Friday, 6 July 2012

Marwick Head

In a previous post we looked at Orkney's west coast south of Skaill Bay, but what about that to the north?

To the north of Skaill, a rocky shore platform supports a line of low cliffs leading round the nose of Vestra Fiold, views south to the ever-present hills of Hoy. A dumpy seastack, homely compared to the intimidating fin of Galton Castle, sits just offshore, bonny sea thrift in the foreground.

Sea thrift:

Coming round the corner we came across a surprise at a narrow inlet: old fishing huts, with dug out hollows to take boats, and two winches. Investigation later revealed that these huts weren't as old as we guessed: they are just over 100 years old, used by fishermen who had previously used an improbably small gap in the rocks just to the north as their landing ground. The boat handling skills of old Orcadian fishermen was implicit in the exposed and narrow layout of their harbours.


I was looking forward to seeing the tidal pool in Marwick Bay, but the tide was too high and the bay completely filled in, only a difference in the pattern of the waves indicating a disruption on the seabed. We were surrounded by gulls and noisy oystercatchers, fertile brown earth freshly ploughed in one field, lambs gambolling behind a stone wall in another field. The green bowl of fields behind Marwick Bay swept up inland in lines of fencing, dotted with occasional crofts. To our left, the pebbly storm beach has been butressed by a head-height wall and we walked underneath this unusual construction to start up to Marwick Head itself, hoping to see some guillemots, razorbills and even puffins up closer.

Looking back on Marwick Bay:

Marwick Head is less immediately dramatic from the road than Yesnaby, but all this means is that coming upon the vertiginous cliffs is more of a surprise.

Marwick Head ledges:

With the tower on the cliff edge I was reminded of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, but only superficially: no tourists here hanging precariously on the edges, and more seabirds. A standing stone planted on the edge forms a superb vantage point for the cacaphony of birds on the cliff ledges. We lingered a long time, the sense of vertigo never quite going away, watching razorbills and puffins returning from fishing trips as the sun set across the ocean.

Marwick Head:

Marwick Head's monument is to a June 1916 shipwreck. HMS Hampshire was carrying Field Marshall Kitchener (who had served Britain in Omdurman, South Africa, and Ireland's Easter Uprising) from Scapa Flow to Archangel and a meeting with the Russian Tzar. With a storm brewing from the east and Kitchener a nervous seaman, the captain took the unusual step of sailing west out of Scapa Flow instead of east. The storm then swung round to blow from the west. This route wasn't used much, and HMS Hampshire hit a mine laid by a German U-boat. Most of those who survived the explosion were dashed against the cliffs of Marwick. There were very few survivors. The locals had been restrained by the army from going out to help, and they raised the monument a decade later from public subscription. Today the sea was benign. Hard to imagine this place on such a stormy summer day.

Head at sunset:

We lingered on, until it was going to be dark getting back. But it never quite gets dark in Orkney on a fine day like this in summer, and the temptation is to tarry all night, lulled by the gentle onshore breeze, splash of waves, and cries of the seabirds.

Orkney's west coast gloaming:


blueskyscotland said...

Best Place to be given the weather further south recently.The far north seems to have had its best spring for years.Almost drought conditions up the west coast in some areas.
Nice photos again.

Robert Craig said...

Aye, just a wee bit damp! Wouldn't fancy being at T in the Park right now (mind you I wouldn't fancy going at the best of times, mass camping, drunken neds and ladrock bands aren't my scene).