Scotland: Orkney in August

Old Aug 28th, 2022, 09:56 PM
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Scotland: Orkney in August

This post describes the second week of our two-week trip in August 2022.

Day 8: We checked out of the Auld Post Office B&B in Spittal and drove through Thurso to Scrabster, where we had reservations on the Northlink Ferry to Stromness.

The ferry itself is very nice - new, clean, nice facilities. The crossing takes about an hour and a half and, from what I have read, may be a little rougher than the Pentland Ferries crossing, which is further to the east and only lasts an hour. I noticed several children who were quite seasick and some queasy adults on the crossing over. I didn't have any problem but it was a nice enough day that I just went outside and watched the scenery. You do get a beautiful view of Hoy, including the Old Man of Hoy, from the Northlink route.

After arriving in Stromness we drove to Kirkwall to stock up on some provisions, as we were headed for a self-catering cottage on Hoy. We found the Tesco, bought what we needed, and then took a second smaller ferry from Houton to Lyness, on Hoy. All of our ferries were reserved several weeks in advance.

Our self-catering rental was the Cantick Head Lighthouse Cottage, https://cantickhead.com/. I have been dreaming of this cottage for years, since before the current owners took it over. They do a wonderful job. The cottage is comfortable, clean, and well provisioned. The views are amazing. They have a wood fire sauna and hot tub, both overlooking the water.

As we approached the lighthouse we found the road blocked by a man who was working on a water pipe. It turned out the water to the cottage had been cut off by a break in the pipe. The owners gave us extra bottled water. We weren't able to shower or do laundry that night, but by the next afternoon it was sorted.

I knew Hoy was somewhat remote, but it was even more so than I expected. The shops and restaurants operate on an unpredictable schedule; flexibility is a must. Also, the last car ferry to Hoy leaves Houton at 5:30, so we weren't able to have dinner on Mainland Orkney while we were there. That was part of our plan but I think if I am able to return I will try to arrange at least a couple of days in Stromness or Kirkwall.

Day 9: We returned on the ferry to Houton and drove to Kirkwall, where we found a laundromat and did some laundry while we had brunch at Archive Coffee. We walked around the pedestrian area and visited the beautiful cathedral. Then we drove to Scara Brae (fascinating neolithic village buried in sand dunes) and Skaill House. From there we went to the Orkney Brewery for a late lunch, and then visited the Ring of Brodgar. We made another quick stop at a smaller Tesco in Stromness and caught the ferry back to Hoy.

Day 10: We walked to the Old Man of Hoy, which is about a three-hour round trip. The sky was threatening but the rain held off until we were nearly back at the car. Unfortunately the still, sticky air was perfect for midges, but the walk was still beautiful. After the walk we stopped at Emily's Tea Room for a late lunch and were lucky to get there just ahead of several other groups of walkers, because (as seems typical) the tea room was already running out of things when we got there. We had some homemade mushroom soup, a salmon plate, and some sandwiches. Emily's also has a dinner menu that was highly recommended to us, but she was not serving dinner during the week we were there. In the afternoon and evening we just relaxed at the cottage.

Day 11: We slept in and then took a later ferry back to Stromness, where we had lunch at The Pier Bistro and Takeaway (more fish and chips for me!) and then walked around the town, ending up at the Stromness Museum. It's a fascinating little place with an eclectic collection of items relating to local and natural history of the area. We wandered back through town, got coffees at the Bayleaf Delicatessen, and then headed for the Yesnaby cliffs to go for a walk. The weather did not cooperate, though, and we abandoned the walk idea after taking some pictures from the car park.

Day 12: We spent the day on Hoy walking the cliffs along the section of island nearest the lighthouse. The walk included a wildlife refuge called the Hill of White Hamars. We came back along the road to the lighthouse, stopping at a local tea room called the Beach Gallery for refreshments. The selection was limited - the owner told us most of the menu items were not available because Prince Charles had been on the island several days earlier. But she was terribly pleasant and we had a nice visit with an older gentleman who was there having a cup of tea; he told us about retiring there from Yorkshire and said since the pandemic, Orkney real estate has been scooped up by people wanting to be somewhere remote. We had an early dinner at the Beneth'Ill Café, which is near the passenger ferry to Hoy (which arrives at a totally different part of the island). It has a nice menu and delicious fresh seafood; it closes at 6. Reservations highly recommended.

Day 13: We left Hoy, sadly, via the ferry to Houton, and drove around to St. Margaret's Hope, giving us a chance to see the Churchill barriers (a series of causeways that enclosed a large harbor during WWII) and the Italian Chapel (a chapel built from surplus and scrap materials by Italian prisoners of war who were brought to Orkney to construct the Churchill barriers). Then we took the Pentland Ferry to Gill's Bay. It is a shorter crossing than the crossing from Scrabster to Stromness. I was hoping for a view of "our" lighthouse from the water, but Hoy was completely socked in with fog. We could not see a single thing from the time we left St. Margaret's Hope until a few minutes before we reached the mainland.

We drove from Gill's Bay back to Inverness and did some last-minute shopping, then headed for our final stopping place - the Gun Lodge Hotel in Ardesier, a stone's throw from the Inverness airport. The hotel is old and slightly worn but we enjoyed it quite a bit; it was perfect for a short stay. The rooms were clean. We had dinner there and it was quite good - even better than we expected. I think I had a vegetable pie. There was one fellow manning the front desk, the bar, and the restaurant, but he was very pleasant and did a good job.

Day 14: We had breakfast at the Gun Lodge Hotel, went for a short walk along the shore of the Moray Firth, and then drove to the airport.

The whole trip was a success. We enjoyed everything we saw; we had some down time along the way and didn't try to see everything we possibly could. The weather was typical - sunny, rainy, foggy, windy, but really only interfered with what we hoped to do once or twice over the two weeks. And coming from Florida, it was absolutely delightful to have to put on a sweater at least once a day. I wish we had an extra week!
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Old Aug 29th, 2022, 12:31 AM
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Nice write up, any photos?
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Old Aug 29th, 2022, 06:25 AM
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Thanks for sharing this, Barbara_in_Fl, it was very interesting. Yes, any more photos?
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Old Aug 29th, 2022, 08:08 AM
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Old Man of Hoy from the Northlink ferry

Looking away from the lighthouse

Looking east at sunset (the whole sky was multicolored)

Ring of Brodgar

Walking to the Old Man


We loved the opening/closing times on some of the shops in Stromness

Stromness

Like butter. Some of the most delicious crab ever.

Walking along the cliffs near the lighthouse

Italian chapel

Our last glimpse of the lighthouse before it disappeared into the fog as we left.
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Old Aug 29th, 2022, 09:19 AM
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Stromness shot is just down from where some friends of ours live. Did you get to the big art gallery?
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Old Aug 29th, 2022, 01:09 PM
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Lovely shots and write up. And oh, that mist is beautiful.
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Old Aug 29th, 2022, 01:31 PM
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Nice shots!
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Old Aug 30th, 2022, 05:07 AM
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Wonderful photos.
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Old Aug 30th, 2022, 05:52 PM
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bilboburgler, we saw it while we were heading to the museum, and then we got distracted taking pictures of stone buildings in the rain and didn't go back! That will have to be for next time.
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Old Aug 31st, 2022, 12:51 AM
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What amazes me is the level of art available in the Island group. So many high level artists working in a shed with amazing views. If you go again, go during the art-fortnight where you can visit all the artists.
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