Last time I managed to jot anything down on this blog, we were nestled up on the banks of Loch ness chatting to Steve Feltham, who’s a long way into his lifetime vigil of finding Nessie. He hasn’t spotted her yet and as much fun that it was keeping an lookout for her…we must move on.
The A9 from Inverness huggs the east cost all the way up to the top of Scotland, occasionally jutting inland around each inlet, then outward again to take in the headland. We follow it all the way to the top and eventually run out of road at John O’ Groats. Feeling proud of ourselves having driven up this far, we pulled out to overtake two lads on bikes, the map on the back of their shirts depicting the epic cycle ride just ride they had just accomplished, Land’s End, Cornwall, to John O’Groats in 11 days…no mean feat. Of coarse they were closely followed by other ‘hard-core’ cyclists, weighed down with everything they need to man-power it from one end of the country to the other. We’ve often seen these cyclists along the road, laden with gear, front & rear panniers bulging, cooking gear, tents, sleeping bags etc. usually slogging it up some 20% hill into driving wind & rain, and we often wonder…why? Why would you do that to yourselves? I guess for some, an ordinary life is just not challenging enough and there are thousands of them out there wanting an extraordinary life. I guess we do, just in a different way.
We had decided earlier in ‘the great plan’ (and following recommendation from others) that we would attempt Orkney too if the weather looked reasonable, so it’s onto the ferry we go. The ferry from John O’Groats only takes foot passengers, but a 3 mile drive west around to Gills and there’s a vehicle ferry that takes us up to a fishing bay on Orkney called St. Margrets Hope on south Ronaldsay, 2 adults and a <8 MoHo =£107 ew. The crossing was smooth, apart from a very turbulent area about a mile out, where the north sea meets the Atlantic. No whales spotted but we did wave goodbye to several seals bobbing up and down in the water. Scanning ‘maps.me’ we soon found a quiet beach-side parking spot at Hoxa & that was enough for the first day. A walk on a deserted beach, a glass of wine and the sun went down over the Orkneys.
Orkeney, Main Island:- Back in the early days of the second war in north Africa, a group of Italian soldiers were picked up without much resistance and taken prisoner. Then put on a boat and sent all the way to a little prisoner of war camp in the Orkneys. Security was a little lax, the fences weren’t very high, after all…where you going to run to? Anyway, the prisoners marked their time, dreaming of pizza and gelato ice cream until in 1943 a padre Giacoazzi from ‘The order of little Brothers’ arrived and set too making a place of worship. With help from the camp commandant (major Buckland) 2 nissan huts were offered and placed end-to-end to form a long building. As it happens, an Italian artist Domenico Chiocchetti also happened to be in the group of prisoners and between them set too to transform the 2 corrugated steel huts into a place of worship. Chiocchetti inspired other inmates to help in the transformation and in 2 years, just as the the war was ending, the chapel was finished. Also built by Chiocchetti was a statue of George and the dragon, interestingly George represents the patron saint of soldiers, ready to kill the dragon, and the statue stands as a symbol of ‘a will to kill all misunderstandings amongst people of different cultures’. The world could do with a little of that just at the moment.
The landscape up here is very reminiscent of Norway, but then I guess your heading up towards the same latitude, so things will be similar. The geology, the weather, the birds & the sea-weed were all very ‘Norwegian’. the next few days were spent visiting Kirkwall, St. Magnus Cathedral, neolithic Skara Brea, the Italian chapel, the standing stones (the ring of Brodgar), tomb of the Eagles, the Yesnaby cliffs and the Orkney brewery.
We had a great time on the Orkney’s & would definitely recommend the trip in a MoHo or camper.
Hoxa, next to the beach, toilets. 58.8261, -3.00116
Scapa Beach, Kirkwall. Quiet. 58.96206, -2.97407
Skara Brae. No services.59.05272, -3.33355