“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Orkney Islands

Just spent the past weekend up north of Scotland in the Orkney islands. Simply fantastic! Such a mystically windswept and beautiful landscape with amazing stone circles and burial chambers and gorgeous culture and community.

Mum had wanted to go there for ages, and never thought she'd make it, but for various reasons, we all had time to go, so this was the first family trip in a long time. It was a bit of a mission to get there (Heathrow to Aberdeen, wait 2 hours, then on to Kirkwall in a dinky wee plane). Despite an unusually long heat wave in London, it began to rain soon after our arrival, but somehow seemed appropriate considering where the islands are located.

We based ourselves in Kirkwall at a friendly B&B, rented a car and drove everywhere. The first evening we drove across the various causeways (built by Italian prisoners of war during World War II) to the islands to the south, and watched the sun set over the Kirkwall harbor after a delicious meal of fresh fish and Orkney beef steaks (yum!).

The next day we managed to tour the entire "mainland". We began with mum's favorite, Mae's Howe, which is the most intact burial chamber of any neolithic group in all of Europe. Then we saw the Stromness Stone Circle (at least I think that's what it was called), and other relics of stone circles--we even passed farm houses with huge megaliths among their petunia gardens! What a showpiece.

We spent the afternoon walking across to this island at low tide. There were the remnants of a Viking village there (they also grafitied a lot of the ancient megalithic sculptures as well, but because they're the only ones out of Norway, they're still special). Being Britain, they were lovely and manicured and the grass was cut and all the walls were maintained, mapped and fully explained. What an orderly place. I wandered off onto the cliffs which were spectacular. I now know exactly what a gloup is (I've seen them before, but honestly couldn't have named it--do YOU know what it means?!?). I wished I'd brought my new 200 mm zoom lens (yes I have a fancy new camera now!) to take pictures of the bird life, but alas, it was back in London. I chased a particular bird all over the cliffs, thinking it was a puffin, but it turned out to be an oystercatcher or something else with a red beak. When I lay down in the grass trying to be unobtrusive, it circled me calling to its babies, telling them not to cheep I guess, so I walked away. I think that island was probably my favorite part of the trip, though all the rest was great. Mum loved the neolithic ruins of course, dad loved the fishing boats (and we now have a million pictures between us).

The next day we took the ferry across to Hoy--what an amazing island! It had one of the most beautiful hills/mountains that I've seen in a long time. We drove across this tiny little road to a gorgeous beach. Unfortunately The Old Man of Hoy was 3 hours walk away, which we didn't have time for, but I could've camped there despite the wind and freezing water.

We missed the museum, unfortunately, but saw some of the old buildings in town (Magnus Cathedral and the Earls Palace--now he seemed like a nasty guy!). More delicious food and another spectacular sunset!

1 comment:

Rama said...

Scotland is my favorite place in the whole world! Orkney beef steaks are fabulous, aren't they? :)