FERRY TO ORKNEY
We got to the Ferry Harbour at Gills Bay in plenty of time. It was easy to drive round, but not miles to walk, and a lovely cosy building obviously recently updated with all modern fittings and facilities plus a good cafeteria and plenty of seats if you wanted to wait inside.
I parked up in the appropriate lane, took Phoebe for a mooch round the almost deserted carparks and habour, and then made myself a pot of tea and some cheese and cucumber sandwiches. The weather was improving all the time, the sun was out and the wind easing, and I was pleased because even so there were white topped waves rolling in to the rocky shore.
I was watching for a vessel rounding the headland and in the far distance I could make out a shape, it looked my bigger than I imagined and especially for the handful of cars and lorries now assembled. There was a general shuffling of things and opening and closing of car doors as people got ready to abandon their cars for the hour or so it would take to cross to St Margaret's Hope on South Ronaldsay. Various 'hands' had arrived to help with the loading and unloading process, and I was expected the vessel I had sighted to turn to shore – it certainly was large. Yes – it was a massive oil tanker off on some long distance voyage, and whilst I had been watching it in the distance the ferry had arrived and was backing – or what ever boats do to reverse – into the dock – yes that's it docking!
We were second from last to embark, and I already knew I would have to reverse on, what I hadn't realised was how long the ramp was, how narrow, and how very steep. I was giving it my best shot, but the crew and helpers could see that the Wretched Rack (I think the scooter lift has acquired a name) was going to cause a problem
Because it has had to be lowered in order to for me to actually get the scooter on and off it is now in extreme danger of grounding anywhere that is even slightly off level, and this is a real problem when going backwards. They asked if I needed a driver. Yes Please!!! I really needed a driver. Even he had real difficulty and there were four or five of helpers adjusting various wheel blocks and ramps as we inched our way backwards
We were followed back down by another, though smaller motorhome. And we were both getting out of our vehicles at the same time. Because they had taken so long to get Thebus on, they shut the doors and sailed the instant the other folk were off the ramp, so getting up the steep stairs to the upper decks was a bit tricky, and they had already locked one set of doors so I was pleased to be with a pair of obviously seasoned travellers
The lady said that Thebus was big, but that they were both bus-drivers – though that was a joke as it turned out they own a bus company in Lincolnshire, but some twenty odd years ago bought a huge run down mansion on one of the far islands of Orkney and regularly made the trip there and back every three weeks. They didn't usually use this ferry, obviously preferring the bigger one of the Northlink Line, but like me they were making a dash for a calmish day and this was the only one they could reach in time.
By now the day had turned really sunny, almost strong enough for a tan, and apart from the fact we were travelling quite quickly I don't think there was even that much of a breeze. I thoroughly enjoyed the crossing – it was a clear day and in the bright early spring sunshine all the different islands showed their charms clearly.
It wasn’t really worth taking photos as the view were too far reaching, but in any case I had managed to run down the batteries in my old camera, and for some reason without knowing had changed the setting on the new phone camera to mono. Though I would have liked some of the little town of St Margaret's Hope nestled in a cleft in the hills welcoming us to harbour – it looked charming.
Getting off the ferry was, thank goodness, easy. The boat ramp was almost level with the harbour and of course we were going forwards. I had asked the couple where might be a good place to stay, but other than the caravan park at Kirkwall they hadn’t need to use anywhere for the twenty or so years of owning their home, but I said I would like to travel to the south of South Ronaldsay, so they explained the way I needed to go, and we parted.
I had intended to go right to the bottom end of the island, where apparently there is a ferry terminal which only runs in the summer months so would have been a good place to stop over, but it crossed my mind that down at sea level facing south I would have less chance of seeing the Northern Lights. On the way we passed a viewing point - Olaf's Summit and as there was a fairly substantial layby I pulled in. The views were stunning, but still no camera. Not to worry. I decided to spend the night there and would take some in the morning. The sun streamed in through the windows, the light reflected off the dappled, lazy seas. I could see across to Hoy and lots of the other islands as well as it is a 360 degree viewing point. Whilst I was there quite a few of the locals must have come up and stopped as well, some taking photos.
What I didn't know was something that they all knew, that this was an unusually perfect day ie, you could see the view and still stand upright! Later that evening the wind began to get up. As I said a couple of sentences ago this was a 360 degree summit. Now somewhere like that when the winds get up on Orkney is not the ideal place to spend the night.
I must admit to having been marginally worried myself about the ferry crossing, and whether I may have got a little seasick, though I was fine, but that night I think I could have easily been seasick. Thebus rattled and rolled and probably wallowed. I put the automatic jacks down. I pulled them up again. I tried them half up and half down. It all made no difference. I thought we could try for a more sheltered spot, but as we had driven along I was very aware of the fact there were almost no pull-ins anywhere
It reminded my of Herefordshire back in the fifites and early sixties – why would anyone want to pull in? If they were going somewhere they wanted to get there. Then the council started to straighten some of the tortuously bendy roads, and made the left over bits into lay-bys, charmingly planted with flowering cherries and laburnum (somewhat suburban, and totally out of keeping with the rural Herefordshire countryside). The travelling community or as in those days we called them The Gypsies moved in with alacrity. Normally ten or more vans together with ancillary flat bed lorries for the men to do a bit of scrap collecting, a few ponies and dogs and lots of children and a couple of piles of tarmac. The councils were horrified, That was not the intention. Immediately piles of stone were put in the way, though those normally disappeared just as quickly. The laws were changed and the population changed, but one or two stayed stubbornly on for years and years. Mostly around the Ledbury area, though of course that is the area I knew, but by then they had beautifully planted flower tubs and hanging baskets, horse head ornaments, outside lights, the lot. The council got them all moved in the end but I rather missed seeing them an there immaculately manicured laybys.
But back to my current lack of stopping places for travellers, ie me. I fired up Google earth and on a virtual tour I drove down to the coast and then back up into St Margaret's Hope. Apart from the fact there was nowhere to actually pull over other than where I was parked, none of it looked as though it would be very less windy in any case.
With no chance of sleeping I made tea, checked for the Northern Lights – there was a faint green glow for the whole of the earlier part of the night, but nothing more. Finally at nearly five in the morning I was so tired I was glad to get my head down and did drift off into a fitful sleep. At first I had been worried that we might blow over, but after a while when we hadn’t I suppose I got a bit blasé, and if the wind had not been so incredibly noisy and Thebus so wobbly I would have got to sleep earlier, As it was the wind picked up even more at around eight so having had about three hours sleep I decided to call it a day, or would it be call it a night. Whatever.
I made more tea, but the wind was so strong it seemed hardly worth putting the heating on as it would all be just blown away, and I need to be careful with my LPG as there is no more till I get back to the mainland. So putting on lots of cardigans and my thick dressing gown as well I decided to brave it out. Phoebe was curled into a very tight ball in her bed, and made no attempt to get up to go out.
I checked the weather forecasts, more of the same, though easing slightly. The day got a bit better. The sun came out, Phoebe got up and letting her out the door caught in the wind and flung backwards, And we were on the leeward side! The windward side you could hardly stand up for the wind. Phoebe sorted we got back in and I tried to close the door, and after about five minutes managed it.
But I thought we might as well make some sort of move, and decided to try to make it onto the north coast for the evening. I had contacted a few caravan sites, but everyone was closed, and it was too early for them to think of opening for only one person.
As we drove I felt the day was getting better, and as the sun was shining, and it wasn’t raining decided we might take a look at the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, and I am pleased that we did.
Phoebe at Pentland Ferries Gills Bay Terminal Car Park
With Thebus drawn up in the loading lines
Thebus with the Ferry Building behind