Northern Isles 2011: Stromness, Orkney

(Offexploring insists on a photo with each blog. I can’t get my photos off my camera which is why today’s picture is of my window)

I got the bus today to Stromness. It was a pretty day, all blue sky and sunshine so I put on the thinner trousers and left my coat behind. I sort of realised that might not have been the best idea before I even got to the travel centre but by then it was too late to come back.

The ride over was pretty as well – it seemed between the odd shape of Mainland and various lochs that we were never out of sight of navy blue water.

Stromness was cold. The wind was stronger and colder than it had been in Kirkwall although the sun was warm and if you weren’t in the shade, it almost made up for the wind. I walked through town, heading south-westish until I finally found a view.

I don’t know why it is but Orkney looks sort of bare. The hills are green but it’s a sort of pastel green, as if it’s dying. On Shetland I was told this is because of all the salt in the air, which kills anything that tries to grow. Is Orkney just as salty? It doesn’t feel like it and it doesn’t look like it – Shetland was permanently misty with salt mist and Orkney isn’t.

I didn’t stay too long. I came back to the travel centre, looked at the tourist information centre, waited out in the wind and got the bus back to Kirkwall.

First job was to get changed but I took the long route back via the Peerie Sea and nearly froze before I finally reached the hostel.

I did much the same route round Kirkwall as yesterday but now in the sun and in proper layers, I was nice and warm (although my hat had to go on the radiator because it was still soaked from yesterday’s little rainstorm).

I sat on a bench on the harbour wall and watched boats going out, counted wind turbines and daydreamed. Then I came back via the park again, read a little bit of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and fell asleep.

Northern Isles 2011: Kirkwall, Orkney

Today I woke up earlier than I wanted, faffed around not doing much then went out to see Kirkwall.

It was nice. I went along the seafront, looked at the boats, met three cormorants sitting on the slipway and then got rained on. I’ve had these boots for about eighteen months and never ever have they leaked in the rain before. They had sloshing puddles inside!

I came back to the hostel to dry out and have some food and stayed in all afternoon, getting up occasionally to look out at the view. By about 5, the sky was clear and blue although already starting to turn pink. I put on my slightly damp boots and went out again.

I stood by the lakey thing over the road, took photos of the pink sky reflected in it and then went back along the seafront into town. The cormorants were gone and the tide had dropped about eight feet.

I wandered the town, looked at St Magnus’s and got lost, finally reemerging on the wrong side of Lidl, which is on my route into town and therefore a major landmark for me.

I had some toast and cheese and now I’m having hazelnut flavour hot chocolate and I suppose I should go to bed sometime. My boots are now drying on the towel rail which seems to be heated permanently.

Northern Isles 2011: Shetland to Orkney

I woke up this morning – after not really having slept – to a dark and very windy island. I packed and watched the Hoobs until 8, the time I’d booked for breakfast, then went downstairs to sit on my own in the bar and wonder how it all worked.

The manager appeared at last and offered me tea or coffee, then a choice of things that come in a bowl, like cereal or porridge or yoghurt. I had some cornflakes and having turned down any sort of cooker breakfast he made me toast.

He asked what my plans were for the day and when i said I planned to walk down to the bus stop and head for the airport, he thought about it for a bit and then came back five minutes later to tell me he had to go to the shop which was right by the bus stop and he’d give me a lift. We agreed on 9.30 and I sat and read for half an hour before going down and getting in the car.

I waited at the bus stop for about ten minutes. The wind, apparently down from ‘gales’ to merely ‘strong’ felt even stronger than yesterday. I made the interesting discovery that if I stood behind the bus shelter I was a tiny bit out of the wind but the breeze that cane under the sides was surprisingly warm on my ankles.

My plans had been to explore the headlands and cliffs but in winds I could hardly stand up against and thick mist – apparently all the salt in the air – I went to plan B which was to spend my holiday reading and not doing much.

Which is how I came to spend most of today at Sumburgh Airport getting through far too many books.

Despite strong winds at Shetland and pretty strong ones at Orkney it was quite a smooth flight although it was raining when we landed. This time I only had a ten minute wait for the bus and I knew exactly how to get from the town centre to the hostel.

I had some food and tomorrow I may actually go and look at Kirkwall. I have seen very little of it so far.

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.