Holiday! part seven: in which there is No Time for Old Men

Today was Hoy! The second attempt. Which we actually achieved. Sadly, we could only get a slot on the ten o’clock ferry over and the two o’clock ferry back, giving us a grand total of three and a half hours on the island. The guy at the ferry office did warn us it was at least a half hour drive each way to Rackwick, where the walk to the Old Man of Hoy (a gigantic cliff stack) starts, and then three hours to get to the viewpoint and back. Even without my own calculations coming to the same, i.e. miss that return ferry by even five minutes and you’re looking at sleeping in the car overnight, I like to think we would have taken his advice.

However, that left plenty of time to go to the Dwarfie Stane, which the G Monster felt was the main attraction anyway – or at least, my main attraction, since it was in no way natural. Well, it was originally – it’s an eight metre long boulder left in the valley behind the Hoy hills by a glacier, but the Neolithic peeps, for some unfathomable reason, decided to carve a tomb into it (again, without anything stronger than stones, bones or antlers). Apparently this is the only time (that we know of) that this has ever been tried, possible because it was such a monumental pain in the arse, and possibly because of the general lack of boulders of suitable size, who knows. Maybe a bit of both.

I have to say I felt ever so energised just as soon as we got off the ferry. Possibly, because it had not yet started raining and the sky was bright, but it had held such false promises before. I like to think it was because I was back on my native ‘soil’, Hoy being a rare igneous part of Orkney. Indeed, if I did somehow have some sort of affinity for bedrock, think of the possible applications! ‘I would love to achieve more, but unfortunately our village is on carboniferous sediment, my hands are tied’.

Maybe it’s just because the G Monster invested in a number of new Combichrist albums for the journey. You wouldn’t think they should work for the rural landscape, but for some reason they really do.

The RSPB were parked up in the Dwarfie Stane carpark, and had a telescope out and everything, showing a view of a white tailed eagle sitting on her nest on the cliff across the valley. Bloody hell, that thing was huge, you couldn’t imagine mistaking her for a sitting buzzard, for instance. Think Ludo out of Labyrinth (if you’re old, like me) only with the head of sarcastic bald eagle out of The Muppets.

We had been told the Dwarfie Stone was a ‘bit of a walk’ up ‘a bit of a slope’, which did confuse me somewhat. I suppose, this might be the one time ever the phrases have been said without sarcasm.

Now, I had been a bit ‘surprised’ by the price of the ferry (dumbass here offered to cover it before checking the prices) and the Dwarfie Stane was certainly promising to be the most expensive prehistoric site I’ve been to this side of Giza, so seeing a real eagle, even through a telescope, cheered me up greatly. However, when we got to the Dwarfie Stane, I was impressed to discover I could actually identify the two little trees seen through the telescope by eye, and even a tiny speck that might be the eagle’s head.

Sadly, my big lens was back at the apartment, for which the G Monster did Voice His Opinions of my packing ability, but hey, his camera was good enough to confirm that yes, we were looking at the right spot and he even got what I think is a pretty good photo of a wild eagle. Given the choice of a) no camera or b) no clue where the eagle is, I think a) was pretty damn great.

On the other hand, it was only the other day that I failed to recognise him walking down a side street towards me, resulting in a near heart attack when he suddenly lunged at me, screaming (in his defence, he says he thought I was deliberately dingying him and only realised he was wrong when I was halfway through a flowerbed in a defensive pose). So, as I said to him, although I am pretty-much face-blind, it might mean I am… eagle eyed.

His response was that I should sleep on the veranda.

We went a walk on the beach at Rackwick, (a settlement which is pretty much 1. beach 2. camp site 3. youth hostel), had a nice lunch and ice-cream floats at Emily’s Ice-cream Parlour on the road back to Lyness, and spent a bit of time admiring the gun emplacements etc at the ferry jetty. These are, allegedly, relics from the two world wars and not aimed at the ferry so that car-owners who have not paid for the crossing can be duly ‘penalised’ por enourage les autres.

Whales were all around as we sat on the top deck and instantly wished we had brought another three or four layers of clothing, on top of the ‘all the clothing’ I have found is suitable for Orkney weather (again, just like home). Unfortunately, by ‘all around’ I mean, ‘and several miles off in every direction’. I have tried to look them up on the group we were advised on, truly. Unfortunately, being out in the countryside with little signal, I’ve mostly had time to glean that ‘Orcas sighted Hatston’: time-tag 90 minutes ago; then neither been able to discover where they were reckoned to be going after that, nor what Hatston even is.

Today, it turned out a different pod of Orcas had been playfully close to the ferry’s path – ninety minutes ago – and were heading steadily away from us. No, back towards us. No, away from us. Etc. Eh, screw it.

Unfortunately, after we went to visit the 11th century Earl’s Bu church (or, one remaining segment of what was originally a very fine circular church, with a bonus mead hall’s ruins by the gate, where a bonus murder took place, with a bonus rare Norse watermill in the field just behind it), then the Scapa Flow beach – ‘we ought to’ said the G Monster, ‘it is right by the apartment’ – we discovered Hatston is, um, right by sodding Kirkwall, and ‘orcas’ meant ‘pilot whales sighted by over-excited first-timer’, and far from sodding right off, as seems normal, the pilot whales had been in the bay all that time.

Not by the time we found out, of course.

In conclusion: well, one cannot have everything. We did, however, have beers, and Ghostrider 2 on the telly, which I daresay was better than one would have had in the Neolithic.

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