Monday, October 7, 2013

Island Paradise: A Brief Respite in Orkney

After my early day of travel (and my ill-advised yomp from Thurso to Scrabster), I spent several days in Orkney. Having always previously stayed with contacts in Orkney, this was the first time I actually stayed in formal visitor accommodation. As things in Kirkwall were (to the best of my knowledge) booked up, I ended up in the Stromness Hotel. The Stromness Hotel boasts lovely rooms, a great breakfast, and three - yes, three - pubs, to include a "whisky heritage bar". The Stromness Hotel, with its youthful and hard-working staff (who seemed ubiquitous - I swear, one kid working there seemed to be involved in serving me just about every meal I ate there, regardless of the time of day) did a great job of making me feel welcome. With so much pressure having arisen during the intervening weeks, it was extremely cathartic.

Early in my trip, I had my first ever wander around Stromness. Small by comparison to Kirkwall, Stromness nonetheless boasts its own history and a variety of curiosities. Stromness is located within the sheltered harbor known as "Hamnavoe", the latter being the village's original name. Hamnavoe is Norse for "safe harbor", as the harbor was within a protected area of Scapa Flow. The ferry MV Hamnavoe transports passengers from Stromness to Scrabster several times daily (except when it doesn't). In the days of sail, and the early age of steam propulsion, Stromness also served as a last stopping off point for ships from the Hudson's Bay Company that were bound for Canada and elsewhere. Login's Well offered one last source of fresh water before the ships left on their long voyages across the Atlantic. At some point, a tiny foot path in Stromness inherited the name "Khyber Pass" - not to be confused with the Indian takeaway near the University of Aberdeen campus.

When I arrived in Stromness, I'd spent the prior two weeks finishing off my dissertation and preparing to leave Aberdeen, and I just sort of needed a break. I found a conveniently placed bench at the south end of the village, and just sat there for at least an hour, maybe more like two. It was positively idyllic, just cold enough to be comfortable for a well-insulated bloke like me, but sunny enough to bring out Orkney's lovely greens and blues.

During one trip by bus from Stromness to Kirkwall, I looked out the bus window and saw that the waters of the North Sea northwest of Kirkwall (right around Finstown) looked as smooth as glass - something I didn't think was even possible for a body of water connected directly to the ocean, and particularly the North Sea! Of course, I had to snap a picture of it to share with you, my beloved readers. While in Kirkwall (which happened a couple of times, both for errands and for general leisure), I also stumbled upon...

... another blackening. One would almost think that I'm getting to the point of being pretty familiar with this place I fell in love with so many years ago... But, alas, my respite was to be interrupted in short order. There was time to fill, and there were things to do, and as soon as I'd had a moment to catch my proverbial breath, I was off and running once again.

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