Westray and Papay
26 May 2017
After a few days rest and recreation at James' house we set off for our next island, Westray. We managed to talk our way on to the bridge for a part of the journey, and had a very informative chat with the captain. We travelled up the west side of Eday and Rousay, and arrived in Rapness on Westray in not very long at all, only an hour and a bit.
We drove up to find the Barn campsite in Pierowall, and after a couple of false starts, we managed to do that. A really nice site, with good facilities, and not busy at all. A couple of solo tent campers, and another couple in a motorhome.
We got in contact with Lucy from home, who is up here for a couple of days with her daughter, and an Australian friend, Ruth, who is going to house-sit for us in June. We met up with them on Wednesday morning and did the walk to Noup Head lighthouse with them. The walk was spectacular, cliffs with seabirds nesting, like fulmars, guillemots and kittiwakes.
I was interested in the lighthouse, another Stevenson construction, which was actually being checked over by a maintenance man from the Northern Lighthouse Board while we were there. This only happens once a year, so we were lucky!
We went back to the holiday let they were staying at for a cup of tea after our walk, and it was at the other side of the island, so we saw a bit more of the island on the way. By that time the weather had closed in, there was mist everywhere, so we settled back in our pitch at the campsite, and later on I went along to Jack's Chippy for a fish supper for our dinner that night. The chippy is really a seafood merchant, who does fish and chips on Wednesday and Saturday evenings only. So that was great, we had a haddock in batter each, and shared a portion of chips.
On Thursday we invited Ruth Lucy and Lily to coffee, then set off to visit Noltland Castle. We had passed it on the way the day before, and thought 'oh yes, another ruined castle, yada yada'. We could not have been more wrong. It had loads of history, and there was enough of it still standing to make it a really fascinating visit. A kitchen area with an arched ceiling made out of thousands of slim Orcadian stone - how did they build that without it falling down? A wide staircase for the owner, originally one of Mary Queen of Scots' retainers, one Balfour. A narrow staircase from the kitchen up to the great hall. Two bedchambers with their own latrines. Early en suite, eh? And amazing gun holes in the walls for the purpose of repelling attackers. Wonderful stuff.
Then we went to the beach where there is an ongoing archaeological dig of a complete stone age village. It was all covered up with black plastic sheeting covered with old car tyres, because the wind here can cause soil erosion in no time flat, it is so relentless.
Then a long walk along the beautiful beach, and a walk back into Pierowall and back to the van for lunch. Great.
On Friday morning we got up early and for a change I did the early morning walk with Jack. It was so sunny and warm that I risked doing so in just a t-shirt, and not the fleece and water and windproof jacket that has been my wont ever since we got here. The sun and warmth persisted all day, as we packed our backpacks and headed over on the ferry to Papa Westray. The kind people who run the campsite offered us a free lift to the ferry, so we did not have to move our van. They even promised to meet us back off the ferry on Saturday evening, all free of charge. And not charge us for leaving the van on the pitch overnight! Wonderful!
We caught the ferry with the two solo tent campers from the site, one walking and one on a bicycle. They were both just on Papay for the day, whereas we had booked a glamping pod for the night so we could stay over.
This island is only four miles long, so we walked up about half of that to the hostel, and dumped our heavy bags in the pod, had a welcome cup of coffee, then visited Knap of Howar before lunch. It was only half a mile away, down on the west cost of the island. Discovered early last century by two local landowners who were keen on archaeology, these two houses are now acknowledged to be the oldest houses in Europe. Both small and oval in shape, with an entrance door facing the sea, they have a connecting passage, and contain seats, grinding stones for making flour, and wall cupboards, all in stone. Awesome. I remember seeing them first about thirty years ago, on my first visit to this island.
We came back to the pod for lunch, then set off up the east coastal walk, coming back via the airport, where we saw the plane land, then take off on the world's shortest commercial flight over to Westray. My rough timing as we watched it was one minute three seconds from wheels up to wheels down over on Westray!
The passenger ship Hebridean Sky was anchored off Westray today, and it moved over to Papey in the afternoon. The hostel laid on beer and nibbles for the passengers, and when we got back we joined some of them and had a bit of a blether, and a free beer.
The pod is nice, a bit like an upturned boat, with two single beds, one easy chair, two picnic chairs and a table. For cooking, loo etc we have to use the hostel facilities, but it is nice and quiet in here, with a great view.
22 May 2017
After our brief one night stay in Stromness campsite, we headed back to James' house for a quiet weekend chilling out and catching up with our laundry. We also managed to do local walks, and clean out the van. On Sunday we barbecued a chicken in the Cobb, and it was delicious. On Tuesday 23rd May we will be off on another ferry, this time to Westray. So not much to report this time, except perhaps that the Orkney Trip 2017 photo gallery should now be accessible on this site. Do feel free to post comments below.
18 May 2017
Wednesday on Stronsay was devoted to a walk round part of the coast and visits to a seal hide and a bird hide, beside a small loch. The seal hide was just a hut with a couple of windows badly placed to see anything, let alone seals, of which there were none around anyway. The picture above is from our earlier walk, of dozens of seals alarmed at our approach diving into the water with all the panache of a triathlon. The bird hide was a well built item, which we found after a long trek along the edge of a ploughed field.
Unfortunately it was wrongly oriented for any decent sightings of birds, as the sun shone directly on the loch in front of the hide, blinding us completely. We gave up after sighting a possible shoveler female, and went to Whitehall village to check if there were any possible parking areas close by the public loos in the hostel. Every spot was overlooked by houses, so we decided just to stay at the community centre for our last night. We went into the little fish mart cafe and had a bacon roll and chips for lunch for a change. Then in the afternoon we drove up to the one peninsula we had not so far visited, parked and walked down to a pebbly beach to find a spot to sit for a while. It was difficult to find anywhere out of the wind, so we turned round and headed back to the community centre and set up for the night.
We have still not risked putting up the roof again since our experience of the first couple of nights on Orkney. As a result we have been warmer and the van has not rocked about quite so much in the wind, while we are parked.
Stronsay has so little provision for tourists that we reckon the local economy is doing very nicely thank you out of agriculture so it doesn't need the tourist pound. No campsite on this island, the hotel has a closed sign on it, there are hardly any b and bs, and we did not see any other campervans. Not only that, there didn't seem to be much going on for the 250 inhabitants of the island either, as the community centre stayed dark and empty all three nights we were there. No yoga, line dancing, amdram, youth club, nothing. Wouldn't happen in Ardfern!
One peculiarity is the monastery on the island just next to the ferry pier, with real monks, and mass said every morning in the small chapel near the pier. The other day when we were investigationg that part of the island, I stopped the van to let a man cycling towards us wearing a black soutane. As he drew level and my window was down he stopped, and asked 'Did you want to see me?' I didn't know how to say no without hurting his feelings, so just explained awkwardly that I stopped so as not to knock him off his bike. Somewhat relieved, he cycled on. It left me wondering about the life of a priest, always at the beck and call of the faithful, who always want something, advice or,whatever. Must be a difficult job.
On Thursday morning we were up early and in excellent weather got the ferry back to Kirkwall via Eday. We watched a number of vehicles reversing on to the ferry. Such fun! So unlike Calmac ferries, these Northlink ferries. Full of tractors, trailers, bits of agricultural machinery, trucks full of fertiliser. A really agricultural part of the world here, growing as far as we could see grass for feed and silage, for beef cattle and sheep.
Back on the mainland we drove first to Dounby to fill up with petrol again, then to Stromness where we had booked a hard standing pitch with electric. The campsite was packed, and another motorhome was attached to our electric outlet. Expletives deleted. This is a shambolic campsite, the management is hopeless and chaotic. Apparently the warden had okayed the motorhome pitching on our pitch, despite the fact he or she must have known it was booked. So we set up on the one next to it, and have prepared ourselves to repel boarders if necessary. Only one night!
As we were wild camping on Stronsay we could not use our fan heater, but for the first time this trip we did not feel we needed it. It is definitely getting warmer. We watched the Hamnavoe leave for her afternoon trip to Scrabster in perfect sunlight. Another lovely day.