Tuesday, 31 May 2022

Watch out, Orkney! I'm coming

The deed is done. I've booked the ferry that will take Fiona and myself over to Orkney from mainland Scotland on the morning of Wednesday 14th September, and bring me back later the same day. So I'm now committed to my day on Orkney - well 5+ hours actually! - and I'm eager to go.

It will be one of the highlights of a 36 night caravan tour that will take me to the north-eastern tip of Scotland. Orkney lies more northerly still. And way beyond, even further north, is Shetland. I can't take the caravan to Shetland yet - there are no suitable sites. But it's possible right now with Orkney. So I'm spying out the land, so to speak; and I may follow it up with a proper full week there in the future.

Those 36 nights will be expensive, bearing in mind the distance my diesel car Fiona will have to tow the caravan from Sussex, and the likely cost of fuel later this year. But it will all be a significant experience, the fruit of personal effort (and personal self-confidence, since I'll be travelling alone as usual). It won't be the first caravan holiday that follows my 70th birthday in July, but it will involve by far the most road distance. But I'll wear all my lucky rings and necklaces!

And now I'm adding some nautical distance too, plus a few hours of focused, well-planned driving on on Orkney itself. I can only do the main island; I certainly can't look at everything; but I am determined to visit several places that I've longed to see since my teens. 

As a minimum: the two (not very big) towns, Stromness and Kirkwall; the Pier Arts Centre at Stromness; the Cathedral at Kirkwall; several archaeological sites, such as the Standing Stones of Stenness, Maeshowe, Ring of Brodgar, and Skara Brae prehistoric village; and various sites connected with the wartime use of Scapa Flow as a a naval base, including the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm. I hope I will have time to pause and contemplate the sea, and some of the smaller islands offshore, such as Hoy, Eynhallow, and Rousay. The ship will pass very close the the famous Old Man of Hoy (a towering sandstone rock stack) - I'm crossing my fingers that it's still standing on 14th September, so that I can get some nice shots of it. 

This 'minimum' schedule, now that I list it, seems a lot to cram into the time available, especially as I'll need to get some lunch somewhere.  On the other hand, the main island of Orkney is a compact place, roughly the size of the Isle of Wight, and I expect to whizz around pretty well. I don't know about parking; but my guess is that only Stromness will present any difficulties. So I'll leave Stromness to last. 

It'll be a longish day. I'll be pitched at the Club site at Dunnet Bay, which I stayed at in 2019. I'll aim to get away at 7.00am. It's the A836 into Thurso, and then on to the nearby harbour at Scrabster. I had a butcher's at the set-up at Scrabster in April 2019. Here's a shot of Fiona there. The ferry terminal is in the distance.


The harbour is geared up to handling plenty of Orkney-bound traffic. The first ferry of the day (there are three daily sailings) leaves at 8.45am. I can join the boarding queue from 7.15am, and must be there by 8.15am. But I will be surprised if I don't get there as early as 7.30am. Hopefully I can have a decent cooked breakfast on the ship, once aboard. 

The sailing route heads due north across the Pentland Firth, and if I'm unlucky it will be a bit rough. But willy-nilly I will get my pictures of The Old Man of Hoy as we pass. And hopefully spectacular shots of the cliffs of Hoy. The ship arrives at the terminal at Stomness at 10.15am. I intend to head straight off on the A965 to the Stones of Stenness and the other prehistoric sites close by, then head for Skara Brae using the B9055 and B9056. Then I'll drive clockwise around the north-western coast to Finstown using the B9056 and A966, and eastwards into Kirkwall on the A965 to see the Cathedral and grab a bite to eat. Then I'll visit various points on Scapa Flow, initially heading south on the A961. Finally I'll return on the A964 to Stromness by mid-afternoon, where (if I still have time) I'll visit the Arts Centre if it's open. The ship sails for Scrabster at 4.45pm, but I can join the boarding queue at Stromness from 3.45pm, and must be there by 4.15pm. I'll then get fresh passing shots of the Old Man of Hoy, hopefully in mellow afternoon sunshine, and if I survive the rigours of the Pentland Firth, I'll be back at Scrabster at 6.15pm, and unlocking my caravan at 6.45pm. I'll be cooking by 7.00pm. 

As you can see, my programme is nicely doable. But I expect to sacrifice some of it, if time presses. I can't miss the boat!

And the cost? Ah, well, a bit more than I thought. £142.84 for the return fare. But then, I am taking the car, and doing that will make my time on Orkney so much more rewarding. And the car also doubles as somewhere warm and dry to retreat to if it rains, or if there's an excessively chilly wind. And I can pack something to eat and drink for lunch and take that along in the boot, if I want to pause for a while at some Orkney beach. 

And remember, I'll have my cameras with me. Both the 'new' Leica X Vario (LXV) and the elderly but still evergreen little Leica D-Lux 4. I will blitz Orkney - hence my warning in the title of this post. A lady with two Leicas is a lady to be reckoned with! And it's important to get a lot of good pictures. After all, Orkney is a long, long, tiring drive from Sussex and I may not be so keen on a second visit. Or perhaps the next expensive voyage in northern waters will have to be to Shetland. So I mean to make the most of my day out to Orkney. 

LXV is doing very well, by the way. I went down to Newhaven the other day, primarily to see the Fort (which I'd never visited before), and while there the Transmanche Dieppe-Newhaven ferry came in. Rather a bonus! I hadn't expected to see it. I got these shots with LXV from the Fort. I imagine the NorthLink ferry to Stromness will look similar from the viewpoint of Stromness residents, fearfully bracing themselves for my arrival! 

Click or tap on these to enlarge them, and see the detail more clearly.


The ship goes nose-first into the terminal, and has to back out, then turn around in the outer harbour,  before sailing back to Dieppe.

It's so nice to get - at last - reasonably high-resolution shots of the ferry as it comes into port. LXV has done well. I think we'll be at a similar distance from the Old Man of Hoy, and perhaps if the weather is kind I will get shots somewhat like this one, from the NorthLink website:


That's the ship I'll be on, according to my booking confirmation: the Hamnavoe. And rising from the sea like a chimney in the background, the Old Man of Hoy. 

1 comment:

  1. That's going to be a splendid adventure, Lucy, but one that I'm unlikely ever to do for myself. I therefore look forward to reading all about it next year.

    Angie x

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