The Itinerary

The Itinerary

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

May 10 - Orkney Islands

Sunday, May 10, Day 96 - Orkney Islands 

This is our last full day here and the weather is forecast to get worse as the day goes on so after our usual late breakfast, or early as Carolyn sees eating at 9AM, we gather our picnic lunch, Jack and Tas and our map and head out to explore the coast road of the the East and West Mainland Island. We are staying on Burray and to get to the Mainland Island we have to cross what are known as "The Churchill Barriers." We mentioned these in the blog for May 8th. We had noticed on our previous crossings signs that said, "Drivers Cross at Their Own Risk." Now why would they need to put up signs like that we wonder?

At breakfast we have the chance to ask our hostess this question and she explains that when the wind is right the waves break over the barriers and have been known to break out the glass and even flatten the roofs of cars. This happens several times every year. She also said YouTube has videos of the waves and we watched several but the people taking them are the survivors and not the ones hit by the big waves so all we really see is heavy spray that would blind a driver but we are not sure any of the YouTube waves would break glass or crush a roof.

This is not a day for those kind of waves although the wind is kicking up and it is spitting rain by the time we are on the road. We have to cross the barriers, of course, and this morning the tide is out really exposing the ships. On into Kirkwall, the center of all activity on this island, to find the A964 to Orphir and then the A965 into Stromness. We drive the very narrow, seaside street in Stromness and see a sign marking a spring/well used to water ships, some of them quite famous, in the days of sail. The well was closed up in 1931. We drive the very narrow streets and check out some old stone houses and walls.

Up and out of Stromness on the A967 past Skara Brae and we take the road out to Kitchener's Memorial to see how far we can go. It stops at the base of the hill, but there is an information sign and a gun that was salvaged from the ship. We also see some very cold, wet lambs!   

Then past more neat rock walls and stone houses on up to Birsay where we explore the ruins of the "Earl’s Palace" in gale force winds and rain. What we won’t do for photos!! We also get to go into St. Magnus Church, originally built c1064. There are some red sandstone blocks lying at the end of the church that are from the original Christ’s Kirk of that time. It has been used continuously as a place of worship for over 900 years. The current church building dates from 1760 with several additions and renovations.

From here we continue on the A967 north, east and south around the north coast of the island. We stop in Evie for another picnic in the car.

Then we continue on back into Kirkwall where we want to see the St. Magnus Cathedral and the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace across the street. The cathedral was founded in 1137 and since the Scottish Reformation, in 1560, it has been used for Protestant worship. This is a great medieval church. Even Dick thinks it is magnificent inside and we spend quite awhile just walking around reading the old grave stones and marveling at the craftsmanship. One headstone from the mid 1700s catches Dick’s eye with its inscription saying, "She lived well regarded and died much regretted."

It is still spitting rain and blowing hard and we are getting a little chilled walking around so we head on back to our hotel. Dick adjourns to the bar for a pint with the owner and two regulars. He understands about 60% of what is said as the regular’s Scottish burr is so strong that they are hard to comprehend. Dick does know they talked about cars and a bar/restaurant that has reopened somewhere nearby but they don’t think the man running it has the right attitude to make a go of it. At least, that is what Dick thinks they have talked about; he mostly listened.

We decided last night to have dinner in the hotel restaurant tonight and they have a table for us at 7:30PM. The place is packed when we walk in and there are only four tables with people at them by 7:45! We don’t think it was something we said.  It just seems these people eat early even when the sun is going to be up for another few hours.

Carolyn has fish and chips and Dick has a smoked fish soup (much like potato soup with smoked fish) and a roast beef plate. We are both hungry and we eat in relative silence until our plates are clean. This costs us 30GBP or $51US. Expensive but not as high as some of our recent meals.

Back to the room where we are going to try to get the blog posted through today; or at least Carolyn is going to try. She is the keeper of the pictures and Dick’s job is done as he finishes this sentence.

Even with the cold, wind and rain today, we have had a great time and wish we had at least one more on Orkney, but tomorrow it is on to the isle of Skye.

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