Sunday, 28 June 2009

The mist lifted ....

At last I see a puffin close up - at Sumburgh Head on the Shetlands

Seabirds on the cliffs - Sumburgh Head

Common seals with pups - Mainland, Shetlands

Looking down on the beach with seals

The Ring of Brodgar on Orkney - looking towards the nearby mound

The Ring of Brodgar looking towards the loch
Over the past week I have fulfilled a long held desire to visit the Orkneys and Shetland Isles; the long journey up to Caithness was made over two days through spectacular scenery and an overnight stay in Stirling, arriving at the northern most tip of Scotland only to find everything concealed by dense mist. The plan was to stay a couple of days in the small coastal town of Thurso to relax after the journey and then to catch a ferry over to Stromness on Orkney, continuing on to the Shetlands.
On the first full day in Thurso the mist lifted and a few wonderful hours were spent walking along the cliffs which were covered by a myriad of wild flowers, including orchids.
The Orkney day finally dawned. Although misty and chilly for the ferry journey across, it quickly became bright, blue-green and beautiful. The first place to visit was Skara Brae, which was everything I imagined set against the backdrop of a sparkling sea. Then back to Stromness where I was directed to the local bookshop in my search for a compilation of poetry by Orkney poet, George Mackay Brown. My brief encounter with the owner of the shop turned out to be a strange and compelling few minutes - a story I will save for another time.
Back with the people I travelled with, there was still so much to see, the Stones of Stenness, Maes Howe, and finally the stunning Ring of Brodgar. I was not prepared for the elation I would feel when walking around this remote heather covered henge by the sea, surrounded by the distant hills of neighbouring islands. In many ways it seemed to mirror the Avebury henge back in Wiltshire (and home) - Orkney was definitely the highlight of the trip. The Shetlands were still to come, however, and the time spent there was sunny, warm with the bluest of seascapes, seals basking on the sands, wonderful puffins, gulls, cormorants, and shags flying in mesmerising profusion around sheer cliffs. Then on to the fascinating archaeological site of Jarlshof. I cannot do Skara Brae or Jarlshof justice here but will come back to them later.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect was the daylight. I did not experience the darkness of night for the duration of my trip though had no trouble sleeping - travelling from Orkney to Shetland on an overnight ferry it was a little weird to be looking out at the sea at midnight, while still light.
(music of the Shetlands)