It was not a good night’s sleep and both Joan and I awoke looking, and no doubt feeling, decidedly tired. Otherwise, I felt fine and was quite chipper as I made my way down to consume another fine breakfast courtesy of the Eastbank House staff. About half way through, however, the assault began and I wasn’t sure how I was going to last the day on the bus.
We set off at 10.00 a.m. (Neil is fond of his late starts) and headed for the Grain Earth House in the middle of an industrial estate in Kirkwall, the form of earth house or souterrain characteristic of the Northern Isles (though Grain is unusually deep below ground). The key for the Grain Earth House had to be obtained from the Ortak jewellery shop and, despite offering several times, I was not allowed to go in – perhaps it had something to do with the big, red sale notice on the windows and the fact that, by now, the whole group knew I adored Orcadian jewellery.
While most of the group went underground, Barbara and I couldn’t face the 10 foot ducking exercise after our bone creaks at Maeshowe the previous day, so we stayed up top and enjoyed what little there was of the sunshine, sitting on what could be described as a hobbit hole inside a rather ineffective iron railing enclosure which surrounded the site. As everyone eventually came up, Jean sat atop the entrance and touched people on the head giving them a right fright and us surface dwellers a good laugh.
We were about to leave the site when we saw a German tourist couple with child on bikes approaching the site. Although they wanted to see the Grain Earth House, Neil had to return the key to the guardians at Ortak jewellery. So, we offered the lady a lift down to the centre, and the keys were exchanged and we dropped her back. We are still not sure if she informed her husband what she was doing, because he gave us all filthy looks upon re-approaching the site. We wished her a happy journey and continued on our way to the Italian Chapel at Lamb Howe.
Along the way, we spent a bit of time viewing the Churchill Barriers and the various wrecks in Scapa, though we did not linger very long on these. We moved on to the Italian Chapel, where Crystal Tits did her usual and I picked up a leaflet, remembering to take a donation in this time. It really is a marvel what you can do with scrap and the Italian Prisoners of War excelled in their efforts. Our group stayed a while and tried to take pictures, but the lighting was poor as, once again, the sun had retreated.
We made our way on to have a pit stop at the Orkney Fossil and Vintage Centre, where the lasses behind the counter were kind enough to make us fresh sandwiches for a picnic lunch were to have later. They also did a nice line in scrumptious cakes and, though I couldn’t have any myself, some of our group did indulge and later said they were outstanding. I wish I had more time to explore the exhibits at the Centre, but it was a short stop and we had to press on to the Tomb of the Eagles.
We arrived at the Tomb of the Eagles, Isbister, just a few minutes into a lecture, but were assured that we hadn’t missed much. I do like the owners, as its the only place I know of where they allow you to handle the actual exhibits. Sure, the talks can be a bit long, the sisters seeming to be in competition as to who could hold their audiences longer, but nowhere else can you actually get a “feel” of the history of the islands. I left the second talk a bit of a way in – wanting to use the facilities before undertaking the hike up the cliffs to the neolithic house and, finally, the tomb itself.
As it happens, Neil had got instructions about driving up to the house, which shortened our walk to the tomb. Unfortunately, Ronnie Simison, the farmer who discovered the tomb on his property, no longer attends to the tourists, preferring to sit in his chair indoors and watch them parade past. A shame really, as he did a marvellous presentation on the tools (now sitting idly by the entrance to the house), the well, the burnt mound and the tomb the last time I was there, back in 2004.
I briefly snapped some pictures of the house, which was a little overrun with foliage, and then walked up the path to the Tomb itself. This time I made it all the way and I am so pleased I did. I laid down on the trolley at the entrance with my camera under my chin, leaving my camera and shoulder bags resting on a stone outside and managed to pull myself along the rope to the inside, whereupon I came to a grinding halt as the trolley hit the gravel and my camera fell forward onto the floor. I was about to stand up when Fae and Simon warned me not to as I was not far enough in the tomb to stand upright. I scrambled foward and was finally able to get up.
Both Fae and Simon had gone in ahead of Crystal Tits, who had kept pace with me (slow as I was) in order to view the chamber sans smells and bells. As I arrived, and CT behind me, they left to walk the cliffs. I didn’t get very good photographs inside the tomb itself, as there was perspex between the main chamber and the one where the skulls were to be found. I did get a rather interesting photograph of some of our group pondering the use of the trolley, though.
As I was looking around the tomb, Fae and Simon very kindly banged out a rhythm on the sunroof tiles. After I made my way out (without crashing this time) and scrambled up the top of the mound, with Simon’s assistance, I thanked them both for the performance. As everyone else started to arrive, I made my way back along the cliffs hoping to get some pictures of some birds. Alas, it wasn’t to be and I only got cliffscapes, apart from the carcass of a dead animal (possibly a rabbit), all of which have spots on them as I never checked to see if my lenses were clean.
We made our way back to the van, eventually and headed off to Minehowe, the place where Time Team had filmed in 2000. The visitor centre was a van, supervised by a teenage girl, with some clippings about the site pasted on boards. After a quick read, I picked up a hard hat and headed up to the site. Liz descended the steep steps which are lit only by some fairy lights looped around the hand rail. As Liz went down, she provided me with commentary on the loose steps, etc. It was a very tight squeeze for me and, at the bottom, Liz informed me, the lights were out. It was cold and damp, but, once the lights came on (as another person knocked the railing), the chamber above us lit up and it was magnificent. I hope to read up about this mysterious site in a few weeks time, because it was a marvellous construction, the likes of which I’d not encountered before.
When I finally made my way back up and out into the sunlight, I had a moment of panic when I realised the lens cap had left my camera. I would later find it in the camera bag in the bus. Stupid me, I still didn’t clean the lens before replacing the cap.
After Minehowe, we returned to Eastbank House and packed our bags in the van and headed down to Kirkwall harbour for some free time, i.e. dinner and a bit of a wander before heading to the ferry terminal. Simon, Crystal Tits, Liz and I headed for an ATM and found a gift shop open. Strangely enough, the woman manning the shop was from Darwin. I bought a small bottle of whiskey for himself to ensure a smooth overnight ferry ride and two darling little dragonfly brooches for my best friend back home, Peta.
The other three then went on to gawp at the Bishop’s Palace whilst I sat down on a seat outside St Magnus’ Cathedral. They returned after a brief interval and we went in search of food with me constantly peering in jewellery shops along the way. We found a chipper open that was packing in the locals and ordered some takeaway. I went for chilli and chips and, once we had our food in hand, we walked back to the harbour and sat on some seats opposite the bus. Once finished, we headed into a the front bar of a hotel where the whole group had eaten the night before, the Ayre Hotel I think. All I can say is it was one of the most unfriendly places I had been in during the whole of my life. I’m sure it wasn’t intended, but once I returned from the facilities, I made my excuses to the group and headed out.
I found Neil sitting in the bus and proceeded to retrieve the rest of my postcards and stamps and wrote some notes home. As we sat there, Neil noticed a few cars kept driving back and forth. It was very odd behaviour from – what we would call in Oz – hoons. Soon, the streets began to fill with people partying and we continued to be graced by the presence of a group of men on the back of a lorry who were covered in muck and throwing dirt and banging dustbin lids. According to the girl in the fish shop, it was some kind of tradition on stag nights.
Eventually, the stags must have run out of dirt and they pulled up at the harbour opposite and one of them stripped down and jumped in the water, which much have been icy because, despite using a zoom lens, there wasn’t much to see below his waist. Yes, I have a photograph. No, I won’t post it because someone reading this blog is bound to complain. If you want to see it, leave me your email address with a comment and I’ll post you the link. 😉
As the evening wore on, more stags and hens began to walk the pavement behind us. I tried to get a few pictures, but missed the perfect shot of an older lady dressed in fatigues. Of the series I took that night, this was the best:
I was very lucky in that nobody objected to my snapping away at them. In fact, some did try to pose, but my camerawork was off. We spent a bit of time people-watching and then it was on to the ferry where, once again, Simon appeared to have been left off the list as he had been, and would continue to be at every ferry we boarded. He’s a real troublemaker that one. *LOL* We did all feel for him. This time Neil had to rearrange the cabin assignments as, by now, I was worried about Joan not getting enough sleep, and Fae was in need of privacy.
Eventually, Fae and I were assigned to the same cabin and we went off to have a rolly (for my seasickness) before setting sail. As we made our way downstairs, we bumped into a group of gentlemen who had possession of a silver cup. Being nosy, Fae and I queried them about it and learned that they were the Shetland football team, who had (just that day) won the Milne Cup on the 100th anniversary of the inter-island match. Again, the guys were gracious allowing us to take pictures.
Fae and I would meet the guy on the far right at a later date.
Once again, the ferry was late arriving in Kirkwall. A local lass told us that this was usual, and that it was to ensure that the ferries arrived in Lerwick after the start of the dockman’s shift. We did wonder why it took so long to cross the ocean when the water was like glass, but, hey, what did we land lubbers know?
Fae and I settled our bags and then went to the bar for some bottled water. The Shetland footballers we had encountered in the terminal were there and so was Neil. I offered Neil my leftover egg sandwich from earlier in the day, to save him some dosh and then I retired for the night.