Orkney Walks: Marwick Bay – left or right?

By Bernie Bell

walking boots F DriverMarwick Bay is a place to visit in all kinds of weather.  On a fine day, you could head off to your right, from the car park, and go right up to the Kitchener Memorial on Marwick Head.  Or, turn left for a possibly shorter, more gentle walk to the fisherman’s huts in Sand Geo.

Marwick Bay can also be one of the most exciting places to be on a windy day, when the sea beats in huge waves  against the cliffs of Marwick Head on your right, and churns itself into yellow foam in the geos, to your left, until it looks like angry custard!

Heading right from the car park, there is the fine sweep of the bay, which includes a large, tidal pool, lying between the beach and the open sea.  Even when the rest of the sea is rough, this pool can be quite calm, which appeals to the sea-birds as a good place to shelter.

Marwick Bay B Bell

Photo B Bell

Just down from the car park, on the stony part of the beach, there are various bits – big bits – of rusty metal, which I believe to be the remains of a Nineteenth Century ship.  I’m afraid I know nothing more than that about it!  The archive in Kirkwall Library might reveal more? But I’m afraid I’m not interested enough to find out!   One thing we did find of interest in that same area, was this………..

Am I ammonite B Bell

Photo B Bell

I call it ‘Old & Tyred’ or ‘Am I ammonite?’.  Old tyres, in concrete, dumped, but………..doesn’t it look good?  It reminds me of fossiliferous rocks.  It’s nearly worn away now – the sea shows no mercy, even to ‘shore sculptures’.  And so, onto the beach. This used to be a good place for finding bits of beach crockery and sea glass – not so much now.  I don’t know why.  Maybe a slight change in the habits of the sea and the tides?  Or maybe folk have picked them all up!  I did wonder if the bits and pieces I found, were anything to do with HMS Hampshire and HMS Drifter, which sank off the coast here?

Little bits of portable, take-home history.

If the tide is right in, and you find the stony beach hard going – there is a path behind a wall, behind the beach.  If that sounds a bit odd – you’ll see what I mean when you go there!

Marwick Bay path B Bell

Photo B Bell

For the more vigorous, the next part of the walk can be to head up the steep path to Marwick Head.  We have done  so, in the past – it’s just too steep for me to manage, now – but, having done so, I can vouch for  it being well worthwhile, and the slight ‘slog’ of the walk up, is rewarded along the way, as well as from top, with  genuinely breath-taking views down the coast.

Back to the car park, and turning left from there,  you can head down the coast for quite a short, easy walk to the fisherman’s huts.  This is a more gentle sort of stroll, again with lovely views, out to sea, and also showing Marwick Head to great advantage, to your right.

The fisherman’s huts are another little bit of history, including the remains of the metal winch which was used to haul the boats up to safety in the nousts by the huts.

Not all fishermen were fortunate enough to have this innovation. For many, it was a case of having to man-handle their boat out of the sea, and up the beach. The introduction of these winches, must have been seen as a god-send!

A few years ago, some pieces of a dead Fin Whale were washed up in this geo , and they STANK!!! You could smell it, right along the path.  One of those smells that gets in the back of your nose, and just won’t go away!  This attracted a lot of sea-birds, including some quite unusual ones such as Iceland gulls, Glaucous gulls, and Kumliens Gulls.

And that, of course, attracted bird watchers.  We happened to go there for a walk when the whale was there, and backed off when the smell hit us!  I marvelled at the bird-watchers, all stood in a row with their telescopes and binoculars, bathed in the rank aroma of rotting whale!

They must have had the windows open in their cars going home!  It was a truly stunning smell.

Usually, there won’t be a rotting whale there, and, if you wish, you can carry on along the coastal path which will take you to Skaill Bay, or just turn back to the car park.

We carried on along the path, just once.  It got a bit precipitous for my liking, as in, not much between the path and quite a steep drop.  I can be a real wuss sometimes!  So, just once, never again. But folk with more nerve and surer feet, step along there, happily.

Then we go back to the car and either eat our sandwiches, whilst looking at the lovely surroundings, or head to The Orkney Brewery or Skara Brae café for lunch.  You don’t have to get a ticket for Skara Brae, to eat in the café – that can be for another day!

Marwick Bay stone egg B Bell

photo B Bell

In the field behind the car park, at Marwick, you can just about make out the outline of the  remains of a building, which is all that’s left of an  old Norse chapel.  And, last time we went there, just after Easter,  someone had left a painted stone egg!

As I said, Marwick is a place of interest in any weather.  On a fine day, there is much beauty, and on a wild day there is much wild beauty. And history – in Orkney  there’s always history.

For those who might find it difficult to manage the climb from the Bay, or the, quite long, walk from the Birsay direction, it is possible to access Marwick Head via a short path from a small car park next to a salvaged canon!

To reach this, take the Dounby road out of Birsay, turn right after the new Birsay Community Centre, heading towards Quoyloo.  After a couple of miles, turn right again, next to a cottage with a grass roof.  Follow the road, and in less than a mile, you’ll reach the car park, and the canon is a give-away that you’re at the right place!

Combining these instructions, with an O.S. map, should get you there.  It is then a reasonably easy walk up to a gate, where you turn left to Marwick Head.

Related story: Marwick Head,Orkney


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