TWO SNAILS (plus a dog and a dragon)

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Orkney Mainland February 2015

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!

Brunhilde at Mull HeadIn the Car Park

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.

Brunhilde at Mull HeadIn the Car Park

 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. 

Hoxa Dam September 2014There was not much to be seen that day

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.

Bay of Skaill 2

Skaill Bay had been glorious when we visited last year. Not so this time...

A grey day at Skaill

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!

The Sock Keeps WarmMe and my sock knitting stayed warm in the van whilst Mr L replenished water supplies. The sun might have been out but that cold wind was zipping by - see the grass being flattened?

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. 

Maybe next week?

Topic: Orkney mainland February 2015

Categories: Orkney, Trips

Tags: finstown, hoxa, loch of harray, sands o wright, skaill

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