Bernie Bell: Orkney Walks (With Stories) – Warbeth

For all these walks, take a good map with you, and wear stout footwear!

Warbeth –Turn right

Warbeth Beach is just North of Stromness.  It’s ever-changing.  Sometimes you go there and  there’s a stretch of sand, with some sloping beds of rock.  Sometimes the sand has been scoured away by the sea, and it’s just stone and more stone.

To get to Warbeth, drive out of Stromness, and down a track towards the grave-yard.  Drive along the track to the right, which follows the grave-yard wall.  Beware of pot-holes!  You’ll find yourself at a very small car-park, from which you have access to Warbeth Beach.  You can walk to the left, from here, if you chose, and it’s a pleasant and interesting walk, with good views of Hoy, and, if the tide is out, you can see some very impressive beds of exposed, sloping rock.  But my tale is of the path to the  right, ’the road less travelled’.

Back at the small car park – You will have a lovely view across to Hoy, and the beach here has some interesting, and attractive, sea-rounded stones.  If you look along to your right, possibly with the aid of binoculars, you should be able to spot a small, conical, stone structure, farther along the beach.  This is what Mike (my husband) and I, call The Warbeth Structure.

stone structure F Driver

Photo F Driver

It was built by Fiona-Next-Door’s brother, P.M., and his girlfriend, Vashti.  pmandvashti  made good use of the sea-rounded stones, to build this little structure!  I just hope it’s still there, when you folks are reading this.  It’s survived some of the worst winter storms in living memory, last winter (2013/14), and, hopefully, having survived those, it will survive.

And so, we walk along the path, to the right, where someone else with an appreciation of stone, has built a stone bench, which is perfect for just sitting, and looking about you.  Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.  Again, I hope that this bench is left as it is, and isn’t swept away by some kind of Orkney Islands Council fear of ‘Health and Safety Issues’!

Carry on along the path, and you will come upon The Warbeth Structure.

You can pause to wonder at pmandvashti’s ingenuity and ability, and feel thankful that some young people still chose to spend their time doing something constructive and appealing.  Good for pmandvashti!

I’ll now take you back, to the first time that Mike and I and Ben-the-Dog, did this walk, as this is where the story comes in……………………..

We had walked along the path, and saw in front of us, a big, ruined building.  It had obviously been a house, rather than a farm-building, and quite a grand house, at that.

 In the down-stairs, right-hand window, I saw a young woman, aged maybe 19.  She was sitting just inside the  window, sideways, with her left arm along the window-sill.  She had long, dark hair, drawn gently back, over her shoulders.  Not scraped back, as the ladies of the Victorian era tended to do, but just taken back, softly, over her shoulders.  ‘Softness’ is very much a word I associate with her, and gentleness, too.  She was wearing  quite a simple dress, with a lace collar.  It was very hard for me to place her in time, as I could only see her from her waist up, so it was hard to judge her time, by her fashion, but I was thinking, maybe late 18th Century.  ( You will have realised, by now, that she is what folk would call a ‘ghost’.)

She was entirely un-aware of us, and was looking out to sea.  Not sadly, but with a great sense of calm and contentment.  If she was waiting  for someone, or thinking of someone who had gone across the sea, there was no sadness in her demeanour.  The impression of her, which was strongest,  and which has stayed with me most, was of her calm, her serenity.

I got the impression that she’d had a very happy life there.  It was something she used to do – sit in the window and view the sea, and ‘Hoy’s Dark and Lofty Isle’ ( that’s a tune).

Some folk don’t move on, when they ‘die’, because they can’t let go of this world, or have un-finished business.  Some stay for a while,  simply because they were so happy during their time here, this young woman, is one of those people.  As I write this, I can feel, again, her contentment, her serenity.  Just sitting, viewing, smiling slightly.  A very pleasing image, and a sweet memory to take away with us.  She has a truly delightful presence.

We reluctantly left this soothing presence, and turned back along the path, to the car park.

I should mention , that it is actually possible to carry on the coast from this point, and walk right along to Yesnaby and even Skara Brae.  I would definitely advise a map, weather-proof clothes, and plenty of time, if you fancy doing that walk!

The  house and its occupants remained a mystery to us.  Then, in 2008, Julie Gibson brought out a book called ‘Rising Tides’, with photographs by Frank Bradford, and, there, on Page 29, was the ruined house! but not, unfortunately, our lovely lady.

The building is called Breckness House, and ‘Rising Tides’ gives a brief account of its history.  Julie Gibson is presently the County Archaeologist, and produced this book, to highlight how much of Orkney’s history and archaeology is being lost to the sea.  This is very evident at Warbeth and along that stretch of coast, where you can just about see the sea ’eating’ the coastline.

That’s the walk, and the story, and the story of the walk, and I realise that I have a reluctance to leave it, to finish here.  I think that’s because, whenever I think of that walk, and that house, and that young woman, it really is such a pleasing memory, and thinking of her always makes me feel so steady and calm, that I’m reluctant to say ‘Goodbye’ to her, again.  But I must, as that is the story!  I won’t say it’s the  end of the story, as who knows what else, or who else, we may encounter on another visit?

Smiley Stone F Driver

Photo F. Driver

I don’t feel that she’ll be there for much longer.  She’s not been there very long – in spirit terms, that is!, and the ones who stay because they were happy, often move on sooner than those with an axe to grind.  I suppose that, as they were happy in this life, they have a general attitude which means that they have the sense to know when enough is enough!


Related links: Fiona Driver  Fiddle Books, CDs, Photo Cards & Jewellery

Rising Tides: The Loss of Coastal Heritage in Orkney : J. Gibson & F. Bradford

All photos courtesy of F Driver

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4 replies »

  1. P.S.
    Fiona-Next-Door tells me that the Warbeth structure is no more! The winter storms have demolished it – leaving just some traces behind. If you go to ‘view the remains’, you could maybe have a go at re-building it?
    Meanwhile, another item of interest along that way, has come to my attention – an old lead mine!

    If you go to the place, as described in the link, you can actually find bits of stone on the beach with traces of lead in them! Another little bit of Orkney history.

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