Northern Isles 2011: Kirkwall, Orkney

My first impression of Kirkwall is that I don’t like it very much.

I left home at 8am to make sure I had plenty of time to catch the 8.55 train. Good thing I did too because it was replaced by an 8.38 bus because of engineering works. That bus got me to Bournemouth to join the train I would have been on and got me into Southampton airport in plenty of time.

I had some toast – with added salt in the butter – and orange juice while I finished off Touching the Void and then, since there wasn’t much else to do, I went through security. I tipped out my stuff into at least three trays, took my boots off before I was asked and did not get searched.

On the other side I sat and made a start on my next book, went upstairs to watch the planes taking off and landing, discovered that when planes are pushed out, a little man walks with them, joined to the plane by a curly bit of string which I took to somehow and for some reason work like the emergency stop cord you wear on a quad bike.

The flight was uneventful apart from the fact that my plane had propellers. We had a nice view of Edinburgh as we came in and of some mountains.

At Edinburgh I discovered that there was no need to leave the secure area I’d arrived in. I found a cafe called Eat which served toasted things, including takeaway toasted cheese and marmite sandwiches. I sat in a chair in front of a really big window overlooking another runway and ate chocolate and hula hoops and read a book while watching the planes.

This time I discovered that the little man is actually connected to the plane by a set of headphones. I’m not entirely sure why but it makes a little more sense than an emergency stop cord.

Four hours felt like four days. The airport got quiet, the planes stopped taking off so regularly and I was falling asleep. I wandered a bit, went into all the shops, looked at the supercars, stared at the departure board.

At long long last my plane was announced. This one also had propellers but that didn’t surprise me. I knew it was small but booking a seat when you know it’s the only one on that side of the aisle doesn’t mean you quite expect how narrow the plane is when there’s two seats down one side and one seat down the other and you can only just stand up straight.

It was dark long before we got to Kirkwall. The plane’s lights were flashing in the darkness and the bright white one on the end of the wing seemed to reveal static. I guess maybe it was rain being lit up for a split second at 310mph but it looked weird. Suddenly I realised just how dark it was and that I had a walk on my own with just a suitcase once I landed.

Kirkwall airport is weeny. There is nothing between the door I arrived through, the baggage carousel and the door I left through.

I waited in the bus shelter, out of reach of the rain and the worst of the wind. Got the bus into Kirkwall. You could see the sky turning orange as we came down the hill, so I realised that my walk wouldn’t be in total darkness after all.

Getting to Kirkwall was easy. Getting to the hostel was not. It was dark, damp and windy, I had 14+ kg of suitcase and once I’d passed Tesco (open 8am – 10pm on Sundays, well done Orkney!) I didn’t know where I was going. I got lost in a housing estate where all the roads had Scandinavian names like King Harald Kloss and eventually resorted to phoning the hostel for help. They were no help. I retraced my footsteps back to the main road and by a bit of luck, managed to stumble upon the right road.

My room is right up in the roof and it’s pretty. I dumped my stuff and went shopping because I knew I wouldn’t desperately want to get up early in the morning to do it. I ate cheese sandwiches in my room and then took all meltable stuff and put it in the fridge in the kitchen downstairs.

By then it was freezing. I’d opened the window when I first arrived because walking around town in four layers pulling a suitcase and being angry makes you hot and although I’d closed it, it had been open long enough for the room to be freezing. I retreated to my bed, watched Mock the Week and Being Human and then tried to go to sleep.

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