By Bernie Bell
Some years ago, some friends came to visit from South – way South – Suffolk. They had just short of a week here, so we made a plan which we hoped would show them Orkney, whilst showing some of the connections between the places they visited. They arrived by ferry, in Stromness, and rested the first evening – it’s a long way from Suffolk!
The first day, we went to the Standing Stones of Stenness, and parked in the car park there. They explored the stones,
We then continued along the path, to Barnhouse Neolithic settlement, and along to the ring of Brodgar, via the birdy walk. Bernie Bell: Orkney Walks (with Stories) – ‘The Procession’
We went to the Standing Stones Hotel for lunch, where the food is very good, but it would be nice to be able to see out of the windows!
Then, along the road to Unstan Cairn.
There was method in all of this, as you will see as the tale progresses.
The next day we visited Skara Brae, where I mentioned the similarities with the general layout of Barnhouse ‘village’. We had a lovely day for it – just right.
Lunch at the excellent cafe, then we drove a bit along the road, parked in the car park by the toilet block, and walked along Skaill Bay, all adding to the general impressions of the area and situation of Skara Brae.
We walked to the end of the bay, then up to the cairn on the little hill there, which gives a great over view of the whole area – the site of Skara Brae itself, then, down the coast towards Hoy and the Old Man.
Next day, we went to Wideford Hill, and walked along to the cairn, stopping as we walked, to look back, along to the Southern Isles – again, all part of the plan.
At Wideford, we could look across to Cuween, so, though they didn’t have time to go there, they could see it, and have some idea of the place, in relation to Wideford. Bernie Bell: Orkney Walks (with Stories) – Wideford
Then into Kirkwall for lunch, where the visitor is spoilt for choice of good places to eat – in fact, there isn’t such a thing, as a bad one!
And on, heading South to the Italian Chapel
as they travelled to the islands which they had seen on the way to Wideford the day before.
Then to the Eagle cairn, which we could compare with Unstan cairn. It was mentioned that they were a long way apart, and I answered that, the people back then may have used the water as a highway more than the land, as, weather permitting, it would be quicker and easier to travel that way. Bernie Bell: Orkney Walks (with stories) – The Eagle Cairn
And, next day, with a view to them having another long journey before them, we had a quieter day. We had a stroll around near where we live, which was of interest in itself, as most places in Orkney are of interest! Then lunch at home. Two of the friends are farmers, so we took them to Corrigall Farm museum, as we thought they might be interested to see a farm of times past. Their own farmhouse is quite old, but of a very different type to the local Orkney ones.
They mostly grow sugar beet and barley, so they were intrigued by the bere barley, and the straw-work which is displayed in the out-buildings at Corrigall. Pic shows view up the chimney of the drying kiln!
And so, a short visit, with a lot to it, and they then headed off to Mull to try to trace some ancestors.
I was prompted to write this, having spoken with some visitors in the Stromness Hotel one evening, who have not quite a week, and varied interests, and who were aware of the main ‘attractions’. I gave them the link to TON, and suggested that they type what they are interested in, in the ‘search’ box on the webpage, and they might find things they weren’t aware of. For example – they hadn’t heard of the Fossil & Heritage Centre.
And this brings me to what to do if the weather isn’t too good – there are two Farm Museums, Corrigall and Kirbuster.
There’s the Fossil & Heritage Centre,and the Kirkwall and Stromness museums.
There’s our new attraction in Kirkwall – The Orkney Experience.
There’s also St. Magnus Cathedral, where it’s possible to either wander around yourself, and maybe sit quietly and appreciate the spirit of the place, or you can take a guided tour to places the visitor can’t usually reach!
There’s Fern Valley Wildlife Centre .
For a different kind of experience – there are the breweries and distilleries : The Orkney Brewery, which has a most excellent café. The Highland Park , and Scapa whisky distilleries ( you could combine the visit to the Scapa distillery with a walk on the beach), and the new gin distillery and visitor centre in Kirkwall .
For the visiting aesthete – you could start at the Pier Arts Centre, and take a stroll up through Stromness, calling by the many galleries along the way.
I know – a lot to do, possibly in a short time – the answer is – book a longer stay, or …come back – repeatedly!
I would include the Barony Mill for a visit and also perhaps show folk a more modern side of Orkney as we sometimes give the impression of being a “living museum”. I would definitely exclude The Fern Valley Wildlife Centre – it’s a zoo where you can see animals that have no relevance at all to Orkney and are fenced in, in unnatural surroundings.
Andy its a rescue centre – definitely not a zoo – they have loads of information on why the animals have ended up having to be rescued by them – inappropriate pets etc – I don’t know if you have been there or not but they make it quite clear.
How could I? Indeed – I forgot the Barony Mill at Birsay.
As to Fern valley, well, here’s the piece I wrote about it………………….
I can promise you,Andy, that if it was a ‘zoo’ I would damn it, and damn it roundly. Have you been there, and spoken with Lisa?
Definition of a zoo: “an area in which animals, especially wild animals, are kept so that people can go and look at them or study them.” I’m sorry, but whichever way you look at it, that’s what it is – and the “study” part is missing at Fern Valley. There is no plan except to look after individual animals until their captive life is over. A life mostly spent being looked at by a species from which they would normally run a mile or more. In my view, it satisfies the need of the zoo’s owner to “look after” wild animals and precious little else.