The last time I was on Orkney, I was making a video for my father and at one point the camera was nearly blown out of my hand by the ferocious winds. A photo of me standing at the Ring of Brodgar shows me all bundled up and smiling although my coat and scarf are being blown flat against me. I remember that I was having trouble standing against the force of the winds. The Northlink Ferry ride over had been horrendous: 30 foot waves in gale force winds. I had planned on having breakfast on the boat; but as it was, it was all I could do to keep my balance. I found one spot on the horizon and fell in love with it as I maintained my gaze for the duration of the trip. Fortunately, the trip back to Scrabster from Stromness that afternoon was sunny and smooth.
Remembering all of this, I had encouraged Kyle and Liisa to be prepared for the worst and to bring layers of warm clothing along in the car, just in case. As it turned out, the weather was near perfect; no, it was perfect: sixty degrees and sunny with a gentle breeze.
Added to the beauty of the day was Kyle’s happiness that he never once had to repeat or spell his Nordic-Northern Isles last name to anyone. It is a popular name in Orkney and Shetland and it links him to his paternal ancestors. It is derived from the Nordic “lyng klettr” meaning “heather rock”.
Seven years ago, I had thought that the weather had contributed to the fact that I wasn’t able to see and do all I wanted to on the island before rushing to catch the last ferry back. Now I know that Orkney deserves an overnight stay and two good days of exploring. We spent some time at the Ring of Brodgar with its center circle covered in heather. Then we walked the time line path out to Skara Brae, a wonderful way to get the sense of the history of the rest of the world in relation to the five centuries of history on Orkney. Our tour at Maes Howe was led by a delightful woman who, I think, had more of an understanding of the site than her sanctioned presentation would allow her to reveal. We wanted to see and spend time at so many of the ancient sites; but there are over 3000 on the island… sites that are linked throughout Orkney, and link to a history 5000 years in the making.
We chose to spend our time out in the countryside, so we didn’t have enough time to explore Kirkwall, which meant we missed Highland Park Distillery; but we were able to spend an hour or so in Stromness. It was a fun challenge to drive through the main street (a close, really) that was just wide enough for one small car. The trick to walking from shop to shop is to be aware of the cars, and stand flat against the walls of the storefronts as they pass by. The trick to driving is to be hyper alert in every direction and move very slowly.
We ended the day with a nice off-menu vegetarian meal prepared for us by the Chef at #1 in Wick. #1 is located on the bona fide shortest street (6’9”) in the world. #1 is all there is on the street: just the door to the restaurant. The rest of the MacKays Hotel angles out and fills the block behind it that is formed by two angled streets. I had eaten there before, and (like so many other things), it has become significantly upscale in the past eight years. They were fully booked when we had arrived the night before, and we were directed to a local inn for pub grub. Our culinary experiences in Wick included the best of both worlds.
Two nights at the same manor house B&B just outside of Wick where I stayed years ago, and I am re-affirmed that it is indeed haunted, despite owner Ian Stewart’s charming denial. Both Liisa and Kyle felt the strong energies as well. The Bilbster House is a lovely house dating from the 1600s. There is physical evidence of the present house’s existence from 1690, although there are references to the property on maps dated fifty years earlier. The drive turns off from the road from Wick to Scrabster and runs along the Master Gardener’s house that is now rented out as apartments. After passing the huge stone barns on both sides of the drive there is a low arbor over a narrow lane and the drive turns to the left into a large circle that brings one to the front of the house. Just off to the right along the circle are a stream and a small waterfall that can be heard through the trees. The house is surrounded by the massive acreage that used to be the estate, but has long since been sold to be a working farm while the owners of the house concentrate on the Bed & Breakfast and family life. We had a lovely couple of nights there, and it is a great place to stay and head to Orkney since it is only a few minutes from the ferries at Scrabster.
After a Scottish breakfast and tea, we were once again on the road south towards Inverness….