Thursday, 14 July 2016

Orkney holiday pt 2

David and the 40th birthday celebrations

Mary at Yesnaby

So picking up from where I left off in the first part: we are in Orkney on holiday, having run the inaugural St Magnus Marathon. Most of the stuff below is pics from the next week as we travelled about. But first there's a couple of things I forgot to mention about the marathon. In order to convert the marathon into July's Tynecastle Bronze run I had to add 4 miles and find a war memorial. (I had hoped to get in a couple of miles before the race but there wasn't time.) I jogged back over the last mile of the course taking photos of Mary and Angus and then when we were told the bus would leave in 30 minutes that gave me time to jog back along to the Birsay cemetery and check out the Commonwealth War Grave marker there. (I may do an Orkney war memorials page as I have got into the habit of recording war memorials and there were half a dozen we saw in Orkney.) I notched up another 3 miles but not wanting to hold up the bus, saved the last mile for a jog round Stromness before putting the feet up and filling a glass or 2. 

Also I forgot to mention my gelinjury. I ran with 4 gels and after consuming them I put the wappers back in the side pockets of my shorts. (No way I was littering this place.) The torn tops must have rubbed the skin off my thighs leaving small scratched gelinjuries which are still visible a week later. The only injury apart from a coloured toe nail or 2.

Old Man ahoy

I first visited Orkney around the mid 80s. Mostly Neil drove me about the islands, visiting places of interest, but I also had my bike and one place that made a huge impression on me was Yesnaby. Being close to Stromness I cycled there. Neil had said to look out for the castles. As I cycled warily along the cliff tops I was gobsmacked by the sea stacks and rugged cliffs. Although curiously there was no sign of castles. Later I realised the stacks were referred to locally as castles.

Mary drove us there this time and the weather was rather fine although I see we are wearing duvet jackets and hats so it can't have been as warm as it was to get later. 

Mary spent most of the walk saying BE CAREFUL and come away from the edge. Which was mostly unnecessary as we are both naturally cautious about long drops and death. Although me slightly less, and there is nothing worse than someone being too casual, too foolhardy as you watch, toes gripping the ground, legs tense. A while back I was on the edge of a big drop (may have even been the clifftops next to the Old Man of Hoy) and someone's dog was running and hopping up and down the rocks right at the edge and I had to leave; it was giving me the boak and I was expecting it to fall any moment, or worse, jump down a drop it would need rescued from. So I could understand why Mary was freaking as I neared the edges to get better photos. And that there was no way I'd be allowed to step onto the bridge of rock leading to the first stack. It was a tantalising proposition and while we were there a couple of dudes did just that for photos.

go on, you know you want to

down on all fours is best

This thin wobbly fence is the only thing discouraging the unwary from rushing over the cliff. I stood here for quite some time waiting for the gulls to sail past on the updraft which they were doing the whole time until I stood there. Mary was having palpitations just out of shot.

wonder what direction the wind is blowing?

I'm dreaming of being on holiday

a closer look at just what all that masonry is standing on

these 2 were doing photos on the bridge
note: no sensible wife present saying STOP THAT

Next up was the Kitchener Memorial. (Excellent website going into more detail here.) Him of the "your country needs you" poster. The moustached Lord went down with the Cruiser HMS Hampshire one hundred years ago when it struck a German mine. Neil had spoken of a new wall to recognise the 667 men on board of whom only 12 survived. But I wasn't paying attention until we got there and realised the scale of the thing. It is a bit of a hike up the hill to Marwick Head and I doubted the value - until we got there and was very impressed. 

You get no sense of the cliffs until you arrive there, then the updraft of guano stink wafts over the edge, along with the cackle of gulls and nesting birds. The bunnies are aware nobody will be running at them full tilt towards their clifftop burrows.

no puffins

this time the fulmars obliged, soaring on the updrafts right past the camera

Mary reckoned they will need to put in a few windows to make this a good holiday home.

the new wall
After some consideration it was felt appropriate to add ALL the names of those aboard the Hampshire to Kitchener's Memorial. The new wall is superbly well crafted and carved.

caterpillar in beak

the stone in Orkney is compensation for the shortage of trees and often used where wood might be more commonplace down south

magpie moth at Brodgar

next up: the Ring of Brodgar
I found this disappointing. I greatly enjoyed visiting this last time I was here but this time there were repairs going on and too many other visitors and it felt less remote now that a proper car park and walk-in have been developed. I suppose that is progress and once the protective fences come back down it may be possible to enjoy this again. There is a feeling as normal businesses struggle to survive austerity the tourism here is being ramped up and it is not always to the advantage of the tourist. In the late 80s Neil and I visited the tomb of the eagles and it was just a walk through a farmers field with the farmer saying look what I found. Now it is (not quite a Disney Ride but) a much more elaborate talk and tour that "if we rush you through it can be done in an hour". Mary and I declined and it wasn't just the £7.50 per head we thought could be better spent.

They are repairing/replacing the grass around the stones and putting in drainage. The ground is compressed and the grass balding. Afterwards it will be more like a golf course. And the bit they had done did look better. I have not included any wide views because half the circle was fenced off and spoiled the visuals. You can see some better photos and info here.

I seem to remember there was some consternation that someone recently had carved their initials into one of the stones here. There is now a sign asking that you don't! Although there are interesting carvings on most of the major stoneworks from Maeshowe to the Dwarfie Stane done by vandals sometime after the initial construction. If they are over a certain age they become part of the monument, part of the legend.

When we got back, Neil (on his Monday off) had retrieved 4 troot from Harray* Loch, much in the way we might go to a fish shop. (Website here for Orkney fishing info.) I meant to ask were they the only ones caught or did he continue until he had 4 of equal size suitable for the table. I watched them (all female) being gutted in the garden as did the local gulls. Neil opened their stomachs (for my benefit?) to reveal what they had had for their last suppers and it turned out to be in one case at least, fish. Albeit smaller ones. I will spare you the photos. The troot were delicious!

*And yes there is a ceramicist working out of Harray. What do you think his business name is? Yes it is.

mmm fishheads for dinner

Next up: camping trip to Hoy.
We had planned on bringing camping equipment but due to space in luggage could only carry a minimum. Didn't manage much more than our tent. Shona had offered a loan of stoves and sleeping bags so we set off on the Hoy ferry for a couple of days aiming to camp at Rackwick, one of Orkney's most well known beauty spots. Neil had spent his formative years camping there as had Mary and it would seem to be a favourite place for teens to escape for their first drinking trips. We carried the 2 Scapa Ales from the marathon but opted against carrying a stove (and meths and all that entails) feeling we might be able to survive on just cold food and drink. Mostly oatcakes and cheese and some sports bars out the ultra box.

David in his natural habitat

We arrived at the small ferry too early and were told to return 15 mins before 10am sail time. We went for a coffee and going in the door of the cafe I was delighted to bump into ex-PRCer David Edgar. (The bird enthusiast - did you get it right?)

When they heard I was off to Orkney a couple of folk had said "Oh look up David Edgar, he lives there." And although I knew they meant well it is a bit like when someone says "oh you're off to Kathmandu, look out for whassisname he's just on the edge of Durbar Square." And you're thinking yeah right. Then twice in a week we bump into David! First time in the cafe, just time for a quick hello before racing back to the ferry, second time for a natter in the street. He stays in Stromness and splits his time between there and Biggar(?) where he is developing his late mum's property. He is retired now and enjoys the relaxed local atmosphere and lack of stress. And looks very well on it. I don't remember him ever being so positive and buoyant. He has swapped running for walking and still has an interest in birds - it was himself that was talking about hen harriers and owls and the Sea Eagles on Hoy, and lack of puffins.

leaving Stromness


The water was very clear and clean. (And cold!)

Iain's sack on holiday.

only a short walk away but we didn't visit it this time

Davy Manson who came off his bike
and Andy Elder who succumbed to lung cancer

The bothy here has a toilet and running water but little else. We were a bit concerned about the not drinking water sign beside the tap and the similar one up at the less basic toilet half a mile up the road on the way in. After a look at the water and a sniff and a taste (delicious!) I scientifically concluded it was very drinkable despite the spoilsport signs. Faint worries were put to rest by the thought of an oatcake and poison water diet a bit like those overseas diets where you drink a sip of Ganges River water and lose 2 stone in a week. Somewhere between Bear Grylls and Ray Mears, and now I knew how to gut to fish we were set. As long as we were prepared to eat them raw.

check the lichen!

Rackwick is famous for its beach.
Although there is sand it was the beautiful boulders rounded by the action of the breakers, I remembered

We pitched the tent a bit back from the bothy on deep comfy grass near the river that snakes down the valley and out into the bay. There are photos of Mary and her 2 sisters playing near here and we took photos where we thought those photos were taken to see if the backgrounds matched. We slept really well in the tent both nights, although the food supplies went down quite quickly and it was difficult to tell if we were eating enough without main meals. I liked to imagine I was wasting away and would return to civilisation without the spare tyres. Sadly the poison water diet seemed to agree with me. Although....

The afternoon just became hotter and hotter. Everything was dazzling although I see we are still wearing duvet jackets. The tide was out and I liked the look of the water so got dressed in swimming kit. As soon as we put our toes in the water our minds were changed. It was Baltic. Must have been coming straight from Iceland - just bone achingly frozen! We tried going up to knees then out - wait for thaw, then in again. Nope no way. Didn't even take off the jacket. Your legs would feel abused by the icy water. Shame, as it looked idyllic. At least it seemed to ease off calves and Mary's sore feet, after the damage of the marathon.

We weren't sure if this (above) was the Old Man or just an arch of rock nearby. Both of us have seen the Old Man a couple of times and neither raised the idea of a visit. We felt a bit tired after the marathon and not very ambitious about sightseeing. Normally I'd be wanting to set off in search of the crashed aeroplanes in the nearby hills but I was enjoying just moseying about taking photos of the beach and boulders.

skeletor jellyfish head

toes top left for scale

perfect camping spot

swim plan B

The river, now that's bound to be warmer. And it was. But whether it was the marathon had robbed me of essential bravery and strength to get into the cold water or what, I don't know. But I chickened out after getting hip deep in the pretty stream. Mary wasn't keen either.

So we did the impossible and sunbathed in Orkney. My face already felt a bit toasted - from the marathon and from being down at the sea with all the reflected rays bouncing off the silvery water. Of course we didn't have any sun block. I put on a buff and pulled it over my face. I suspect it didn't work very well and soon my face felt like it was in an oven. I retreated indoors and put the buff in water and put that on my face but felt very weird for a while. The temperature in the tent was sauna-ish and I now felt feverish. Eventually the sun was turned down to gas mark 4 and I began to feel better. I think there were more oatcakes, some cereal and then an early night.

When we arrived we met David (the marathoner!) and 3 or 4 pals who were celebrating turning 40 or thereabouts by camping next to the Bothy for a couple of days as well. I think they had come by car and were able to carry more in the way of refreshments. We heard an occasional shout or laugh but they were considerate neighbours and not noisy. The peacefulness of Orkney - even in Stromness - was noticeable. No 1am drunks as they shout their way through Leith, past our flat. Just the bird calls and squawks of the gulls.

David's party

Next morning and after some cereal we ran back through the hills to the ferry terminal. Because there was a cafe that served coffee and Mary had forgotten to accommodate her caffeine addiction. We coffee'd up and even bought a bottle of water which we drank and then had the cafe fill with cold instant coffee (black no sugar) for Mary's breakfast the following day. We also found the (ladies) toilets at the pier (beside the information hut) had a tap labelled drinking water. We filled the reservoir in my running back pack which I had fortuitously brought and returned to Rackwick but this time by the road, to take in the Dwarfie Stane!

down to the pier (and the cafe)

"This large green mound, not far from the Candle of Snelsetter, contains an unusually large broch. There are two gloups nearby."

If it continues to decline in numbers they are going to have to drop the Common Blue's first name. I find them very pretty and equally difficult to photograph so was pleased when this one sat still for long enough, albeit upside down.

With tourist numbers for the Dwarfie Stane also in decline the tourist board have invested in Sea Eagles which have "been spotted nesting" in (says Neil) the Dwarfie Hamars above the Dwarfie Stane. To underline this the RSPB have a van parked at the Dwarfie Stane layby as a semi-permanent fixture. There is almost no truth to the rumour that an adventurous gent from the tourist board leaps off the Hamars in a sea eagle wingsuit twice a day to promote the popular visitor attraction. 

When we arrived coffee'd and watered who should also be looking out to the Hamars but David and his 40 year old gang. They told us the sea eagles had been spotted at Rackwick and we suspected they may well be in our tent wrestling open the pack of breaded ham. However there was still the Dwarfie Stane, always worth a wee run up for a chat with the Dwarfie. I seem to remember photoshopping an image of Mary squatting atop the Stane, distending her head until she looked like she might be a resident of said stone. A poignant image and if I didn't have a day job I'd get the old hard drive out and track it down.

Needless to say there were no Eagles. But David and pals came up the track and we blethered for a bit and Mary knew someone's sister and had probably seen one of the troop as a baby, brother of a friend and son of a teacher, as Mary is the daughter of one. It is both a hindrance and a boon that everyone knows everyone in a small community. 

inside the Dwarfie Stane

looking out

thanks to David for taking the photo

writing - read the link

chewing the fat

Again if I didn't have a day job I'd be photoshopping up a scene of eagles fighting Dwarfies with hammers and the like which was most of the conversation on the road back to Rackwick. That and the Hoy Half which we saw the mile markers and eventual start line for. Rumour has it, it is quite tough featuring a long drag up a long hill. But of course, it is Orkney.

not this time thanks

The sea Eagles had gone by the time we returned to Rackwick and hadn't managed the tricky corner on the breaded ham. Mary was keen to do another foot and leg immersion in the fridge-like waters but I kept my shoes on and just took photos. I was feeling a bit trashed - from the marathon but also the near heatstroke episode the day prior. We had the other finish line beer and then went back to the tent early, getting into sleeping bags not long after 6pm.

baked face on the right

We both slept well even though the forecast bad weather moved in rapidly. By 8pm the tent was dancing in the wind and by ten the rain was lashing and the wind was howling, flapping the tent like mad. I would have tied everything down extra firm if I had realised what the night would bring, but it is a good tent and I am fairly OCD about putting it up well and ship-shape in the first place. When we originally shopped for it the salesperson asked what it would mainly be used for and when we said camping in Scotland he led us away from the cheaper brands and told us we needed a (considerably more expensive) Hilleberg. And he was probably right. Certainly when the wind is rattling your canvas and the rain sounding like 4 power showers on full, it is reassuring to be in a well made tent. (Also the square section tent pegs are pretty good at opening beer bottle tops.)

Which is all very well until you need to pee. Mary and I swam in and out of consciousness unsure if the poison waters or sunstroke were fuelling nightmares while the atmospherics tried to tear down the tent. By this time we had two empty beer bottles but I suspected I needed more practice especially if there was a bottle changeover required. I thought about getting dressed in my waterproof jacket and then thought hell there is only one answer. I stepped out into the storm butt naked, took ten steps away from the tent and peed as quickly as I could. I was shivering and soaking as I clambered back in but we had a small dry towel and soon I was back in the sleeping bag marvelously, deliriously empty. I had also noticed there was a small lake (about 5" deep!)  forming in the porch area of the tent, so we pulled in the rucksacks and got all electronics into dry places around the inner. I quickly returned to a deep sleep. I actually really like camping.

Next morning and the rains had let up. We swooshed the lake off the porch. One of the few times I have regretted putting down the waterproof footprint groundsheet. It normally insulates the tent from ground damp but had collected gallons of water as it ran off the outer. The sandy soil drained quickly and would have been preferable. But nothing important got soaked or ruined so after a breakfast of flapjack we broke camp. 

Only... as I turned and knelt in the tent I felt the tent spin. I got up but as if I had sea-sickness the spins made me feel ghastly ill and I had to lay right back down. We had slept for about 12hrs, I can't still be tired? M and I had eaten identically and she was fine. Was it the poison waters? I got out the tent and moved about. Maybe it was just being so close to starvation? I ate a flapjack and felt better. No I didn't, I felt a rising horror and took ten steps away from the tent before doubling over and vomiting up the flapjack - which tasted exactly the same. This was no tipping out the excess drink one does from time to time this was a fist in my stomach and tears in my eyes and Mary reports I may have woken the slumbering 40 year olds with murderous howls and yelps. Well that's a nice breakfast scene.

It did make me feel better and I used the time to pack away the damp tent and put dry stuff in polybags the lot crammed into Iain's sack and off we go to walk back the road to the ferry. Only, I feel that terrible feeling again and stomp round knowing the Exorcist is about to be recast. I had only had a sip or 2 of water and wondered what might be coming up this time. A cup of yellow bile was the answer, and more random noises.

It took most of the 6 mile walk with a heavy rucksack before I regained my sunny composure. I was surprised I wasn't getting the light-headedness you get from lack of nutrition. Obviously the oatcake diet wasn't quite as Bear Grylls as I imagined. I hadn't risked any further breakfast, but as we got closer to the cafe a nice cup of sugary tea was becoming very inviting. 2 cups later I risked a scone and it arrived with butter and rhubarb jam which was outstanding. I threw caution to the wind and scoffed the lot hoping I wouldn't shame myself on the ferry on a flat clam sea. 

at last Graemsay Lighthouse, Hoy Sound High!

narrowly missed the big ferry

Back to Stromness and dull grey start turned sunny and pleasant. I put the tent up in the garden to dry and laid out the sleeping mats and hung up the sleeping bags. And took them all in before the next shower. 

It might have been later that afternoon we got an exclusive tour round the Pier Arts Centre, and the new extension, a fabulous new space that came about after many years of lottery funding application form filling. A great success for which Neil should be rightly proud although Shona maybe remembers the trials of this process more clearly. I really admire the Pier for exhibiting cutting edge contemporary art while also showing local crafts people and their more accessible skills. I am way more a fan of the latter. Much of the former goes under my head and I don't recognise the values that have replaced the ones I prefer in art: drawing skills, colour harmony, communication, beauty, etc. I pretend I am broad minded but in fact I am not and an awful lot of that modern art I find doesn't light my candle of snelsetter. 

So instead of something out the Pier (and there is much in their permanent collection I really do like) here is a painting by Shona. Holy shit a landscape!

Hoy Sound High again as seen on a watery run around the beach and graveyard again
(Hello Crieffers again!)

Friday evening and what could have been the emotional highlight of the trip for Mary! Karen and Gareth bought Smoogru, Orkney residence numero 2 for Mary and where she spent most of her young years; 12 miles out of Stromness surrounded by farmer's fields. Anyway, several owners later and school pals Karen and Gareth (also very sporting when not bringing up 4 boys and doing up large houses) bought this place and invited Mary (along with several other school pals) to come visit on Friday evening. 

I was hoping for a surprise surprise moment and floods of tears because all of reality tv demands floods of tears. However Mary is not as cheap as reality tv and although excited massively by the prospect did not drop her emotional drawers. Not even a little. She was more interested in the developments and reconstructions the intervening years and owners had wrought. Rooms where none existed before. A big conservatory out the back. A new front entrance. And the current owners doing quite a bit of make over as well. No shortage of diy stuff going on there! 

And they were also great hosts. Mary was driving so stayed sober. Me, not so much! In fact I had to have a cup of tea and slow down halfway through the evening just to keep the feet on the ground. It was well after midnight when we eventually left. Big thanks to Karen and Gareth for a great fun evening. I think Gareth is almost certainly going to sign up for Hoy Half next year. I think we all promised we would.

Mary, Karen, Gareth

stuff in the distance

The Italian Chapel. Well worth a visit. A little gem of unique and glorious history. Not a miracle as is sometimes the advertising, but a very fine work of art and faith under testing circumstances, and now available to visit. Probably the best £3 you'll spend in Orkney although if you raise that to £5 you'd be hard pushed to match a Rossini Burger from Leigh's van (see below).

Yes he's hiding his face because some low life recently nicked a couple of these 14-stations-of-the-cross carvings that were a later addition to the chapel. Honestly some folk. It generally is a place where locals leave their doors unlocked. But with the outside world encroaching the chapel is now manned and cctv-ed with an entry fee to cover this. Cover your face Jesus the world is full of scum bags.

STOP! I insisted Mary stop the car so I could take photos of this excellent barn. Just amazing art, if only they had stuff like this in galleries. (Shedboatshed doesn't come close.) I mentioned this to Shona and Neil and before I showed them the photos they knew the barn I was talking about and had admired it. Oh to be in the company of artists!

Highland Park, Kirkwall

art burger

I really don't think that other burger firm should be allowed to sponsor the euro football thing. Or the Olympics. And that goes for Coke and Carlsberg as well. Not that I could name one footballer. Remember when cigarette companies sponsored F1. Then sense prevailed. Same thing really. I was probably airing this when Shona reminded me I had a burger in Finstown. From Leigh's van. I know it looks a little small and white bready but it was sensational. Iced bun with squirty cream to follow. Wowee! Nearly had to run home to work off the e-numbers.

low cloud on Hoy, big wave in sea.

Last day final run.
Nearly done, thanks for hanging in there. Nearly taken as long as the holiday did. Out past the end of Stromness and up the hill. Had been wondering what the thing on the hill was: radar or monitoring station, probably linked to wave energy renewables thing. Very big in Orkney. Neil recommended the trails warning not to run over the cliffs and to watch out for Geos: long narrow steep sided clefts formed by erosion in coastal cliffs.

a geo


Mary sought to counter the erosion that slowly brought the line of the path to the cliff edge by suggesting (ordering) we take another line 50 yards inland.

trouble is you can't get the whole picture without approaching the edge

I only realised later that the top tower on the cliff is the Kitchener Memorial

We decided not to run round to Scara Brae but hit the road back at Yesnaby. No pavements so we quickly got onto a slower back road past another Hunter residency.

always worth a visit.

Hunter home number one at Kirbister.

how to discourage door to door salesmen

then it was tearful goodbyes (well, nearly) 
and we were off to catch the 11.20 flight and home for mid-afternoon.
What a fab holiday - big thanks to Neil and Shona for looking after us so well.

camera says this was taken at 2.37am

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