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Orkney 2013 - The 'Island Hopping' Tour

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Part 2 - Rousay, Westray, Papa Westray ,Burray and South Ronaldsay

17.08.13 - Sanday to Kirkwall

map linkIt was a lovely sunny morning as we packed up the tent, we took our time as our ferry wasn’t until 4 o’clock. As we had a bit of time we had a short walk along the coast path from the campsite otter spotting but with no luck. On getting back to the campsite we loaded up the bikes and settled up with the campsite owners and set off for the ferry terminal. Although it was sunny it was a little nippy in the wind so we needed windproof jackets on. It didn't take too long to cycle the few miles from the campsite to the ferry terminal at Spur Ness. We had given ourselves plenty of time to get to the ferry so when we arrived we had a good hour to wait so we stopped in the waiting room and had a brew and to eat some late lunch. The ferry ride was fairly uneventful apart from stopping at Stonsay to unload a few cars and load a few others. There were some lovely skies with the sun rays coming through the clouds and at one point a lovely rainbow. On docking at the ferry terminal at Kirkwall we headed for the campsite and popped in to Tesco's on the way. When Frank went to get a trolley there was a rather large grey tabby cat asleep in the baby seat of one of the trolleys, it was obviously its second home.

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18.08.13 - Kirkwall

As we expected it started to rain during the night and the wind started to increase and by the morning it was raining hard and the wind was quite strong. We therefore put off going to Rousay until tomorrow. It worked out quite well for us as we needed to do some washing as the campsite had some good washing facilities and a nice little lounge that we could sit in. Later in the afternoon the rain had stopped although it was still fairly windy. We decided to take the opportunity to have a look around St Magnus cathedral and the Earl's Palace in Kirkwall and find a few of Kirkwall's caches.

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19.08.13 - Kirkwall to Rousay

map linkFortunately the weather was better today and we were glad we had waited a day, I don't think it would have been much fun cycling in the rain and that fierce wind. On leaving Kirkwall we took the route out of the town which although it took us through the industrial estate it did miss out a hill. Generally the traffic on Orkney was fairly light but this bit of A965 was one of the busiest and we were glad to turn off it and up a small track to a small farm to see the underground chamber at Rennibister. The Chamber was only discovered when the wheel from a piece of farm machinery broke through into it.

On reaching Flintstown it was getting near to lunch time and we were looking out for a shop but noticed a small red catering van parked in the car park by the bay. It was run by a lovely lassie called Sinky and she did us a bacon burger roll for Frank and a pulled pork roll for me with a couple of large teas, both went down a treat and were just what we both needed. After a nice break and feeling well fueled we started off again and soon turned off the A965 at the end of the town and headed for Tingwall. It was a fairly straight road and with a bit of a tail wind we made good progress getting into top gear at one point. At Tingwall we turned off for the ferry terminal and past the Ting parliament site hence the name Tingwall. We passed a weather stone attached to the side of a cottage which was quite amusing.

We had a little wait for the ferry so I took the opportunity to try and find a cache that was situated around the small headland. It involved crossing some rather slippery rocks and running the gauntlet of some Fulmars that were sitting on the small rocky cliffs. They are renowned for attacking people who get too near and squirting foul fishy smelling vomit at them so I kept my distance. Unfortunately there was no sign of the cache, all I found was an old blue builders helmet. I suspect that the cache had been washed away in the winter gales. I returned to the terminal without incident of slipping or Fulmar attack. The ferry left on time and it was a short journey across the sound to Rousay. As is usual it was uphill from the ferry terminal but it wasn't too far to the hostel where we could camp. On reaching the hostel there was a note on the door to book in at the farm. I wandered over to the farm and rang the bell a lady came out and I asked if it was OK to camp. No problem she said and then her phone rang "I must take this call I've been waiting for it all afternoon, you can use the hostel facilities make yourselves at home I'll be up soon".

It didn't take us long to get the tent up and get ourselves organised. The hostel had a nice little kitchen cum living room so we set about making some tea. The lassie came over from the farm and apologised that she hadn't had time to clean up from the previous visitors yesterday, however it looked fine to us and she scurried off to clean the loos. It was a nice little hostel and we were the only people staying so we had the place to ourselves which was nice.

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20.08.13 -  Rousay

map linkWhile we were cooking breakfast I noticed an advert on the hostel noticeboard for a restaurant ‘The Traversoe’ that was 4 miles up the road that said that if we booked an evening meal they would come and pick us up. Well we hadn't been out for a meal for a while so we booked a table for that evening.

It was a lovely morning as we set off along the B9064 to have a look at the several chambered cairns along the route. Our first was the Taversoe Tuick neolithic chambered cairn, this one unlike others was fairly easy to get into as the entrance was fairly large unlike others where we have had to crawl through on our hands and knees, although we did still have to crouch. It is a most unusual chambered cairn in that it has its burial chambers on two levels and there is a small iron ladder to help you get to the lower chamber. However when it was built the entrance to the lower level was by another entrance which has been closed off due to safety concerns.

It was only a short ride to the next chambered cairn at Blackhammer. This chambered cairn unlike the previous one was long and thin with obvious divisions. The original entrance was via a low tunnel which was off the middle line which suggests that the burial cairn may have been extended. To preserve the cairn from further damage it had been roofed in concrete with thick glass skylights and the entrance was through a steel door. The last chambered cairn was at the Knowe of Yarso unlike the others that were close to the road this one was a bit of a hike up a footpath. This cairn was of a similar construction to the Blackhammer cairn although it was different in that the entrance was at one end.

Just on from the footpath to the Knowe of Yarso cairn we came across the Traverso restaurant and bar that we had booked for that evening and as it was lunch time we popped in for a drink and some nice homemade soup, things boded well for our evening meal! Suitably refreshed we headed off for the Midhowe chambered tomb.

I must admit that as I was cycling along I could see what looked like a large barn down by the shore line and wondered why the farmer had built it there away from the road and also thought that it was a very posh looking barn. We left the bikes at the road and headed off down the footpath following the signs to the Midhowe tomb It wasn’t until we got to the barn that I twigged that it wasn’t a barn but was in fact a building that had been erected around the Midhowe tomb to protect it! The Midhowe tomb was massive and inside the building there was a raised walkway built over it so you could view it from above. Just a few metres away from the tomb is the Midhowe broch. Unlike most brochs we have seen which have been robbed of most of their stones and little more than a pile of stones this had quite a few of its features intact such as its main entrance a double curtain wall and stood in places almost 4 metres high.

We had timed our visit almost perfectly as by the time that we had got back to the bikes it started to rain and we had left the waterproofs on the bikes. Fortunately it was no more than a shower and didn’t last too long. On the way back to the hostel we spotted several curlews in the fields and managed to get a reasonably shot of one of them before it flew off with its wonderful alarm call.

That evening the lady from the Traverso came and picked us up at 6.45pm and we had a lovely meal. It was so lovely to be chauffeured back to the hostel afterwards.

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21.08.13 - Rousay to Westray

map linkIt was a bit of an overcast morning as I looked out of the hostel window while we were making our breakfast, I noticed some sea kayakers paddling down the Eynhalllow sound and got out the binos to have a closer look. There were 3 of them and they were heading eastwards. While we were settling up with the lady at the farm she asked us where we heading next. I told her we were off to Westray. She asked if we were we hoping to camp at the hostel as it might be closed as the lady who owned it had had a bereavement in the family and had had to go away for the funeral. I said I would ring to check. Fortunately a lady answered and they were open for business. It was a bit of an overcast morning it was nice to start off the day with a downhill run to the ferry. On arriving at the Tingwall terminal we retraced our route back to Kirkwall that we had done the day before yesterday stopping at Sinky's van in Flintstown for another one of her tasty treats! She recognised us from the other day and we had a long chat. If I remember correctly she was actually English but had married an Orkney farmer and the meat for the burgers came from their farm. When we told her where we were heading she told us to check with the ferry company as there was a dispute going on with the crew of the ferry who were striking due to a change in pay and conditions. We were soon back in Kirkwall and we went straight to the ferry company's office at the harbour. There was a revised timetable but fortunately it didn't affect our ferry. The weather was a bit on the change and was we left Kirkwall it started to drizzle so we spent most of the journey in the passenger saloon. Fortunately by the time we docked at the ferry terminal at Westray the rain had stopped but it was a little chilly so a fleece and a windproof were required as we got off the ferry. Like Sanday the ferry terminal was a the southern end of the island and there was a 4 mile ride to the campsite at Broughton. It was an undulating road with no major inclines and quite traffic free and what traffic there was always gave us a friendly wave. When we got to the campsite there was a notice on the door to the effect that we were to ring the lady to book in as the owners were away. The lady told us to pitch up and make ourselves at home and she would be coming along soon. The campsite had a kitchen and room to eat in but it was in a converted barn so that it wasn't quite as cozy as the one on Rousay.

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22.08.13 - Westray

map linkIt was a bit of an overcast day but at least it wasn't raining. We decided to have a look around Notland castle first. It was obviously a formidably castle in its day with its array of defensive gun slits and from what we read it had a bit of a checkered history. It is quite an imposing structure with a rather amazing circular staircase to the upper levels. From there we then headed off to Noup Head to see the lighthouse. It was a bit of a climb up Couters hill  but it was downhill to the farm at Noup where we lost the tarmac and it was a rough track up to the lighthouse. This lighthouse was very similar to the lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis as it was also built by David A Stevenson but this time not in association with his brother Thomas. The lighthouse was on the top of a set of cliffs that held a large colony of gannets. These our wonderful birds and we could easily have sat and watched them all day but time was pressing on. There was a cache quite near to the lighthouse  so we wandered over to find it. Fortunately it didn't take too long to find the cache and then we headed back over to Noltland to have a look at the excavations at the Neolithic and Bronze Age site at the Links of Noltland. This is where the Westray Wife, a 4cm  carved sandstone figurine was discovered. It is reputed to be the only Neolithic representation  of a human form to have been found in Scotland. The whole site of the excavation is under an area of sand dunes. Like the site at Scara Brae this site was only discovered after a storm washed away part of a dune. We got talking to one of the archaeologists who was just leaving and he told us that they had only excavated only a small part and they suspected that the site extended under most of the dunes. While we were there one of the archaeologists was doing some aerial photography from a kite, it was just a shame that the weather wasn't a bit better for him. As it was starting to get late we headed back to the campsite to get a warming hot shower as we had booked a table at the Pierowall Hotel. We had a lovely meal in the Pierowall Hotel, I seem to remember that the starter was local Westray crab which was yummy!

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23.08.13 - Westray to Kirkwall

map linkWe were up early this morning so that we could get packed up and ready to get over to the pier to catch the ferry over to Papa Westray. We had worked out that if we caught the 8.00am ferry it would give us a bit of time to explore Papa Westray before we had to catch the ferry from Papa Westray back to Kirkwall at 12.30am. We left the campsite at dead on on 7.30am, it wasn’t that far around to the pier from the campsite but we didn’t want to miss it and we knew we would need time to load the bikes. As we rode along the road that led up to the pier there was a lovely smell of fresh baking coming from the bakery and a chap came out of one of the houses on a bike in front of us and as I overtook him we exchanged a good morning. On reaching the pier and the ferry the chap caught up with us and it turned out that he was the skipper of the ferry so that was perfect timing. He was a nice chap and helped us load the bikes which were stowed up forward and lashed to the railings whilst we stowed our panniers in the main cabin. Shortly afterwards the mate arrived and after a discussion as to whether there would be anybody else we were off. It is only a short crossing taking about 20 mins, once we had got out of the shelter of Pierowall harbour it was quite choppy and our bikes got a good soaking it was a good thing we had put the saddle covers on! After off loading the bikes at the little jetty on Papa the skipper told us that there was a fresh water hose at the hut at the end of the jetty. I gave the bikes a good sluice over with the hose to get rid of any salt residue from the sea water.

Unfortunately like our day on Westray it was still quite overcast and misty as we headed off to explore this little island. Our first stop was for a cache which was in an old steam roller that sat by the road. It was a wonderful thing and we wondered about its history, we couldn’t quite imagine it was needed on such a small island, but then there were several miles of road that needed to be maintained. From there we headed for the Knap of Howar neolithic farmstead which is considered to be the oldest standing buildings in northern Europe and had been inhabited between 3600 and 3100 BC, the buildings were remarkably weli preserved. From there we headed back towards Holland farm and had a look at the Bothy museum which had some interesting exhibits, we particularly liked the box with the Esso petrol cans in it as there was obviously little call for a petrol station on this wee island. One would imagine that the locals still have jerry cans of petrol for their cars! From there we headed off north to see a little bit of the north of the island and passed by the small airfield where there is the shortest 5 minute scheduled flight from Westray, there was no sign of there being any flights today with the low cloud and lack of visibility. We were hoping to reach the top of the island but we had to turn back as we didn’t want to miss the 12.30am ferry. When we got to the ferry terminal we had 20 minutes to wait so we headed for the warmth of the waiting room. Inside we met 3 sea kayakers who were doing the same and having a snack. we had a long chat with them, they like us were returning to Kirkwall. They had spent the last couple of weeks paddling from island to island and the tides and winds had finally brought them to Papa Westray. In fact it turned out they were the paddlers we had seen the morning we left Rousay paddling up the Eynhalllow sound. One them went everywhere in bare feet including on the ferry, his feet must have been cold! The ferry soon arrived but it took a while to load everything as the ferry has no roll on roll off facilities so any vehicle had to lifted on and off using a derick. Our bikes and the lads sea kayaks were loaded using a side door from the jetty and there was no plank in place between the foot and a half gap between the ferry and the jetty so we had to be careful that we didn’t drop anything!

The ferry ride was fairly uneventful and it started raining so we spent most of the time in the cabin. The ferry docked at kirkwall we soon after 3 o’clock and we were soon on our way to the campsite again as it was a little too late to set off for South Ronaldsay.

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24.08.13 - Kirkwall to South Ronaldsay

map linkFor some reason it took us a while to get going this morning but eventually we got going and headed out of Kirkwall on the A961 past the Highland Park distillery. As we stopped at the top of the hill and looked down on Kirkwall we could see a couple of big cruise ships in the Bay of Kirkwall. Through the binoculars we could see that the cruise ships were the Ms Rotterdam of the Holland America Line and the cruise ship Saga Sapphire. Once past the top of the Five Hillocks it was a good run down to St Mary’s where we got our first view of Churchill Barrier No 1. These barriers were built on the orders of Winston Churchill during WWII to prevent U-boat attack on Scapa Flow. After crossing the first barrier we were on to Lamb Holm and soon saw the Italian chapel, this was one of the things we wanted to see on Orkney. We weren’t disappointed as it is lovely inside and considering it is just a nissan hut it is very clever how it has been painted. It was built and painted by the Italian POW’s who built the Churchill barriers. They spent their time casting the great concrete blocks that were used to build the barriers. They got so good at casting things in concrete that they built the sculpture of St. George slaying the Dragon, the chapel font and even a concrete bowling alley. It was interesting as to the feelings of the visitors to the chapel, just as we arrived we got chatting to a Geordie and his wife. They like us were quite moved by the chapel where as opposed to some of the people off the tour bus from one of the cruise ships that came in after us. Some certainly weren’t impressed for as soon as they walked in they had walked out again, perhaps they had been touristed out by that time on their coach tour! From there it was on to Churchill Barrier No 2 which joins Lamb Holm to Glimps Holm. We were quite surprised to still see remains of the blockships that had been sunk prior to the building of the barriers to prevent U-boat attacks on Scapa Flow.

From Glimps Holm we crossed over Churchill Barrier No 3 on to Burray, again as we crossed the barrier we could see the remains of several more former blockships. It was easy cycling as we crossed across Burray and as we came down the hill into Burray village there was a large flock of greylag geese grazing in a field by the side of the A961. At Burray village we found a shop open so stopped to get something for our evening meal. The last of the Churchill Barriers is No 4 which links Burray with South Ronaldsay and this isn’t quite as noticeable as the other 3 as a large set of sand dunes has built up on the western side. As we headed west up the A961 towards St. Margaret’s Hope the sun was setting against a darkening sky and there were some lovely photo opportunities as we stopped on the side of Water Sound to find a cache. Whilst we were there there were a lot of curlews looking for food amongst the seaweed on the foreshore. It was a short ride from there to St. Margarets Hope where we turned off by the war memorial to the fallen from South Ronaldsay.

The sunset at the top of the hill looking back on St. Margarets Hope was wonderful and we stopped for a while to take some photos. We were a little confused in finding the campsite at Wheems Organic Farm as the map showed one location and my GPS another, eventually after a little back tracking we spotted the sign at the crossroads. After booking in with the owner who rather reminded me of my cousin (another artist type) we pitched the tent and were getting on with cooking our evening meal when my mobile rang. It was my father to say that my mother had been suddenly taken into hospital with a suspected infection, but there was nothing to worry about. Well Frank and I immediately started to look at how we could get down to Norwich asap. We decided that if we caught the earliest ferry from St. Margarets Hope to Gills bay, leave the bikes at the pier and get a taxi back to Scrabster we could pick up the car and drive back to pick them up and then drive down to Aberdeen and get a flight to Norwich. Father rang again at 11.00 to say that mother was stable but still not conscious. As you can imagine we didn’t sleep well that night.

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map link25.08.13 - South Ronaldsay to Scrabster

We were woken by the mobile at 5.30am, it was my father to say that my mother had just passed away. It was such a shock, she and father had only been shopping in Norwich the day before and we had spoken to her only the day before that and she seemed fine. We decided to head home asap as planned so we could be with my dad and sister although there was now no point in rushing quite so much. We cycled over to St. Margarets Hope and caught the 10.00am ferry over to Gills Bay. We left the bikes at the pier and caught a taxi to Scrabster where we picked up the car and drove back to Gills Bay to pick up the bikes and then headed south. A very sad end to what had been a lovely tour, we had really enjoyed our time on Orkney.

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The End spacer imageTo part 2 - Rousay, Westray, Papa Westray ,Burray and South Ronaldsay