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Birdwatching in Orkney

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Orkney Museum St Magnus Cathedral


Stromness Museum Pier Arts Centre

Orkney May 2008

Jennie & I went on holiday to Orkney in May, & this is a summary of our visit.

Day 1 - Jen’s train was cancelled in York, as too many were booked on it! The replacement arrived in Edinburgh too late for our connection to Inverness, but her taxi arrived before my train which was delayed by a points failure! How gloriously British! We had a fantastic journey on up to Thurso in sunshine & with great views, so early travel mishaps were quickly forgotten! We spent the night at Sandra’s Backpackers Hostel which is located above a Fish & Chip shop. It seemed rather cramped, especially the kitchen, but was quite adequate if you arrive at 10pm & leave at 8am for the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness.

Old Man of Hoy from MV Hamnavoe
thumbnail of the Old Man of Hoy from MV Hamnavoe Stromness thumbnail Stromness thumbnail Off to Hoy thumb Off to Hoy thumb Reconstruction of House at Skara Brae thumb
thumbnail of the beach at Skara Brae The remains at Skara Brae The remains at Skara Brae The remains at Skara Brae The remains at Skara Brae Jennie at Skara Brae thumb

Day 2 -I went for an early morning walk along the sea front at Thurso, it was bright if rather breezy. We had a lovely trip across the Pentland Firth in the MV Hamnavoe. We had stunning views of Hoy, including ‘the Old Man’ on a sunny if slightly hazy morning. We took our bags to the Hamnavoe Hostel, the best hostel that we stayed in. Our host George was welcoming & pointed us in the direction of a bus to Skara Brae. We had a look around this neolithic settlement & then spent a glorious day walking back to Stromness along an ever changing coastline, & Jennie found lots of birds to admire along the way. We rounded off the day with tea at the Royal Hotel

Day 3 - The following day we had to move as the Hostel was booked up, & Jennie had booked us into the Standing Stones Hotel at Stenness, an inspired choice as it was within walking distance of 4 sites. Our host was very welcoming here too. We set off & visited the Standing Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, Barnhouse Neolithic Settlement and Maeshowe. The Ring of Brodgar & Maeshowe, being particularly stunning. The guide at Maeshowe gave a fantastic talk about the site, in fact it was more like a story telling, which really brought it to life, thanks Fran! Although the 4pm tour was fully booked when I turned up at 3.40pm, as I had walked to get there, I was squeezed in, & it was great to be accommodated as a non-car driver! The only downside to the day was having to walk along the busy Stromness to Kirkwall road to get there, with no proper path. We think that you should get on the case Orkney Islands Council!

Day 4 - Jen went to Maeshowe today, having been busy bird watching the previous afternoon. I had a lazy morning & we then spent the rest of the day in Kirkwall, some of it spent in the Reel, a cafe above a music shop, which is also a live music venue (although not when we were there!) It was a good place to hang out. We also paid a visit to the beautiful St Magnus Cathedral. We returned to the Standing Stones Hotel that night.

Day 5 - Today we moved to Kirkwall for a 3 night stay at the SYHA hostel. This was the most disappointing place we stayed. Rather run down, damp & cold, long beyond its sell by date. We were told there are plans to buy a property that's more centrally located, but that the council are holding out for more money. However, the hostel staff were very friendly & welcoming, especially Frank. Having arrived quite early, we went off in the late morning on a bus to see the Italian Chapel. We were put down in Burray with a view to walking back. We walked around the coast & across 2 of the Churchill Barriers to Lambsholm & the Italian Chapel. The Chapel is a wonderful place, a real tribute to the Italian PoWs that built it, as well as the enduring friendship it created between them and Orcadians. We then crossed the last Churchill Barrier back to Orkney Mainland, waiting for our bus back to Kirkwall at St Mary's not far from the part of of Scapa Flow where the Royal Oak was sunk by a German u-boat at the beginning of WW2.

Day 6 - Today we took a bus to Ophir stopping off at the Orkneyinga Saga Centre & Orphir Church, we then walked around the coast with Jennie birdwatching along the way. We'd both forgotten our bus timetables, so had a mad dash at the end to reach the road for when we thought the once 4 hourly bus would pass by!

Day 7 - We hired a car & travelled in style today, going first to Broch of Gurness before going onto the Brough of Birsay. The Brough of Birsay is a tidal island on the north west of West Mainland. It was settled both by the Picts & the Norse with much of the settlements still visible. We then found the Birsay Bay Tea Room which as well as good cakes had the added bonus of providing binoculars for bird watching. Last but by no maans least we visited Pam Farmer at her gallery & tea room Appies Tea Room and Photographic Studio for an early evening meal, & we also bought a variety of her lovely pictures, cards & bookmarks.

Day 8 - Jennie dropped me off in Kirkwall & set off for a days birdwatching, whilst I took a taxi to Kirkwall Airport & then a flight back to Edinburgh. Having left in glorious sunshine the previous Sunday, I arrived back to unremitting rain. But nothing could dampen my spirits after such a fantastic holiday!

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