Northern (High) Lights

I’m writing this at home in Hampshire, on the second day of the Jubilee Bank Holiday. It’s pouring with rain, and chilly – more like October than June. I’m not complaining, though; the garden could do with watering, and it’s a great opportunity to catch-up on some blogging.

Rain: A great Bank Holiday tradition
Rain: A great Bank Holiday tradition

It’s difficult to believe that – just over a week ago – I was in Orkney, during some of the best weather in ages.

This is the same Orkney where the saying: “four seasons in one day” is popular. My mum is Orcadian and I’ve visited family on the islands twice before. The weather then was nothing like last week, and I was incredibly lucky to be there during a mini-heatwave.

Admittedly, I was fourteen the last time I visited, so it’s been – ahem – a while.

Welcome to Orkney

Kirkwall in the sunshine
Kirkwall in the sunshine

I travelled up on Wednesday and returned home the following Monday. I enjoy train and ferry travel, but didn’t have enough time, so I flew up instead.

The flight from Southampton was delayed and I only just made the connection in Edinburgh. Even so, I was in Kirkwall a mere five hours after leaving home.

Unfortunately the same can’t be said for my bag, which missed the connection altogether and was sent on to join me the next day. [Note to self: Next time, take some sort of jacket in hand luggage and don’t rely on just a short-sleeved shirt]

A blatant plug

One of the views from Berstane House, Orkney
A view out to sea from Berstane House

My accommodation was really excellent. For the price of a standard B&B on the mainland  I had a self-catering apartment all to myself. I wouldn’t normally blog about this sort of thing, but if you intend to visit Orkney then I highly recommend Berstane House. Relaxed and friendly, located in a small wood – yes, woodland in Orkney – and about 15 minutes walk from Kirkwall, it’s an absolute gem overlooking the sea.

Wednesday – provisions, memories & introductions

The thing about self-catering is that you need to have something with which to cater. I therefore walked in to town mid-evening to find provisions.

My last visit to Orkney was with my parents, and we stayed with my Great Uncle – my mum’s Uncle – Bill Sinclair. I don’t remember very much. One of my main memories of Bill was that his favourite food was lychees – he had dozens of tins stacked up in his walk-in larder. When Bill died the land was sold and the house pulled down. My mum tells me that Tesco is now where Bill’s house once stood.

I stocked up with food and began walking back to my apartment. About half way there, Sweyn Hunter tweeted an invitation go and meet him and some of the Island GovCampers at his house. It was great to meet Sweyn, John Fox, Jem Taylor, Kate Deans and Jenny Devlin, but I was shattered and didn’t stay for very long – just a drink and a chat. As I walked back at about 11pm I was amazed to find there was still easily enough light to see by.

Thursday – Exploring

A ship in Kirkwall Harbour
A ship in Kirkwall Harbour

Lack of luggage meant I didn’t have to spend time unpacking, and I was out exploring first thing on Thursday.

The weather was fabulous and I spent time in both of Orkney’s main towns: Kirkwall and Stromness; and managed to get some great walks by the sea and in the countryside.

I was delighted to find my rucksack waiting for me when I returned to my apartment, which was just as well as I was sorely in need of a shower and change of clothes after the day’s walking.

Friday – Tour by Public Transport

The woods at Berstane in fog
The woods at Berstane in fog

Friday started with thick fog, starkly contrasting with the previous day’s glorious sunshine. As I walked through the woods I could hear the crows in the trees, but could barely see them. I tweeted optimistically that mist in the morning is a good sign.

The tour by bus was both informative and hilarious. Sweyn and Fran Flett Holingrake had devised an excellent tour, complete with prompt cards and commentary (as part of an idea for a smartphone app). Visibility was so poor en route to Stromness that we had to imagine the attractions. It proved so popular that the other passengers on the bus joined in as well. There’s a wee snippet in the video clip below:

Fran then took us on a fascinating guided tour of Stromness, leading us up and down tiny alleys and sharing all sorts of tidbits of information.

Standing Stones of Stenness
Standing Stones of Stenness

I left the guided tour when we broke for lunch and raced back to the harbour to catch the next bus. I really wanted to see the Standing Stones of Stenness, and thought I could get there and back in time for the second part of the guided tour in the afternoon. As I walked from the main road to the Standing Stones the sun came out and the perfect weather returned.

Ring of Brodgar
Ring of Brodgar

I love being out in the open air, and I tweeted my apologies for the rest of the tour. Having made it to the Standing Stones, I could see the Ring of Brodgar beckoning in the distance, and decided to explore further on foot.

After the Ring of Brodgar I just carried on going, and walked round the perimeter of the Loch of Stenness, returning to the bus turning around five hours later.

Back at my apartment – having missed lunch, and with slightly sore feet – I made myself a huge omlette and watched TV. I lasted to the end of Have I got News for You, after which I expired, tired by happy.

Swans in flight at the Loch of Stenness
Swans in flight at the Loch of Stenness

In the second part of this post I will talk about Island Gov Camp and Northern BlueLight Camp, which took place over the weekend.

By Mark Braggins

Walking, usually with my two ex-racing greyhounds. Interested in lots of stuff. Work: Business Development and Research at Drawnalism