So, summer rolls around again and it’s time for me and Moz to head up to some Scottish islands with our tent and bikes. In 2012 we visited Uist and Harris in the Outer Hebrides, and last year we island hop-scotched around the Inner Hebrides (Arran, Gigha, Isley, Jura and Colonsay). I’ve recently moved to Aberdeen, which makes Orkney an attractive option for this year’s tour – there’s a direct (but long) ferry from Aberdeen to Kirkwall.
Sadly however, Moz is otherwise engaged with this year. Too busy buying a house with his girlfriend in the swanky organic tofu district of Manchester, and then heading off to Finland, rather than spending slogging around some Scottish islands with a tent. In the rain. Some people eh :p
Luckily, I have a stand in… my friend and colleague Micha (based in Columbus, Ohio these days) was visiting Edinburgh for most of July, and I managed to somehow convince him that the best way to round off a trip to Scotland would be a week in the islands with tent, bike and whisky.
Of course, the downside of going camping with a visiting American academic is that he doesn’t have a bike with him. Or much in the way of camping gear at all. So July was spent working out where I can borrow a bike, pannier bags, sleeping bag, roll-mat, etc. Luckily we didn’t have to fork out for too much new equipment.
I did however have to buy a new tent, as the old red tent was (a), Moz’s, and (b) had been consigned to the grand campsite in the sky. After a lot of umming and ahhing, I eventually decided to splash out on a more expensive Terra Nova tent, as recommended here. So that’s exciting. And was even more exciting when I decided to save money by ordering from Trek and Field. Sure, I saved a lot of money on the RRP, but the tent they sent came with a grand total one peg and no poles. As their customer service is pretty terrible (only email or a premium phone number which is never answered), I ended up having to order a second tent direct from Terra Nova (who supply a normal phone number on their website which is answered promptly). What with the delay and all, the second tent (with 19 pegs and 4 poles!) didn’t arrive until the Friday before we were due to leave. Still, it turned up in time. More importantly, it’s a lot lighter than the previous tent, easier to put up, and a LOT easier to pack up and tie to the pannier rack. Hopefully it will last a good while – Moz is adamant that he will have time next summer. And it looks like Trek and Field have finally given me a refund. So no harm done.
The harbour at Aberdeen is a lot larger and busier than the little ports that serve the Hebrides. Seeing so many ships is still a novelty! Sadly, the excitment soon wore off when the ferryman destroyed my brand new water bottle (a birthday present from Louisa) before it had even been used once (it fell off the bike while he was carrying the bike over some parked cars: landed on the drinking spout on the hard metal floor of the ferry, which caved in the lid). Bugger. I had been too busy taking all the other bags and the tent off the bike to think that the water bottle might meet an unfortunate end.
Luckily, the rest of the journey was went smoothly and after a pint of Corncrake (possibly my new favourite beer from the Orkney Brewery) we stood out on deck for a while hoping to see dolphins. No such luck, but it was a nice evening.
The Aberdeen -> Kirkwall ferry leaves at 5pm and gives plenty of time for some onboard fish and chips and plenty of card games. We started off playing Sixty-six. However, after an hour of that we decided that we could do with a new game. Luckily, I have a copy of the Penguin Book of Card Games on my Kindle, so we dug that out to have look at our options. At which point Micha somehow managed to delete the book from my Kindle. Hmm. Oh well, more Sixty six.
The ferry eventually gets in around midnight, by which point it’s pretty dark, even up in Orkney. For once, we had been organised and had already sorted out a campsite in Kirkwall, and memorised the directions for how to get there. Sadly, we hadn’t been that organised and hadn’t noticed that while the main ferry port in Kirkwall is, well, in Kirkwall, the Northlink ferry from Aberdeen drops you off 2 miles away. And with it being dark, we didn’t notice this until we had already set off out into the unknown. In the dark.
We eventually found the campsite though, and then had the fun challenge of putting the tent up:
This turned out to be considerably harder than my practise run by daylight in the garden. Upon finally getting the tent up, we shared the small amount of whisky remaining from last year’s trip to the Bruichladdich distillery before falling asleep.