|The A9 north of Inverness is actually quite a good road|
After the sweeping curves and climbs of the A9 with the sun glinting on the sea combined with the calmest crossing on the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness I can ever remember, the inky black sea was truly millpond flat, this was shaping up to be a very good trip. In no time Stromness was coming into view and I was once again feeling like a kid at Christmas, this place has always has this effect on me...
|A flat calm Hoy Sound and Atlantic beyond|
As it was Stromness shopping week, I decided to stay in Kirkwall this trip. I had booked pitch at the Pickaquoy campsite and I had loads of time to meander around the mainland. Rolling off the ferry the weather was still great so I decided to take the road along the side of Scapa Flow. I had seen Waulkmill bay a few times from the boat while diving in Scapa Flow and it was one of the places I wanted to visit. I pulled off the fast A964 main road and drove down the track to the parking for the bay. As the tide was high the sea was turquoise over the white sand of the bay, under a blue sky with a few fluffy clouds. Even the tankers at anchor in the Flow looked scenic in these surroundings...
After wandering around for a wee while I jumped back on the bike and headed in the direction of Kirkwall on the A964. The road carves back and forth to and from Scapa Flow, the surface smooth and the forward visability good. As you approach Kirkwall the views over Scapa Flow open up, and if you know where it is over the resting place of HMS Royal Oak and many of her crew of men and boys.
A quick detour down a wee back road brings you the Scapa itself, along with it's white sand beach and views over the flow and out to the Pentland Firth.
|The beach at Scapa|
|RT At Scapa beach|
After a few snaps at Scapa I rode down to the campsite in Kirkwall, checked in and put up the tent.
The facilities at Pickaquoy Camping are very good. The toilets are like your toilet at home, each one of the 12 having a toilet, sink and shower. There are also another 4 that are toilets only. The campers lounge is warm and carpeted and the area for washing dishes has 6 individual washing stations. All of the facilities were spotlessly clean while I was there. Only downside is there are no views as it is in the city and very close to the Pickaquoy centre.
It rained all night, luckily I remembered to bring my boots in before I settled down. I woke to a misty, damp morning but still very warm and sticky. Throwing down a mug of coffee and a couple of breakfast biscuits I headed off for Yesnaby, my first goal for the day. Taking the Finstown route this time on the A965 which is again another cracking, fast road that has a great surface and few surprises to catch you out. Leaving the A965 I picked up the B9055 and rode past the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar. Both of these sites were heaving, there was a cruise ship in at Kirkwall, so I just kept on heading for Yesnaby. A bit more care is needed once you get off the main roads as there is a lot of mud from farm vehicles and shit from farm animals. Just ease back and enjoy the view. Unfortunately the further west I went the worse the view got, the mist was rolling in from the cold Atlantic. Thankfully at Yesnaby a slight breeze was keeping the mist offshore...
|RT at Yesnaby|
|Yesnaby looking south|
|Yesnaby looking north|
Yesnaby is a special place, I wandered around the rugged cliff tops enjoying the cooling sea air gently sweeping over the wild landscape.
Nicely cooled down I was back on the bike and heading north for the bay of Skail. Again the roads were less than perfect, so I just meandered along the back roads at a leisurely pace. At the bay the mist was thankfully once again being held offshore by the biker cooling sea breeze.
|The mist being held back from the Bay of Skail, just|
|Rock stacking at the Bay of Skail|
A few mile further up the road I was going to walk up to the Kitchener Memorial at Marwick head, but when I arrived at the bay you couldn't see the top of the headland for mist. I didn't bother!
|Sorry, I'm not walking up there to stand in the mist!|
As Marwick head was a wash out, I kept heading north to the north west corner of the mainland at the Brough of Birsay. The rain was starting to blow through the wind as I passed the ruins of the Earl's Palace. Pulling into the carpark, people were starting to take shelter in their cars.
|A few hardy sightseers in the rain at the Brough of Birsay|
My stomach was telling me it was time for lunch, so I pointed RT towards Kirkwall once again. About a mile from Birsay the road suddenly improves and you find yourself on the fast A966. Making a bit of progress along here brings you through Evie, Woodwick and soon after, Finstown. Turning left 10 minutes later you are back in Kirkwall.
In the town I picked up an excellent crispy chicken and bacon baguette from a shore front van and planned my next move.
I decided to head for Inganess bay, 5 minutes outside Kirkwall, with it's wide sand beach and wreck of the Juniata.
|The beach at Inganess bay|
|The wreck of the Janiata ashore in Inganess bay|
The roads were now drying up so I headed for Burwick and the end of the road at the bottom of South Ronaldsay. The A961 runs from Kirkwall all the way down to the bottom of South Ronaldsay and is a mix of long straits and fast twisty sections around the Churchill barriers. A great few miles of road, but take care around the farm entrances.
|The cliffs at Burwick|
|That is Scotland over there|
|RT at the end of the road|
Sweeping back up the A961 the sun finally started to break through occasionally and folk were starting to make the most of the late evening sunshine. I settled for a shower, campsite curry and a couple of beers.
After the usual coffee and breakfast biscuits I was once again on the road heading for the Gloup. After passing the airport the roads were not great, more farm muck and animal crap all over the place plus a lot of narrow single track. The Gloup is a narrow sea cave and channel carved into the cliff face. This would be a spectacular place in rough weather.
|The seaward side of the Gloup|
While I was over this side of the Island I headed for a couple of beaches I wanted to have a look at, first was Sandside bay. I wish I had checked this out sooner, it is now an approved 'wild' campsite and what a view to wake up to...
|...and this is where you could have been camping...|
Cursing my choice of campsite, I headed a mile down the muck strewn road to Newark Bay.
Taking the backroads from Newark bay I headed back over to the barriers and down onto Lamb Holm to visit the Italian chapel. It is one of the places I always try and visit when I am out and about on the island. I don't know why, I am not religious, but I think this wee place is a real gem. It costs £3 to get in now and access is controlled. It used to be free and open all the time, but unbelievably it was vandalised and some items stolen a few years back.
Lunch, once again was calling so I headed back down to South Ronaldsay and headed for the Skerries Bistro. A wee bit expensive, but the food is excellent. As a bonus I got to rampage back up the A961 in search of some beaches. A wee detour along another mucky track masquerading as a road brought me to Dingyshowe bay, probably the best beach in Orkney.
Knocking the mud off the tyres on the A961 once again I stopped at the north end of No. 1 barrier to have a stroll around the beach that has formed around the barrier.
I decided to have a tear down the side of Scapa Flow again before heading back to the campsite and getting tidied up for an early start in the morning. I managed to stop in the field overlooking Houton Bay and Scapa Flow, where the main wrecks were scuttled and where I have spent so many hundreds of hours under water.
|Houton bay and Scapa Flow, excuse the horizon it was a hand held pano!|
It poured with rain all night and by the time I got the gear and the tent packed almost everything was soaking wet. The crossing once again quite smooth and the rain eased up by the time I got back to Inverness. By then I just wanted to get home so I just charged down the most boring road in Scotland, the A9...
Another great trip, even though the rain tried it's best to get in the way. I made a mistake with the campsite, even though the Pickaquoy campsite is very good and clean, it is pretty bland. The only reason I didn't use the point of Ness site in Stromness was because shopping week was in full swing and it can get pretty hectic. I will wild camp at Sandside in the future if I can't get a pitch at Point of Ness.
I'll see you again in a couple of years my old friend!
|Packed, but lashing down as I get ready to leave Kirkwall|