A Stroll Through Stromness

By Bernie Bell

Pics. by B&M Bell

I  looked up, in Kirkwall  https://theorkneynews.scot/2019/03/02/looking-up-in-kirkwall-part-1-victoria-street/ , and Fiona (G), had a dander in St. Margaret’s Hope  https://theorkneynews.scot/2019/04/13/st-margarets-hope-take-time-to-dander-about/ .  Next,  I thought I’d take a Stroll Through Stromness.  This mostly entailed looking down alley-ways to vistas of the sea, and up along the steep alley-ways of the homes of Stromness. https://theorkneynews.scot/2017/11/17/the-heart-of-stromness-book-launch/

We aimed for the top of town, by driving along Back Road towards Ness Point – thereby avoiding clogging up the main street with our car!

We parked in a small parking space next to  ‘The Haven Inside The Bay’  – the George Mackay Brown Memorial Garden

Stromness 1 Belland set off wending our way, down the street, towards  the town.  We passed the old Coastguard Cottages, set back from the road. A smart building, now converted into private apartments.

Stromness 2 BellWe then came to another reference to GMB, in the form of a small plaque on a bench dedicated to him – one of a set of three benches, conveniently situated by a cannon, which provide a good spot to sit, and look about you  – out to sea, and down towards Stromness.

There is a blue plaque on the wall opposite, explaining the origins of the cannon, and how it came to be there.

Turning to look  at this plaque we noticed what looks like a very neatly renovated chapel, set back a bit from the road, and from this point, you can look down the road, and ahead, to Stromness

If you need another sit-down on your way, there are some almost Neolithic style stone benches!

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We were attempting to take some pictures of Login’s Well, without much luck, as it was a lovely sunny day, and all we could get were reflections in the glass.

At this point, a friendly lady came out of a nearby house, and, thinking we were visitors, offered to take our photo. I explained what we were doing, and she told us that she lets out the two houses opposite, as self-catering holiday accommodation  www.andersoncottage.co.uk .  One of those houses, used to be Login’s Inn

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She was kind enough to take us inside and show us the points of interest in the building.  Beneath a sheet of strengthened glass, under the kitchen floor, is a hidey-hole where smugglers used to stash their goods, and where Orkney lads would hide to avoid the Press Gangs, who were responsible for breaking up many  homes, in the past.

A small ‘extension’ to the main building, used to be where the Hudson Bay Company ships would load and unload, and on the sea-wall nearby – teddy watches the sea-ways.

Anyone who comes to stay here for their holidays, must be delighted with what they find when they arrive – a fine old building, comfortably modernised, with history, whimsy, and a piece of good advice too!

Carrying on down the road, you’ll come to the Stromness Museum  http://www.stromnessmuseum.co.uk/  –  well worth a visit.

Stromness 17 Bell museum

Then, a whole set of blue plaques, along the way – Mayburn Court, home of George MacKay Brown, Rae’s’ Close, named after The Man Himself  https://www.johnraesociety.com/ , and a blue plaque remembering scurvy whalers!  Some might say that whalers, are still a scurvy bunch – and I would agree!

There are a lot of commemorative plaques in Stromness, as there are a lot of sites of  interest, many of them connected with Whalers and Traders,  and, in particular, The Hudson Bay Company.  Here’s another example, in Alfred Square.  A small plaque, telling a big story…….

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Hellihole Road, leads to one of Orkneys Holy wells https://theorkneynews.scot/2018/11/05/wells-springs-of-orkney/

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Next, looking down towards the sea, we have an example of a juxtaposition of the old, and the new.  An old boat shed, now converted into a snazzy little boat shed/garden house, in the foreground, and in the background, the lifting barge for Green Marine, who provide logistics for Orkney’s burgeoning Renewable Energy industry.

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The next plaque, tells of the former RNLI Lifeboat Station – a vital part of life here, now the ’Red Shed’ for Scapa Scuba.

Don’t worry there is a new lifeboat station!  Time moves on, and so do the needs of lifeboats!

It might be worth looking further into the story of Eliza Fraser

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Thereby hangs a tale – the stuff that movies are made of.

A view up the Khyber Pass – and the light was playing tricks –

And now for  a few interesting buildings …….That ever-rarer thing – an Independent bookshop ( Stromness is lucky to have one!), Stromness Town Hall – with Guardian Gnome, and what was an ice cream parlour and ‘Coffee Saloon’ – now the Quernstone shop selling clothes and groovy accessories.

Just before the bookshop, in Graham Place, there is another blue plaque, very modestly placed on the side of a house, but telling of a rebellious act, which made a big difference to the history of Stromness……

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In between these, there is an interesting diversion – if you go up the right hand side of what was the Commercial Hotel – you’ll find a metal gate, behind which there is a stream, which has been channeled into a stone…channel.  Of course, when a town expands and more building is needed, there are streams, sometimes even rivers, in the way. Some are left, flowing though the town, some have to be buried under the streets and buildings, and some are led off into channels where they won’t interfere with the life of the town. This, is one such stream. Another little piece of ever-present history.

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As you stroll along, you will pass the doorway for the Pier Arts Centre https://www.pierartscentre.com/  –  feel free to go in and have a look! But, if you’re just following our stroll down the street, you can duck down a little alley-way, just past the Pier Arts Centre, which will lead you to their courtyard, and a Barbara Hepworth sculpture perfectly placed, by the harbour

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I’ll wind up this walk, outside The  Stromness Hotel, and the weird lamppost-with-cows-feet-thing

We can’t leave Stromness, and all the references to the Hudson Bay Company, without an image of the statue of the admirable Dr. John Rae – Arctic Explorer

I may have missed some points of interest along the way, and there may be more to discover if you continue along the street, heading out of town.  By this time, we were tired and hungry, so we stopped by the Ell & Co café for lunch – a haven for weary wanderers, providing vegeburger and baked tattie, to help us on our way home.

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[Ed’s Note “the weird lamppost-with-cows-feet-thing” Alexander Graham & Non Payment of Unfair Taxes]

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  1. PS For those who are unfamiliar with which building used to be the Commercial Hotel – if you look for a street sign saying ‘Sutherlands’ Lane’ – between that and the building opposite, you’ll find the alley way leading to the metal gate, and the stony stream.

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