Sunday, 26 August 2012

It seemed like a good idea at the time

Having planned it months in advance, the weather was at last perfect for a trip to the island of Hoy. As a result of the ferry timetables, we had to leave the house before 7.00 am in order to have sufficient time reach Loth pier, dump the car and ride onto the boat. A calm crossing, which boded well, brought us to Kirkwall just before 9.00am. Gail would spend the day in town, hopefully not spending too much, whereas I had about an hour to cycle to Houton about ten miles down the road on the Northern shore of Scapa Flow. When you look at a map, the route looks quite innocuous however I can assure you that there is quite a bit of geography on the way. Knackered, I was grateful to be able to chain the bike to a lamppost and stroll down the jetty onto the waiting boat. In no mood for sightseeing, I opted for a sit down in the lounge beneath the car deck. (There wasn’t a view.) The ferry arrived at about 11.00am, giving me three hours on Hoy before I had to catch the return boat at 2.00pm.
One of the guns of the B98 from Lopness

Lyness pier lies directly in front of the Scapa Flow visitor centre and museum, a small relict of what had been a sprawling Royal Navy base for forty years between 1917 and 1957. Admission is free and the site occupies the old pump-house and some of the larger exhibits are housed in the last remaining of sixteen fuel holding tanks, which felt like I’d entered the torture scene in ‘Brazil’. There is a massive amount of history on display. They were, after all, quite turbulent times.  There was just too much to take in on such a brief visit, mainly because I was keen to attend the naval cemetery up the road. Having been to Normandy recently, and visited the military cemetery at Bretteville-sur-Laize, I was already aware that they are beautiful and contemplative places, but nothing really prepares you for the emotional tidal-wave that hits you. As a shameless Boche, I was there to pay my respects at the graves of eight of the nine German sailors ‘murdered’ during the grand scuttle at the time of the armistice of June 1917. Tucked away in a corner and with noticeably fewer blooms, I found them. It was still a magnificent place to be. Much of the cemetery is empty. Long may it stay as such. Having made my way on foot back to the museum, I barely had time to nip back in and make a donation before having to run to catch the ferry.

Royal Naval Cemetery, Lyness
 The weather turned ugly on the trip back to Houton from Lyness, via the oil terminal of Flotta. Big clouds rolled in, the temperature plummeted and while I didn’t get wet, Stromness and Northern Hoy definitely very much did. Having seen nothing on the way out, I was determined to stand out on deck while we crossed Scapa on the return. All the other passengers were wrapped against the elements and I must confess to feeling a bit exposed in my tee-shirt. I was relieved when Houton emerged from the mist and I went inside to put another layer on for the return cycle ride back to Kirkwall. The less said about that particular torture the better. An hour later, I arrived at Didldidi expecting to find Gail shopping prior to catching the last ferry of the day to Sanday. The mobile that Gail insisted I carry on my trip tweeted into life as I was busy with the cycle lock. By the time I’d dug it out I’d missed the call. I called Gail back to find that she was already at the harbour. I just had time to rush around the shop for a basket full of naughty treats before meeting up with her again. It was a relief to be out of the saddle. It let the ship’s compliment wheel my bike to stowage and they could have pitched it overboard for all I cared! Almost twelve hours we’d been away for a poxy two hundred minutes on Hoy. I’d certainly look to spending a night away in Kirkwall the next time I plan the trip. Hopefully, I’ll have some company with which to share the experience. For a taster you can visit

The brains of the wind turbine. It's got my name on it!
Needless to say, a good number of days of rest and recuperation were in order. We had to keep an eye open, however, for visitors in connection with the turbine. The concrete had set and workmen came to dig the cable trench to the house. Then an electrician turned up to fit the gubbins in the storeroom. Then he had to come back to install another fuse-box after Scottish Hydro insisted. Then they turned it on and we watched as it generated power. Then they came back to turn it off. It was just as well, too. I had just noticed that our electricity meter was running even when everything was turned off. Apparently, the stupid machine couldn’t tell which way the juice was flowing when the turbine was spinning, just that it was, and decided that it was going to charge us accordingly. Not only were we feeding the grid, we were paying them for the privilege. We have a date from Scottish Hydro for when they intend to plug us back in again. We’ve told them to change the meter while they’re about it otherwise we’ll be broke within weeks.

Four months after sowing a few rows of carrots in a raised bed, back when I wondered if winter was an all year thing, I lifted a few stalks to see how they were coming along. They were a bit on the small side but, as both of us are fans of baby veg, it was time for my first harvest. I did the digging and Gail did the blanching and freezing. Furthermore, the vegetable box that my little sister bought for us, that I planted much later, also produced yummy carrots. Some peas, beans and even a couple of tomato plants emerged as well. The carrots went in the freezer with the rest and I thinned out the other plants. I’ve dug a fresh bed just outside the door for the ailing squash (I didn’t know that the vine needs to touch the ground). That leaves the leeks and courgettes coming along nicely. Indoors, a dizzying variety of peppers are currently flowering. I’m not counting my allegorical chickens, but it may just be that we don’t starve this winter and what's more, we've hopefully learned a few things for next year’s calendar.

The Clogg channel at Tres Ness (before it got 'difficult'.)
We continued our exploration of the island when I managed to persuade Gail to come on a walk with me. Having failed to reach the chambered cairn at the Southern tip of Tres Ness in April, I thought it about time I had another go. Yet again I failed to heed Gail’s warning that things are farther away than they appear. The sign insisted that it was a mere 1.7 miles, but that was complete tosh. The first leg was around Cata Sand to the house, Tresness. The sight of heavy machinery made us pause while I sought permission to pass. The owners were happy to let us through while their reconstruction workers were on a break, but couldn’t be sure that the area wouldn’t be a dangerous place later in the day. I assured them that we intended to make our way back along the beach, bypassing the house altogether. Of all the remote places on the island, this must be the remotest. It is unlikely that anyone else had passed this way all summer. We waded our way through tall wilderness, past a pond and reed-bed where we startled a heron into flight and finally reached the rocky Southern tip of the spur. The cairn was a disappointing mound in the earth and does not appear to have been excavated. A lintel was visible on one side and part of the roof had collapsed to confirm that it was a manmade feature. The return journey was hellish. Faced with towering grassland, we chose to struggle over boulder beaches instead. It was a scramble and was not without sprains, pains, cursing and tears. I managed to find a big stick and a skull, so I was happy, but I was certainly the only one having any fun. There was brief respite when our progress was the subject of close scrutiny by an inquisitive seal, just yards from the shore. This gave Gail the idea that wading through the shallow water had to be smarter than tripping over rocks. She was right as well. It was. Our tired feet welcomed the chill. After that, the remaining mile or so back to the car was in much better humour. I can only hope that my ‘Sunday Best’ Merrells weren’t ruined as a result!

No comments:

Post a Comment