Monday, July 2, 2012

Orkney Mainland

After pondering how to get back south (such had my planning skills come to), almost on the spur of the moment I decided to take the twice daily ferry that was about to leave John O’Groats north to Orkney. To finish at the Old Man of Hoy had after all been my original journey’s end before weariness set in.
In my panic to get aboard the soon departing ferry I left behind in the kiosk all the John O’Groats postcards I’d just purchased to send to family friends and well wishers.
As I approached the ferry one of the last passengers to get off was a man of weary appearance of my own age pushing a heavily laden touring bike. My first thought was ‘God, that that’s how I must look.’ He greeted me in a cheery Australian accent and assured me the trip was worth the effort. After pondering what reason he may have to lie to a stranger I felt reassured and boarded.
A group of dangerous aged ladies on the ferry (they were the only other passengers so I was at their mercy) urged me to join them on the ‘package deal’ which included a ‘Highlights Tour of the Orkney ‘mainland.’ I was easily persuaded by the thought of a whole day in a warm dry bus and the ferry staff were happy to upgrade my ticket even on the high seas. I knew my bike would be happy for a day off too and in good care.
The tour included a visit to:
  • Skara Brae Neolithic village cocooned by sand for 4000 years until a fierce storm in 1850;
  • Stenness stone circle
  • Scapa Flow – graveyard of the scuttled entire German WW1 fleet.
  • The Churchill Barriers connecting the islands and thus closing the approaches to Scapa Flow in WW2 after the loss of HMS Royal Oak to a German submarine.
  • Italian POW chapel
It also included everything else the driver could think of telling us about the island including its awful winters, mid-summer nights that only lasted a couple of hours, and Orkney’s association more with Norway than Scotland.
With so much to see of interest at the end of the earth I decided to stay overnight given the good prospects of getting to Hoy the next day. The bus driver kindly dropped me back at the ferry terminal to pick up my bike and transport it and me back to the nearest town, leaving me to cycle the rest of the way into the main town of Kirkwall and onto the local but basic Youth Hostel.
In spite of its initial bleak appearance Kirkwall, Orkneys capital is home to a lovely cathedral, the northernmost renaissance palace, and the world famous young folkies the ‘Wriggley Sisters’ and their school of music and venue ‘The Reel.’ Indeed a poetry and fiddle evening was in full swing but I was not, just weary and hungry.