Thursday, December 13, 2012

Island Paradise: Wideford Hill

In 2004, Captain John took me up to the top of Wideford Hill, which overlooks Kirkwall. I'd had a really hard time figuring out where it was using Wikimapia, but with the help of Gray 1 and a couple of maps, I was easily able to find it. I plotted my course - the A965 - and set out in my intrepid chariot to conquer the hill, which is apparently 738 feet high. It's also home to the chambered cairn, but that wasn't on my agenda this time around. On the dirt road up the hill, I saw and spooked at least one sheep into sneaking back under the gate it had snuck out of.

Aside from providing a fantastic view of Kirkwall, the summit of Wideford Hill was cold, wet, and windswept. As the highest point above Kirkwall, the location is dominated by big radio antennas. There's also a "trig point", and a big disc showing the direction to a bunch of other locations within a few hundred miles of Kirkwall. I remember Captain John telling me in 2004 that on a clear day, you could see from Wideford Hill to the Scottish mainland and Shetland, but October wasn't forthcoming as far as clear days go. (I didn't mind, though, because I'm actually most comfortable when it's cold, windy, and rainy - that's why I came to the University of Aberdeen instead of going to Namibia State Polytechnic Institute or the Saharan Postgraduate School.)

A few yards from the summit, there's a sign from the Orkneyinga Saga Trail. As I've mentioned before, I read the Orkneyinga Saga in 2008 or so. It frequently discusses beacons that were readied at the top of hills like Wideford for use as warning signals in the event that one group of vikings attempted to move against another. The sign recounts an incident from chapter 74 of the Orkneyinga Saga in which a spy on Fair Isle (between Orkney and Shetland) doused the beacon. According to the saga:

But that man was set to watch the beacon in the Fair Isle whose name was Eric. And when Uni had been a little while in the Fair Isle, he came to Eric and said: “Wilt thou that I watch the beacon? since I do naught else, and I may well sit and spend all my time on it.” Eric accepted that. But as soon as ever no men were near to the spot, Uni threw water on the beacon, and made it so wet that fire had no hold of it anywhere.
This act of sabotage allowed Earl Rognvald and his forces to sail to Westray unopposed, at which point he moved against the territories held by Earl Magnus. To this day, many of the hills in Orkney and Shetland are known as "Ward Hill" or "Wart Hill", and this denotes that they hosted beacons of their own.

I left Wideford Hill on Saturday morning and came back on Sunday night to get a grid - 30V VA 98425 38585 - and take a few night shots. Unfortunately, none of them turned out - a true shame, because despite the nearly overwhelming wind that night, the moonlit view of Kirkwall and Scapa Flow was truly breathtaking - truly one of the great experiences of my life.

Of course, any spot in Orkney is a good spot for a bit of self-photography, so I snapped a couple of shots of myself looking every bit as windswept as the hill upon which I was standing. When I've completed a few more months of long walks up Aberdonian hills, I'd love to put on my Marine Corps combat boots and a rucksack and hike to the top of the hill. (Yes, I realize it's only 738 feet, and that even if I do hike to the top of it, Big Brother Caleb will still make fun of me.)

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