Orkneyinga saga

Margaret happened to mention a bus trip to Orkney which she quite fancied but it was 8 nights away and it didn’t quite suit. We had been planning to take her (along with Switzerland which she thinks is a euphemism for being put down but we meant Interlaken and our favourite places) so I proposed a personal charabanc with appropriate accommodation and preferred eating arrangements. Before long we were booked on the ferry from Scrabster and had five nights at the wonderful Atlantis Lodges (Jane and I had stayed there and loved it). The only small blot was the need for a night in a B & B on the way back because of ferry times but I found something half suitable in Golspie. I booked cat lady for their majesties and drove through to Glasgow so we could make an early start the following morning. We had a glorious run up the west side through Glencoe with lunch at Nevisport in Fort William, just as Jane would have wanted. The ferry crossing was calm with the usual spectacular views of the Old Man of Hoy; one and all delighted. Within half an hour of our arrival in Stromness we were pulling in to the car park in Finstown. Although I had stayed at the lodges before it was always downstairs with one bedroom and not the upstairs version with two bedrooms and the even more spectacular views across the bay; big skies, sea, a wee island and rolling hills.

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 We had grand time starting with a visit to Kirkwall, stopping on the way for some fishy essentials from Jolly’s (a partan (crab to Sassenachs) for me and smoked trout for M) with lunch in Judith Glue’s excellent cafe, then across the Churchill Barriers to the Italian Chapel. It was the first time Margaret had been in a Catholic place  so it was good that for once my convent schooling was useful and I was able to outline some of the features of such establishments. Then further south to the cliffs at Ronaldsay and a windy walk among the thrift. The next day we did most of the neolithic monuments: Ring of Brodgar, Maes Howe, Skara Brae and the less ancient Skaill House. Lunch was delicious at the recently opened Orkney Brewery cafe housed in the old school. Back to Kirkwall on the Saturday for the Earls and Bishops Palaces, and then a lunchtime concert of Scottish music played by local students in St Magnus Cathedral. In the afternoon we visited the Broch of Gurness.

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Sunday was our last full day and I was slightly concerned it might be just like the Highlands, nowhere open and somewhere short of a warm welcome but not in Scandi Orkney. A bracing walk along the cliffs at Yesnaby (always open) but a very noticeable reduction in seabird numbers from previous visits. The climate is also apparently two degrees cooler on average and so less grain is grown but there are more beef cattle. Lunch at the brewery with a tiny pint for me (that’s a third so no issue driving) and then another walk across the Brough of Birsay. Margaret sleeping and eating well – never a dull moment with me. For our last day I dawdled us to the ferry via Kirkwall (picnic tea for the ferry from Jolly’s) taking time to see Scapa Flow and then Stromness. After another smooth crossing, a forgettable night in Golspie (never, ever serve instant coffee for breakfast), it was full steam to Glasgow but then of course we had to stop at Bruar. But after a quick sortie around Sainsbury’s and M reinstated, I was home by 4pm. Enough time for the cats to have a quick run around the garden before the three of us had a good night’s sleep in a proper wide bed.

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