By Tuesday we were due at Kirkwall on the Orkney ‘mainland’ (ie, the largest island). Overnight, though, the problems with the ship had really started to show themselves. We were due to leave Hoy at midnight, but after much clanking, grinding and banging the engines were switched off and we stayed put. The same thing happened at two am, and we didn’t finally get moving until four am. We later heard that a tug had had to be called out from somewhere to drag us off the quayside at Hoy. According to the official version, this was due to ‘high winds’ but, er, it wasn’t particularly windy. Another mechanical fault on board, methinks.
All this meant we were late arriving at Kirkwall. We’d booked on our only tour of the cruise, to the famous archaeological sites at Skara Brae (stone age village), Brodgar (henge monument) and Stenness (standing stones). Luckily, the tours were still running, but the late arrival meant we were short on time and had to cut the duration at each stop, particularly the Stones of Stenness where we literally hopped off the coach, took a photo and hopped back on again.
The tour itself was fantastic. We had a friendly and knowledgeable local guide called Frederick who was originally from Sweden but had settled on Orkney years ago and knew pretty much everything about everything. He nattered on, not just about the archaeology, but about the history, mythology, geography, climate, and general way of life on Orkney, all of which was fascinating.
And Skara Brae was amazing. I studied the site at some length at university, many years ago, but had never visited before. Even looking at plans and photographs, it’s hard to get a proper ‘feel’ for a place, and it was lovely to be able to put the site into context in terms of its size, proximity to the sea, and the size and surprising level of comfort of the houses. Best of all, perhaps, was the reconstructed house which showed what the place would have looked like when people were actually living there. It was a revelation – I’ve seen nineteenth century cottages that were less cosy and less well equipped! So much for Stone Age man being thick, saying ‘ugg’ a lot and living in a cave.
We’d have liked time to look round Kirkwall itself but by the time we got back to the ship, there simply wasn’t time. Shame, as on a brief drive through on route to the tour sites, it looked lovely. We’ll definitely be back for a closer look.
I took loads of photos at both Skara Brae and Brodgar, but the weather was pretty awful and I got water in the camera-lens-opening-thingy, which jammed, so not all of them came out. A shame, as both were wonderful, wild spots. Here’s a selection of the best.