Where to start? The purposes of this trip were twofold: to appreciate megalithic genius heretofore unseen and to escape the covid-ridden crowds elsewhere.
Both objectives I can reveal were attained, and handsomely so.
Let’s begin with the accommodation arrangements. Orkney Caravan Park at the Pickaquoy Centre on the outskirts of Kirkwall, a spit from the sea. Largish site, no views to speak of, curiously important – who knew? Clean and spacious, warm facilities block including lounge, kitchen and laundry. Hygiene measures in place – cleaning sprays, hand gel and masks to be used etc was reassuring, and pretty much complied with by all you saw. Hard standing pitch with EHU, costing £358 for a total of 12 nights.
So we decided not to move around for accommodation, the size of the mainland meaning nowhere should be inaccessible within a day, and the proximity to food and fuel taking away some of the uncertainty for replenishing supplies. That, and a couple of other sites we tried didn’t have availability for when we wanted it.
Children’s play area was a big hit, the daily, no, hourly chorus of “Can we go to the play area?” Is still ringing in my ears. To be fair, the fact that they made friends there and played outside was just what they needed after months of enforced isolation.
Did we get value for money? Averaging at just under 30 quid a night it’s at the pricier end, but I think on balance it was just about worth it.
Mother, although probably not deigning to enter herself, would approve of the proportions and cleanliness of the facilities. Numbered mini-bathrooms with wet-room style shower (including curtain, blecch) toilet and sink, antibacterial spray bottle and cleaning cloths to go in the laundry when used. Fans for ventilation and open windows in evidence throughout. Number 8 was my preferred location, at the far end of the block, next to another open window.
Pleasant and acceptable, I suppose is how I would quantify it. Not really a wow factor, but nice enough and did the job. Quite popular by all accounts, the few days before we left it really filled up.
I’ll pause here to add some random interesting occurences:
1. Dog lounge on ferry
2. Car alarm central
3. 4 x Churchill Barriers
4. Big Cruise ship
5. Guitar twat
6. Constant growling
7. Big kids on the playground
8. Round lake
9. Reversing boats
10. Cool breeze reminiscent of Gien
11. Forgot to pack socks
12. And bodywarmer
13. Kirkwall an Internet blackspot
14. Scooter club lacking transport
2. Whisky in coffee
3. Fish and chips
4. Hen harriers
6. Recreated dog skull
7. Neolithic Central
10. Classic cars
11. Spiny mice
12. Ice cream in an oyster
So the mainland of Orkney was surprisingly … unsurprising. Green, lots of farming, lots of cows unexpectedly and not the Highland variety. Lots of houses dotted about, mostly new and modern looking and good roads, very few of your single track, passing place scenarios.
Over the 12 days we covered the vast majority of the island and took in many a tourist attraction but instead of narrating in a blow by blow account I shall present a rank order with 3 noteworthy trivia items per entry.
I am lumping Stenness and Brodgar together here as they are close in geography and alternate in my perception of which is best. It is fair to say that as a collection they are in my top 3 megalithic monuments, I will have to blog about that separately.
1. The thickness or lack thereof about the stones did not put me off as I feared.
2. The angled tops are natural by all accounts
3. 5.7 metres the height of the tallest at Stenness ( the visible portion anyway)
Skara Brae and Skaill House
1. Awesomeness of 5000 years ago
2. Small window in reconstructed portion of structure 1 to appease a small child
3. Captain Cook/Joseph Banks connections were auspicious
Beaches of every kind
It’s safe to say that time messing about at the beach is always a good way of spending time and we found some belters. Rain, wind or shine we were out there, skimming stones, paddling (mainly in wellies), making dams, collecting seaglass treasures, spotting shipwrecks, picnicking, and even resurrecting the long lost holiday sport of beach darts. (I’m still the champion btw)
1. Most time spent at Scapa beach - Sammy the pebble snake, HMS Royal Oak memorial and handy and spotless lavs.
2. Inganess Beach would be ideal for a cheeky wild camp, shipwreck in the middle, paddleboarders haven.
3. The mysterious and elusive Waukmill Bay looking tantalising from the road, but missed the turning almost every time, and when we got it the tide was in, so no beach to speak of.
Carrie Paxton Glass
Spotted some of her work on show in the Skara Brae visitor centre, and decided to seek out the Ingakeldt studio, out by the airport on the way to Inganess. Really glad we did, a beautiful spot too.
1. She bends glass in a kiln
2. She paints on it with clever stuff
3. She has some beautiful designs. Came away with a memento of the megalithics and a crab plate.
Fossil & Heritage Centre
This was a bit of a roadside improvised decision when we saw the cruise ship tour bus decanting hundreds of pensioners into the Italian Chapel and it was most fortuitous. Really busy, which was mildly concerning at first, and parking not ideal as the T6 and grass banking combination was not auspicious.
1. Education around the importance of Scapa Flow was received with interest as was the construction of the Churchill Barriers
2. Glow in the dark gems
3. A bed in a box which had a house built around it was amongst the knick-knackery on show.
Brough of Birsay and the Viking/ Pictish ruins
This was another impromptu visit as we were passing and it turned out to be skill. Hastily googling tide times somewhat lessened the jeopardy of crossing the causeway to the island.
1. Curious hilltop ruins overlooking the mainland
2. Stacks of balanced stones all over, including one which just gave way in the wind, startling a biddy.
3. Cod skeleton
Fernvalley Wildlife Centre and Tearoom
Most peculiar place, the most northerly wildlife centre in the UK and mainly rescuing neglected and/or abandoned animals, was an eye opener especially as you could read the stories of some of the adopted animals. The outdoor portion was also excellent, although I missed out on the maze due to the boy’s bowels.
1. Lemurs visible from the cafe and through wire walkways
2. Spiny mice are a thing, and funny
3. Meerkat observation tunnels.
Skaill House Falconry
This was a chance googling, and encountering on facebook/Instagram so thought it would be worth a go. The signage and parking was a bit hit and miss, but Andrea and Keith and their feathered friends were entertaining.
1. Odin the Eagle owl was the team favourite, Madame inserted her hand into his voluptuous plumage for kicks
2. Caracara completing a dog puzzle in less than half a minute was strangely impressive
3. Day old chicks are clearly in demand here, mainly as a reward for being at flying weight. Which I am not. Neither am I imprinted on Keith.
This featured on my tourist map of Orkney but with no clue as to what the devil it is, so we went to find out.
1. It's a collapsed cave
2. It's very windy
3. There's seabirds on ledges and walks around mull head nature reserve and that.
Maeshowe visitor centre
By rights this should be higher up the list, but due to covid you can’t actually go in the Tomb, so we paid £22 for a lecture from Rob from Scottish Heritage and Environment, good job it was interesting – he’s the one who told us about the window at Skara Brae.
1. You can reconstruct the face of a prehistoric dog from a skull
2. Orkney was a major Neolithic heartland
3. Tomb entrance aligned with winter solstice
We’ve done loads of distillery/winery/brewery tours in the past hence the low ranking.
1. Visible from Scapa beach
2. Knowledgeable tasting support
3. Lots of lovely limited editions at huuuuge prices.
1. Small batches of gins
2. Way out in the sticks
3. Hand cut logo (?!)
1. Pirate influence
2. More about the rum than the wine
3. Vegetable wine wasn't enticing enough
Special mention to the Italian Chapel on Lambs Holm, I’ve heard it’s nice but we dint go in. (Orkney’s Waitomo??)
Kirkwall or Stromness?
I have taken a poll of the team and the decision is as follows:
Although we did more of this than on our Hebridean jaunt, and we still exercised a good amount of caution due to the never ending pandemic, we had food out a number of times.
2 x fish and chips from the Happy Haddock and Harbour Fry in Kirkwall, neither approaching the standard set by Hard Lane Fish bar, despite eating one lot on the quayside.
A rainy lunch under a marquee from Julie’s caff in Stromness, KB said his crab roll was alright.
Assorted platters and cakes at the Fern Valley tea room, which were surprising in their over use of couscous, and on the pricey side.
The stand out, though was Orkney Street Food, who I had been stalking on Instagram and delivered reyt nice brekkies and burgers. 3 visits we paid them and they were top.
Many a starling with black beaks
Other unidentified wildlife
Moved back to the top of Scotland via a dang pleasant crossing on the MV Alfred and meandered home on the last leg of the #BigOrkneyAdventure2021
Further posts pending.