Late June 2013, Westray and Papa Westray
Westray and Papa Westray are at the north west corner of the Orkney islands, and the furthest north we have ever been in Innisfree. The number one industry is cattle, closely followed by tourists and crabs. The crab processing plant was adjacent to the harbour, so we thought to try some. It was very disappointing, having practically no flavour - but perhaps we've destroyed our taste buds with too many spicy dinners. We tried it made into crab-cakes which just tasted of potato, and then in sandwiches, and could barely taste it over the flavour of the brown bread.
There are RSPB reserves on both Westray (Noss Head) and Papa Westray (North Hill). Noss Head has spectacular sea cliffs, though unfortunately on the day we chose to walk their length, they were mostly obscured by thin fog (see More Pictures). This did not really matter because it was an enjoyable walk as the path wound in and out as it skirted around the edges of the geos, and we could still see the sea birds which was the main objective of the day. The puffins (right) have a clown-like melancholy appearance, and very obligingly stand around for easy photographs. Equally interesting were the ledges crammed with guillemots (see More Pictures), it is probably a good thing that the smell is not also captured in the photograph, as that much guano is nearly overpowering.
There are other entertainments on the islands, as both have small golf courses. Westray course appears popular and well maintained, though the same cannot be said of the course on Papa Westray, where the greens are covered in butter cups so would be better described as "yellows" than "greens". The spiky Northern Marsh Orchids were also adding to the challenge, appearing all over the greens, so making it more like pinball than golf. The rough was certainly rough, and the clubhouse, (which can be seen at the back of the picture) was just a small shed. It is such a windy place that the flags had all blown away leaving just the bare poles to mark the holes. A challenge all round.
We opted to take the ferry from Westray to Papa Westray, the alternative is to fly and experience the world's shortest scheduled commercial flight, all of 2 minutes. The island airports are just a strip of tarmac in a field with a small shed for the terminal. The red/white runway stripes are simply painted on whatever is available, mostly the dry stone walls (right). The plane itself is sponsored by Highland Park Distillery, and attractively painted in black and white with their logo on the side and tail (for a clearer view, see More Pictures).
Both islands are rich in archeological heritage. On Papa Westray, overlooking the sound towards Westray is the Knap of Howar (left and More Pictures). This is like a mini Skara Brae (see July 2010). It is a small neolithic farmstead of two adjoining buildings, the one shown being the store-cum-workshop with a central hearth, slab partitioned "rooms" and stone "cupboards". The site was very simple, just these two roofless buildings which you can freely walk around, and a small display board of information. We had the place to ourselves so it had much more atmosphere than Skara Brae, which is visited by coach loads of people, and so restricted to walk ways around the edge to protect the fragile site.
At the Noltand links on Westray there is a similar, larger site (right) that is in the process of being excavated by a team or archaeologists and one dog (seen in the picture right). Though we understand that the dog was just a spectator and not allowed to participate in the digging process. The archaeologists were happy to explain what is being unearthed, because to us it looked like random bits of stone. It must have been a frustrating process, because not only did it have to be carefully excavated, but the wind was continually blowing the sand from the dunes to cover it over again.
After an enjoyable week, it was time to move on. From Westray we headed around the western edge of the Orkney islands to Stromness. This was a most uncomfortable passage because prolonged westerly winds had whipped up the sea into 2m waves. With more westerly winds forecast it could only get worse, so we abandoned plans to go around Cape Wrath, and instead headed back to Inverness. The original plan was to stop in Wick, but it was a rare day of perfect sailing winds, calm sea, and for once not too cold, so we just kept going. It was a long day, starting at 07:30 to catch the early tide across the pentland firth, by the time we got to Duncansby Head (near John O'Groats) the tide had really got going and we were zooming along at 11kts SOG (Speed Over Ground), seeing as we usually do ~5kts, this was really going some. Not surprisingly we did not keep this up, and it was early evening when we watched a large pod of common dolphin at Tarbat Ness. The sun was just setting as we passed Chanonry Point at 22:30 so there was no possibility of photographing the resident bottle nose dolphin who approached Innisfree to see if we would play. But we were too tired, and the light was rapidly fading, so we continued on to arrive in Inverness Marina just after midnight. It would have been a perfect day if Judith had not slipped on the pontoon and gone for an unexpected swim. However, we've coined a new acronym - JOB (Judith Over Board) as a variation on the usual MOB (Man Over Board). Thankfully, her life jacket inflated and no harm was done other then the need for a shower and a change of clothing.
Inverness Marina is very convenient and now has a bright new amenity building, but it is also noisy, so the following day we moved to Seaport Marina at the northern end of the Caledonian Canal. We tied up Innisfree in the same berth as we used in 2010, and next to exactly the same boat. It has not moved in all that time...and we thought we spent overly long in one place!
Typically, we now have a forecast that is all south westerly winds. Loch Ness can become quite rough so we'll look for better conditions before moving on.