Sunday, May 16, 2010


[Maryanne]Orkney is made up of some 70 islands. I'm not sure how many are populated, and how many are tiny rocks barely exposed at high tide. Somewhat confusingly the main island that is home to the capital (Kirkwall) is called the Mainland. The flavour of Orkney is a little less Scottish that you may expect; it has a long association with Norway, and during WWII had a large population of Italian Prisoners of war, a significant number of which liked it so much they stayed (making Orkney on of the stranger places to get great ice cream!). We've seen more Norwegian boats here than British cruisers, many apparently visit for the duty free alcohol! Most traditional visitors come for the bird watching.

Kyle exploring an ancient burial tomb, and a swan sitting on its giant nest in Stronsay

Unlike the major cities and even smaller towns of the UK, the islands have had much less development during the 1900's, a loss of population, and the remaining population tends to move away from the countryside and into the smaller island towns, with a few remaining farmers hanging on out there. Given this the countryside remains relatively unscathed. Lots of ruins exist, from old crofter cottages, to ancient burial tombs. If these ruins have any protection at all, it is a small ring fence to stop the wandering sheep falling in to any holes. As you leave the main islands, the ruins are no longer presented as a tourist attraction, but are just there for you to discover and explore as you will!

[Kyle]We had a full day on Stronsay to have a look around. Summer appeared to be back, except that it was blowing so hard that anything not tied down disappeared downwind into a tiny point before we had time to grab at it. Never mind, the sky was blue and the low sub-arctic sun was shining.

We consulted our island map and decided to do the big nature hike loop on the other (south) side. The loop was supposed to be 6.5 miles total but it was about 4 miles from Footprint to the beginning along the islands roads. At every intersection, we would carefully get out our fluttering map, work as a team to get a hand on each corner, and decide where to go.

The nature walk first took us to the Bay of Housebay, where we were rewarded with a view of the relatively rare Grey seal (as opposed to the Common seal) doing what all of the animals around here seem to do, which is stop everything they are doing and just STARE at us as we went by. All of the cows along the way had been doing this in true bumpkin fashion and we were finding it a little disconcerting. As we got further and further from farmland, the density of seabird colonies also increased noticeably.

Plenty of birds at Lamb Head

We encountered a herd of sheep grazing on the shore at Lamb Head, another place name that seemed to have been given little thought. One side was smooth grassland, perfect for grazing; the other was steep cliffs, dotted with nesting gulls. We went through a gate in the fence and found another burial ground like Maeshow, but in a more advanced state of disrepair, mostly because the roof had caved in.

We also found one lone lamb that had somehow found itself on the wrong, dangerous side of the fence. We initially figure he’d find his way back in the way he got out, but the poor guy seemed to be having no luck. After a while, I couldn’t stop worrying about the guy and decided to herd him back through the gate Maryanne had opened for him.

Shepherding is hard. The lamb was terrified of me and kept running back and forth along the fence trying to escape me. Eventually, I had to out sprint him in the thick grass to get on the other side so that he would start running back toward the gate. I have a long way to go before I can saunter a hundred of them in the right direction with only the aid of a long stick.

Since our lamb was now reunited with its mother, Maryanne and I shut the gate and headed along the stunning cliff scenery. We startled thousands of birds along the way, who seemed to not see people too often, even though this was the main tourist walk on Stronsay.

Nesting birds on every possible safe place

Our cliff walk eventually terminated at the Vat of Kirbuster, a giant and beautiful natural arch in the rocks that made for a perfect spot to get off our feet and have a little picnic.

Vat of Kirbister - natural stone arch

On the way home, walking on the road past the farms, we spotted on lamb that seemed uncharacteristically unafraid of us. After a closer look, we realized he was caught with his head stuck in the fence. Maryanne went to free him. The poor guy squirmed and struggled like he thought she must be trying to strangle him. Maryanne managed to maintain her cool in the face of it and to get him free. He sprinted over to his mother for some comfort and a meal.

By the time we got back to Footprint, we were pretty tired and starting to limp, but feeling pretty amazed at the great day we had, and the stunning scenery (on a surprisingly sunny day).

Cliff scenery of Stronsay

Beaches too!

1 comment:

Mommy Dearest said...

This picture of you with TWO feet in the grave is a bit disconcerting, Kyle.