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Sunday 6 April 2008

Around Orkney

I’ve spent the last few days out and about around the Orkney Mainland with a friend who is visiting from South. Friday we went around the West Mainland to the Brough of Birsay. OK I’m cheating as the picture here was one taken last summer – as I forgot to take my camera that day!

At low tide it is possible to walk out along a causeway to the Brough and walk up the hill to the lighthouse and hang over the cliffs to see puffins and there are also remains of settlements that are the remains of the Norse settlement. However the tide was in when we were there so we had to content ourselves with walking along the shore. It was quite breezy that day but bright and sunny. The wind was blowing off the sea so at least if we got blown around we would get pushed inland rather than off the cliffs. We walked as far as the “Fisherman’s Hut” which is a sheltered inlet with boat nousts where the small rowing boats would have been pulled out of the water for shelter, and a small hut where creels and boat equipment would have been kept. I think the hut was rebuilt in the early 1900s but the nousts would have been in use long before that.

We then visited a ruin that was once the Earl’s Palace built in the late 16th century for Earl Robert Stewart and there are many legends about the Stewart Earls who were a fairly tough lot I think. Like all the really old large buildings it amazes me to think how such a large structure could be built before the use of cranes etc. Another building that amazes me is St Magnus Cathedral, in Kirkwall built in the 11th Century which is a beautiful sandstone cathedral built in Kirkwall about 1100. The Rose stained glass window is beautiful. In the summer there are guided tours up to the top of the cathedral, and people tell me the view is wonderful – though I have yet to experience it!

Yesterday the weather worsened but we decided to still head into Kirkwall. It was snowing and hailing and a fairly strong north wind when we went down to the pier. Unfortunately I got very wet from the splashing waves just as I stepped onto the boat – but fortunately once I got into my “mainland car” the heater dried me off (and contrary to popular opinion I have not shrunk!)

On returning to Stromness we went to the Waterfront Gallery to buy some souvenirs and also look at the latest art exhibition. At the back of the shop is a small light space where local artists can show off their pictures, ceramics and silverware. One or two things caught my eye but I resisted the temptation to buy anything!

We then went to the new Pier Arts Centre, this was extensively remodelled and reopened last year. I love the interior of the building as there as different interlinked galleries each with windows at different levels and sizes which frame the external landscape of the town, harbour and hills. The Gallery houses contemporary art, including some Barbara Hepworth sculptures and Ben Nicholson paintings. I have to say I really like abstract paintings and art, but some of the work there leaves me puzzled and bewildered! One canvas is all white with a small black blob in the centre….. hmmmm, it has a very esoteric explanation beside it talking about the merging of landscape and “nature” etc – think I prefer the more obviously representational artwork! However as I say I love some of the abstract work that uses colours and textures.

But the Arts Centre does have a wide educational programme and there were several sessions being run for kids as part of the school holiday entertainment, and there was a great exhibition of photographs taken by youngsters at the local secondary schools which were amazing.

Today it is still breezy with heavy hail and sleet showers, but the snow has not settled yet. So I think we are planning a walk around the island……


  1. We loved seeing St. Magnus! The patterns that the masons created with the different colors of stones are wonderful. We didn't go up to the top either - I don't do that many steps, and John has some acrophobia.

    I know you and your friend are having a wonderful time!

  2. Clearly, I didn't stay long enough. I remember St Magnus, but not the patterns of stones, and we didn't get up to the top. Clearly, I will have to come back to walk around the island with you!

  3. Tell Ann hello from me! Ask her if she's taken any stairs down any tall structures lately!

  4. Hi Sian,

    Really enjoyed dipping into your blog - great stuff!

    Adele (resident - Mainland Orkney)

  5. Mary Z - I don't do that many stairs either - well not unless I have three weeks to do them in! Mary - YES You must come back to walk round the island AND see more of Orkney too - and not all in one day :-))

    Bev - it wasn't Anne that was visiting or she WOULD have gone up the tower at St Magnus - she walked up to the top of Gaudi's Cathedral in Barcelona AND down again......

    Adele - Glad you enjoyed your virtual visit to Graemsay! You must visit for real once this summer!