Sunday, 25 July 2010

Consider Orkney

I knackered my knee recently and have been unable to do much in the way of walking or cycling - and definitely not hillwalking or other sweaty sports. Our two-week cycling holiday wasn't going to happen. Where could we go? I fancied somewhere quiet where I could still do some small bimbly walks, Colonsay, Coll, Eigg. But ten days of visiting the same beach might get boring. It had to be somewhere with things to do. Somewhere quiet, with things to do? The answer arrived in a blinding flash of inspiration. Orkney!

Typical Orkney landscape:

Spectacular historic ruins? Lots of wildlife? Quiet roads for cycling? Good beach and cliff walks? Great produce? Friendly locals? Orkney has everything you might want from a Scottish holiday except big hills: but carrying an injury, this hardly mattered. On the plus side - and if you have ever been affected badly by them it is a big plus - Orkney has no midges. And though it's windy, the rainfall is more east coast than west coast.

Old Man of Hoy:

We arrived on Orkney to be faced with a puzzle. The old Orkney flag, a red Nordic cross on a yellow background, had gone. Instead the flag of Norway appeared all over the place - but on closer inspection, this Norweigan flag had yellow instead of white surrounding the cross:

Flag of Orkney:

I asked someone about it. "It's the flag of Orkney," she said. What about the old flag, I asked, the yellow and red one? She'd never heard of such a flag. A miniature mystery.

Gastrophiles are well-catered for from Orkney produce. We ate local cheese and eggs, local beef, local salmon and scallops, North Ronaldsay lamb (raised on the diet of seaweed, the meat is gameyer than normal), drank local beer and fruit wine.

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall - one of the best examples of a medieaval Norwegian church:

A large part of the Orkney mainland is a UNESCO world heritage site. This is centred on a well-preserved Stone Age tomb called Maes Howe, a recently uncovered Stone Age village called Skara Brae, and one of the best stone circles in Britain, the Ring of Brodgar.

Skara Brae:

Ring of Brodgar:

Stones of Stenness:

Tourists arrive on cruise liners and on tour buses from Inverness for daytrips around the 'big three' of Maes Howe, Skara Brae, and Ring of Brodgar, with the WWII Italian Chapel thrown in as a bonus. I must confess that we did not visit these sites on this holiday as there is so much more to Orkney than UNESCO: and I'll discuss that in the next post.

In the evenings, it was easy to forget how late it was with the long hours of daylight. I fancied a drive up Wideford Hill for a view of dawn, but settled for a stroll along the beach at 1am.

Simmer Dim:


blueskyscotland said...

Cracking pictures indeed Robert.
That`s the thing about never run out of places to go to :)

Rhiannon Paine said...

Thanks for this post and the gorgeous photos. I just visited Orkney for the second time and fell in love with it all over again. I'm now back in California and reading George Mackay Brown's "Letters from Hamnavoe." Hope you recover from your injuries soon.