We woke up at 7:15am this morning so that we could make it in time to get the ferry across from Gill Bay to St Margaret’s which is on the Orkney Islands. The ferry left at 9:30 but we had to be there to ‘check in’ at 8:45. It had rained quite hard at times during the night and it did cross my mind that I hoped motorhome hadn’t sunk too far into the wet grass it was parked on. Fortunately there were no issues in that regard and we pulled at about 8:10am. We first had to refill the water tank (which takes about 10 minutes) and then we headed for the ferry.
The ferry wasn’t full as there were only about 20 cars, 3 motorhomes and 2 trucks. They loaded the cars and trucks first and then lastly the motorhomes and as we were first we got to in first. The only issue was that the guy said we had to reverse the motorhome into the ferry! Now that is easier said than done. The motorhome is about 6 meters long and there is basically no rear vision at all – only the side mirrors (and that isn’t great). And I had to reverse it into a ferry through a very narrow on ramp… they must be kidding! Fortunately I did manage to do it without damaging the motorhome or killing one of the ferry personnel. Very proud of myself. The guy behind us parked next to us and he was he finished parking he had a very ‘chuffed’ look on his face – he clearly was as proud of his achievement as I was.
The ferry trip took about an hour and even though it was cold on deck it was a really nice trip in that we ended up seeing numerous sea birds which you would only usually use on a pelagic trip. We probably saw around 15 lifers today (including Puffins – Jenni we saw about 5 or 6) and about 10 of those during the ferry crossings. It wasn’t raining anymore but it was still overcast but the clouds definitely seemed to be lifting and that proved to be true. The ferry crossing was uneventful and we disembarked and started our anti-clockwise drive around the Orkney Islands.
While the weather started to clear and we got a really good view of the Orkney Islands, they were as spectacular as we expected. While driving around, Helen reads the various guide books to me (the kids are too busy reading their own books) and so we have discovered some interesting facts about Scotland. For instance, there 40 different words in Scotland to describe somebody who is drunk (I wonder why when there is so much whiskey and nothing really to do here … what do all these people do for a living is a constant thought we have), the only musical instrument to be classified as a weapon is the Bagpipes (Brian will no doubt agree with that), and the alcohol related deaths in Scotland is 3 times what it is in the rest of the UK (notice a trend).
We stopped at Orkney’s main town – Kirkwall – to get supplies for the rest of the day and then headed toward the northern most point. To give you an idea of how far north we are – we are almost oppositie Norway (and very close to the same Longitude as the Baring Straights). If you head West from the Orkney Islands there is pretty much nothing between here and Canada. We stopped for lunch at one of the Northern points and then had a pleasant walk along the cliffs to see the breeding sites of the Gulls and Kittyhawks. After lunch we headed to Stromness where we planned to sleep over for the night but as the Island is actually quite small we ended up getting there at 3pm. I was going to reserve a spot on the ferry back tomorrow but as the next ferry was at 16:45 and the one tomorrow at 11am, we decided to take the 16:45 ferry and not waste the morning tomorrow. The ferry back was much more impressive in that it was much bigger and didn’t require that I reverse the motorhome into it. We again watched for sea birds on the deck and as the sun was out it was a very pleasant trip back. It was slightly longer (1hr 30mins) as we left from further north and headed slightly further west. We also got into discussion with an elderly couple from Kansas City who are touring around the islands and had spent time already on the Shetland and Orkney islands and were heading for the Hebrides. Interesting people and a nice conversation with them.
We got back onto the mainland at 6:15pm and we decided to aim for the closest caravan park which was only 2 miles away. It is run by a Texan – I spotted the different accent. After trying out various different pitches (all of which had considerably slopes) we eventually settled on one that has a sideways slope so this evening only Stephen should roll off his bed. Chloe is the best off as she has her head above her feet, the rest of us are the other way around (parked this way for the view). We are right on the coast line and can see the Orkney Islands from here. In fact it is now 11:30pm and I just went to the loo and the sun is still setting in the West. I don’t think it really gets properly dark here. The other thing I noticed is that it is getting cloudy in the East again and the wind is blowing from that direction. I am hoping there is no more rain on the way.
We had bought steak from Orkney (genuine Orkney beef) for dinner and we had also purchased an all-in-one barbecue (just light the paper) so we thought we would give it a try with the steak. It said that we shouldn’t stand it on a heat resistant surface and while I though the melamine outside table wasn’t good enough, I decided to stand it on a cardboard box and then on the table. This worked fine for the first 20 minutes or so until I noticed the melamine table turning brown (it was grey) and then decided to lift off the box and barbecue (which was in a foil container) at which point the box decided to light up as well. The grass became the obvious place to drop the barbecue and Michael kindly pointed out I was going to burn the grass. At this point Helen offered the grill rack from the oven … if only she had thought of that 20 minutes earlier! No damage done (ok – very little damage done – just a slightly black outline in the grass and slight brown tinge to the table) and we were back in business. We could only fit 3 steaks on the grill and so the rest had to be panfried inside the motorhome. They turned out very well and along with the mixed vegetables and baby potatoes with cheese it was again a nice dinner. We walked into the town (Thurso) and found an ice cream shop still open and so we had those for desert.
All the campsites are rated here in Scotland and this is the first 3 star one we have stayed at. The first 2 were 4 and 5 stars. There isn’t much to rate them on but the key feature is the quality of the bathrooms. When Helen returned this evening she said ‘Definitely 3 stars’ and after I had used this evening for a shower I think it is more like 2 stars. We will survice though and the view makes up for it. As no one went to bed before 10:30pm this evening and Stephen having just gone to bed at 11:30pm, I think we will all sleep in. I will go to sleep as soon as I have sent this.
Yours from the Island hopping Temples.