Today I took the coast road to circumnavigate the North Mainland. It was not a day for monuments or excavations, but places of natural beauty (although that is everywhere), and coastal walks. It is almost impossible to drive anywhere here without losing sight of either the sea or a Loch. These natural features make the landscape far more interesting, as you are seeing, land, water, and then land again everywhere – imagine vast stretches of green, layered with shimmering blue water and topped with multi-coloured green and brown hills, interspersed with the mauve of the heather.
I know I am going on a lot to how beautiful this Island is, but believe me, it is.
I walked along a stretch of coast at The Bay of Skail on the west coast, where there is a rock formation called the Hole o’ Rowe, looking like the open jaws of a giant stone sea monster.
Further north a climbed a hill at Marwick Head to Kitcheners Monument. I, like many of you may have thought he died in India, but no, he perished off the cost here on his way to Russia, on HMS Hampshire, in what the guide information says as ‘mysterious circumstances’ in 1916.
As I have said before, it’s a photographer’s paradise here. I have seen many species of birds, and been able to photograph them; lapwings, curlews, kittiwakes, terns and lapwings.
Further along I come to Birsay, and the main focus of interest is the Earl Robert Stewarts manor house – now just a ruin. Old ruins of places like this do not do much for me, it’s usually the people who lived in them is where the focus lies; in this case the notorious 16 century Earl Robert Stewart (read more of his history here http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/historicalfigures/robertstewart/index.html )
Nearby there is a cassowary, and at low tide it is possible to walk over to the Borough of Birsay for a couple of hours and explore Norse houses, churches and palaces.
For the next few hours I continue to follow the coast road, turning off here and there just to see what the view is like, and as always it’s breathtaking.
In the afternoon I visited the Highland Park distillery – home of the world famous Orkney Malt. Had an interesting 50 minute tour of the factory following the process of turning barley, malt and water into the finished product. Quick question – no prizes – how does the whisky get its colour?
Later that evening I met my friend John Needham who lives in St Margaret’s Hope with his wife, who is Orkadian. We ate in one of the best Indian restaurants I have ever been to (it had won best restaurant 5 years in a row). Afterwards we had a nightcap in a bar/cafe/meeting place and listen to a live ‘reel’ (traditional folk musicians, for the uninitiated}.
Tomorrow I venture further south to the fossil museum and the Eagle Caves covering Holm and South Ronaldsay.
On a personal note, I want to wish my daughter, Nicole, who is Abseiling down Guys Hospital in London on Sunday, for charity, the very best of luck, and congratulations on raising all that money.