Up at the crack of dawn this morning, or rather what would have been the crack of dawn if we were further south, but here the sun had been up for an hour before we were. It was a lovely, cheery sunny morning, if you don’t count the showers happening all around.
On which note, that is quite a novelty of the Orkney landscape; you can see showers stalking the horizon in almost any direction you look. (In contrast to the normal Scottish landscape, where there is invariably a hill blocking out one, or two, or often three sides of the view. I mean, forming, not blocking out.) Some body of water or other too is often clearly visible from about anywhere hereabouts (I originally said ‘the sea’, but the G Monster’s mate pointed out that often they are lakes). It’s that low and flat and rolling and green that the horizon is usually further off than I’m used to, and it is not in any way like Skyrim at all. (I had deliberately refrained from investigating what it was going to look like before we came, just stuck every prehistoric monument I could scare up on a google map). I’d even say it doesn’t look so much like the rest of Scotland. Tow this archipelago into the Med and you would have a certified paradise!
Although, maybe you wouldn’t need to. There are plenty more trees than I had been lead to believe, and most of them deciduous, not conifers. Almost every house seems to have a big hedge and a row of them as a windbreak, which is just like home, really, but there are also wild fuschias and rhubarb growing along the side of the road, along with red poppies (which will be about another month coming along, back home) and clumps of rhubarb. Bleak and barren, it is not. Yeah, if it looked like this 5,000 years ago, I can see why the Neolithic peeps were all, wahey!
Anyway, we roared off to the ferry terminal in Houton (well, the ferry terminal seems to be Houton, much like Tingwall, which I innocently expected to be a village, is a jetty with an office atop it) to see if we were early enough to book the car over. The original plan was we could take the passenger ferry from Stromness, cycle to the start of the Old Man of Hoy walk, walk for three hours and then cycle back, but the G Monster pointed out that the hash I’d made of cycling on Rousay put the idea of making it back for the last crossing in significant jeopardy. Fair enough.
We were not, however, early enough to get the car booked for the ferries back, so we made a reservation for another day and went to find a coffee and plan something else.
The nearest coffee turned out to be in Stromness, which was sitting looking all pretty in the sunlight on the other side of the bay, so we went there, and indeed it is worth a look. I was expecting the ‘standard’ Scottish coastal village – the road goes along the promenade at the front and the backroads stretch up among the houses beyond, but this turned out to be a bit different – the houses all have slipways or walls going straight down into the sea, and the main road is a flag-stoned, windy thing behind them that looks more like something you might find in York or some other town that’s still all Medievally in the middle. Was I ever glad I was not the one trying to navigate it. It was all very picturesque though, and lots of people had little plant-pots of colourful flowers sat out in the street. (First, I noticed they had all the same species. Then I noticed they were all plastic. Ah well. It added something anyway).
In Ell’s Coffee, the wee lassie behind the counter made conversation about how bitterly cold the wind was and how she had been woken up by hailstones (this on the most summery of days we had experienced yet). However, I was Prepared for this, this time around, having learned from Rousay the other day and worn pretty much all the clothes I had brought. I roasted later on, it is true, but that was better than shivering.
The G Monster found a coastal walk that promised to have standing stones, chambered cairns (not opened) and a broch, so off we went. It was a glorious day with the sea sparkling away, Hoy sitting like a louring lump to our left (Hoy looks more like ‘classic’ Scotland – steep and heathery. It’s apparently on a different and harder kind of rock) and the wind blowing hard in our faces. Sadly it blew over the rocky beach first, bearing a stench as if something huge had crawled out of the water, taken the most gigantic crap and then possibly expired beside it, but the source was just bladderwrack seaweed. I must look up why it stinks so. What was far more cheering was watching a large rain-cloud head over to Hoy and dump its contents all over it, while we remained dry.
We found the standing stones, in a field, we found some cairns up behind the field (a lot of them are near farmhouses, you can play ‘modern midden, or priceless archaeological site?’ all day) and we found an impressive ruined house on the headland, where the broch was meant to be. The G Monster eventually spotted the remains of the broch – some piled stones, looking a bit like part of the cliff, that used to form the leeward wall. The rest of it is already in the sea, and the base of the sandstone cliff under the ruined house is looking a bit undercut too, so if anyone desperately wants to see the remains of this broch (it’s possible!) I would go soon.
The Ferry Inn did us a fab lunch, if a bit dear. For some reason, they told the couple of people in front of us that they did not have a spare table for lunch, and then whisked us straight off to one, which was a bit of good fortune but also utterly mortifying. We will pay for this later, I muttered. Plus, I laughed at Hoy getting the rain when we didn’t, so we will probably pay for that too.
But it remained dry as we drove back through Stenness, which is where most of the Neolithic structures are clustered. I really do mean clustered, they were popping up one after another like whack-a-mole. Which… is pretty much like Skyrim after all.
Back at the apartment I asked the owner about his polytunnel and got a potted life history as well as plenty of advice. Fair play, these peeps have been here their whole lives and have been mightily industrious the entire time. I also met a man buying marine supplies. ‘What a terrible cold wind it is!’ he said. Since this was the second person who had commented on it just today, I asked if it wasn’t always like that though, and he said yes it was. How was I finding it? he asked. Much like home, I confessed.
The G Monster’s mate had invited us to theirs for an ‘Indian feast’ in the evening and when we got there he turned out not to be kidding. There were at least eight main dishes and the same number of sauces, almost all of them cooked from scratch, by him, and not only that he had laid them out lovingly on beds of carefully-arranged salads… well, it put the Ferry Inn to shame. It also put my attempts at hospitality to shame, but we will gloss over that.
It hailed down while we were there. It hailed down later in the evening, too, but the walk home was under a clear sky.
We will no doubt pay for that later, too.