By Bernie Bell
Some of you may have read my ‘Day Out in Birsay’ piece in ‘The Orkney News’ recently, or may just have…..visited Birsay! Going along the road from the Brough car park, you might have looked across and seen a nice, wide, sweep of sandy beach, and wondered why I hadn’t mentioned it/how to get to it?
I was concentrating mostly on the area near the village, but now, I’ll attempt to tell you how to have a good walk, t’other way.
It’s hard to describe how to get to a point at which you could park your car ( presuming you’re in a car), as where I’m aiming to take you, is mostly just roads, no actual parking places, as such. I’ve done a rough map………
And it is, very rough, but can give you an idea, especially if you use it with a proper map, too. It is possible to tuck a car in by some of the wider gateways or tracks, but please, please, be considerate and remember that farmers may need to use the gates and tracks.
After all that preamble, I’ll describe the walk.
You can start off by heading down to the sandy beach, along the field track labelled on my crap-map, taking care if there are cattle in the field.
Once on the beach, it’s simply a pleasant walk, on a sandy beach, with views of the Brough to your right, and Marwick Head to your left.
You can stroll along as far as the river, just enjoying the sights and sounds of the place, maybe finding some beach-comber type treasures, then back again.
Then, back at the point where the field track, other track and road meet ( see my map) if you head up the ‘other track’, then turn left along the cliffy bit, you can, if you’re agile enough, carry on from here, along the path heading for Marwick Head and the Kitchener Memorial, and beyond, if you so wish!
This memorial is to commemorate the sinking of HMS Hampshire and HMS Drifter, and there are information boards about this, by the monument.
From here, and the area around the monument, you can get stunning views. On a clear day you can look down, along the coast, and over to Hoy and the ’Old Man’ or, in the other direction, there’s the Brough of Birsay and then, way over to Noup Head on Westray. A grand spot, where you just keep having to stand and look about you.
And now, I’ll tell you about an interesting little bit of local history which we heard of, last time we walked this path. We’d gone along as far as the memorial on Marwick Head, and were heading back when, quite near to where we would turn right, onto the main track, we met a couple that we know. As we stood chatting, an elderly man approached and started to tell us about the nearby natural swimming pools. He pointed out some roughly rectangular pools, in the rocks just down from us. He said that, when he was young, these were used as natural swimming pools by the folk of the area. None of us had ever heard of this – we just saw another piece of the rocky bit of that section of coast. When he pointed them out to us, it was reasonably clear to see that there are some sections among the rocks, which, when the tide is out, would make natural pools, easily accessible from the shore.
It looks like they aren’t used for sea bathing any more, and, possibly, that little bit of Birsay history is being forgotten. So, I thought I’d write this, to carry on the memory a bit longer. You never know, some may take to swimming there again – just the place for the Orkney Polar Bears?
As I keep on saying – it’s good to talk.
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MRwick Head is one of my favourite Orkney places. If you walk past the Kitchener Monument towards the stone at the end of the cliffs there’s a natural seat there right at the edge sunken into the ground. I love to sit here and watch the rows of Guillemots, with Fulmars flying just feet away from you, hanging in the breeze as they check you out. And I’ve seen quite a few Puffins from there, usually solitary, among the Guillemots and Razorbills.
Last year I witnessed a great scrap between two big Black Backed Gulls. One was on a ledge, the other landed on top of it and the scrap commenced, feathers being pulled out and peckings galore, resulting in both birds falling off intertwined and cartwheeling towards the sea and rocks below. I couldn’t see the end of the fall, but it wasn’t looking good, and the birds weren’t trying to break away.
I can picture that – the fight, and the fall through the air – it’s just how it happens.
You have a way with words – as well as notes………….
I’m like a terrier with a stick, Eamonn – I don’t let go!
Sounds a wonderful place to visit, natural, peaceful and full wildlife and beauty – I’ll have to visit sometime. Thanks Bernie.
On reading your comment Eamonn I wondered if the birds were in fact fighting or mating and they would have broken apart closer to the rocks. Found a video of mating gulls on a rooftop in Bath https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/06/seagull-mating-bath-england-video/ so maybe, just maybe they were mating?
the natural ‘swimming pools’ are called choins, this one on the 1:25;000 The man-made sea pools are lidos, and there is one in Stromness (on the left as you head out to Kirkwall) which folk remember using in the past
lido in Finstown, not Stromness