Bernie Bell Orkney Walks: South Ronaldsay

Readers of my ‘Halcro Head ‘ walk, might have wondered why I mentioned that Mike and I are doing the South Ronaldsay East Coast Walks, bit by bit, then launched into  a walk which is just about in the middle!  It was because we’d just done it, and it was interesting.  So………I’m now going to catch up with myself a bit, and start at the beginning.

We did the first section  of the South Ronaldsay East Coast Walks,  back in September 2012.  I then proceeded to be poisoned by steroids, and couldn’t do any more until 2015.  Beware of doctors, bearing steroids!

So, stepping back in time, on a fine autumn day in September 2012, we drove down to South Ronaldsay, and parked in the car park of the Kirk at Kirkhouse.

The church was locked, fair enough,  so we had a look round in the kirkyard. There are headstones of great interest, and creativity and ingenuity.  I like kirkyards – I read the headstones, think about the folk – their lives and their stories, and, as my Dad used to say – there’s no-one arguing, in a churchyard.   There is  a lot of history though, and a lot of humanity.  Sailors who never came home.

ruined house South Ronaldsay

Photo B Bell

Then, rather than head off to the right, along the actual coastal path, we curved round to the left,  below the Kirkyard wall, towards a charming little house. I don’t usually use the word ‘charming’ , as it can sound a bit patronizing, but, it’s the only word to use to describe this little house.

It’s a ruin  – a bit heavy on the ‘Beware’ notices, but – this is the modern world.  It obviously isn’t lived in, yet someone comes and tends the garden. As it has a wall round it, it has shelter, and so, is a productive little garden.  It’s delight-full – the whole place is just delight-full.  I love it – the house is built of big, blocky stones – which may mean that it’s an old, old house. Then there’s the garden.  It’s one of those places, out of time and touched by the best of humanity – tending a garden, even though you don’t live there.

We then carried on to the Millennium Stone.

This was erected to celebrate…the millennium.  It has carvings on it, representing aspects of Orkney life, and history.  It’s …just…brilliant.  There’s a hole in it, which gives a perfectly framed view of the bay – land – sea- sky.

Millenium Stone South Ronaldsay

Photo B Bell

Stop and investigate this stone , it has so much to it.  A modern standing stone, containing much symbolism and meaning  in it, for those who raised it, and  a hole in, to boot.  Ace.

We then retraced our steps to the right, to the  beginning of the walk along the bay. We walked along the sand, but there is a path along behind the dunes, which can make for easier walking.  I’ll mention here, for all fellow scavengers and folk who have multi-fuel stoves – at the far end of the bay, wood collects. It must be something to do with tides and currents.  There are some really big pieces – whole tree trunks. The wood which is washed up on Shala’s Orkney from North America in Andrew Appleby’s novel ‘Skara’ comes to mind.  Some of it was too big for us to manage, but if you have a piece of twine you can lash some together and have quite a good haul.  I always have a piece of twine and a penknife in my pocket when I go for walks.  I call it my round collecting kit, as it’s for collecting fishing floats (rounds), general  flotsam and anything else I find that l want to take home – as long as it’s legal to do so!  I know – odd old bod that I am.

We walked up to Stews, taking in the views on the way.  We then turned round and headed back down to the car, walking on the path behind the dunes, just for a change of aspect.

We drove up the road a bit, and pulled in, considerately, by the side of the road, so that we could go and see the big standing stone there. It really is a whopper .

standing stone South Ronaldsay

photo B Bell

As far as I can tell, not much is made of this stone , I don’t know if it has a name, but it’s a beauty.  A fine beast, indeed.

And then we…… went home.

For the  next section, we had to wait 3 years, as I was ….unwell, but, it then became part of my recovery – to see how much I can manage, with each walk we attempt.

So, three years later, for the next ‘leg’, we parked at Stews, and walked to Mouster Head.  It’s not a very long walk, as it was the first one I’d done, since getting stronger, so –  I didn’t push it. There isn’t  a lot say about it – except for the views – just – the views!  On a clear day – can’t beat it.  We walked as far as the quarry at Mouster Head, where there are convenient big lumps of stone for you to sit on and eat your sandwiches.  A very peaceful spot – soggy, but peaceful.

And then back again.  As you walk back  towards Stews, if you look over to your left, you should be able to spot a standing stone in the fields there – all these standing stones, connecting by sight.  Hmmmmmmmm.

And now, to bring us up to date……for the next section, we parked at Windwick, turned right out of the car park, and headed off up the road a little bit, before turning right onto the track which follows the cliff top. The first noticeable thing is the promontory called the Brough of Windwick.  It’s said to have been used for defence, which makes total sense.  As with The Cairns – what now appears to be a quiet area, with not a lot going on apart from farming – is shown to have been a place which will have been bustling with activity, in the distant past.  We were there in the spring and the wild flowers were beautiful, and….again…the views.

I had a bit of a problem with this section of the walk, because of the stiles. Some stiles, I can manage just fine, but, due to my bad back, some, I have trouble with. The stiles on this stretch, I managed by climbing up one side, sitting on the top, turning carefully round, then climbing down the other side.  This worked, until I came across a stile with no bit of wood on the top, which meant I couldn’t  do my manoeuvre!  So, we went back to the car park, back up and down the stiles again.  Still, we’d done most of that section, and I’d over-come another set of obstacles, successfully.

For the able –bodied, this would be no trouble at all – just not so good for those who are a bit creaky!

I don’t have any photos from these two sections, as , mostly, the interest is the view, and the view is….sea and sky.  You’ll have to go there, and see for yourself.

And so, I now arrive at the next section, which was from Windwick to Halcro Head – with really nice, easy stiles all along the way!

Map of walking in South Ronaldsay

Bernie Bell has written about many fascinating walks that you can take in Orkney –  use our search option to find them.


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10 replies »

  1. Blimey! Thank you Eamonn!
    When I first wrote my ‘Orkney Walks with Stories’, I would just give them/send them to people I know who were interested ( folk like to give them to their visitors, as being a bit different from the usual guide-books), someone I know said she thought I should make a little book out of them, and she knows how to set about doing so – it’s something she does. I was pleased that she liked them so much, but….I’m a bit feckless – in fact, very feckless in some ways. I’m not lazy about some things, but v. lazy about others.
    I said I just couldn’t be bothered – having to sort out production, outlets, ‘pushing’ them to folk, all that sorta thing. I told her that, if she wanted to go ahead, to feel free. She was keen for a while, then other things turned up, so, it didn’t happen.
    Then – hurrah – Fiona ( G) set up ‘The Orkney News’, asked for any contributions, and…..there you go! This suits me, as it means that they’re free, they’re there for anyone who wants them. I’m happy with it as it is.
    I don’t have any ambitions to be ‘a writer’. The only ambition I have is to be me, be alive for a bit longer, and not too knackered whilst doing so!
    I’m happy with it as it is.
    I’m also very happy when one such as yourself, says that my stories should be a book! That’s the icing on the cake.
    Thank you, Eamonn. You’ve made my day.

  2. N.B.

    Re. “We walked along the sand, but there is a path along behind the dunes, which can make for easier walking.”

    We went there again today – 23.4.2022 – and much of the path behind the dunes has gone – slipped into the sea – you can begin on a track, but then you will need to go down onto the beach. Still a fiiiine walk though.

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