Al and Micha’s Trip to Orkney: Day 1

First things first: a cup of tea/coffee

First things first: a cup of tea/coffee

I always find sleeping in a tent on the first night difficult… there just doesn’t seem to be any way to make sleeping on the ground in a bag with no pillow comfortable. Hence Monday morning was somewhat bleary eyed. Still, our plan was reasonably laid back: buy a new water bottle, look round the sights in Kirkwall, then cycle up to the Broch of Gurness and camp by the nearby beach.

Kirkwall Cathedral

Kirkwall Cathedral

So, first on our list of things to see was Britain’s most northerly cathedral. Which being large and made out of red sandstone was easy enough to find. Some of it dates back to 1137 and it’s an impressive landmark.

Taking photos of the exterior prooved to be harder than expected due to the sunny weather. I've had to mess around a bit to stop everything being over saturated.

Taking photos of the exterior proved to be harder than expected due to the sunny weather. I’ve had to mess around a bit to stop everything being over saturated.

And of course, the stained glass window is never going to photograph well using my little digital camera. Still, a reasonable photo, and a nice example of the gulf between photographs and visual perception.

And of course, the stained glass window is never going to photograph well using my little digital camera. Still, a reasonable photo, and a nice example of the gulf between photographs and visual perception.

Next door to the cathedral is the ruins of the Bishop‘s and Earl‘s palace:

The Bishop's Palace

The Bishop’s Palace

This history of the Earl’s of Orkney seems really interesting and definitely something I plan to read up on in the future. From the tower in the Bishop’s Palace you get a great view of Kirkwall.

It's a panorama! Zoom in :)

It’s a panorama! Zoom in 🙂 Looks like the weather might hold for a nice afternoon of cycling!

After wandering round the ruins for a while, we walked the couple of miles to the Highland Park distillery to stock up on supplies. We arrived just in time to join in on the midday tour! The distillery buildings themselves are really nice: dark worn stone.

It was starting to get somewhat overcast

It was starting to get somewhat overcast

Some malt. As it's the summer silent season, there's only a little patch of malt out for display purposes.

Some malt. As it’s the summer silent season, there’s only a little patch of malt out for display purposes.

Looks like they're still using some old equipment.

Looks like they’re still using some old equipment.

getting closer to whiskey...

getting closer to whiskey…

That should be nearly enough to get the population of Kirkwall through the dark winter months.

That should be nearly enough to get the population of Kirkwall through the dark, cold and long winter nights

At the end of the tour we of course get to taste some of their more expensive whisky. Which was very nice indeed. And luckily, as we’re cycling, we’re not going to be persuaded to buy a bottle of the good stuff. As we simply don’t have room in the panniers. So we’ll have to make do with the Highland Park 10 Year Old, which comes in a  smaller 35cl bottle. And the tour also included a couple of free glass tasting glasses, which means we can be classy and drink whisky out of glasses, rather than plastic cups. While camping in a field.

Good news - The sun has come out! Better news: We now have whisky!

Good news – The sun has come out! Better news: We now have whisky!

Into town, lunch, back to campsite, load up bikes, and away we go! The plan was to cycle north up to the Broch of Gurness. It’s right next to a beach and a couple of people had recommended it as a good while camping spot. Sadly however, I let Micha take charge of the map, and somehow despite there being only two roads on Orkney, we went the wrong way. As you might be able to see from the fancy hi-tech route tracker, we went west rather than north. We were a little preoccupied battling against the strong headwind and didn’t notice until we reached the turn off for the road across the causeway through the Heart of the Neolithic. So the new plan was to battle on and get tin Skara Brae in time for a visit, and then wonder where to camp.

We figured that we might as well stop and have a look around the Stennis Standing Stones while we were passing. They're pretty impressive!

We figured that we might as well stop and have a look around the Standing Stones of Stenness  while we were passing. They’re pretty impressive! Shame a farmer blew some of them up years ago.

These might be the largest standing stones I've ever seen! They certainly tower over Micha.

These might be the largest standing stones I’ve ever seen! They certainly tower over Micha.

We reached Skara Brae around half past four and had a look round. It’s quite something to think people were living here 5000 years ago.

The village must of been quite cosy when it had a roof, with fireplaces, etc.

The village must of been quite cosy when it had a roof, with fireplaces, etc.

Apparently the sea was much further away when people lived here.

Apparently the sea was much further away when people lived here.

It doesn’t take much knowledge of geography of stone age building techniques to realise where all the stone came from: there are (Caithness?) flagstones lying around all along the coast, just waiting for somebody to use them as standing stones!

mini-henge!

mini-henge!

Although, it's easy to see that our ancient anccestors were far more accomplished builders than the casual visitor to the seaside

Although, it’s easy to see that our ancient ancestors were far more accomplished builders than the casual visitor to the seaside.

Next up was the final cycling leg for the day, up to a campsite opposite Birsay. It felt like a bit of a trek, as I was still getting into the swing of things again, but we got there in the end. And we managed to pick up a couple of beers en route 🙂

A hearse left out for scrap.

A hearse left out for scrap.

The campsite itself was a little disappointing. Sure, the facilities were good, but it paled in comparison to the sites along the coast Moz and I pitched up in the Hebrides. Still, can’t complain. And despite the wind, we got the tent up in no time at all – being able to see what you’re doing helps a lot. Then we had fun watching a father and son team trying to sort out their really large tent in the increasingly strong wind 🙂

Meet the new tent! Weights about half as much as the old tent, and is a lot easier to pitch and pack up :)

Meet the new tent! Weights about half as much as the old tent, and is a lot easier to pitch and pack up 🙂

After grabbing some food, we went for a stroll, took a couple of photos and then played cards for a while and drank the beers.

The overcast view across to Birsay

The overcast view across to Birsay

Nothing makes a photograph look more exciting like some good old rays of sunlight poking through the clouds.

Nothing makes a photograph look more exciting like some good old rays of sunlight poking through the clouds.

So far, haven’t seen many good wild camping sports on Orkney: there isn’t much in the way of flat ground that isn’t being used for framing. However, this spot looked like it had some potential:

Quiet neighbours and a nice long sleep. Maybe not.

Quiet neighbours and a nice long sleep. Maybe not.

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