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.
Stronsay, Star Island, or number five
16 May 2017
On our last day in Eday we cleared up, and popped the money in the honesty box for our three nights, electric power, use of the kitchen and television and room heaters, all at a bargain price.
We were about to set off when one of the hostel managers came out to the van and asked if we liked fish.
We said we did, expecting her to say something like she had caught a lot of mackerel and would we like a couple. No, what she said next was, would we like a whale vertebra. First thought was, whales are not fish. The second thought was, what? The third thought was, no way José. Even if we were into whale body parts, a small campervan is not the best place to store or carry one in. We would hve had to ditch something else big to make room for it. So we politely declined.
We headed off down island a bit too soon for the ferry, which was in the late afternoon. We tried a walk down to War Ness but the biting cold headwind drove us back. After a bit of dithering we decided just to head back for the hostel and chill out watching Bargain Hunt and the like on the tv, turn up the heater, and doze for an hour or two.
All went well, then we set off again and queued up for the ferry. We sat there trying to work out the logistics of a ro-ro ferry going to two different destinations, as ours would be. How did they organise vehicles going to two different places? We were soon to find out. In front of us in the queue was a BT van, and a car. When the hi-viz man beckoned, they roared on to the ferry no problem. Then he halted me, checked we were going to Stronsay not Kirkwall, and yes, you've guessed it, told me to turn round and reverse on.
Oh deep joy! I did a five point turn on the narrow pier, teetering over the briny the while, then reversed in the general direction of the entrance to the ferry linkspan. I couldn't see it for men in hi-viz jackets having a mothers'meeting directly in my path! Eventually they realised, and stood aside, and I reversed with some aplomb, I may suggest, until my back end was close to the back end of the BT van. Thumbs up.
Then it was off to island number five on our itinerary, Stronsay, named by the vikings as the star island, and a quick look at the map will show you why. This island could have been invented for good anchorages, in wide bays. It consists of a number of relatively flat peninsulas, connected in the middle. In its heyday it was the centre of the herring fishery in Orkney, and the little old village of Whitehall at the ferry terminal grew up in those days.
Stronsay does not have a campsite as such. Nowhere we can go and plug in our electric cable, essential on cold nights to run our small fan heater in the van. Ju had done some homework and phoned somebody to ask about this. Our second necessity is public toilets, and the only suggestion from the man Ju spoke to was the community centre. So when we landed we went there. Yes it had loos, yes they were open 24/7, but all the parking area round the building is on a slope. A slope is anathema to a camper van. Try sleeping with your feet higher than your head, or with the bed at such an angle that you are rolling to the other side all the time! Not good. For this eventuality we carry a couple of small handy ramps. We decided that one ramp under the offside rear wheel might do the trick, and made it so. Comfort!
We were set. We had a lovely steak dinner, and retired for the night.
In the morning I woke with the sun in my eyes. Amazing! It had sneaked in in the narrow gap between the curtain and the door. We got up, had breakfast, and got on the road so that by 8.40am we were setting off on one of the recommended walks in our little book of Orkney walks. Seven miles along the cliffs of Kirbuster or Kirbister, the signs were ambiguous.
Good weather followed us along thos amazing walk, where we saw a rock arch, hundreds of nesting fulmars, amazing geology, and wonderful vistas. We came upon the largest concentraton of seals in one place that i have ever seen, and when they saw us, they dived into the sea to escape from us. I took lots of photos of them. Once in the water, they stopped, turned round, and looked at us. I stood there for a moment and then sang to them. Seals love the sound of a human voice, apparently, so I did a long sort of howl, a couple of times. As we walked along what was now a low-level path at the top of the beach, we were amazed to see that some of the seals were now swimming along, keeping pace with us, amd watching our every move! Wow!
It was about then that we found what looked remarkably like the jawbone of a whale, lying by the side of the track. Photo ensued.
We had our picnic lunch sitting on a flatbed trailer, full of special grass fertiliser, which farmers here spread on their fields with mad abandon. Then we followed the rest of the dircetions in the walks book and staggered back to Reg.
We then got our breath back and set off to look at some of the rest of the island. We arrived at the airport, and I had the mad idea that we could possibly stay there overnight, as there is a loo beside the waiting room, open all the time. So we sat around for a while and talked to the airport staff who said it would be fine, but asked us to move from the spot we had chosen, because occasionally there are emergency ambulance flights and we might be in the way where we were.. sadly the spot we had picked was the only remotely flat one, and the other space was very sloping. So we gave up on that idea and headed back to the community centre. On the way our lovely day with sun and blue sky disappeared completely, and strong winds and torrential rain took over. We parked again at the community centre, with some difficulty, got out the ramps again, and found a reasonable pitch.
Later, after dinner, the wind dropped completely, and nice dry weather returnd. Orkney weather? A conundrum.