The only day I had bad weather when I was on Orkney, was the day I went to Sanday, an outlying island to the north. I got the Friday morning ferry from Kirkwall and stayed the night before in the harbour car park by the public loos, to ensure parking for the day. I woke to rain drumming on the roof, and it didn't let up until the evening. (Incidently the loos on Kirkwall harbour are 5*, stainless steel and clean enough for brain surgery.. at least they were at 8.30 in the morning.) I bought my ticket and thought I would get a paper to read on the ferry... silly, they don't come in until 1pm.
On the ferry I met a young German electrician, Eugene, who was going to Eday, the island south of Sanday, for a couple of weeks. He works on one of the test sites trialling tidal power which, if it can be made viable, will be the next thing in renewable energy. He was excited about his work, but not about the prospect of two weeks on Eday. “There is one pub,” he said, “but it isn't often open..”
Sanday is the island 'Where sand, sea and sky meet' and, apart from the wind turbines that greet you by the harbour, it has stunning scenery with the most dramatic beaches and dunes, teeming with seabirds and a large population of seals. I went to visit Fenella and Steve Ray who have a farm with sheep and a couple of cows, dogs, chicken and ducks.. They are friends of friends of mine and have lived on Lewis and in Ayrshire, but this is the most remote place they have lived in.
|Fenella and Steve on Tresness beach|
The summer days here are very long; it doesn't get really properly dark at all, people carry on working until midnight. But then in the winter the days are so short – the very mention made Fenella look crest-fallen. It is not just, she said, because the days are so short, but because winter goes on for so long... October through to May. Orkney doesn't really do autumn and spring – it goes from summer straight into long dark winters.
Steve took me to see the island including an archaeological dig he has been working on which is going to be moved in its entirety to the Heritage Centre as one more winter will see it washed out to sea. There is a renovated croft at the Centre which was once home to a family with 13 children.
|Avoid a spitting Fulmer|
After lunch we took the dogs to walk on Tresness beach on the east of the island. Fulmers nest in the dunes behind and you don't want to get too close to a nest because they will defend themselves by spitting a mouthful of stinking, oily regurgitation at you. There was one struggling in the sea trying to up.. and failing, getting more and more water-logged. They have stiff straight wings, floating and only occasionally beating their wings. If you find one standing in the road you you should pick it up and throw it in the air to get it airborne.