Sunday, 23 June 2013

Orkney, June 2013, Part 1

For 2013, the Tense Towers Tour to Orkney was scheduled for the beginning of June, several weeks sooner than on previous visits. The rationale behind this being that it would be slightly earlier in the season and we would therefore see a different facet of Spring. As it turned out, the preceding long Winter had a greater impact upon this than we could have possibly envisaged, so that the blooming and breeding season of the Orkney flora and fauna was offset even further than anticipated for the majority of species.

So it was, indeed, different.

Forsaking the speedy pleasures of air travel (with its procedural baggage of unnaturally early starts, queues for security, running the gauntlet of the duty-free shop, hanging around in departure lounges and not actually being allowed much useful baggage, thank you very much), we drove.

Inevitably, this meant a longer journey, but we could at least pack everything including the kitchen sink (if we so chose) and watch the scenery as it gradually changed on the trip northwards. Setting off an a Thursday evening after work, Our Lass, JD and I sped up the M6 as far as Lancaster, somewhat bizarrely with the outside temperature rising slowly as we went. As we parked at a hotel and decamped to stretch our weary limbs, an Oystercatcher flew over, calling stridently. Our very own piper at the gates of dusk.

Friday was all about leaving England and heading north into Scotland. The Cumbrian fells of the Lake District and the Pennines gave way to the Lowther Hills of the Scottish Southern Uplands, then, after skirting Glasgow, we passed the Ochil Hills to the north of Stirling. Between Dunkeld and Pitlochry, we took a break to visit my brother and his wife, who were holidaying at a cottage above the River Tay and we enjoyed fine views and good food, as well as abundant wildlife in the garden. Giving our grateful thanks and fond farewells, we pushed on up the A9, through the Cairngorm Mountains and onward to Inverness. After booking into our hotel for the night, we dined in the company of Lucy, an old acquaintance and ex-colleague of JD's, who regaled us with tales of natural history amongst the glens of Wester and Easter Ross.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, much like our mood, as we sped ever northwards through Sutherland to Gill's Bay on the shores of the Pentland Firth. The hour's crossing to South Ronaldsay was spent sea-watching, but with no cetaceans to report. Arriving on Orcadian shores, we drove into Kirkwall for a few supplies, before parking up at the harbourside to await the smaller ferry to Westray. To pass the time, we adjourned to Helgi's, a bar on the waterfront, where the non-driving majority of our contingent had their first chance to sample some Orkney ale.

"Draw the boat up to the noust - wipe salt from whiskers - and steer a course for the tavern."
The next ferry crossing was uneventful, as we threaded our way between islands until we reached Rapness on the southern tip of Westray. Once docked, we drove to the opposite end of the island, to settle into our home for the next two weeks, a cottage on the Aikerness peninsula.

The next morning, we hit the beach early...

White sands, turquoise seas and characterful skies


holdingmoments said...

This sounds full of promise.

I must head further north sometime.

Imperfect and Tense said...

I will attempt to convey how full of promise it was! Though bear in mind that we rarely went out with less than 3 layers on :o)

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Sweet! There is something soothing and a bit adventurous about a road trip. We, too, forsook air travel for the road north. After taking care of family business along the way, we're currently over 950 miles from home, 2 states away, sitting comfortably in a dry hotel room, listening to the rain, at the foot of the majestic snow covered Olympic Mountains, looking over the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It's almost like time travel, since the flowers here are more springlike than the full-on summer flowers of home. Hope the rest of your trip is rewarding.

Imperfect and Tense said...

A second Spring! You're preaching to the converted.

I can reveal that the rest of the trip was very rewarding, but you'll have to wait for details. Hope you're having a great time. See you back in the future!