No wonder I needed a rest!
Kirkwall has been good for that – four nights in the same B&B and a tiny island that has taken only 3/4 tank of petrol to go all around. Tomorrow night I stay in Stromness – overnight on the ferry before sailing back to the mainland the following morning.
I’ve had a car for 2 days – another Ford Ka … these are little more than a seat in an aliminium can but easy to drive if not the fastest vehicle on the road. That’s OK!
Driving on Orkney hasn’t been quite as pleasant as on Shetland. The roads don’t have as many passing places – and neither the locals nor the tourists are as friendly and considerate in using them. But they’re minor quibbles. The scenery isn’t quite as good as on Shetland – more lochs, less sea. That’s a matter of taste, of course, and just a bit to do with the shapes of the (main) islands: Shetland quite long with fingers of sea poking in everywhere; Orkney more round with the main roads doing a figure of 8 on West Mainland, the greater part of the island. I did see some pheasant, though not for the first time. And there seem to be quite a few cats skulking about in the grass on the Orkney roadside. And everyone knows that I think the only good cat is a dead cat!!
I’ve spent two days steeped in neolithic history. It’s mind-blowing standing in stone houses that are 5,000+ years old. Or crawling into a howe or walking in and around a broch or staring up at standing stones. Google: Skara Brae; Ring of Brodgar; Maeshowe; Broch of Gurness.
There’s also more recent history too: it’s hard to believe the British Navy used this quiet corner as a base, but it did. The Churchill Barriers were built to protect ships during WWII. A large part of the workforce for that project were Italian prisoners of war. It was very moving to visit the Italian Chapel that they also built at the time. It’s made of a couple of Nissan huts but inside decorated in the style of any old Italian church you might pop into.
In between those two periods came the vikings. St Magnus Cathedral is in some ways very similar to others of its time – same stonemasons as at Durham Cathedral apparently. But in many ways so different: a quite narrow nave and the sandstone is red.
All around Orkney, as on Shetland, dry stone walls everywhere. I’m reminded of the dry stone walls in the Western District of Victoria. Very different. No doubt there’s immense skill involved but the stones here are all flat so must be easier to place than all the odd shapes of the Victorian fences. There are also many, many stone houses, barns, churches, you name it. In all states of repair from a few haphazard stumps to well-maintained and inhabited dwellings. Some remain looking like stone houses. And you can tell that others have been modernised by the addition of the omnipresent pebbledash. Can’t say that’s my cup of tea!
It’s been good, but also expensive, to have some proper food at last. Not a lot of imagination with the vegetables but they’re fresh and tasty. You do wonder though at the popularity of chips. They were even standard with a roast – roast potatoes had to be consciously chosen if you didn’t want the fries! And there’s not much …. any!! …. evening cafe culture in Kirkwall. If you didn’t eat in a pub the alternative was a couple of dodgy fish & chip shops or a curry.
The theory is that a full English breakfast should set you up for the day so that you don’t actually need much for lunch or tea. Perhaps that works for some people! I had to give up pretty quickly …. it was all too much and didn’t do me all day either. So I’m now back to happily having muesli. That’s good and satisfying …. in a way that the continental breakfast certainly isn’t!
Reading: I’ve finished the Shopaholic series, and almost finished When we were bad, shortlisted for one of the major prizes. Next it will be the letters of the Mitford sisters – that will keep me going for a while! I’m about to send my 4th bundle of books home. I was totally ripped off in Italy but it’s perfectly reasonable in the UK. And worth it either way, not to have to carry the weight, even if it passes muster with the airlines.