Orkney is a place of megaliths. So one day found me looking at a website called The Megalithic Portal to learn about megaliths near us. There was something marked just 3 miles away and the photo of the site just blew me and my son away. We had to see it for ourselves and, as soon as a patch of foul weather ended, off we went. And found this stunner.
The bit of interest to lovers of megaliths is something on top of this magnificent rock formation, which is called The Altar. Personally, I think it's a fossilised prehistoric octopus, although someone has also suggested the claw print of a giant dinosaur.
I also think it's a sight just as impressive as the Old Man of Hoy and can't understand why it seems hardly to be known.
Getting to it is mildly problematic as the coastal path is quite eroded and none too safe in parts (see annotated map below). So my son and I made our way through two fields of the Hall of Herston farm. One of us leapt the barbed wire fence at the far end of the field and the other crawled under the bottom wire and so reached The Altar.
Today I confirmed with the owners that they don't object to Creel guests doing the same, although care should be taken if there are cattle in the fields and not to damage fences and barbed wire.
There was also a nice view of Scapa Flow from the spot.
Splendid destination for a very small after-lunch excursion. Saint Lawrence is the patron saint of Burray and South Ronaldsay. The church, also known as Old Burray Kirk, dates back to 1621 and is a very pretty ruin. The cemetery is still in use. The whole stands on the site of a possible broch. There are some Commonwealth War Graves there.
There is a nice view on the approach.
With its nave open to the skies, there is a pleasant feeling with the church walls
A very touching gravestone. The text at the bottom of the little white cross reads "Who ne'er wept nor smiled". It's for a child, stillborn in 1901
Another view of the church
Getting there is simple
A rather nice new lunch option has hit the Hope: another gourmet 'hamburger van' has appeared in Orkney. As good as Leigh's, but different. And this time it is just up the road from the Creel, increasing our local South Ron eating options in a valuable way. Just look at this minute steak in a bun!
The above is what I got my son, who has been working hard in the garden, for lunch today, My treat was this:
Cajun chicken, that was, before I wolfed it down.
So anyway, we're delighted to recommend 'The Grill' which has opened at the top of the hill, open 10am-2:30pm every day. It's excellent value and a nice & tasty lunch solution.
William and I have set ourselves the task of working our way through the menu, something that promises to be fun.
Here is the establishment itself. It may not look grand, but it's what comes out of it that counts! (I particularly love the two strong webbing straps to either side of the hatch to hold it tight to its trailer against Orkney's winter winds.)
and the chef, Elaine Gutcher:
Find The Grill here
My friend Paul, who was over from Paris and with whom I went for the walk described in my previous post, showed himself to be a proper Frenchman and wanted organoleptic tourism as well. Having a fondness for cheese, he asked if we had any local cheeses. It was nice to have someone interested in more than just whisky! Also I knew just where to go. This kind of requirement called for a trip to Kirkness & Gorie, our quality delicatessen and serious wine merchant – always a nice activity, even though it generally costs me dear as there are too many (rewarding and appreciated) temptations there. So, in the funny way of things, we dropped in to the shop and asked about cheeses. To be honest, the Orkney cheddar one sees everywhere is, although nice, nothing much to write home about. We were soon shown the right path in this shop.
These two cheeses from Westray are truly excellent and interesting.
We both bought some (and today I've just bought some more) – hence this post. I took the photo below with my iPhone as I shopped today.
In fact, Paul impressed me by buying food to take back as a souvenir and something for the other members of his family to enjoy. So what else does a Frenchman take back from Orkney? Answer: several kilos of our wonderful Orkney beef, so good it has its own 'appellation' . Its a PDO – 'Protected Designation of Origin'. So we bought a couple of kilos each of filet and sirloin, sliced and vacuum packed in two, from the Creel's favourite butcher, Williamsons, Paul's wife, Ariane has already emailed to say the meat was excellent.
Both shops are in Kirkwall and well worth a visit. (And no, I don't get a commission for these plugs!!!)
One of my oldest friends came to stay for a week last week and we found ourselves doing with him what our guests come to Orkney to do! Orkney has wonderful clifftop walks along maintained paths and we did this short one to see Hoxa Head and the WWII defences including the Balfour Battery. Our walk started in the rain and ended in brilliant sunshine. It was grand!
I called this picture Hoxa WWII Cinerama. It's taken from the gun emplacement at the very tip of Hoxa Head.
This picture I took a few minutes before the Cinerama one, when it was still raining a bit. The light was very strange as the sun began struggling out from behind the clouds.
From the tip of Hoxa, as the day turned brighter and brighter until it was almost blinding in the clean, clean air, we took the clifftop path back to our parking spot. This led us to the Balfour Battery.
Now that's what I call a house with a view! The wartime concrete is so good, it looks new to this day.
One can walk almost all round Orkney on clifftop paths. This particular walk only took a little over an hour, even with photo stops for me and my friend. This walk went like this:
and then on foot:
The camera symbols indicate where the photos above were taken.
After a few stormy days, today start with dead calm. I had to take a house guest to the airport for the early morning flight to Aberdeen. Day was breaking as I made my way back and the light in the sky was magnificent. No camera with me, but I stopped at the 4th barrier to take this snap with my iPhone.
An advertisement appeared at the top of my Safari browser this morning. Some organisation called UserIQ (sic) was telling me that I could try for free to increase customer 'engagment'. Don't people proofread anymore? Needless to say, I did not click the link. It did, however, give me an idea:
Orkney may do storms rather well, and good fun they are too. However, at other times – and they are not infrequent – Orkney can also present us with stunningly beautiful days. (And it is a curious Orkney fact that, although I am calling this post 'On a cold and frosty morning', it actually felt far warmer than on many an other day because the wind was light and wind-chill therefore minimal!). Yesterday, 29/12, was just such a day:
My favourite bench. On West Mainland, overlooking Holm Sound
The day was so lovely, we took a longer and longer route from home to Kirkwall, detouring through Toab, where the light on the fields was fantastic.
All pics taken with an iPhoneX. Come on Apple, how about some commission!
So few tourists visit Orkney in winter. It's true the weather can on occasion be excitingly vile, but oftentimes it is exceptionally beautiful. I thought it might be fun to post some examples.
I took the picture below on 20 December 2016. It's on the road above the first barrier from where there are also lovely views of the southern isles (https://goo.gl/R3R7Sa)
On the other hand, we have just had Storm Caroline. This made the sea so rough that ferries and planes were cancelled (only for a single day) and the barriers between South Ronaldsay and Mainland were closed, making us a real island again – and once again, just for a day (less than 24 hours actually).
The violence of the storm was such that armco was ripped off the second barrier. I got this pic of the damage as I crossed the barrier the next day, 8 December 2017.
The sun was in and out all the time that day; it went behind a cloud just as I was crossing the barrier. Thirty minutes before that, I snapped this lovely pic of the Ayre of Cara at the top of North Ronaldsay. (The wind was vicious, however, freezing my fingers as I held the camera! The air wasn't cold at +4°, but with a wind of 40mph or so – look at it whipping the spray back from the waves in the pic below –, it felt like -3°C or worse.).
No one was flooded in Saint Margaret's Hope on the day of the storm (7 December) but the sea did pay a visit to village, overflowing onto Front and Back Roads at high tide.
Another season has passed in a pleasant blur. So many guests, so many really nice and interesting people to talk with and look after. Thank you all for coming. It was such a pleasure to see you enjoying this place I love. Now, with no guests to care for, I have at long last got around to making a book of some of the better photographs I have taken over 2015-2017.
It's all very well taking pictures, processing them on one's computer, etc etc, but no-one (not even I do) really likes looking at photos on a computer screen. So over the years, I have tried to make a habit of having photobooks – the 21st-century equivalent of the old family photo albums – printed. It has also become easier and easier (and cheaper) to do.
This time, I did a book of some of my Orkney pictures. I had it printed by a company called Whitewall (for anyone reading this who stayed last year, that's the company which printed the canvas prints in the Creel's dining room and from whom we have just taken delivery of some new photographs for the bedroom walls). They are not the cheapest, but the quality is superb.
Here is the immodest cover of my new book. This one will be kept in the Creel for visitors maybe to look through.
The picture below is not in the book as I had to leave it our for reasons of space, but I want to post it here since this is of the person who arrived at the Creel by the most out-of-the-ordinary means of transport one could think of. It was towards the end of the season and as we stood outside enjoying the view, apéritif in hand, this man, Richard Taylor, paddled up in a coracle. We had a lovely chat and a beer. We've had walkers as guests, we've had cyclists as guests, we've had bikers as guest, but Richard will probably forever hold the record for arriving in the most unexpected way.
I like to take photos and am fond of clichés - so I'll say I find them to be worth a thousand words.