Friday 27 December 2013

A peachy beach and a walk with a cat

Today, the weather has taken another turn for the worse. Gale force winds and driving rain battered the cottage during the night, but at least we have fared better than those poor unfortunate souls further south, who have had to contend with flooding, travel disruption and lack of electricity. The only evidence of an ingress of moisture here being a damp curtain resulting from the rain wicking through the hole where the phone cable enters the building. Possibly not what BT had in mind when they quoted the data rate for broadband?

Yesterday, however, was a peach of a day. Sunny, dry and with the wind reduced to below gale force. To make the most of this, Our Lass and I ventured out mid-morning, to explore a part of South Ronaldsay that we had not visited previously.

By the time we parked at the Sand of Wright, overlooking Widewall Bay, the tide was just on the turn and beginning to flow once more. We walked across the narrow isthmus towards the Dam of Hoxa, marvelling at the lichen growing on a sheltered stone wall beside the path.

Photo courtesy of Our Lass
Lichen in the sun, a species of Ramalina
Which reminds me, I must have a shave
Returning to the southern shore, we wandered along the beach to the rockpools of Roeberry Taing, intrigued by the beachcombers who appeared to be gathering driftwood for fuel. Well, there's precious few trees on Orkney, so I guess it makes sense to use whatever combustible material is available.

Sand of Wright and She-who-is-always-right
We then drove up onto Hoxa Head, parking by the tea room (Disaster! Not open until mid February) and circumnavigated the peninsula, exploring some of the many structures dating from the two World Wars. These consisted of gun emplacements and their associated infrastructure, which formed part of the defences at the southern entrance to Scapa Flow, the safe anchorage for the British fleet during the first half of the 20th Century.

Observation towers of the Balfour Battery. Photo courtesy of Our Lass
At Scarf Skerry, as we passed the navigation beacon of Hoxa Head Lighthouse, the MV Pentalina sailed out of St Margaret's Hope, on her way to Gills Bay on the Scottish mainland. This catamaran vehicle ferry only takes an hour to cross the fast flowing waters of the Pentland Firth and, as we're not great sailors, is our preferred option for such voyages.

MV Pentalina. Photo courtesy of Our Lass
Hoxa Head Lighthouse
Once the Pentalina was clear of the Flow, a small tanker made its way into the anchorage through the Sound of Hoxa, presumably prior to visiting the facilities of the oil terminal on the island of Flotta. There is currently much controversy as regards the environmental impact of ships de-ballasting in these waters. A balance is still being sought between creating revenue for the local economy and protecting the native marine habitat.

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