Australia’s East Coast, 2011

This is the second episode of my Australia Travelogue. Part 1 can be found in last week’s post.

While we’d barely looked at Sydney we couldn’t delay the pick-up of the campervan for another day, so we escaped the cheerful grime of the backpacker hostel and went to fetch our wheeled home for the next 4 weeks.

The plan at this point was to motor up the East Coast from Sydney to Cairns, about 1500 miles. We allocated one week for this journey.

To begin with, the beaches and harbours where we stayed were very similar; wind and wave-swept stretches of coast, for the most part almost deserted except for an occasional walker. The character of the campsites differed from New Zealand’s in that they were larger, bleaker and less intimate. On the first night’s stop we were thrilled by the sight of moderately large lizards which loitered around the pathways and tracks with a studied nonchalence, looking like security personnel.

This was a long drive, punctuated by mainly overnight stops. En route we needed to shop and [of course] pick up beers and so on, using the ‘bottle shops’, since alcohol is not sold in supermarkets as it is in the UK.

As we motored north towards Queensland the landscape gradually altered. Towns were further apart and there were vast stretches of agricultural land where sugar cane is grown. We’d sometimes spot a goods train transporting the cane and these long, snaking vehicles seemed to stretch for ever across the flat fields. The coast was also changing, the beaches huge, the tidal range massive. Along the road we encountered land trains- gigantic lorries pulling a number of large trailers. The roadsides were sometimes fringed with eucalyptus trees and during my turns as a passenger, I was constantly scanning the trees for koalas, a pursuit which was never successful.

There were, however, encounters with wildlife in other areas, such as site showers, where we’d share an occasional shower with a cane toad or a lizard.

For some reason we had high expectations on the approach to Surfers Paradise, a large city south of Brisbane- maybe it was because we’d spent long hours on deserted roads or looking at miles of sugar cane fields and the idea of a surfers town appealed to us. I was thinking of our own Newquay, in Cornwall, UK- a surfer’s paradise for sure. But Surfer’s Paradise, Australia was not at all what we expected. It is a high rise conglomeration and no glimpse of surf greeted us as we drove through. A motor racing event was taking place, so all there was to see were stands and flags. We passed on through.

I was also in a fever of anticipation to see Brisbane, and indeed it did look wonderful as we drove along the river front, searching for somewhere to park the van so that we could explore the place. But here, we drew a blank. We could find nowhere at all to park our wagon and I had to be content with photographing what I could see from the windows. Ho hum. Perhaps we’ll make a return visit at some stage?

So we continued onwards and northwards…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Van Talk Again…

Continuing the history of Lessageing campervans…

Our current campervan, a Fiat Ducato, is now longer new- either in terms of age or miles, and of course in recent times there has been a veritable explosion of brand new, shiny motorhomes as people took to van trips instead of the cruises and villas they could not book. Acknowledging this, we like to call it a ‘Vandemic’, and the newbie owners, ‘Pan-vanners’ and although we’ve met and chatted to many who are new to this way of travel we harbour hopes that in due time they’ll go back to their package holidays and cruise liners, perhaps even leaving a plethora of slightly used travel wagons in their wake.

But before all this, and after our thrilling Italian Odyssey [previously described], Husband set to on another ambitious plan, to drive to the Peloponnese. This would be via France, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro and Albania. Thus far we’d camped in Croatia, but had gone no further than Dubrovnik, so it felt intrepid to be undertaking such a trip. I’ve described this adventure previously, episode by episode, but haven’t ever fully explained how a piece of independent travel like this can be.

Not all of the countries we crossed are as developed in terms of camp sites, roads, services and facilities as the more familiar ones. Not all of them were easy to insure for, either, as you can read next week! Croatia’s roads had improved a great deal since out first foray with a tent and the sites were more established and widespread. Montenegro, however, the tiny country between Croatia and Albania, provided more difficulty. We wanted to see Budva, hailed by the guide books as a kind of ‘mini-Dubrovnik’ but could find no sites or stopovers near to the town. I pursued the search, eventually, on a German travel website finding a possible place off a backstreet several roads away from the front.

Using the satnav coordinates we circled the supposed site, unitl I spotted what may have been a corner of a caravan roof, which we headed towards. Through a narrow gateway and up a rutted track, past a smouldering bonfire we came to a halt, the only sign of life a few heedless people further up inside the supposed ‘site’. I went to inspect what looked like a shower block, which turned out to have been one once, but leaves had blown in and it seemed disused. After a while a gentleman turned up on a moped; the owner, gesticulating and apologising. They were closed, but we could stay, which we did.

The old, walled town of Budva is interesting and historic, although it does not in any way compete with Dubrovnik. We went to look, then walked along the seafront, attractive enough, lined with restaurants and bars. We chose one and had a creditable meal, then returned to the strange, ‘closed’ campsite and spent the night there. Nothing untoward happened inside the locked site gates, despite misgivings over the security of the place.

We left in the morning and prepared ourselves for the next challenge, to cross into and over Albania…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsendis now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishingand many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook:(1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Van Talk 3.

This post follows on from last week’s, in which I described how we swapped a small campervan for a larger vehicle and began to see the benefits…

Now that we had a larger and more comfortable van we began to contemplate more adventurous travel. In 2017, Husband hatched an audacious plan to motor down through Italy to the very south, to Calabria, to cross by ferry to Sicily, to cross Sicily and get a ferry to Sardinia, from which we could get another ferry to Corsica, then a ferry hop to the French mainland at Nice. In the beginning, Malta was included in this schedule- that is until he learned the eye-watering cost of a ferry from Italy, upon which discovery the idea was aborted.

Of course we needed to allocate plenty of time for the trip, estimating around five weeks.

The travel down through France was all good until Lyons, where navigation became complicated, even with the SATNAV helping. I’d had some bad experiences in Lyons from student days, so these difficulties did nothing to endear the city to me. [I’m sure it’s beautiful and has many elements it its favour once you get to know it].

To cross the border we used the Frejus tunnel, easy but ridiculously overpriced. We looked at Turin, staying in a car park by a subway station. It is a grand old city, beautiful even in the rain, although we were nonplussed by the subway payment system and ended up not paying at all- for which I apologise!

Italy has its north/south divide; the north being relatively well off, the south less so. The north is also relatively civilised in terms of driving. As we progressed south, however, the rules of the road began to appear less assiduously followed. I was taking my turn on the motorway past Naples, attempting to overtake a lorry when the driver took exception and cut in front as we were about to enter a tunnel, a near-death experience which totally lost me my nerve.

The scenery, however, as we grew closer to the straits of Messina was sublime.

Then there was Villa San Giovanni, the town we’d embark from to get to Sicily; the town where we’d need to get tickets. Traffic in the town was unruly. We drove down a narrow street, searching for the ticket sales office, only to be met head on at full speed by various vehicles. There seemed no way to get on to the docks, resulting in our making repeated circulations of the town, only to end up back where we were, like Alice in the garden in ‘Through the Looking Glass’.

At last we pulled into a small car park and went on foot for tickets, helped by a passer-by, eventually driving on to a ferry for the short crossing to Sicily.

The relief, however was short-lived. Once on the other side, at Messina, the roads were worse than ever, cars double or triple parked anywhere as people pulled up abruptly with not a signal or a warning to be seen. Traffic lights seemed to have no significance whatsoever. I spent a good deal of time as a passenger with hands clamped over my eyes.

On reflection, it’s probably just as well we made this trip in our older van, although we’d failed to get our dodgy handbrake sorted before departure. There were some mishaps, such as the misplaced bollard in a Syracusa car park causing a nasty dent.

We visited Palermo, Sicily’s capital, by bus and I was grateful for the bus driver, who was used to dealing with the chaotic conditions at every junction, where mostly the traffic looked to be dancing some kind of vehicular hokey-cokey with everyone leaping into the middle together.

Looking back I wonder how we got away unscathed, although Husband declares that he loved it, relishing the gung-ho, wild west nature of it all. But after two weeks we went on to Sardinia, where we stood at a pedestrian crossing and marvelled when the cars stopped to let us cross…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsendis now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishingand many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook:(1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Van Talk 2

I’m sitting here in our current van, writing, feet up on the comfortable bench sofa- my default evening position, laptop across my legs.

This van is number three. In last week’s post I described how we came to become owners of our first van, a VW and how we modified it for our comfort and our needs.

If things had turned out differently we might still be using a VW van. I’m sure that were it not for me, Husband would certainly have stuck with VWs with their dinky, hip looks, iconic engine sound, compact size and a certain nippiness. It transpired, however that a chronic health condition I got diagnosed with in 2014 required more van comforts, such as a bathroom and toilet. For those curious enough to want to know here is a post from way back when I was terrorised by the disease: https://gracelessageing.com/2014/12/07/journey-to-the-centre-of-the-colon-a-gastric-odyssey-with-apologies-to-jules-verne/

In any case, the upshot of it all was that we branched out into unknown territory- a panel van. Again, it was an ebay purchase, a Citroen. This time Husband ventured up to Hull, in the north of England, to have a look at the vehicle. At home, I was obliged to rely on his judgement plus the ebay photos, which did portray a handsome, luxurious interior and- most importantly- a shower and toilet cubicle. Once more, this was a home-made conversion and once more, the van had barely been used since the work was done.

But there was one stunning difference. The van was perfect for us as it was; no need for expensive, corrective work or re-modelling. And besides having what was now a necessity- a shower plus loo cubicle- it had an oven below its three gas burners, two sumptuous sofas in the back and a TV! We’d never missed a TV in the VW van, but were not about to remove it. The bed, however did take a little longer than the ‘rock-n-roll’ bed in the VW, involving inserting a plank into the space between the sofas and turning the sofa cushions over. Once converted into a vast double bed it induced a supremely wonderful sleep with the added joy of waking to a view up and out of the skylight, which might reveal sky and stars, clouds or a glorious tree canopy.

The acquisition of the bigger van opened up a whole new angle on places to stay. Now we could be self-sufficient, no more reliance on campsites for showers and the rest. In Europe [although not in the UK] we’d be able to use ‘aires’. For the uninitiated, aires are places that motorhomes or campervans can park up for overnight stays for either a very modest charge or no charge at all. In France, especially, they are everywhere, towns and villages offering parking, waste disposal and water in a designated area. In most other European countries there are plenty of aires, too. We’ve stayed in the centre of beautiful Reims, where a short stroll takes you to any number of Champagne bars, beside any number of canals and rivers, overlooking rugged coastlines in Sicily- hundreds of great views and access to bars and restaurants if we want.

Of course we still use sites. We often spend long enough away to need laundry facilities and a few extra services. And we have our favourites, the ones we return to because of their position. So where did we go with our new van? Wait and see…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsendis now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishingand many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook:(1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Some Yarns and a Departure…

We’re about to leave Cunningsburgh. But before we do we’ll be taking a look at some traditional Shetland knitwear. We noticed a sign to ‘Barbara Isbister, Knitwear Designer’ on the way here and have promised ourselves something knitted to take home. It’s fun to bring something home from your travels. We’ve already purchased a beautiful, atmospheric lithograph of the Ring of Brodgar from Kirkwall on Orkney, although on this occasion we haven’t acquired any objects for the naff shelves. [See: ‘The Ghastly Gathering’].

We trundle round to Barbara’s house. It’s inauspicious, a small, semi-detached, pebble-dashed bungalow. We ring the bell, although the front door is open. Barbara invites us in. She’s a tall, mature lady. We walk through a living room and into what must be her work studio. This is a chaotic home, spools of yarn, half-knitted or completed woollen garments and knitting paraphernalia piled up on every available surface. Barbara is clearly an artist! We look through a rack and through knitted items on a table, selecting a traditional jumper for Husband and some hats for the grand-offspring.

We take our leave and head off to Lerwick, which we’ve left until this last day to explore. Parking is easy in the large, quayside car park. It’s a working port, more fishing boat than leisure. A jumble of shops and cafes ranges along the front, with more gift and knitwear stores than other towns, presumably catering for cruise ships, which I gather do stop here in non-pandemic times.

But today it’s quiet, as everywhere else and we can walk down the centre of the narrow, slabbed streets without worrying too much about traffic. Away from the centre, on the seafront street I search for Jimmy Perez’ house. I downloaded several Ann Cleeves books before we came and have seen a couple of the televised versions of her Shetland detective novels. There is nothing to indicate which grey, stone, waterside cottage is his- but then of course he isn’t real and is not deserving of a blue plaque. I narrow it down to two possibilities. Perhaps you, reader, can enlighten me?

We have lunch, then wander up to what was a fort and up around the back of town. Up behind the centre there are large, sprawling estates as well as Tesco- the largest supermarket we’ve seen since the Scottish mainland. There isn’t much more to Lerwick, although the couple of streets nearest the port are attractive and characterful.

Back at the car park we meet and chat with a young man who also has a van, one he’s meaning to convert. He’s moved to Shetland from Cambridge and his mother is a Shetlander. ‘How are the winters?’ I ask him and he shrugs. ‘People have hobbies’ he tells me. It’s hard to imagine the long, hard winter nights on a day like this.

Our ferry to Aberdeen leaves at 5pm and it’s with reluctance that we go to join the check-in queue further round at the ferry departure point. We’re waved on by a kilt-wearing, pony-tailed port worker then we’re rumbling up the ramp and into the ferry. As the ship departs there’s time for one more look at Shetland, bathed in afternoon sunshine, then we’re off back to the mainland and a long haul home.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Shetland. Sumburgh.

Having looked at the north of Shetland, we leave Deltings Marina at Brae and head south towards Sumburgh. We’ve booked to stay at the Sumburgh Hotel- not in a room, but in our van, hooked up to one of several points in their roomy car park.

On the way we get to drive across Sumburgh Airport runway, which would be unnerving were it not for warning lights on the road. We stop to look at a historic, bronze age encampment just beyond the runway, although due to closure we can only look from the fence.

Opposite the airport, and out of sight but not earshot, is a curving, white-sand beach with barely another soul on it. Today is warm and sunny and we opt for a couple of hours enjoying the weather and the view, which takes in Sumburgh Head, topped with a lighthouse. From time to time a plane or a helicopter glides across, otherwise it’s peaceful and pleasant.

We make our way to the Sumburgh Hotel, where we are to stay and given that there’s nobody around we park up and plug in. We’ve reserved a table for dinner. There’s a sudden invasion of flies and they’re everywhere, prompting us to close the van up and fight back with swats. Later they are also plaguing the hotel restaurant, for which the waiter apologises.

In the morning we take the van up towards the car park near the top of Sumburgh Head and find it packed with vehicles so we park further down and walk up the sloping path. There are fewer visitors than the jam-packed car park suggests so perhaps many are not willing to climb up to the lighthouse. But it is worth the effort. Peering over the low wall there is a sheer rock-face and far below, a large outcrop protruding from the waves, almost covered in chattering, squabbling razorbills.

We continue on up and through a gate, up to where there is a wall and a viewing platform. There are a few others standing on the platform or by the wall and they are all looking at the same thing. Husband gets to the wall first then turns and beckons me, grinning. I can just about see over the wall and I get to see what is attracting all the attention. In the sheer, rocky wall there are small crevices and ledges, and from the crevices Puffins are emerging to stand in the sunshine. We are close, although behind the wall. The Puffins stand around nonchalently, preening or simply gazing out to sea. It’s as if they’re paid to do shifts for the spectators. While they’re unperturbed by we humans, they quickly withdraw into their holes when gulls swoop a little low over them.

At last we tear ourselves away and go on to take a look at the views and the lighthouse. On the way back down, as we reach the Puffin spot we stop to chat to the RSPB man, who’s tasked with recruiting subscribers today. I agree to listen if he’ll take some publicity leaflets for The Conways at Earthsend: Amazon.co.uk: Deans, Jane: 9781784659615: Books, which he does! Over the wall a cheeky Puffin is nearer still, posing like a pro.

Next to the hotel is Jarlshof, an ancient site that has housed stone age, bronze age and Vikings in its time. It’s extensive and well preserved and we spend some time there before we leave.

Our stop for the night is at Cunningsburgh, halfway back to Lerwick, another small marina site but with outstanding kitchen and showers.It’s away from the village, which seems to be flung all over the place, but we’ve noticed a sign for ‘designer knitwear’ en route, so we’re planning to stop and take a look.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Shetland. Eshaness.

It’s a wrench to leave beautiful Unst and make our way back to Shetland, but we’ve lots more to see, so we return via the ferries, first to Yell. Slightly larger than Unst, Yell seems almost entirely to consist of peat bog, swathes of bog cotton decorating it and areas where it’s been cut and bagged ready for collection. I get a sense it’s even more sparsely populated than Unst although it may not be so. The aptly named ‘Midyell’, half way across the island looks to be the biggest community.

Then we take the ferry from Yell over to Shetland. We are headed to Brae and Deltings Marina, where we are booked in. Many of the Shetland island sites are at marinas, where there are electric hook-ups, showers and sometimes kitchen facilities, too. These services are shared with boat users, of which, of course there are many as on all islands.

Brae is quite a large village in Shetland terms, sprawling around a large bay, and even has a small co-op supermarket, something we haven’t seen for days! It is also home to an award-winning fish and chip restaurant, which is a pleasant find.

Above the marina building there’s a patch of grass where a few tents are pitched, housing a group of young girls who are clearly enjoying the start of their school holidays. They appear on the jetty in wet suits and proceed to leap into the harbour or push each other in, shrieking, climbing out and beginning again. After their dip they clamber up on to the quay and shower using the hosepipe. Later they wander down in pyjamas for an impromptu game of badminton. They are a lovely, uplifting sight as they enjoy the outdoors and each others’ company.

We set off towards the north of Shetland, travelling to the north west, where the landscape becomes wilder and more rugged than ever and when the coastline appears it’s spectacular and can rival any coastline in the world for views. On the way towards Eshaness Lighthouse we pass a cafe/campsite, perched high above the sea with a stunning outlook, although there is nothing else around except for the cafe.

Further along, out to sea there’s an amazing island with an archway that looks as if it’s suspended somehow, an unearthly sight. This is Dore Holm, looking like a horse drinking the sea, its neck stretching down into the waves.

At Eshaness there’s the remnants of an ancient volcano. We pull up by the lighthouse and walk down across the springy, peaty turf to a giant scar in the earth, a gorge with sheer rock walls and dark, oily sea at the bottom. It’s a haven for seabirds who’ve taken over every tiny ledge. Again, we’ve got this wild, beautiful place almost to ourselves. We walk around the end and to the cliff edge and I spot what looks very much like an ancient spear head, lying on the turf. Husband is convinced, although it seems unlikely. But I pick it up anyway, because we can always say that it is!!

Next week: Sumburgh and the Puffins!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Exploring Unst

We set out from our base at Gardiesfauld, to explore the tiny island of Unst, which lies at the northern end of the Shetland Islands. Typical of the islands, Unst has no motorways, no dual carriageways or major roads. Most routes are single track, with passing places [if you’re lucky!]. Having said this, traffic is sparse. Just short drive away from our site is Muness Castle, small but relatively intact, sitting in an imposing position above the sea. We can walk around the structure and it’s quiet, with only one other couple stopping to look.

Like the other islands, Unst is littered with abandoned, ruined, stone cottages and in a nearby cove these buildings are everywhere, although the sole inhabitants of the bay now are Shetland ponies, skittish when we approach. Contemporary homes on Shetland are less glamorous; low, pebble-dashed houses, presumably easier to insulate against unforgiving winter weather.

There is also, scattered around the landscape much evidence of early settlements, with many remains of Viking long houses and burial mounds.

On a trip up to the north of Unst- the north of the north- at Baltisound, we happen upon Bobby’s Bus Shelter, a place of pilgrimage for tourists. Situated on a corner, it is embellished with all manner of creature comforts- a chair with a cushion, a TV [not real] bookshelves complete with books. There is even a ‘bus shelter visitors book’. Outside, a house-shaped box contains eggs and home-baked items for sale. A customer to the box informs me the bus shelter is customised each year. Inside the box there is a plethora of delicious baked items, from cheese scones to lemon drizzle cake. I choose a pack of cinnamon muffins for us, although finding the correst cash for payment is tricky. Tucked inside with the bakes is a cash box, open, with the notes and coins that customers have left. I’m humbled by the honesty of the customers and the trust of the baker. The muffins are delicious!

Baltisound also seems to be home to Unst’s one and only bar, although it’s an unprepossessing building. Beyond Baltisound we happen upon a replica Viking ship and a replica long house, immaculate and beautiful…and deserted! We have it all to ourselves.

Then we are up at the very tip of Unst and it feels remote, although there are a few homes. From the beach, we wind up a narrow track and around a bend to a car park at Hermaness Nature Reserve, above a rocky semi-island with a couple of houses that must be holiday homes. There are skuas nesting here and I spot what I think is a Lapland bunting.

Here on the islands I feel I’ve been transported back to a previous era, to a time when communities were small, people knew each other. The shops are community shops, packed from floor to ceiling with essentials. The pace of life is slow, the outdoors a precious resource for work and leisure. Each village has a community hall, essential for socialising. No other part of the UK I’ve visited is like this now, like the UK of my childhood, the 50s.

Our time on lovely Unst is up, but we’ve much more to see yet as we return to Shetland itself…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Orkney to Shetland

It’s our last couple of days on Orkney and we move out to a newly opened, relaxing site overlooking Kirkwall Bay, where the island ferries come past all day and the big Northlink ship stops in the port opposite every evening. Once installed we pull out chairs for an hour or so in the warm sunshine.

The weather turns wet for a last afternoon and evening to while away in Kirkwall. We shop, lunch and go to visit the Orkney museum, which is free entry and has a small but lovely garden as well as a few interesting exhibits.

Later we make our way round to Hatston Port to wait for the Northlink ship to pick us up on its way from Aberdeen to Shetland, though not until 11.45pm. It’s still twilight when the ship arrives to collect us, along with a half a dozen other vehicles waiting. Once boarded we go straight to find our cabin as our arrival time to Lerwick is 7am.

The en suite cabin is cozy and comfortable, if a little stuffy, but sleep is, at best intermittent with the ship juddering, pitching and rolling on this blustery night. Neither of us is especially well rested when the tannoy announces our arrival to Lerwick. It is a rude awakening, rolling from the bowels of the ferry into a cold, drizzly morning at the ferry terminal and up and out into a bleak, unforgiving landscape of hills dotted with sheep. At this stage we’re only interested in catching up on sleep so we park up and get a nap. It’s an inauspicious start to our Shetland visit but by the time we rally and drive out to Sandness in the west and lunch overlooking tiny Papa Stour island the weather has improved and the rugged scenery seems to have an appeal of its own.

For our first night we’re staying at Skeld, again in the west of this skinny island. There’s a chilly wind and some drizzle as we descend to the small marina below the hills and it feels remote. There’s no internet or TV signal and the services are a complicated system of keys and coin-slots, although there’s water and hook-up.

Next day we’re off north towards our main destination of Unst, the most northerly part of the UK. It must be accessed via two ferries- one to Yell then a second to Yell’s miniscule sister island, Unst, just two miles long. The ferries run like clockwork, backwards and forwards all day, efficient and quick. As we traverse Yell the surroundings become even more barren- vast areas of peat bog, the peat cut and stacked in many places, or bagged up for collection. With time to spare before the next ferry we park by a small loch for lunch then we’re off across to Unst and to our site, at Gardiesfauld. It’s a youth hostel [currently closed] and camp site on a small bay, the few pitches overlooking the beach. It is charming, a few stone cottages fringing the beach and a soft light over the water. Out in the bay there are circular constructions for a fish farm.

Unst may lack size but there is a lot to explore and we are about to do it!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Orkney

Our ferry from Thurso to Orkney passes the island of Hoy, where the stunning stack of rock known as The Old Man of Hoy stands out from the cliff, looking surprisingly lifelike. Then we’re rounding the edge of the island and into the harbour at Stromness. The small harbour town fringes the circle of the bay and rises up the hillside behind, grey stone houses in a tangle of streets and steps.

Our site for the first night sits out on the entrance to the harbour. It’s a small site but in a great position. As each day winds down here, in midsummer the nights never get truly dark and it’s magical to see the daylit sky at 11pm or wake at 3am to light and birdsong. The weather is warm and bright and the sunsets beautiful.

Stromness’ narrow streets are paved with original slabs and while they aren’t pedestrianised, vehicles are few and far between. There is a collection of independent shops; no chain stores, no ‘Specsavers’ or ‘H&M’, rather some fusion second hand/handicraft stores and a few charity shops plus ‘The Rope Shop’.

We move on to Kirkwall, Orkney’s metropolis and administrative centre, where our site is in a convenient, central location.

Next day we are off to explore our area and to stumble upon plenty of interesting sights and places to visit. We lunch overlooking an island with a footpath causeway, flooded at high tide, a popular spot. There is a ruined palace, [The Earl’s Palace] at the tiny village, Birsay. We drive around the coast for more spectacular views in unbroken sunshine- not something we’d been expecting here. At home there is torrential rain and unseasonal low temperatures and it’s hard not to feel smug.

We make our way to the Ring of Brodgar, an ancient neolithic/ bronze age site. It’s a huge ring of standing stones, impressive as it stands on the hillside in splendid isolation. We’re lucky to be wandering around unimpeded by fellow sightseers, although there are a couple of ranger volunteers, desperate to impart their gems of knowledge.

Next day we set off for an exploration of the southern islands, Burray and South Ronaldsay, connected by road causeways. First to Mull Head, a nature reserve where a short path leads to The Gloup. A seacave collapsed and created a deep, rocky tunnel through which the sea can be glimpsed, a stunning sight. The sheer rock walls look man-made, pockets of thrift clinging and a meadow pippet strutting about, unconcerned by onlookers. On the cliff edge, fulmars are nesting and I watch while a male bird comes in to land and greet his partner with a series of cackles.

We drive down across a road causeway to look at the Italian Chapel, a tiny, exquisite church constructed from a Nissen Hut during the second world war by Italian Prisoners. It is beautifully maintained. As we inspect the painted ceiling and lanterns made from bully beef tins I try to imagine how it must have been for the Italians incarcerated here on Orkney. How different the winter must have seemed, the landscape and the culture!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook