I'm in Stromness Library, where they have wi-fi - with such super security that I can't access my webmail. No obligation to do work, then, just on with the next installment of our travels. Here's one I prepared earlier:
It had rained overnight, and seemed to have cleared as we left Tain, crossing the Dornoch Firth in a gleam of silver and into woodlands, the roadsides still busy with flowers, meadowsweet again and spikes of foxgloves, as many white as purple. The fog came down as we drove into the Highlands, not just to treetop height this time but blanking out sometimes even the middle distance, sometimes everything but the road. We made good time, and allowed ourselves a quick stop in Wick, with the aim of picking up provisions for picnics for the next couple of days. I enjoyed this glimpse of the town, depressed rather than smart but quirky with it and - as the mist coalesced into a mixture of rain and sunshine - colourful too. We didn't find any convenient little food shops, though, and ended up making a quick dash through Tesco's.
After this it was mainly ferries. Pentland Ferries' new catamaran crosses from Gill's Bay (a place unknown to our satnav, but well signposted) to St Margaret's Hope. Despite the grey weather, I was grinning like a loon all the way up to Kirkwall, across the Churchhill Barriers, just so happy to be here. By the time we'd confirmed and paid for our reservations for Eday at the ferry office, it was after half past two and we had less than an hour to wait for the ferry, but that gave us time to cross the road to the Shore and lunch on soup for me and a burger for durham_rambler
. The crossing to Eday was uneventful; not exactly misty, not exactly raining, but too close to both to make me want to sit on deck and watch the islands come and go. I huddled in the saloon with my book.
We stayed on Eday at Sui Generis
, home of furniture maker extraordinaire Colin Kerr. Colin and Sherry have adapted and extended what was, I suspect, the furniture showroom, to create two bedrooms and the communal sitting / eating area in which I typed the first section of this post. The décor is indeed sui generis, one of a kind, full of beautiful and interesting things of all kinds, from the green men peeping out of corners to the framed and fitted bookshelves that line the passage to our room. I lie on my back on the bed and gaze at the ceiling, green stained and ribbed with wooden beams in flowing natural shapes. The downside is that everything is so perfectly fitted to itself, there isn't necessarily room for our many belongings. The toilet is down the hall, which isn't a problem, because we have the place to ourselves, but I'm selfishly glad the other room isn't occupied.
Sherry doesn't offer evening meals, but because the Roadside Inn was fully booked for both nights of our stay, she very kindly made dinner for us on our first night. After dinner we went out for a walk - I'd envisaged just going down to the jetty and back, but we ended up doing a two mile loop along the road to the Roadside Inn and back. On our way we saw a hand-made sign pointing to Green Farm archaeological dig, and apparently inviting visitors.
That was our morning sorted: we had no trouble locating the site, which seemed to be deserted, so we nosed around a bit and were just heading back to the car, when one of the archaeologists arrived. They hadn't planned to be working that morning: since you have to take a day off occasionally, you might as well do it while it's raining. But since he was here (to collect some stuff and see if he could get anything planned for the next few days) he gave us the tour. It's quite a small dig, a small-scale domestic structure (a neolithic dwelling), which the team have, over the past seven seasons, exacavated almost completely, which was very satisfying.
After this we visited the shop, the heritage centre and the airport - London Airport, because it's on the Bay of London. I like the way airports in the Northern Isles are left unlocked as public conveniences: it's very considerate of them, and I appreciate it.
The rain, which was getting serious by the end of the morning, seemed to have eased off by the time we had had lunch, and we decided that rather than try to shuffle by car between those points of interest that are accessible by the road, we would stick with plan A and follow the 'heritage walk' put together by the Council. Just as we were setting off, a tiny animal - much smaller than one of the numerous rabbits - ran across the road in front of us: was it the Orkney Vole? That would be a good omen.
The walk is about five miles long, which wouldn't be much if there weren't so much to see along the way. In the first 20 minutes we covered about a hundred yards - as far as the bird hide overlooking Mill Loch. Actually, I think bird hides are wasted on me: they are great for serious birders with serious binoculars, who will put in the time to wait for the desired sighting, and who will know they have seen it when they do. We sat in the hide and discussed whether the birds we could almost see were seagulls or skuas (some of each, when viewed by durham_rambler
's camera), and what that flock of even more distant waterfowl were (mallard, probably). Then we emerged and were buzzed by two families of low-flying geese in rapid succession. They may even have been the red throated divers which are the local rarity - I'm certainly not competent to say that they weren't (or that the vole wasn't an Orkney Vole)...
Up the grassy track to the Stone of Setter, a magnificent standing stone, like a raised sandstone hand in a badly-knitted mitten of lichen. From here the path climbs in quick succession to a stalled cairn, a chambered cairn (waterlogged), and Vinquoy chambered cairn: think of a miniature version of Maes Howe, a beehive of red sandstone dripping damp and colonised by ferns, wonderful and well worth the crawling required to negotiate the entrance. But we had entered in pleasantly hazy light, and we emerged a quarter hour later into heavy fog. This obliterated all the fine views over the Calf of Eday about which my guide book was so lyrical, and made the next stretch of the path over heather upland quite unnerving. We lost the path a couple of times, but found it again - or found an acceptable substitute, and stumbled out of the thickest cloud down the grassy slope between the lighthouse and Carrick House.
We'd cut the walk short (by not pressing on to the headland) but were still quite weary, and the last long stretch of road work back to the car was stretching very long indeed - when a kind motorist stopped and offered us a lift. We were only a quarter mile from our destination, but we were very glad to accept, not only the lift, but a recomendation of a beach to visit "past where I live..." Well, perhaps - we added it to the list of things we wanted to fit in before the next day's ferry back to Mainland.
By the small hours of next morning, it was evident that we had no electricity; over breakfast we learned that this wasn't just our room, not just this household, not even just Eday, but the whole of the North Isles. A major cable had been damaged, generators would be shipped out, it was hoped the supply would be restored by the end of the day. Meanwhile, thank goodness for calor gas!
Undeterred, we packed our belongings, made our sandwiches and set off. We had seen a reference at the heritage centre to the Red House Restoration Project, at a croft in the north west of the island. After some hesitation, we parked outside the closed tearoom, abandoned except for a very bouncy puppy, and followed the waymarks across the hay meadow to the croft. There were information boards to read, but no sign that anyone had been there recently, no tracks in the thick grass- and did I mention the mist shrouding the hillside? I loved it, and took lots of photos.
We took the advice of our rescuer of the previous day, and webnt up to Castles Beach, which was charming; we returned to the Bay of London (by the airport) and took our sandwiches down to where the old road went straight ahead into the sea, before the bay was formed; we drove south until the road ran out of island, and followed the Warness Walk round the cliffs, which ought to have been wonderful, but was hard work because the path was well enough worn to be a narrow groove, and sufficiently overgrown that you couldn't see where the groove was. Puffins nest in the grass covered cliffs known as the Greeny Faces, but we didn't see any. Nor did we see any of the splendid views of the Green Holms (fog, still). And then it was time to go down to the jetty and meet the ferry. We were pleased to see that it was bringing a generator - two, in fact, because the voyage to Kirkwall was via Stronsay (no, this is not the most direct route) and the ferry had Stronsay's generator, too.
When we finally reached Kirkwall, the sun was shining, but our adventures weren't quite over, because the West End Hotel, which we had booked well in advance, had decided to bounce us out to "the house", accommodation a mile away, perfectly adequate for an overnight, but not the return to normality we had been looking forward to. This was a mere hiccup, though, and everything has gone well since...ETA: Green Farm excavation dig diaryPhotos of Eday
*Pronounced EEdee, not eDAY. I hadn't known that.