Finally two months into my trip I’m finally at the northern tip of the Highlands waiting for the Viking ship the Northlink company called Hamnavoe. Actually I drove onboard for the 1.5 hour trip from the unfortunately named Scrabster (Thurso) to Stromness, Orkney which is on the island they call the mainland.
I’m getting quite good at the roll-on roll-off ferries, this is my 4th or 5th one. We pull out on schedule but actually I don’t even notice when we move it is that calm. Our route takes us around to the best of the southenmost island Hoy and into the Scapa Flow a huge protected inlet that was a naval base in the WW2 and provides so rare protected waters in this rough part of the Atlantic/North sea.
Churchill used POW labour to link three of the islands together with a series of causeways in WW2, and reduce the escape routes presumably (there was a museum about this but war is not really my thing!) What was quaint was that a whole lot of Italian prisoners were shipped to Orkney; they didn’t know what had hit them but got permission to convert a couple of barracks into a church – which is still there today and flying the Italian flag.
So what is it like?
Well there are no trees and it is gently rolling countryside with a lot of livestock and stone walls and a few cliff faces and crashing waves. There are not many people, 12,000 on all the islands, mostly concentrated on a town called Kirkwell on the mainland. The locals do sound different from the Scots generally, a broad, sing-song type accent. There was ok internet – (after saying here was none on the website when I booked) I was a little disappointed not to be completely off the grid.
I wandered around all of this coast looking for puffins but they had just left for the year even in these northern parts. Haven’t seen a puffin yet, so will have to settle for a tea towel!
And finally in the centre of the island sitting in some farmland is the famous stone henge circle of Brodgar. Impressive at 104m diameter and prettily surrounded by purple heather at this time of year.