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!
Yesterday was the new year Ba' in Kirkwall. See this link for a proper explanation. In my view, it's just a grand excuse for half the county to gather in Kirkwall to tough out the weather while the toughest of the tough do battle, with considerable courage, over possession of a ball, which disappears into a mélée of brave and strong guys, and may or may not reappear ever again.
In other words – the Ba' is great fun – a bit strange, wild and simultaneously civilised (just like Orkney is), and an event not be missed.
I took a load of photos.
This was just before the throw-in
Here it comes
The mélée then surges to and fro as the teams try to take possession of the ba'. The onlookers do their onlooking just behind the players and the whole streetful rolls to and fro
as the action surges. Not too many get trampled. I only saw it happen to one person, who was ever so kindly and promptly helped up by onlookers and some players..
It's practically impossible to see anything much for any length of time, but some people know what to do about that.
Waiting for things to start. All shop windows and premises along the route of the game are barricaded to protect against the future crush. Of course they can be used for other purposes too. It's not like there are any rules, and the health-and-safety nazis (did I say nazis? Surely I meant nannies? Or did I?) have not yet found a way of spoiling this fun.
A surge in one direction.
And then in another. (This was the first time a noticed a strange phenomenon: I thought I had a smudge on my lens but then realised that haze above the centre of the melée is actually steam rising from the overheated gladiators. From then on, I knew how to tell where the centre of the action was.
The tough being tough
The action moves down Albert Street. You can see the steam rising by Boots the Chemist
Then surges to the other side of the road
One of the heros
And another. (And how wonderful that this is a game in which you take smoke breaks!)
And that's all I saw folks. The gladiators got stuck in one of the lanes where the battle continued invisibly for over an hour. Weakling that I am, I sneaked off home after 40 minutes' waiting for something to happen as my toes were freezing.
But I took some iPhone videos as well.
There's an excellent new documentary series about Orkney on BBC2 at the moment. The first in the series was yesterday.
For those with iPlayer, it's available for the next 28 days.
Screenshot only. Nothing to click here! Use the buttons above.
I like to take photos and am fond of clichés - so I'll say I find them to be worth a thousand words.