Bernie Bell: Orkney Walks (With Stories) – Happy Valley

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

Happy Valley – and it is, too!

Happy Valley is one of the few places in Orkney, with trees!  It isn’t a big walk, but has a good story, and is a little piece of magic.

Driving along the Inter-City-Super-Highway from Kirkwall, opposite the turn-off to the right, for Brodgar, look out for a turn-off to the left, marked Bigswell.  Turn left onto this road, and, not very far along, you’ll find the turning for Happy Valley.  At the moment, it’s not signed, but, at time of writing, a good marker to look out for, is a big rock, with a sign for Stewart Moar’s jewellery workshop, on your right; the actual turning for Happy Valley, is the next one, on your right.

There’s  a small car park, then you follow the path, down through a gate, by Edwin Harrold’s house.  Edwin Harrold moved into this house, in the late  1940’s. Happy Valley is a little vale in the hills, with a lively stream flowing through it.  The vale provides shelter , so Edwin  set about planting trees, making paths, and building walls.  He’s made a wonderful , secluded, magical little place of rushing water, peaty water-falls, pools, trees and flowers. It’s just full of Bluebells in the spring.

Happy Valley (Bernie Bell)

Local fiddler & wood nymph Fiona Driver (photo Bernie Bell)

A group of people known as the Friends of Happy Valley, have recently restored the house.  This needed to be done, as it was heading for being ruinous.  It’s been done well, very well, but……..the old, more jumbly, house had such an appeal.  It looked more ‘lived in’ and homely.  When we first visited Happy Valley, years ago, I ‘saw’ a man, leaning in the doorway.  A tallish man ( tho’ I think most  folk are tall!) One of those ‘rangy’ kind of people – in baggy trousers, with braces, and a baggy white shirt, and a cap.  He was just leaning there, seemed pleased to have visitors.  A few years later, I saw a picture of Edwin Harrold in the ‘Orcadian’, and there he was, the man who was leaning in the doorway.  I’ve seen him there, a number of times since, but last time we were there, no sign of him or sense of his presence.  Maybe he’s not keen on the renovation?  It had to be done, though, as the house would have gone to nothing, otherwise.

It might, eventually, be like Corrigal or Kirbister  Museums, but  then, it won’t be Edwin’s home, any longer.

We used to be friends with an old lady who lived in Stenness (I say ‘used to be’, as she’s now passed from this life), and she remembered visiting with Edwin Harrold when he lived in Happy Valley.  He would catch fish, fresh from the little river, and also dry them, on strings, around his fire-place.  When Mike and I went to Corrigal Farm Museum, there they were, fish drying on strings round the fire, as folk used to do.

The stream in Happy Valley was also a good source of plants, for our garden!  They get washed out of the sides of the stream, then, when Mike and I would play with Ben-The-Dog in the pools ( which he loved ), we’d find these floating plants, bag them up, and bring them home.  Most of the Sedges and all of the Pink Purslain in our garden, are courtesy of Happy Valley.  We always said “Thank-you” to  Edwin when we found this plant pruck.  Shall I explain that?  ‘Pruck’ is an Irish term, for a lucky find, and so, plant pruck, is……………………….

As I said, Happy Valley doesn’t give you a long walk, but there is so much to discover, take notice of , absorb – that you can wander about there, for hours.

Walking up-stream, if you look closely you can see, in the bed of the stream, a section of ‘ripple rock’. This is stone which once formed the bed of either a sea, or a lake, and has fossilized, with the ripples intact.  Ripples such as you might see in sand, on a beach today.  I like it that there’s a piece of ripple rock, in the bottom of the rippling stream, and there’s even some sediment accumulating in the ripples – so, deposits of sediment, are being deposited, again – all connecting, all tying together.

Happy Valley 2 Bernie Bell

Happy Valley (photo Bernie Bell)

The Friends of Happy Valley are making sure that it’s maintained and looked after, and even added to.  The additions are such, that Edwin would surely have approved of – little stone tablets identifying the plants, and stone benches with great little carvings, if you look closely enough.

Basically, I’d say it’s a good place for folk who keep  their eyes open, who look about them and take in their surroundings.  You could just march up and down the paths, take some pics., and that would be that.  But, if you go slowly, look about you, take it in, feel the presence of the place, you’re sure to love it.

The house is a memory of a very recent past, which is fast disappearing.  The little vale, is full of LIFE, and all things grow well, there.

Happy Valley was one man’s vision of what he could, working with Nature, realise when a sheltered vale gave him the opportunity.  It’s simply a wonder-full, HAPPY , place.

Since I wrote my story, The Friends of Happy Valley have really got going.

Bernie Bell is a regular columnist with The Orkney News and has written a series of ‘Walks with Stories’ – check out more of them.



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10 replies »

  1. Mrs. Bell:

    We have always enjoyed your “walks” stories, and the most recent one – Happy Valley – was most interesting and timely. My wife and I are returning to Orkney this July to further experience your wonderful isles. Our last stay was enjoyable (but too short) in experiencing the obvious, major sites across Mainland, Rousay, Westray and Papa. But this time we wanted to go deeper and off the “normal” tourist grid. “Happy Valley” is perfect – especially since it is right around the corner from our self-catered cottage which we are returning to at the head of Kirbister Loch. As we will be visiting this time for 10 days – the Valley will be a great destination for one afternoon as we wander again around Mainland, Rousay, and – for the first time – Hoy and Sanday.

    Thanks again for adding to our holiday!!! Your articles are sincerely appreciated.

    Mike and Linda Giannone
    Alexandria, New Jersey, United States

    • You must write and tell us of your visit to Happy Valley, it would be really great to hear of your account of this wee gem.

    • Hello Mike and Linda
      We’ve just returned from our own holiday, in Kilmartin Glen, Argyll, and Mike ( my Mike) picked up on your comment – thank you! Appreciation is always….appreciated!
      There’s a Rousay story coming up, and a Hoy story too. Fiona G. has all 12 of them, and is posting them in the ‘Orkney News’ once a week.
      I’m really, very pleased that you like them – that’s what it’s all about – spreading the good stuff.
      Hands across the sea

  2. Hello everyone – since my story was posted in ‘The Orkney News’, I hear that FHV didn’t actually carry out the work on the house itself. They mainly concentrate on what needs attending to outdoors.
    I wrote this story a few years ago, before I was a Friend of Happy Valley myself, and I just went by what I could see happening there. I was mistaken. Maybe I should have checked who was doing the work, but, to be honest – it never occurred to me to do so! I hope that this puts the record straight.

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