded in the years about 800 and settled by the Vikings. Orkney contains some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to the Mainland, most of the islands are in two groups, the North and South Isles, the info reads…The climate is mild and the soils are extremely fertile, most of the land being farmed. Agriculture is the most important sector of the economy and the significant wind and marine energy resources are of growing importance. The local people are known as Orcadians….”Mild” is not what I’d describe the climate as, maybe they are talking about a different Orkney? It’s wild windy and very wet as I found out and has only one tree to its name! Orkney was annexed to Norway by the Vikings and stayed that way until around the 1400’s
Another web page reads….Orkney and the huge bay known as Scapa Flow was the home of our fleet from early 1900’s and featured in both world wars. After the armistice in 1918, the German High Seas fleet was transferred in its entirety to Scapa Flow to await a decision on its future. During talks between both authorities The German Navy guys thought they were getting screwed so opened the sea-cocks and scuttled all the ships. It had been an armistice and not total surrender so I guess was understandable why they did this. Most ships were salvaged, but the remaining wrecks are now a favoured haunt of recreational divers the world over. One month after the start of WWII (a mere twenty years later) a German submarine crept between the old rusting block-ships and sank the Royal Navy battleship Royal Oak killing over 800 sailors. As a result Mr Churchill had concrete barriers built to close most of the access channels. They are now known as Churchill Barriers.These had the additional advantage of creating causeways enabling travellers to go from island to island by road instead of being obliged to rely on ferries. The causeways were constructed by Italian prisoners of war. The navy base became run down after the war, eventually closing in 1957. The problem of a declining population was significant in the post-war years, though in the last decades of the 20th century there was a recovery and life in Orkney focused on growing prosperity and the emergence of a relatively classless society. Orkney was rated as the best place to live in Scotland in both 2013 and 2014 according to the Halifax Quality of Life survey….This is so if you like a windy wild and wet life! So what am I doing here? Well I like the Scottish Islands and over the last couple of years have visited quite a few off the west coast and this Spring it’s the turn of Orkney, its as simple as that. Thank to the concrete causeways one can drive across three or four of the islands. Oh yes and the population is around the 21,000 mark.
The stiff cold breeze drove most people indoors now as we neared the entrance to Scapa Flow, old war defences still stand guard at both headlands, the “gateway” is over a mile wide. Rounding the spit we saw the village of St Margaret Hope a concrete slipway and ship repair building masked the small dock, it wasn’t much bigger than the one we had set off from. The other route from Scabster to Stromness is bigger and the route that the bigger ferry takes…Thats £140 return, this one is just £102.
We were unloaded in minutes. I had a map directing me to the campsite, it was just 2 miles away on the other coast. I skirted the edge of the village and climbed up and over to the eastern coat. I spotted a white Motorhome on the skyline and guessed that was my destination. Wheems Organic campsite was quite cheap at £9 per night and advertised as quiet. I saw a chap hammering away in one of the old outbuildings, this was Daniel co-owner a laid back guy and the Mr fixit. He left me to to get sorted and we hooked up the following afternoon. There before me were two sloping grassy fields, beyond me sloped another couple of cultivated fields then the sea. The site had been stepped and had some electric hook ups. I climbed up on the roof of the truck and unstrapped the tent lowering it down to the floor I followed it and began to erect it, 30 seconds later it was up! Honest it’s advertised as a 30 second tent and it is if you count from when its laid on the ground and out of its protective bag. As there was a slight breeze from here I decided to erect the awning as well, this made an extra room.. the kitchen foyer and along with the camp bed, sleeping bag, table, chair, cooker, assorted boxes, everything was sorted and in place in about an hour, it’s really quite quick to do. I pulled out the beverage box and marked my arrival with several tinnies. The only other people here was a Geordie couple in their motorhome and Daniel. This would be great for a couple of days. I just wish the wind would bugger off though, is it me or is it getting a bit stronger?
Wheems Organic camp site on South Ronaldsay
The bags on the truck door is Jetboil..cups..cutlery and coffee, milk, suger. Above that is the green coloured Coleman double petrol cooker. In the truck out of site extreme left sits my fridge then folded table next to it ans the various sized boxes with camp equipment and tinned food, 5ltre petrol can, Coleman tilly lamp. The bottom dark compartment is where the beds and chairs slide in, oh yes and my water supply. On overseas trips on the roof would be 2 sand waffle boards double jerry cans and zarg ali boxes for more clothes, my German shovel stays strapped to the rack all the time coz you never know.. The roll bar fitted at the rear of the roof rack makes putting the rug shaped tent bag easier to get back on the roof, it’s not so easy doing it on your own. Behind the seats in the cab sits more personal kit and ready use stuff, for me on this trip this is my camera equipment, rugsack of clothes, double fleece jacket, work gloves, rain coat, towing strop, shackles, big hammer, crowbar, small toolkit, gaffer tape, electric tie raps, machette/saw, air compressor, power inverter unit, maps, GPS unit (also just in case) and zillion other bits! If the truck ever exploded you’d think an ironmongers store had just blown up!
I drove into the village stopping at the small supermarket to get some bread and grab a couple of local maps from the other store over the road. St Margartets Hope is quite small, around the corner was another store with post post office I noticed a small hotel and a bar and I think that was about it! I turned around and went through again to see if I’d missed anything but I hadn’t. Back to the campsite I drove and opened a couple of tins as I prepared my first meal of the journey. The view was really nice especially the setting sun over my shoulder, I’d keep my eye open for a sunset with some cloud that would make a good photo I should think. Darkness came about 9 so I turned in for the night.
I was up at 06.30 to a magnificent view and could hear the weird sounding Curlew, these birds are not much smaller than Bantam chickens and have a long curved beak thin beak with this they probe the ground all day and every day. I saw and heard them all the while I was here, they made a long whooping noise but I could never get close enough with the camera, every time I pulled up they would start jogging to the middle of the field, or even worse they would take off! So here is a photo from the web.
So whilst the bacon was sizzling on the cooker I looked at the map of South Ronaldsey and decided in which direct I would meander
I was based on South Ronaldsey, which is the bottom right of the map above. The capitol, Kirkwall was about35 minute away. A couple of concrete roadways joined to the mainland by way of Burray and the smaller islands upto Mainland. These roads were completed in 1944 topping the concrete dams, built to prevent enemy vessels sneaking in to attack the fleet. Italian POW’s provided the workforce.
I decided first though that I would drive down the hill to the small church at the bottom and have a look at the beach. It was a quite an old church with graves going back to the later 1700’s many were family plots and there was a fair sprinkling of folk buried here who had drowned in shipwrecks, it’s a sad but interesting place and it had one particular headstone that I have never seen before.
2 photos of a Grave stone in the shape of a sinking ship, its stern sticking out of the sea, notice a pair of praying hands at the rudder. This was for two Swedish sailors who perished in a shipwreck on the rocks here in 1937.
I left the quaint old cemetary and walked across to the beach pausing to let the farmer come through with his tractor, he’d brought feed down to the hoppers on the field. I stood looking at the beach thinking about a photo with the truck and the great backdrop. I saw that a vehicle had been up and down today, maybe the sand seemed a bit soft but this person had been on it in the last 48 hrs so I figured I’d follow in his tracks so I rolled forward turning to drop down the couple of feet. I clicked into low box and at the same time I revved the engine as the tyres sank into the sand accelerating hard, now I realised it was actually too soft, great plumes of sand kicked up from the front wheels as I kept the momentum going, “shit shit! I need to get off this pronto before I got stuck Sharpy boy!” The sand inclined gradually back to the track ahead of me so I kept my foot down heading back to firmer ground then I saw the stream up ahead as it ran to the sea from the field it was a four foot drop and as wide, “Oh shit turn turn!” I had to turn and go up the steeper part, turning and keeping the revs on went towards the track but slowed to a standstill! “Oh fucking charming!” I said to myself. Looking down at the wheels they really had taken root! I was getting no traction at all as I tried to climb the slight gradient back to the track. I got my sand shovel from the roof rack and began to dig myself out. I decided to reverse and go back the way I’d come. With the engine roaring I crawled backwards down the slope turned and headed back the way I’d come, “C’mon you bugger keep going!” We struggled back towards the track but the lip two feet higher and the truck just dug in and stalled! I got out for a look and saw the truck had sunk deeper than before and the bash plate under the engine was now resting on the sand. I dug out behind the tyres to try and reverse a bit and get a run at the lip, when I was ready I gunned the engine but the wheels just kicked up tons of sand and I could see the bonnet drop as we dug in again! I stood about looking at my half buried truck swearing at my silly predicament when an old boy of about 80 turned up with his dog and we had a natter, he suggested and kept waving his stick saying..I think.. “Over there were it wasn’t as steep man”. I said I’d only come down onto the beach because I saw tyre tracks and just tried to follow, Yup it seems a guy had come down a day or so ago but he was in a buggy not a Land Rover! Not feeling too chuffed with myself I sat for a minute whilst he walked the dog. I remembered what we’d done in Morroco last year about letting the tyres down from 36psi to just about 10 then I looked for something to make the slope not as steep, walking up the beach I found an old tyre and some bits of wood. By now I’d dug about a 100 tons of the softest sand from around front and rear and was pretty shagged out and it wasn’t even 08.00 yet! I put the old tyre and stuff in front of the truck tracks and stamped down lots of sand into them. The old man came back and talked a bit more, to be honest I only caught perhaps half of what he was saying but he was pleasant enough. “Ok stand back lets give it a go” I stepped into the truck, it was so low I didn’t have to climb up. I went backwards a couple of yards then started forward, as we moved I applied power and stalled! “C’mon silly bollox keep the revs up” I told myself and rolled back to try again this time applying more power, we rose onto the old tyre easily and crawled up onto the track the front pair got grip and we bounced up and over. What a difference it makes letting the tyre pressure down. The tyre profile goes a lot wider and so grip is possible I’d read of this and had a little practical experience last summer in the Sahara with Rob and Von Moulds but I never actually got stuck. I felt pleased with myself at getting unstuck and not having to enlist the help of the farmer and his tractor. I hadn’t brought my sand waffle boards on this trip. Who’d have thought Id need them up here on Orkney? Rigging up the on board compressor I re-inflated the tyres. The old chap stood over me chatting and pointing with his stick I nodded and agreed mostly. He and his old mutt walked off with a wave, I said goodbye. Note to self..Take “waffle boards” on ALL trips in future.
I made a brew from the jetboil and looked at the map to where I might go, preferably not onto a fekkin beach! I was on the island of South Ronaldsay, it had one road from north to south and quite a few little B roads heading to farms, small villages hamlets and single houses. It was the jagged coastline that drew me though, Orkney’s coastline looks as if some ancient giant had pulled chunks of land away rather roughly, a bit like you or I would rip a chunk of bread off.
I cruised around in the warm sunshine driving up and down narrow roads, here and there I’d see a local and pull over to let them pass, I did the same for the few tractors, after all I was on holiday whilst they were going about the their daily business. I stopped to look at some delerict farm buildings and noticed how flat and open it was, it must have been very hard in the winter, but I bet the washing was blown dry in minutes! Sometimes I had to look through the bino’s to check if they were actually empty or not
I pulled over at Hesta Head and marvelled at the craggy edges the white water crashing into the rock throwing up frothy white surf…and this was quite calm! Dozens of gulls settled onto tiny ledges, others wheeled and turned in the chill mid morning breeze effortlessly zooming up and down the coastline. I read the plaque on the rough car park wall. It read…In 1918 two destroyers HMS Narborough and Opel returning to Scapa Flow at night in a fierce snow blizzard ran full speed into the cliffs There was only 1 survivor out of a total of 180. Looking down at the jagged rocks in this relative calm its wasn’t hard to imagine the 900 ton ships ripping themselves open in an instant as they dashed themselves onto the rocks at full speed.
I packed away the drinks and kitchen stuff and turned the truck around and made my way to the west side of the Island in the direction of Widewall Bay, the land and the fields here sloped away to the sandy beach, the small houses along the road that made up the village of Herston were very picturesque with some amazing displays of bright yellow daffodills,
People were out and about in their gardens doing some gardening and generally taking advantage of the sunny weather. An old lady stood up smiled and waved as I drove past, I drove to the end of the road, unable to go any further I had to turn around and come back. I did this a lot in the next coming days as I explored.
Widewall Bay on the West Coast….
Round to the small ferry port at the even smaller village of St Margarets Hope I drove, I now made my way to Hoxa, according to the map there were some old WWII gun emplacements right at the head of Scapa Flow. The short walk was about 2 miles around the headland from the cafe. Locking the truck I followed the sign through the farm onto the track to the edge of the cliff. I walked quietly in case I came across a seal or three basking on the flat rocks below, I was only about twenty feet up from the sea here. The breeze was making my eyes water as I walked on. I saw the square shapes up ahead, they aren’t called blockhouses for nothing!
What I liked about exploring around Hoxa Head on Orkney as a whole really was the freedom to walk anywhere as long as you kept to the usual countryside rules, like “Close all gates behind you” and “Keep dogs on leads” etc etc. I saw no signs or people saying you can’t do this or that, it was refreshing to be left alone!
Once around the headland I walked along the cliff edge and soon found myself following a trodden path but it was on the outside of the old fence the edge was literally six feet or so away, it soon dawned in me that the trodden path was trodden by hooves and not feet…sheep probably! I dropped my stuff over the fence and shimmied under the bottom strand of barbed wire on my back. I then made my away across the soggy field in the direction of the truck. The big grassy tufts, pools of water and patches of ankle deep bog made walking in a straight line difficult, I spent more time looking at the ground in front of me rather than ahead! Keeping to the fence line seemed the best way forward, Greylag Geese waddled away as I approached sometimes they opened their wings and lifted off to wheel round in the wind and land again some distance behind me, sometimes passing directly over my head.
Two Greylag Geese
I could see my red truck now as I walked over the featureless rise. It seemed to take me ages to get to it walking like a drunken man around the boggy bits. It was brew time and a bite to eat, the jet boil did its magic and resting my lunch and coffee on the front wing I chatted with an old guy and his missus who thought for some reason that I was fishing?
I think there was a great deal of pride and achievement felt by many of the gardeners up here as they saw their gardens come to life, a little oasis of colour on the brown green flat landscape here on South Ronaldsay. Driving along One would suddenly come across hundreds of Daffodils alongside driveways to homes or a small farm. It was as though a competition was in progress. I did ask a few people but the nearest I got was that an old guy who used to own a garden centre went around years ago planting them, he’s long since passed on. Another explanation was that it was a Womens Institute thing. Well whatever it was it was quite pleasing to the eye!
I was quite surprised how the Islands around Scotland seemed to differ, sometimes in odd little ways, for example I don’t recall seeing Daffs in such profusion on the likes of Islay, Skye or Mull where they had TREES, something they didn’t have here!
Long haired rock stars, Is that Axle Rose standing there??
I watched a group of five on a hillside and thought THATS an image of how I imagined the Island to be… Dotted with windswept ponies! Oh and of course stumpy little shetti’s
I really can’t imagine anyone shedding winter coats here on Orkney, it’s just so damn windy seemingly all the time! Though the locals tell me its just a bit breezy!!
I got back to the campsite, the camper-van and my tent still the only visitors. I had a chat with Daniel as he fixed and mended his way through the minor jobs, its not a 5* site by any means but it does have everything you need and it all works, just mind the blady blady noisy cockerel whose clock is stuck at 06.00! It a magical shanty like farm with some amazing stuff behind roped off doors. Daniel was getting excited as his girlfriend turned up, he downed tools and got the canoe ready I excused myself as he lost himself in new feverish activity, I went over to the tent to get tea ready.
“DO you want to have a go Dave?” he shouted “What in a canoe? in the sea??….I’ve NEVER been in a canoe never mind in the bloody sea man!” Nodding and laughing loudly “Yeah yeah It’ll be fine c’mon don’t worry” he gleefully answers “Erm no thanks but thanks for the invite Daniel” Fookin loon, he’s off his fookin ead I laughed to myself and cracked a tinnie. I watched them both lash the vessel onto his little van , he jumped in and drove off they were both grinning from ear to ear… Mad Bastards! I’ve been reading about ships getting wrecked and men drowning all day in 100 ton steel warships sailing ships and steamers and Daniel invites me to drive a pencil thin plastic canoe in the cold North Sea….. Near the fookin rocks..With a fookin old paddle!! Aha bless him for inviting me all the same, and the offer to raid his fridge if I ran out of tinnies! Now where is that other tinnie!
Now, the thing about camping on my own is that I’m usually early to bed and very early to rise. I’d cooked and eaten by sunset and now I was sat in my truck a few miles down the road watching the sun set over Scapa Flow. I had the camera ready, resting on the trucks wing and sheltering from the wind I took several shots. Perhaps too much cloud? I would do this again another evening.
Scapa Flow from South Ronaldsey at 20.30 hrs
Climbing into my sack an hour later I noted the wind had got up so banged in a few more pegs and guides, happy with this extra bit I soon fell asleep snug as a bug in my winter bag.
Waking up at 06.15 after a noisy night as the tent thrashed about a bit, I unzipped the flap to find the kitchen roof had fallen in, getting dressed I began to put things right again soaking up the pools of water on the ground sheet and securing the poles guide ropes and used up the last of my heavy tent pegs, everything was shipshape petty soon. I cooked bacon and made bacon sarnies… Yup the wind was certainly stronger. The field was open to the elements with just a small picket fence between the grass and ploughed field at the edge of the sloped field began the North Sea, it ran clear across to Greenland and Canada thousands of miles away, no surprise then that it was a tad cold too.
Looking at the map I decided today I would have a look around East Mainland, we were joined together by 4 roads that ran across the sea between here and the islands of Burra.. Glimps Holm..and Lamb Holm. These narrow berms had been built during WWII to stop the enemy sneaking into Scapa and firing on HM warships….. Built after a German submarine had found a way in around the old and battered blockships and sunk an old British Dreadnought HMS Royal Oak, over 800 perished one month after war had broken out in 1940. Thankfully most of the fleet had put out to sea the day before. The barriers were a massive construction project and were completed 4 days after the end of the war…..
One of the four narrow roadways known as Churchill Barriers
I don’t know about you guys but I’ve never seen a shipwreck before so found these an amazing sight. Old Merchant ships from the late 1800’s had been used to block the channels during WWI and they are STILL here over a hundred years later! In the above photo you can see one on its side with its stern pointing towards us, another lies just beyond it.
Looking from the stern of another sunken blockship, you can still make a couple of winding engines with wire rope still wound on. and a mid mast a little further on from the same ship.
This old library photo gives you a better idea of how the blockships looked around 1916 during WWI
The blockships are used by dive companies for recreation purposes and divers come here from all over the world bringing revenue to the island.
Each time I crossed the barriers over the next few days I had to stop and look! I looked once whilst driving and nearly became a damn blockship myself! The roads are really narrow over the waters. Today I was heading across to Deerness. I pulled over at St Peters Pool, it was a narrow pinch point of land with a beach on either side and quite extraordinary to see
At the beach at Dingieshowe
In the Dunes
I checked the ground before taking the truck into the dunes for a couple of photos. From here one could see the sea both in front and behind. Happy with the results I drove around a bit in the dunes then rejoined the road and went on my way. Now I was on my way to The Gloop!
At the Geo slipway there was evidence of yet another shipwreck and a memorial to yet more lost seamen. The anchor was brought ashore many years ago along with much of the cargo from the hold before this particular ship broke up altogether.
I drove along the quiet roads passing the scattered communities and little clutches of houses and farm dwellings. I saw a fuel pump at the side of the road in front of the little shop, no forecourt, just a pump at the side of the road! I had to turn around for the short hose to reach. After filling up I went into the shop where the little old lady asked me how much it was, I had to go back outside and read what the pump said before I could tell her! The small shop had wall to wall narrow shelves and from top to bottom they were stocked with just about everything and a hot shelf with pies and pasties and of course a stack of newspapers. I was in there about 20 minutes chatting, outside another car had pulled up and waited for me to move on. I bet its a right bottleneck when its busy I thought then dismissed that thought, after all when might it get busy around here? I checked my map and carried on towards The Gloop.
The Gloop is a massive sunken sea cave at the head of another cliff walk. Its about 80 metres long and 50 metres wide, again its the first time I’ve seen anything like it. I locked the truck and set off. The sign by the car park showed me the way but aside from that there were no pointers or proper path and no people. I followed the flattened dryer track following the cliff edge, about a mile away I could see a concrete white structure I would be heading for that. On the way I saw more dramatic cliffs and stacks, on tiny ledges I could see pair of gulls, one pair sat not too far away.
I just saw one older couple who walked just to The Gloop otherwise not a soul was about. The tops here were covered in long grass but blown flat by the winds so it draped over clods and rocks alike, all the while the ground under me squelched as I walked on. The whole of the island so far seemed to be a big wet sponge! my boots and trousers were wet to mid calf again!
Once again I was making my way around the tussocks muddy patches and deep pools of water and again I kinda stayed with the fence line I kept my eye on the ground and followed some boot marks and a bike tyre tread, it wasn’t straight forward walking, I think I might have walked twice the distance just twisting and turning. Every now and again I disturbed the geese who couldn’t run in this stuff they just opened their wings and up they went on the stiff breeze, I wish I could do that today, this was quite tiresome! I worked my way up to the white Trig Point, least that’s what I think it was. I had a break and lay back on the rocks for a while. It was still to early for Puffins which I didn’t know until I got back and asked, Oh well there’s always next time. It might have been another hour before I finally made it back to the truck and a hot coffee, and then another hour back to the camp site and decided to dry my two pairs of trainers out again in the winds
My boots were OK it was both pair of trainers that were wet and that was just from walking about on the short grass and around the field I was camped in. The winds were still blowing strong, even though Daniel reckoned it was just quite breezy. I decided to help the tent and park the truck in the direction of the winds especially after last nights episode with the kitchen awning part.
I was fairly happy with the conditions, it was all part of camping and I was on the top right hand coast line of Scotland after all, at least it was bright and sunny and not raining. I went for a natter with Daniel again and had a coffee with him when a Hen Harrier flew down the fence line turning at the tent and swooping off towards the farm a hundred metres away. I saw it all the way but didn’t have the camera. Daniel says he sees it often going up the fence line. The other couple with the motor home also saw it on two other occasions. In France I had ducks to sweep up around the tent, here on Orkney I had a bird of prey! I cooked a curry tonight, I’m not bragging, mostly when I come away I have a box with plenty of tinned food so when not wanting to do anything fancy or the conditions where not so brilliant I could whip something easy up, all I had to do extra was boil up some rice. I’d moved the kitchen table and cooker to stand against the awning to offer support on the side getting battered by the winds and it seemed to be working along with the expensive wind break outside…my truck…Come eight I’d eaten and driven down to Scapa Flow to try and photograph a better sunset. I experienced the first rain squall this evening, it lasted all of 5 heavy minutes, it’s true what they say about the weather up here, it can suddenly change in minutes but mostly I’d had wall to wall sunshine and clear skies every day, though in the distance I saw these minuscule weather fronts blow across the islands.
I am sitting near the old blockship again at around eight in the evening and waiting for the sunset, a rain squall had come and gone within ten minutes and the sky cleared again leaving just some cotton white cloud over the hills across the sound where the sun was beginning to settle.
Capturing the above sunset dismissed the minor irritation of the persistent winds, I sat in the cab well pleased with the image on the camera and of the scene before me in general, it was quite spectacular. The night before I’d found BBC Scotland in the radio and listened to an evening rugby match in Glasgow, the commentators where hilarious, they were ex rugby players and full in equal amounts of passion and disdain at some poor play and scathing towards the poor bloody ref they were coming out with some funny stuff, I sat there grinning all through the game, they were very entertaining. Tonight it was the turn of football. I’d been listening on and off all afternoon to various match reports and heard about sun, rain, hail and wind. Today I heard a couple of different guys talking, one sounded just like the Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle and just as funny in fact a few times when I stopped I sat to hear what he was saying before I switched the truck off. I didn’t really care about the” footy” I just wanted to hear the banter between these fella’s they truly were entertaining!
Sunday wasn’t quiet, it was windy…..again! This time the kitchen section stayed up, the truck had done its job as a shield though the side panels were bowed inwards with the wind that was getting by the truck, the poles seemed OK, under some stress but OK nonetheless. Breakfast was cooked and eaten, I’d washed everything and tidied it all away I was now sat in the truck after having washed and brushed my teeth. I’d decided I’d have a drive to the capitol then explore the larger area known as West Mainland, in fact the two towns were here, Kirkwall and Stromness.
I paused at the blockships again and drove slowly over the barriers spray was racing across the roads and some of the sea was splashing over too and this they say was just breezy! Kirkwall was about thirty minutes away and seemed quite closed, as I passed through I filled up with fuel and headed toward the mountains, I would take a closer look later. West Mainland had a bit more to it than South Ronaldsey…villages..two small towns and lots of smaller knots of civilization…yes it more humans here too! I took the coast road to Finstown a small coastal village reputed to have been the place where a retired Irish soldier from the Nepolionic wars settled and set up a pub, his name was Fin, hence the name. It sounds like an episode from SHARPE’S WAR when the trusty Irish sergeant also retired and did something similar.
I turned off the main road onto one of those classy little yellow roads that disappeared into the nips and tucks around the hills. It was a single track road with passing places but I didn’t come across too many vehicles unlike last Autumn on Mull. I was looking for a particular junction map reading and watching the thin grey tarmac AND looking at the scenery, busy boy I was! The hamlet of Kirbister came into view then I turned right at a junction and drove to Orphir. To my right sat a couple of soggy hills..Akla..Ward Hill..Grut Hill..Hill of Dale.. I found a track off to the left and took it.
On the Hill of Midland
I’m not sure what the plan was if I’d have encountered a vehicle heading my way, hopefully it would have been a Unimog, then he could have got out of my way up and over the banking! It was hellish breezy and I could have driven along on wind power simply by opening the doors and letting the wind carry me along! I paused and looked down into the bay a couple of miles away, my eyes watered up all the time so tried using the bino’s to see what was happening down there on the sea. A fast moving boat was cutting a white tear through the grey sea, it was in fact a RNLI lifeboat and it looked to be on a job it cut through the white horse rather than rode on them, steady as a rock she went!
I stood in the lee of the truck as shelter from the wind and took a few photos, I managed to keep quite steady so slowed down the shutter speed. I’d gone just a few miles along this track before coming to a small automated radar post, I imagine it was used by the local shipping authorities, shuffling the truck round I made my way back to the tarmac, I could see the approach of another wet weather front.
It took a few minutes to arrive but when it did boy did I know about it the truck was shaking in the wind and the rain really pelted me, I pulled over until the harshest of it passed by then rolled on down the hill towards the shore-line a few miles away.
Bum to the weather…Literally!
I watched two little guys cope with the rain and the wind by sticking their bums into it, me thinks they will be hanging onto their winter coats a bit longer eh? Suddenly the rain stopped and the sun and clear blue sky returned, the wind stayed with us though! I was looking for the Hill of Borwick now, I was bound for an excellent view point at Yesnaby off the stacks and castles, these were the tall thin stand alone pillars of rock on the jagged coastline.
The little concrete and brick road was an old military track and took me to the point, Block buldings and the remains of gun emplacements set into concrete bases were evident, the buildings were shells, complete walls and roof’s but not a thing inside, and actually handy shelter against sudden changes in weather, like I was having today.
The spray from the sea covered me even from up here, the wind was so strong. I walked to the cliff edge and looked at a bunch of daffs, someone had placed them here and held them firm with a couple of rocks. On the brick wall by the truck was a sign about the Good Samaritans and a phone number, from this I think perhaps this place was a suicide hotspot?
This image was taken with a 10-22mm lens.
The image is distorted in a particular way and produces some fantastic images and so at this point I was on my hands and knees, the edge is closer than it looks and that damn wind was VERY strong and blustery and I didn’t feel particulary suicidal today AND wanted to keep the camera as steady as I could.
This is as far as I was prepared to go…way beyond the sign I have to admit
I was near the edge wet through with salty spray and waited for the big splash on the rocks below to get a dramatic effect, the hole would grow larger over the years to eventually separate the rock and making the isolated rock into a stack. I have edited the shot because in real life it was very misty with spray and whilst it might have conveyed the actual conditions you would be looking at fook all right now!
I think the above photo might convey the conditions better? I’m still 50 metres from the edge and not quite in the wet spray yet!
I sat on my ass a metre from the edge and waited for the cloud to get into position. getting wetter by the minute, getting the camera out from under my jacket and taking the lens cap off just long enough to get this photo.
The stacks were a couple of miles around the head and it was going to be a walk there and back. I felt I didn’t have the time today so didn’t go, instead I decided to drive from here on the west coast across the the east coast. I got about ten minutes down the road and stopped for a brew away from the sea-spray. I stood looking at some wall art on a bungalow.
Not a shop nor a museum, just somebody’s house!
The end wall had a painting going from top to bottom of a town at night. It wasn’t a paid attraction or anything like that, no signs no cafe, just someone’s house! This road proved full of surprises I’d seen a road sign a while back but had to stop and reverse for another look because I was sure I’d read it wrong….Can you imagine how the conversations about where one lived might have played out?….
“So where do you come from my dear”?….
Also on this road stood the remains of an old Royal Navy air base, it wasn’t fenced off and you could drive around the old buildings and what was that place called do you think???
Welcome to Royal Naval Air Station TWATT
The base was on farmland now, the runway had been broken up but some of the remaining buildings were still there, empty and bare, no windows door, or anything but quite intact as a structure. Maybe the farmers use them as storage and shelter for the animals? A track had been fenced off between the fields and I was free to drive around the place
More buildings of RNAS TWATT!
To say it was a long straight quiet road, the road to Twatt was funny and interesting.The road sign,the white house,the old airfiled,the destination!
I was driving to Brough of Birsay now and some more jagged rocks to look at. Also some ancient history in the remains of St Magnus Church, first built here in 1064 again in 1664 and AGAIN in 1760? Their house insurance must have been massive don’t you think? I drove right to the end and sat looking at a small island called the Brough of Birsay, it was reached by a stone causeway and only at low tide so this was a tidal settlement and harks way back to Viking times, these guys occupied much of Orkney in their day.
This piece of coastline was much more user friendly with an accessible beach and of course the little island the cliffs were only half the height and not as windy.
The beach by Brough
Turning 180 from the above I saw this view. Brough island is on the left.
I put the truck between the wind and I me a couple of miles down the road and I stood there gazing at the waves and having a break from the driving I was perhaps two metres from the tufted edge, beyond was a big drop then rocks and the sea, suddenly a lovely little Fulmar popped up in front of me a couple of feet away almost like he was on a bit of string, he lifted above the cliff edge and sat there hovering, seemingly checking me out!
I scrambled for my camera and watched what this little fella was doing, He or she was actually one of four or five and they were all taking it turns having a close look at me. They would lift in front of me then lift higher, turn away and soar downwind a couple of hundred metres before drifting close to the cliff edge and slowly cruise up to me again, they hardly batted a wing it was amazing to watch them use the winds to their advantage and I was able to get some beautiful photos.
1) Cruisin along the cliff face…
2) …to check me out…
3) ..Then cruising on by…
4) ..Climbing and turning into the wind for a free and fast glide downwind…
5) ..Turning hard in to the cliff face…
6) ..To do it all again!…
I was being treated to my own private air show and it was fantastic! I took dozens of photos and was laughing away to myself. It’s just like being on the Country-file TV show! Except that I’d be seen as the shows nut job! But hey what a fun and exhilarating day I was having!
I took the coast road south east now following it all the way back to Finstown, stopping off here and there for a brew and a photograph. I kept an eye out for the weather, today it was most sunny with blue skies but all around I could see little wet trouble spots. Looking like holes in the roof with water pouring through!
A distant down-pour
I had been fortunate I guess because I was only under one such down-pour, The wind however was ever present and a firm grip on the door handle was needed or it would fly out of your grip and thrash about.
I came into Kirkwall and parked up by the church. I walked around the small shopping precinct noting a couple of shops I ought to visit when I came this way in the morning (I was going over to Stromness so would pass here again) Now I just fancied a pint and looked for a pub that had free Wi-fi, I might as well kill two birds with one stone? Several pints later I found a burger style restaurant and treated myself to dinner rather than start cooking when I got back to the tent. How astute that decision turned out to be… I walked to the front afterward to look at the small boats and the working ferries, there guys sailed back and forth to all the island around Orkney and up to The Shetland Islands too, so even though it was a small port it was busy with the small ferries, even today right now on a Sunday evening.
I was driving along the shallows, going past the block-ships for the umpteenth time the wind seemed stronger here, well it would be I guess because I was now back in the south west corner right back home on South Ronaldsey, I was nearing the campsite and saw the familiar white tin box that was the Geordie couple’s Motor-home. My tent was just to the right of…..FUKC! It’s GONE! I stopped the truck and stared at where the tent should have been. Shit shit shit! It’s gone the wind had got it. I took a breath and carried on towards the site. Driving up the twisty track onto the site Daniel flagged me down as I passed the farm. It’s OK, it’s OK! He shouted trying to smile “I’ve taken the tent down the wind was getting the better of it, I think a pole had bent so I made the decision I hope that’s OK?” I was relieved to hear that, at least it hadn’t blown away to fekkin Norway! “Daniel mate you have lived here a lot longer than me and you know what’s what, so course it’s fine don’t worry about that”! He had taken it down in the howling wind wrapped it loose like bedding and put it in the back of his little car, he’d also packed everything away as best he could and that too was in the back of the car. We stood there in the field talking about options, for tonight I could use one of the Bothies, these are shaped wooden chalets, the likes of which I’ve not experienced. Right Let me get back to you mate and so I sat in the truck thinking what I was going to do. I decided to move on in the morning, the winds were not going to ease, Daniel conceded that it WAS in fact windy now! OK so I would make plans in the morning to get back to the mainland and take it from there. Firstly I would attempt to unravel the rolled up tent and awning and pack it into the bags, I used the truck and rear of Bothie as shelter. I did manage it Mainly because he really had taken the tent down and the frame was stripped out and lain on the tussock grass with the poles, now that I had never seen before! In the fading light that task was complete, the camping equipment I would sort in the morning, I rang Booking.com to cancel the room in Inverness I was going to use in a few days as a stopover on the way back home I tried to rearrange the date but that wasn’t possible this time. I was put through to MAINE in the USA, it was so clear it was like she was next to me in the truck and the call would be UK rates, I’ve used BOOKING.COM for years and found them very good. I’ve found the webpage easy to use and the booking procedure very easy too. With that sorted I rang Julie as I’d done every evening for five minutes and explained roughly what was happening. Finally in the pitch dark I got my head down in my sleeping bag on the mattress on the floor of the Bothie. It’s a good job I bought dinner this evening, I drifted off to sleep and didn’t have the cracking and whipping of the tent sides to contend with tonight.
This old lady turned up during the night
I was up at around 6, it was a clear blue sky the sun was up and the wind was still with us! I packed the rest of my equipment back into the truck cooked breakfast of backed beans, that was fine it filled a hole for now, with that done I took a look at the old Land Rover 110 that had pulled up late last night, the old couple were still asleep so we never got to have a chat. I went to find Daniel and tell him my plan. He welcomed me into his man cave and offered me some breakfast as we chatted. This was a chap I grew to like, unflappable and able to be dynamic when required but favoured the easy laid back way of living and a certain “do it later” attitude. It was evident from his room that we had similar interests and soon got talking about warplanes, motorbikes and travel. After a second breakfast of home baked bread, home made jam and coffee I reluctantly said my goodbyes and thanked him again for his actions yesterday for which he was still apologising! I secretly left half my Fosters stash in the back of his van as a kind of thank you and left, “See you next time!” I shouted.
The posh Bothi where I spent my last night
Down at the ferry hut I asked to change my sailing, she did it in seconds and asked for no money. If I’d done it on line it was going to cost me £40?? OK so I have the whole day to myself as I was on the last ferry and that sailed at five tonight. OK so back to Kirkwall and round to Stromness for the day it was! In reality I’d cut my stay by just two days so I didn’t feel cheated in spite of the minor setback and one bent pole!
I was in Kirkwall by ten and was nicely parked up by the church and having a look in the shops for something with Orkney on to bring back, ended up with a couple of nice T shirts. If your in need of retail shopping then don’t come here, you wouldn’t get the credit card warmed up. Though on the outskirts are two giant buildings that share the same car park! One is a massive TESCO and it’s just like the ones in France, huge roomy and sell just about everything, brilliant! fifty metres away stands a huge Liddle? It’s good for the general public but to be on each others doorstep! I got some packed lunch and set off down a different road to Stromness. It was a wonderful clear sunny day again with that ever present wind! I can officially call it wind now!. Stromness looked busy and important with a big ferry at the dockside, but these guys charge an extra £40 over what I’m paying and they dock just up the road from Thurso on the mainland a mere twenty minutes adrift from my destination so how come there is such a difference in price? Stromness is a bit of an odd looking place, I drove into town to have a closer look. It was very stark, bland even, and not a place to attract visitors I thought. I took a few photos with the camera phone as I drove through the middle
This appeared to be the road running through the middle of town?
The main activity of the town was around the dock it was as though the town had been forgotten about. The funniest thing I saw today was a ginger jogger running down the road whilst playing his mouth organ?! I pulled over and took a photo but he was facing the other way Booo!
I took a drive back into Kirkwall, it had proved to be a more “happening” place than Stromness, I was killing time now and had another stroll along its High street before finally making my way to the little dock at St Mary’s and waited an hour for the ferry to arrive. It wasn’t a boat or a ship in fact it was a huge Catermaran. I was puzzled by the flag when I’d arrived a few days ago, I thought it was a Scandinavian flag but couldn’t figure out which one. It soon became apparent the flag was in fact the Orkney flag! I managed to find one and stuck it on the side window of the truck.
The Orkney flag
The trip back turned cold and wet as we hit a rain squall, in fact it was a bit larger than a squall and stayed with us for most of the sailing back to the mainland. I spent the return journey inside and closed my eyes for a while.
Back on mainland UK
As you can see from the above photo the dock on the mainland was very small and not one that the larger traditional ferries could use, we docked at just after 18.00hrs. I had decided to wing it from here and see how far I could make by 20.00hrs. Inverness would have been nice, yes folks I had decided to head for home, the tent was so dismantled that I didn’t know if it had more damage than a suspected pole. There was no traffic in front of me save a little black SEAT car and we set off together on the tiny back roads towards the A9, from here I retraced my route back south but didn’t dawdle. I dont know if the SEAT driver thought I was chasing him but we had a great run together all the way to Inverness! Getting there in two hours, a journey that had taken me over six hour coming up a few days earlier. I used the Sat-Nav to get me to an hotel/bar on the outskirts of Inverness as the last of the light gave way to darkness. I checked in and paid £60 for the night which included a full breakfast. I was sat in the bar having a pint and plotted the next day, if I got up early again I was sure I could get home by the next day. I’d had a great Scottish breakfast by 08.00hrs and was on the road a few minutes later, the A9 continued to be mostly empty and I managed about 60 MPH all the way, the snow topped peaks were soon left behind as I hit the motorway at Stirling. I settled in the traffic as we skirted Glasgow and made my way through the traffic, it was surprising how much traffic I was overtaking when I was doing around 70 MPH. It died down again until I left motorway at the A66 heading for Scotch Corner then it got heavy again as we trundled through the roadworks of the A1, after Wetherby it died again and stayed quiet for the rest of the way home. I got back to Walnut Cottage in daylight, in fact the run from Inverness to Doncaster was achieved in 8 hrs with no traffic problems and just a couple of brakes for fuel and a leg stretch.
The next day I carried my soggy tent into the field where I had a piece to myself with three nosy osses watching from the other side of the white tape, it was shorts weather and I was buggering about inside the empty tent on my hands and knees pulling the frame inside and fixing to the tent floor whilst holding it up high enough to work with my head. The sweat poured out of me as I struggled with the frame. Eventually with some pushing and pulling it got its shape back and clicked upright, not a tear or slash anywhere, the cross bar of the awning had indeed buckled and both upright poles where OK but they had been stressed so much I though it a better idea to replace all three. It stayed up long enough to dry out before going back into its well worn bag. The tent is now sitting in the roof space of the garage waiting for the next jaunt.