Orkney islands tour
Kirkwall, Stromness, Skara Brae
Thursday September 18th
We got away from Thurso after 8, and made it to John O'Groats just
in time to buy tickets and board the Pentland Venture for the
9am departure. It was overcast but clear, with a light wind, and the
crossing across to South Ronaldsay was a pleasant 35 minutes. We saw lots
and lots of gannets, gulls, and skua, and possibly fulmar and razorbills.
The bus driver/guide was more into military history than birds. He also
had a terrible line in jokes, but fortunately only occasionally indulged
himself. We went across two of the Churchill Barriers, first to Burray
and then to the "Mainland". Built to stop German submarines after one got
past the blockships and sank the Royal Oak in 1939, the barriers have made
communications much better, but have also completely altered the tides.
one of the Churchill barriers
Forty minutes in Kirkwall gave us a chance to visit the lovely St Magnus
cathedral and the two ruined "palaces" (the Bishops' and the Earls').
Driving around Scapa Flow, our driver told us stories about the famous
ships that have sunk around Orkney -- most famously the Vanguard,
the Royal Oak, and the Hampshire. Diving in the Flow is
a popular attraction -- and the oil refinery in its middle is another
a big income generator.
We stopped in Stromness for lunch. There were guillemots swimming around
the wharf, which at first we thought were little auk. We bought
a beremeal bread loaf and a local cheese, then walked a kilometre along
the main road, which was just narrow enough to fit vehicles -- and we
explored some of the steep side streets, which were even narrower!
We ate lunch outside the museum, where we ended up having only ten
minutes or so to look at the exhibits before having to head back.
Then it was off to Skara Brae, which is the biggest tourist attraction on
the islands -- they claim it's the most visited tourist attraction in all
Scotland, in fact. This is a Neolithic village preserved by sand dunes,
which one can actually walk around, and touch the stone walls! There
are shelves, and sleeping areas, and fireplaces.
Wandering onto the beach, we saw a seal on some rocks. It gave us
the once over, swimming along the shore till it was just opposite us,
watching us for a while, then swimming back to its rocks.
Next: Orkney - standing stones, Italian chapel
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