The day dawns clear, bright and looking very changeable. A relaxed start to the day nevertheless sees us shipshape and cleared from breakfast when a tap on the coach roof signals the arrival of our Harbourmaster for the day – Lyndsey. She watched us from home motorsailing in yesterday in perfect conditions, and she congratulates us on seeing Scapa Flow at its best. Stromness Marina is run very efficiently by friendly and knowledgable volunteers, and in no time our arrangements are clarified and we get lots of good advice on matters nautical and touristy.
Paul only has a couple of days left with us, so we plan a day to include the Neolithic stones and a look at Kirkwall while the weather lasts, and head for the bus stop at the marina. More friendly advice from bus driver Maureen see us furnished with weekly Megapasses and we head for Stenness, after only a short 10 minute delay at the stop while the intricacies of validating the new bus smart cards are refined between Maureen and the depot…… Other passengers seem mildly amused rather than grumpy at the delay, and we are beginning to like this place and its people a lot.
We’re dropped off at the cross roads we need rather than the village ( all part of the service!), and reach the tall majestic Stones of Stenness after a brisk 15 min walk.
A brief photo call later we head on over the narrow causeway between the salty Loch of Stenness and the freshwater Loch of Harray, and soon reach the Ring of Brodgar. This is impressively large, symmetrical and complete, and we spend some time studying the timeline display setting it at 3500BC within 1000 years of the first known human civilisations.
Just touching the stones takes us back over the millenia and we try to imagine the individuals whose lives these stones commanded…
The weather looks to be closing in, a 35 min very brisk walk back might just connect with the next hourly bus, and Skara Brae is still 4-5 miles away – so we head back and just make the bus for Kirkwall.
Coffee seems overdue by this time, so it’s off to Strynds tea shop round the corner from St Magnus cathedral. Here coffee is forgotten as excellent carrot and parsnip soup with Bere bannocks (a tasty dark flour soda bread) is on offer. After an all too short look at Kirkwall it’s time to head back to explore Stromness., which turns out to be a mixture of intriguing alleys and cottages…
…and a working port…
…with not many trees!
While the weather closes in a couple of hours fly pleasurably by in the museum. This very much focuses on the all aspects of the town’s past, including fishing, whaling, lighthouses, trade and the historic wrecks from the scuttling of the German Fleet after WW1. Perhaps the most riveting were exhibits from the expedition of the eminent explorer John Rae who completed the NorthWest Passage routeing in the mid 1800’s. A rubberised fabric ‘Airboat’ he used to ferry expedition members one at a time across icy cold rivers in Northern Canada (paddling bare handed with a tin plate!) looked uncomfortably similar to our Avon Redcrest – they must have been tough in those days. Recruiting posters for the Hudson Bay Company show just how international the outlook has been on Orkney for centuries.
Back to the centre of town to a good meal and evening in the Ferry Inn, only to receive a text from Alan, Skipper of Cordula who sailed in company with us yesterday, to say he’d made up and dropped off a rubberised-pipe fender plank for us. We weren’t able to contact him to join us in the pub, but the plank fits and works beautifully. We look forward to renewing our acquaintance with him in the near future, and remain very grateful for the friendliness and support of those we meet in this northern tip of the U.K.