We left home on the midday ferry on Friday, with a booking for Hoy via Houton on the final ferry of the day. All went smoothly and we found ourselves in the queue at Houton with 90 minutes in hand.
It began to rain.
Houton Ferry Terminal
We bought our tickets from the friendly lady in the office. I took a handful of photographs and we walked the dog, then settled in to listen to the radio until the boat came in.
Loading was a fast and friendly business.
See the page on Orkney Ferries for further detail on the service from Houton.
This was our first visit to Hoy and I was eager to sit out on deck and to take photographs. Unhappily, the weather did not play ball and the rain became heavier, the visibility more poor. We settled for travelling in Brunhilde, although we could have used the downstairs lounge it seemed not worth the effort as the crossing takes only half an hour or so. We passed the time by amusing ourselves with the GPS lady and were delighted to find that the GPS unit knew that we were on board the Hoy Head and sailing for Hoy.
Disembarking at Lyness was similarly fast and friendly and we set an immediate course for Rackwick Bay, noting as we passed by the remnants of war-time Hoy. Hoy is a magnificent place for those of us who love pointing our cameras at a bit of beautiful decay. It is a positive rust heaven.
Lyness to Rackwick
I was unprepared for the beauty of Hoy. I knew that there were hills there, the highest hills on Orkney but had not registered in my mind the fact that they are gorgeous hills. The combination of the stunning landscape, adorned as it is with endless swathes of wild flowers, with the adjacent beauty of Scapa Flow and the remaining Orkney islands beyond... well, I don't have the words to do it justice. Nor, alas, do I have the photos of our initial impressions because of that damned rain. Yes, even in the rain and increasing gloom, it was wonderful.
I had been unprepared also for the stab of homesickness that came with the hills and the heather - I managed to miss both Yorkshire and the Southern Uplands at the same time. As for the flowers - they came as a complete surprise. We have them here too but on Hoy, they are simply everywhere, and in such numerous variety as to be entirely startling.
It would be difficult to imagine a place more different to Sanday and yet Hoy is only a short distance away as the crow flies. We can see the Hoy Hills from here when conditions are right.
There is one main road that runs up to the North end of Hoy. It is a numbered B road that passes over a cattle grid just outside Lyness and then becomes a single track with passing places (B9047). Such roads do not endear me to our old Brunhilde, being as broad in the Teutonic beam as she is. I breathed in and I fretted. You see, I knew that we turned off this road to get to Rackwick and had yet to follow an un-numbered road for four and a half miles. Oh, my.
In the event, the sheer beauty of the twelve mile journey overcame my nervousness. We were fortunate to meet no oncoming traffic for the whole distance and were able to pull over to allow the one car behind us to pass. Progress was very slow in places as it became far too bouncy if we put on any speed.
Rackwick took our breath away. The scenery was stunning, with low cloud draped around the shoulders of the hills and big Atlantic breakers rolling in to the bay. It was dark and brooding and very much like our Yorkshire home turf.
I was itching to take photographs. Luckily I was not the first to disembark and it was in fact Mr Snail who detected the presence of the Horrible Hoy Midge. Great clouds of the devilish things were clustered around Brunhilde's door. Between the insect life, the rain and the poor visibility it seemed madness to venture forth with camera. I decided that location shots could wait until tomorrow and we cooked tea instead.
The weather improved a little so when we donned hats, long sleeves and midge repellent in order to walk the dog we were at least able to do so without the added discomfort of being wet. We set off on the local walk with the intent of finding the beach
Nell enjoyed her exploration and so did we. The waves were spectacular. We stood for a while, watching two young men engaged in photographing the scene and I wished that I too were smoothing the waters. I knew however that I could not manage the camera and fight off the midges at the same time.
We walked back to Brunhilde and an early bedtime and were very happy with our new mattress topper. A good night's sleep was had by all.
There may have been a degree of madness in our impromptu trip to mainland Orkney. Little did I realise just what a degree...
The weather was pretty poor from the outset and we perhaps did not get as much out of our weekend as we may have hoped for. For instance, the good camera never came out of its bag. I did take a few photographs but much of the time it was so wet and grey and dismal and so dreadfully windy, that photography was not much of an option.
We arrived at Kirkwall on Thursday evening, going straight to Tesco for provisions where our highlight purchase was a cut price bottle of Talisker Storm (that may come in handy). From there we headed to East Mainland and to Mull Head Nature Reserve. The plan was to sleep there in the car park, make a packed lunch after having breakfast on Friday and then do the long circular walk on the cliff top to the Covenanter's Memorial.
It was much less busy than the last time that we visited. We had the place to ourselves, of course. Luckily the toilets at the Visitor Centre were open all night - a great relief once we had discovered that Brunhilde's toilet flush was not working!
Also seemingly not working was the gas heater system. Mr L could not make it go at all and when he dismantled it, it appeared not to have been used for a very long time indeed. It was too dark to see much so we donned thermal undies and poured a whisky, admiring our forethought and skill at shopping as we did so.
We were realising that setting off mid-winter on an impromptu trip with no forward planning or vehicle checking was folly indeed.
It was much windier than the weather forecast had suggested. We realised eventually that at cliff height this was always going to be so. Brunhilde was shaken and rocked about all night long and we had little sleep. It was cold too, cold enough to keep us waking from only a light sleep.
Friday dawned with little improvement. It was a flat grey day with a bitterly cold and quite strong wind. We quickly realised that a long picnic walk was out of the question. Would we take a short brisk route instead? We thought perhaps it was just not good enough weather to subject Suzie's old bones to the task.
After breakfast we moved off to Hoxa and the relatively sheltered car park at Sands o' Wright.
By the time that we had arrived at our destination the weather had picked up. There was little wind and some sun, though still a lot of damp greyness about.
We had a posh dinner planned for the evening and decided to dispense with lunch in favour of the 3.5 mile circular walk around the ayre at Hoxa Dam. Last year we attempted the walk but became baffled when the track took us to a private dwelling. Research had shown since then that it is acceptable to trek through the garden, though dropping down on to the beach is suggested if the tide is low. Part of the problem last Autumn was that there was a haar and it was not possible to see beyond and determine where the path might go.
This time we checked the route on the information board and were better armed with knowledge once we were under way.
Seemingly insufficient information - for there were no waymarkers and when we arrived unintended at St Margaret's Hope we knew that we had gone astray and that our 3.5 mile walk had been a little extended! Poor Suzie struggled on the way home and our progress was slow.
Highlights of the walk were the nosy seal that made its way alongside as we crossed the ayre at Hoxa Dam; first signs of spring in iris and daffodil shoots and blooming snowdrops; the comical sight of Nell wanting to play with the stone ball atop a gatepost at Roeberry; and the invitingly neat little cottage with red-painted doors.
I was in need of a hot soak when we got back but Bruni does not offer that facility and mugs of hot chocolate and shortbread fingers had to suffice. After some recovery time I cooked us a steak dinner and we became a little merry. All the merrier once Mr L found out how to operate the gas heating. Hurrah!
Saturday saw us on our way to Kirkwall to do some tedious tasks and once they were out of the way we went off to Skaill Bay. The wind was due to pick up again and we hoped that location would be relatively sheltered. It would have been nice to return to South Ronaldsay but with the forecast weather we wanted to be on the right side of the Churchill Barriers some ferry time - this despite knowing in our hearts that there would be no ferry on Sunday, not with winds gusting to 60 mph and from the SE.
Skaill Bay had been glorious when we visited last year. Not so this time...
A neap tide covered the sand and the only dry land was covered in boulders that Suzie struggled to walk upon. It was very grey with little visibility and a bitterly cold wind. We contented ourselves with walking the links area.
The plan had been to stay Saturday night, play with the dogs on the beach on Sunday morning and then perhaps take a stroll up to the Skara Brae visitor centre for a coffee and one of their amazing scones with unrestrained butter and jam supply.
After a noisy night being shaken by the wind, we woke to a bright and attractive-looking day, but the wind was stronger than ever and the low tide little further out than last night's high tide had been. Still no beach to play on and oh, it was coooooold!
There was no mobile signal at Skaill and we needed to check the ferry home. Plans were quickly rearranged to return slowly in the direction of Kirkwall. We decided to look for the lochside viewpoint that we had tried to visit last year at Harray. It might be a good place for lunch and we could check it out for future overnight use. Most of all, it might have a mobile signal.
It was a lovely location but very exposed. It might be suitable for an overnight in summer if the one level-ish spot were free. There are picnic tables, an information board and several paths to walk by the lochside. It is very photogenic and does indeed have a Vodaphone signal - we rang a friend and found that yes, the afternoon ferry was indeed cancelled. A quick confab determined Finstown to be our next destination. Being in the shadow of Keelylang there was a chance that wind speeds would be moderated and there would be just a ten minute drive to the ferry office at 7am to see if we could get on the morning boat.
We would park up there for lunch and see if it would serve overnight.
The toilets were acceptable, the view was fine and the pitch was level. The road far enough away for safety and the grass sufficiently wide to play on. Nell found a ball. We were all happy but the day was yet young.
What to do/where to go? Tesco obviously! We did what shopping we could that would not spoil for want of refrigeration as there was no knowing when we would be able to travel home. Thence back to Finstown, with our drive time estimate empirically confirmed.
The car park is large and was all but deserted so we committed an offence and turned Bruni sideways on so that her head was into the wind. The steadies went down to help to minimise the rocking and we settled in for an early night, we would have to rise early the morn.
What the heck was that? Well, it was Bruni being lifted off her steadies by the wind and being slammed back down again. I found a need to call upon a deity that I do not believe in readily.
Then the rain began.
It was a wild and noisy night in which we failed to notice any traffic noise and found the street lights unproblematic - no, all of our attention was focused on the wind noise and the motion of the van. We were both awake before the 6:30 am alarm and dragged on our clothes, closed everything down, paid a final visit to the nearby toilet block, took the dogs to empty their bladders, wiped down the windows, drove to Kirkwall and got to the ferry office for opening time at 7 am. Very efficient!
Mr L went to see if we might be able to get on the morning boat and found that we had been booked on it automatically. That was good news. Less good news was that we would be going home via Stronsay.
I forgot to take a camera with me on the ferry and had only my phone, which did not perform well but I did get some kind of an image of Whitehall as we berthed at Stronsay
The boat was running late and we did not arrive home until 10:30, whereupon Mr L had to go to his desk and start work and I had to begin unpacking the van. At the time of writing, I am still not finished unpacking or doing the laundry. I am quite glad that our talk on Monday night of venturing forth again this coming weekend was acknowledged as nothing short of lunacy.
A quick scan of my Scattered Thoughts shows that simply copying the early Brunhilde posts to here is not viable. I am opting for a quick summary post, with suitable excerpts.
August 17th, 2014
We have just bought a campervan! We didn’t expect to. You know how it is, you see these things on eBay and bid, never expecting to actually win – especially when the bid is well under value. This time we got lucky.
On Wednesday morning, the car is booked on the ferry for Mr L to take it in to the garage. He was planning on coming home on the midday boat but will now continue, by bus, to the Pentland Ferry and go to collect the van from its present owner, who is bringing it to Gill’s Bay for us. Mr L and van will return to Orkney via Scrabster and the Northlink ferry, staying overnight on the big island and returning to Sanday on Thursday morning.
I shall spend my free time putting together the basics of a camping kit and must confess to the fact that I am really looking forward to that.
We shall peruse the weather predictions and take off with the dogs for a night or two during the vacation break. I
cannot begin to tell how excited I am to be going somewhere new with my camera! My spinning wheel will be coming along too. My knitting won’t be left behind either.
Mr L’s Cumulus users are going to have to get used to a new regime and learn to do without intensive user support until such time as we can fund some mobile data access. Me, I think a period of peace and quiet will be just the thing. We’ll take the Cribbage board with us, I reckon.
August 18th, 2014
First day of the holiday and I woke reasonably early but Mr L was already up and at ‘em. He informed me that the payment for the van had cleared, the insurance had been sourced and paid for and ferry tickets booked for bringing the van home. All this and he had already put the rubbish out!
So far so good. I set about sorting out some things for the overnight trip. I attempted to remove one half of our double sleeping bag so that it could be aired out – it has not been used since the week that we moved in here, almost exactly eight years ago. I struggled. Mr L struggled too. Then we googled. Eventually light dawned. It’s a double sleeping bag and not two singles zipped together to make a double. It’s permanently a double.
August 19th, 2014
I have had words with the old man again to see if he might like to get behind a camera lens a little more. Now that we have a camper van and will be seeing new pastures, I shall want to hang around a lot with my camera. This could be boring for him – all those churches and graveyards and gardens – unless he develops his enthusiasm for the lens too. He’s up for it!
I don’t think it’s just words because he has already suggested joining the NTS to save money on entry fees to interesting places. It’s fortunate that Mr L is already a garden enthusiast. He’s never been one for actual gardening but he does enjoy a wander around somebody else’s hard work and will actually stop to smell the roses.
August 20th/21st, 2014
Mr Snail set off bright and early, in good time for the morning boat to Kirkwall. As the car is running one one spring, he thought it best to drive slowly and carefully, so allowed extra time to get to Loth.
The car went in to the garage and we have yet to hear how it has fared.
Mr Snail caught his bus to St Margaret’s Hope and the ferry to Gill’s Bay, where he collected the camper van and went on a tour of Caithness…
This morning I was up in good time to make an attempt at having things straight before Mr Snail was due back at about 09:30. He arrived on time and insisted that I immediately have a tour of the van.
It’s not at all bad and probably represents very good value for what we paid. It’s showing it’s age, being over 20 years old but it’s good enough for us to try out on short trips for a year or two before we decide if we want an upgrade for the retirement years and more ambitious trips. We could easily stay away for a week or more as it stands.
The best news is that there are no funny odours! Nor any suspicious stains. A win.
I don’t care much for the front passenger seat.
The seats in the living space are fitted with seat belts so I imagine I’ll wish to travel in the back with my knitting.
Overall there are some differences to the expected model – it’s only four berths, not six, with the cab section being fitted with overhead lockers instead of a bed. This is probably a plus point for us. Also, it’s not as high-end as Mr Snail had suggested and the real wood veneers that he promised are in fact Formica. Given my congenital lack of housekeeping genes, it’s probably also a plus point.
August 22nd, 2014
A write up of my first outing in Brunhilde, up the island as far as Lopness, the previous afternoon.
I am busying myself with stocking the van and making lists of things we may wish to buy.
One of the first things that we need is a sparker for lighting the stove. When we finished our walk yesterday and went back to the van for a brew we found that the stove does not have an auto ignition. We had our picnic at home.
We did at least have a good walk in the sunshine and the dogs had a great time. Nell travelled on the fixed bed, staying put for the whole journey in both directions. I think she liked both the comfort and the fact that she could see so much through the windows. I had Suzie at my feet, keeping her on a leash to ensure she didn’t get mixed up with the driver’s feet.
Mr Snail is clearly still a little nervous with the handling and the size on our narrow roads, but a couple more outings should soon sort that out.
The van needs some attention to its electrics and we need to brush up our German reading skills in order to absorb details from the manual but overall I think we got good value. It’s dry and cosy and does not smell, which is probably more than we might have expected at the price. I am far happier with my co-pilot seat than I was at first, though I doubt I’ll enjoy the position on a long flight.
August 23rd/24th, 2014
The plan today was to fit the window in our bedroom but the weather forecast was a little off-putting, being for showers and wind from the NW. We opted instead to “potter” around the camper van, checking things and putting it into order.
As with most little projects, this one grew and became ever more problematical. It has taken all day and we are still not ready to roll.
We do now finally have the water and waste systems functioning. We have hot and cold running, a working shower, a flushing toilet and a (leaking) waste system. The gas cylinders have been weighed and the contents estimated. English translations of German instructions of most of the systems have been obtained one way or another.
Overall, our understanding is growing. We do know that we need a new leisure battery – this will set us back by a three-figure sum. What we do not know is whether the leisure battery is charging or not and if the electrical system needs attention. Diagnosis will wait until we fit a new battery on Monday.
I’ve stocked up the van with reading material, games and cleaning stuff. The sleeping bag is in, and so is my walking gear. Our picnic set will serve as crockery and cutlery for the time being. I still need to arrange some cooking pans but I have washed and dried a doggie duvet. Priorities must be observed.
Double glazing DIY is on hold until more tools arrive, so we hope to shoot off on the early ferry on Monday and go try the van out on mainland Orkney whilst less frivolous matters are stymied. First stop: Orkney Factors, for the battery. Thence to Wisebuys for kitchen paraphernalia and onward to Tesco or Lidl for food. The van should be well stocked by the end of the day.
One thing that I really have to sort out before long is my knitting. I cannot possibly go without my knitting! I need to wind a couple of skeins into balls before we go. I’m not sure that I shall take any spinning on this trip. I also need to choose my camera kit and make sure my battery is charged.
More of the same today, still chasing bugs and understanding systems. We found that the water pump is leaking quite badly and confirmed that the leisure battery is not charging nor will the inverter work with it.
More stuff has been packed in and we are more or less ready to set off.
Unfortunately we are both very tired. We have come up with a plan that involves little actual planning nor much need to be organised.
We will get up quite late, ignoring breakfast and other niceties in favour of half an hour longer in bed. Bacon butties on the boat. Take dogs for a run as soon as we get off the boat. Shopping in town, followed by Fish and Chip lunch and shopping in Hatston before we set off for Skaill Bay.
At Skaill we shall do nothing. Absolutely nothing but put our feet up, admire the view and learn to cohabit in a small space. The tide will be out about tea-time so we can have a late afternoon walk with the dogs on the beach. Tea will be bread and cheese and wine, so no need even to cook. Early night to conserve what little battery power we have.
Tuesday – visit to Skara Brae and Skaill House, plus the little restored church of St Peter. Further playing on the beach. We will either move on or stay put for a second night, according to whim and/or the way that the van is behaving.
Wednesday, potentially Brough of Birsay if we haven’t already been on Tuesday afternoon. Overall we plan to keep our activities to the West Mainland, more or less. We’ll do the south islands next time.