Orkney Walks:The-South-Ronaldsay-East-Coast-Walk–Last-Bit – which went a bit odd!

walking boots F DriverBy Bernie Bell

Definitely take a map!

It’s been a while since we did the SRECW – that’s because, from April to August, folk are requested to keep away from the cliffs on the next section, so that they don’t disturb the nesting birds. You can still go inland, and continue the walk on the roads, but we wanted to go along the cliffs, so we waited. As my Mum would say “Time and Patience, brought the snails to America.”  So, we drove down and parked at the  Visitor Centre for The Tomb of the Eagles, at Liddle Farm.  https://theorkneynews.scot/2017/05/04/bernie-bell-orkney-walks-with-stories-the-eagle-cairn/      We asked at the Visitor Centre if it was OK to park there,  even though we weren’t visiting the cairn, and they were fine about it. It’s just manners to ask.

We then set off, by-passing the main route to the cairn, by heading up the wide grassy track from the picnic area by the Visitor Centre. We paused to admire Ham Geo

geo at Holm B Bell

And went through a kissing-gate ( good to see that there are still some kissing-gates about),  which clearly states that it leads to the coastal path.

coastal path Holm B Bell

We then found our way blocked by a wire fence.  The fence ended at the edge of the cliff to the geo, so there was no way round.  We checked if it was an ‘Orkney Gate’ – a wire gate  which can be opened and replaced – but no, it wasn’t. Someone  had blocked off the path with a wire fence.  Many folk would be able to get over this, but, because I have a bad back, stepping that high is not an option.  Plenty of folk would have similar problems, and it is supposed to be an accessible path.  I am sure that the folk at Liddle Farm are not responsible – it isn’t on their land, and, anyway, they are good folk, and wouldn’t do that.

So, we looked at the map, and changed our plan. We didn’t have any choice, we’d have to go inland and walk on the roads, after all.

As we walked back down the  track to the Visitor Centre, we decided that we didn’t really want to walk on roads, and also, didn’t fancy going onto property where we were clearly not welcome.

We decided to skip that bit of the walk, and drive on to Burwick, to the next section, which we had meant to do at a later date, as the last part  of the East Coast walk.

I do realise, that the section along the coast, past that gate, is not designated as ‘core path’, but, it’s on the map  produced by the council   Map of walking in South Ronaldsay as being accessible, and the gate is there, telling you that this is a point of access to the coastal path – for most folk, it would be, but – this is a warning for anyone who is not able to get over a wire fence – if you’d like to do this walk, you can’t. A stile, would be a good, and kind, idea.

And this is where the day improved.  We parked in the car park by the ferry terminal at Burwick, where we noticed an information board for a West Coast Walk

coastal walk South Ron B Bell

We’d ‘turned the corner’  of the end of the island! We ear-marked this as another walk, ate our sandwiches at the conveniently placed table, just up the path from the info. board, and set  off along the final part of the East Coast Walk, though we were now, on the West Coast!

We called by St. Mary’s church, which is a very peaceful place, with much of interest in the kirkyard

Inside  St. Mary’s Kirk, there is a large beach stone on which there are two sculpted footprints, which are said to have been made by St. Magnus, though it is also thought to have possibly been a Pictish coronation stone.  It’s not possible to see this stone,  as the church is locked – it’s probably not safe to let people go in there. It’s not ruinous, and is being cared for, but public access might not be a good idea.

There are quite a few legends, myths and tales of footprints in stone, and they are often perceived as meaning different things. At the top of Dunadd, near Kilmartin Glen, there is a stone with a footprint, which is said to have been used for the coronation of kings.

To quote from ‘Argyll – The Enduring Heartland’ by Marion Campbell – “At Finlaggan in Islay there is a loch, and on the loch an island, and on the island a stone and in the stone a footprint.  Here Angus Mor had stood;  Somerled’s gang escorted him to Finlaggan and proclaimed him King of the Isles.”

But they aren’t always seen as being connected with kingship. They can be seen as representing the importance of having your feet ‘firmly planted’ – having a sense of where you are and where you belong.

In the summer/autumn of 2017, Beatrice Searle carved her own version of a footprint stone, and dragged this stone for many miles, as a way to honour and commemorate the journey of St. Magnus, and also to turn her thoughts, and our  thoughts, to all the people who are dispossessed, on the move, throughout time, and in these shifting times – who have no real choice in the matter, and would rather live in their homeland. While carving these footprints, and then having her own feet firmly planted in them when she could, Beatrice also made herself very much aware of, and connected with these dispossessed people, and dispossessed folk through time – holding on to a little piece of their homeland, sometimes through their customs and traditions.


“Across the face of the land goes a line of footprints leading back to our beginnings.”  Again from ‘Argyll – The Enduring Heartland’ by Marion Campbell.

The road goes ever on and on, but where the main road turned inland, we  carried on along the coast road, turning aside to walk down to and out on to a little jetty

jetty B Bell

There’s something about being able to go out onto water, and look over the side at the stones and the life there, without actually being in the water. We met a man who was there, trying to catch the light in a picture – I wished him good luck!

And here’s a nature note – the pebble beach there, was covered in Oyster plant – vivid blue against the grey stones

Oyster plant B Bell

Continuing along the coast road,  we meant to pick up a path to the right, which would mean that we could continue along the actual coast. And this is where I was thwarted for the second time.  The stile was one of those on which the steps are just too steeply spaced for me to manage.  One more step, in between the two, and I would have been fiiiine.  I tried to think my way round it, as I have done in similar situations, but – there was just no way I could manage it.  It was just – not – possible, for me. Again, most folk would have no problem, and I’m mentioning it for those who might think they’d be able to manage stiles along the way, but, maybe, wouldn’t be able to manage this one. This, at least, was a legitimate, and understandable, halt to my progress. A stile, is a stile, and shows willing on the part of the landowner.   A wire fence placed across what is clearly labelled as a path, is a different matter.

And so, we set off back the way we had come. A man who had been sitting on his motor-bike,  down the road a bit, watching me at the stile, described me as being “Born dugget” which translates as born dogged! Which I was, and it’s what has  got me through a lot of things!

Back to the car park, with a lovely view of the kirk on the way ………..

Kirk across the water South Ron B Bell

…………… looking over the Kirkyard gate, standing for a moment, feeling the peace of the place, and it’s memories.

poppy memorial B Bell…………..and home.

A walk, or walks, which didn’t turn out as we’d expected, and hoped, which often happens when exploring new territory. Sometimes the new walks turn out to be most excellent, and sometimes, as with this one, like the Curate’s Egg – good in parts.

We started off on the S. Ron East Coast Walk, six years ago, in September, from Kirkhouse   https://theorkneynews.scot/2017/10/19/bernie-bell-orkney-walks-south-ronaldsay/

And we’ve now, kind-of, done the whole lot – with breaks due to my inability to get over things!

We mean to try the South Ron. West Coast Walk, hoping for gentle stiles, going over any fences we encounter!


All pics by me!

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3 replies »

  1. Before anyone else pounces on the mistake – I know, it’s Ham Geo, not Holm Geo.
    “Damn these vari-focals” says Fiona!

    And, for fellow weirdy folk – notice the maze-type lichen on the archway.

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