We woke to sun and light cloud on our first full day in Shetland. Rain was forecast later and having spent so much time yesterday in the car, we decided to explore on foot. A little further back down the road is the Cross Kirk Churchyard which is still in use as a burial ground. The Roman Catholic Cross Kirk continued after the reformation but gained a reputation as a place of ‘superstitious pilgrimage’ and it was burnt to the ground in the 17th century by the minister of Northmavine, Hercules Sinclair who was a Protestant zealot. Some of the older stones apparently commemorate local notables but after a wet winter they were covered with lichens and I could not read them.
Back to the coast we descended to Stenness which was a Haaf (deep water) Station where fisherman went 40 miles offshore to fish for cod and ling with lines. The ruins of their summer lodges remain on the beach. Any sand on the beach is dark and along with all the black rocks, clues to the area’s volcanic past.
We wandered back along the coastal trail on the cliffs. Just south of the lighthouse is the Kirn O’Slettans. It is thought to have been one of the side vents of the volcano and when the waves are high enough they blow up it and the spray drenches the lighthouse. Back at the lighthouse we had lunch and then set off to Brae as James felt the need to find a newspaper (we had no internet at the lighthouse and the only thing on the TV news was the cyber attack). Mission accomplished, we stopped off at the Mavis Grind on the way back. Deserted by people but with sheep grazing, we walked along the shore and I picked up some wool for a future project.
After dinner, I sat outside and waited for the 21.40ish sunset.
Our second full day at the lighthouse was sunny but the wind had returned. We decided to walk up the coastal path to the north of the lighthouse. The trail is marked at stiles and occasionally signposts but mostly you follow the coast on sheep tracks and don’t get too close to the edge. Following sheep tracks reminded me of my childhood on the Ochil Hills. I spent hours just exploring on sheep tracks. We first reached the Hols O’Scrada, a 100m passage which was a long cave where the pressure of the water opened it to the sky. There used to be two holes but the bridge between them collapsed in 1873.
We diverted off the trail a little to visit the Broch O’Houlland where the remains of a defensive broch sit on a peninsula on the loch.
Further on up the coast there is a large gap in the cliffs at Grind O’ Da Navir.
Many years ago, when our son was young, we had a number of trips to Brittany, Cornwall, West Cork and the Outer Hebrides. All these have important neolithic sites but his cry was ‘not more old stones!’. Hopefully now, he would be more appreciative. We had planned to start at Stenness and then work our way to Skara Brae via the Ring of Brodgar. However, just as we were about to get out of the car at Stenness, a very wintry shower fell and everyone ran for cover. We decided to do things the other way round as we could see that the clouds were clearing in the west. Skara Brae was a real treat as I had learnt about it in primary school but never visited it. We know something about those who lived in them but there is even more we do not know about their culture and language and beliefs. The exhibition in the visitors’ centre was very busy so we pushed on outside to look at the real thing and afterwards had a walk on Skaill Beach and looked in the house.
We then decided to head off to the Ring of Brodgar ahead of the coach and minibus who were gathering to leave Skara Brae. Once there, we got into conversation with a local guide about some comments we had heard from acquaintances in various parts of the Highlands and Islands relating to English people moving there (‘white settlers’) and the fact that very few locals want to work with visitors. She was more optimistic about Orkney, saying that some of the Orcadian diaspora (some of whom I have known at school and university) are now returning and that the population had increased by 5% in the last census. She also said that cruise ships now stop off in Orkney with 4,500 people on board. I was quite glad that the stones were quiet when we were there.
Our last stop was Stenness, whose stones are some of the oldest in Britain.
The high winds today triggered my trigeminal neuralgia so I took some time out before planning tomorrow’s activities.