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.
We ride all year, but spring does bring some lovely days for biking. Yesterday was just such a day, and we zipped in a leisurely manner from the Hope to Stromness for a picnic overlooking the town. We took the Orphir Road, with its wonderful views over Scapa Flow and then cut up the Scorradale Road as a more fun option. We had to stop at the top of the hill as the view that opened up before us was simply too stunning for words.
Son William said: "We've got to tell our tourists about this!", and I'm obeying the injunction. (Like a fool, I hadn't grabbed a proper camera, so I'm afraid this is just an iPhone snap.)
This was one of the best views of the hills of Hoy that we had ever seen.
The exact location is here.
And this is where we had our picnic in Stromness. I didn't take a snap so Google Maps comes to the rescue!
The exact location is here
So much so, in fact, that it is said that Orkney has no trees. The picture below gives the lie to this, but perhaps also has *a little* bit to say about the breezes we have.
One of the many, though perhaps less frequently mentioned, reasons people come to visit and enjoy Orkney is the pollution-free, fresh, clean air that get pumped into one's lungs.
This picture, not taken by me for a change, but by a Facebook friend, was brilliantly entitled by her "In Stromness, what direction does the wind mainly blow?"
Photo by Joanna Wood, used with permission
It's a slightly different story here in St Margaret's Hope. When we step out onto the waterfront or into the village here, one can often be fooled into thinking the day is a lot less breezy than one imagines. The Hope is in a sheltered position: in winter gales, one can get quite a surprise on reaching the top of the hill when leaving the village as suddenly a blast of the real winds whips at one!
…and another beauty spot, this one with some relatively recent history thrown in. Son William and I set off on another Sunday morning walk/excursion yesterday. Once again, we picked a potentially promising road-end on the OS map, and then drove off to see if it would deliver. This being Orkney, it delivered in full and more (with one caveat, see below).
Our destination was Rerwick Head and the plan was to walk round the headland and take photos of the natural arch at Orwick indicated on the map.
The drive, of course, was easy and we pulled into the car park and fed the parking meter (just joking!). Since we had picked the destination rather casually, and hadn’t googled anything about it first, our great surprise was that this place didn’t just have lovely views, but was covered with the remains, in an excellent state of repair, of a massive coastal battery. And that’s how we got our double dose of interest for the morning. See here for details and more, very good, photographs.
One thing that amazed us was that the concrete looked liked it had been poured yesterday. Given the sort of weather these things have had to put up with for half a century, all I can say is that we made wonderful concrete back then.
This was the lovely view that greeted us on arrival.
Super spring day
Another – older – kind of shelter that we found on the walk
Unsurprisingly, gun emplacements command superb views. It's safe to come now, though, as someone has nicked the guns.
There was a sign warning about going into these places. Naturally, we went in anyway; they don't look like they propose to collapse any time soon.
The cliffs and sea were lovely too.
This rock formation reminded me of an eagle's head looking out to sea.
But, but, but!!!
Where's the promised natural arch at Orwick? The map and GPS said we were there but we saw nothing.
there's a complimentary round to any of our guests who go there, find it, and bring back a pic!
I like to take photos and am fond of clichés - so I'll say I find them to be worth a thousand words.