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