Thursday, 21 June 2012

Skaill Bay to Stromness - Part 1

For a while I've fancied walking the west coast of Orkney. Miles of seacliffs, beautiful bays and iconic seastacks tempted, and after a previous recce it struck me that the entire west coast of Orkney - from Noup Head in Westray to the south side of Hoy - is worth traversing. To start with, I decided to walk the heart of this area - a fine day's tramp from Skaill Bay to Stromness.

The walk started at Skaill Bay. This beach is overlooked by world-famous UNESCO heritage site Skara Brae, hoaching with visitors thanks to a visiting cruise boat in Kirkwall bay. Yet not one person at Skara Brae crossed the low fence and scrambled down the bank to the sands. On the finest day of the year so far this superlative beach remained deserted.

Skaill Bay:

Across the bay oystercatchers roamed the fields and bi-ghlic'ed at our approach. The views opened up north to Marwick Head and south as far as the Old Man of Hoy. Succession after succession of magnificent seacliffs. Occasional geos cleaved the coast, display galleries for cliff-hugging fulmars.

Ramna Geo:

In this area one of the world's rarer plants can be found - primula scotica, which grows only on a couple of headlands in Orkney and Caithness. We didn't see it on this walk, but did on a return visit! A colourful and tiny flower, it must be tough, thriving on the edge of a hostile sea. I can't believe how pleased I was to see this, given its beauty and rarity. The edge of the lowish cliffs here are crumbling, assaulted, naked rock, with the tough grass, growing inland out of the range of the storm waves, littered with the remains of boulders broken from the cliff edge or heaved up from the sea.

Primula Scotica:

At the Broch of Borwick we saw our first people since Skara Brae. This secluded iron-age ruin sits tucked in a bay above a difficult landing site, the arc of its sea view narrowed by more prominent headlands on either side. Not a good site for a watch tower. But perhaps this was no watch tower? Then what was its function?

Broch of Borwick:

This walk was so awesome I have had to divide into two posts. Click here for part 2 of the walk...

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