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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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 🙂
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 🙂
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.
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: