ORKNEY TO SHETLAND
Having had a good look round Skara Brae and stayed at Skaill Bay we were booked onto the midnight sailing on Thursday to arrive Friday morning. I had been studying a weather forecast site for the area with lots of information on wind speeds - a Friday sailing looked best, but owing to some repairs or maintenance work the ferry was only sailing every other day. If I got to Sheltand on Friday morning I might be able to make it to Bressay Up Helly Aa, which would be good as I seemed to be missing a lot of them through delays of one kind or another. There were three all on the same weekend but the other two were in the far north of Sheltand, whereas Bressay is just over the water from Lerwick, which is where we would land.
So having a last chat with the staff at Skara Brae I asked if there were recommendations as to anything a bit out of the ordinary to see, and the consensus was that Betty's Reading Room would be good place to visit. Also if I went round the top part of the island I would go through the village of Twatt. They said that the sign there had been stolen so often the council decided not to bother to put it back up again, though I wondered if perhaps in today's world they were not happy having their name displayed at the entrances to their village.
It reminded me of when my brother was just learning to talk and of course managed to pick up the worst of the words from our farm-lads. The lady who did the cleaning at the time said confidentially to my mother that she had heard young Richard using the word. Mum who was pretty naïve, cheerfully said – 'What's wrong with that', and went round using it frequently, pleased with this new word for twit – till Dad asked her where on earth she had picked up such a word, and told her not to use it again, but I think until the end of her life she didn’t understand why she shouldn't call anyone a silly twit, but with just one different vowel.
If I drove on round the coast road there was still one road sign left if I wanted to photograph it, which was apparently a popular thing for tourists to do. I must admit, I had already passed it, and though I noticed what it said, and knew the colloquial use of the word I didn't strike me as odd or even something worth notice – perhaps there is too much of Mum in me. It took me until the late 1990's to realise that the song 'My Ding-a-Ling' might be anything other than a cheerful ditty about someone with a bell. When I mentioned this fact to my brothers they both just waved their eyebrows about as they do when they think I am being particularly stupid.
In case this is something you would like to see – here is the sign duly photographed.
I drove on down the coast road and past the Sports & Social Club at Evie, and on towards the harbour and ferry at Tingwall, where Betty's Reading Room is situated. And passing a sign saying Brough of Gurness thought we had better 'do' that as well. My confidence, like Phoebe's is increasing, The track past a farm looked a bit narrow so hoping that as this was on the tourist trail there would be a carpark at the end we headed off.
I remembered reading that one of the Broughs had collapsed to the extent that it was just a heap of stone so hoping that wasn't the one we were headed for we pressed on. This was the first thing that came into view which had me a bit worried, though thankfully that wasn’t it!
On then, with the road narrowing and bending, plus starting to hug the sea cliff. Non of these roads would be difficult in a car, but its just that Thebus is so wide, and now with the scooter rack, so long as well. Eventually we dropped down a rather steep pitch, which thankfully ending in a goodish size carpark. I wouldn't like to be doing this in the season, as though the carpark was plenty big enough and more to turn Thebus, it might have been a bit trickier with other vehicles there already. The site was technically 'shut' which basically meant there was no-one there to take an admission fee or hand out leaflets, both of which suited me fine, though it took a while to find the steps which went across the ring ditches and mounds which had formed the defences for this fortified dwelling / village
Then on towards Tingwall and the ferry, where Betty's Reading Room is situated. This reading room is obviously something to do with Betty, and I intend to return and will tell you more another time. Apparently it was kept always open and heated for anyone who wanted to drop in, but there had been some oddments taken – what a sad world - so now it is locked if the occupants of the house next door are out, which unfortunately they were when I called. But I took some photos of the outside, and also of the weather forecasting stone
I looked on the useful little map they had given me at the Skara Brae centre and could see there was another attraction on the way to Kirkwall – The Doocot – a recently restored dovecot and the only one in Orkney.
Taking the Thursday sailing, in the event was partly good, and partly very disappointing. The good bit was that we definitely got the calmest weather for the crossing and looking out at the seas in the grey of the early morning light there was hardly a swell, let alone any proper waves. The really disappointing part of it was that having decided I wouldn’t rush anywhere, I parked up by a harbour in a village just outside Kirkwall in the early evening and made myself a steak sandwich and cup of tea to let the early evening Kirkwall traffic clear making for an easier run to the ferry - though in the dark I still managed to miss it. I expected it to be signed North Link Ferries and it was signed Hatfield, so I went down into the town for a fill-up of petrol - well partial fill-up, but £120 seemed sufficient to pay in order to ask directions!
I find some of the northern folk a bit 'scowly' and fierce looking – or is the word 'dour', but although they look at you hard, they seem perfectly friendly when you strike up a conversation. Maybe they are just not as free with their smiles as southerners, though perhaps when they do the smiles are more genuine.
So I was at the ferry terminal good and early and parked up in the check in lines to wait for nine pm when it opened. Of course, as part of a well run ferry operation everything was clean and well lit. In fact so very well lit that I missed a fabulous display of the northern lights, which as one of the locals told me on Bressay next day – was the best he had seen in all his forty years. Great!
When the lady for the ferry check-in arrived we had a little chat as I was the only one there, and her husband texted her to ask was she watching The Merrie Dancers. Apparently there had been a lovely display on their wedding night – how wonderfully romantic. We both looked north and could see the sky was paler and slightly green, but that was it.
So I sat in the brightly lit carpark, and when the ferry arrived there was so much cargo to unload for Orkney from Aberdeen that they had to put up a sign apologising for the delay. It took so long I worried they might have forgotten our line as there was only Thebus and one other van to go on. But eventually the nice lady came out from the booth to say they were ready for us, and that once again I would need to reverse on. But I could have a driver if I wanted one. Yes Please!!!
It was a very long reverse, but this time much more level, though there was still a little bit of a scraping sound at one point as Wretched Rack made ground contact. The driver got us in within a whisker of one of the pillars as there were still more things to be loaded for the onward journey.
So telling Phoebe to be a good girl and grabbing the things I thought I might need over the next few hours, my phone and ipad – total waste of time as once we left port there was no connection on anything at all. My contact lens kit so I could take them out to sleep and put them back in again in the morning, and I managed to leave one of the bottles in the loo next morning, and some face wipes to freshen up after the journey I headed on up. The guys on the freight deck were very helpful, pointing me to the lift rather than the stairs, and telling me which floor I needed.
I had booked what is optimistically know as a 'sleeping pod', but in normal English is 'a chair which reclines a bit' . So getting directions for these from the reception desk, I was told up one deck and forward. As I hadn't a clue which was forward and which was aft I wandered around a bit. There were very few passengers and most were fast asleep curled up in odd places, having travelled up from Aberdeen, but I spotted a barman and asked directions again. I wondered if I was being watched on surveillance cameras as the guy I had asked first suddenly appeared and showed me where I was supposed to be going, and how to open the door with the little credit card thing, neither of which I would have managed without him
The room - or was it a cabin, or maybe a lounge even – anyway, it was somewhat darkened and there were a few passengers scattered around, mostly fast asleep judging from the snoring coming from various directions. . All the seats are allocated by number, and the booking office had taken care to put people two rows apart which was very thoughtful.
I think I was told there would be a blanket and a pillow, if there was I had either been forgotten or someone had taken mine, though I found a little pillow thing for which I was most grateful. Thankfully I had remembered to take a large blanket/shawl, so that kept me warm enough to sleep.
As it was by now some four or more hours since the lights had been sighted and we were still in port I didn’t think it was worth trying to find the outside deck and then trying to find my way back in again, and through the cabin window it was certainly all just blackness with no glimmer of anything once we had left the harbour, though I am still kicking myself in case I might have seen a wonderful display.
But we had a lovely smooth crossing – so even if I did miss the best display in twenty, forty or seventy years, depending on the age of the person who is telling you, I did have a good crossing (just trying to be positive here) and Phoebe seemed fine when I got down to her next morning, and that was worth missing the lights for in exchange for calm weather and keeping Phoebe happy. And who can say – the best display may well be yet to come, and by then I will be in the perfect position to view it.
As they say ..all good things come to those who wait in hope.
Just in case you would like to see what I missed this was filmed in Orkney whilst I was waiting at the Ferry Teminal at Kirkwall
This is the view from the house next door to Betty's Reading Room , looking over the harbour with the ferry just off shore
Betty's Reading Room
Tingwall Weather Forecasting Stone
The Tingwall Weather Forecasting Stone
Tingwall Ferry Terminal
Deep Ditches and defending walls
Entrance through massively thick walls
Central Hearth and remains of
stairs to upper floors
Phoebe trying some nice
I could have probably made it down the drive, but to be honest it didn’t look all that exciting, the weather was windy, the sun was going down, and I thought a photo from the road would be just as good.
We headed off towards the ferry and had a choice of roads one going past the Doocot - the only dove cote on the Northern Islands, so I decided to take a look. Though in the event we only view it from a distance