21.06.2015 - 27.06.2015 12 °C
First days - Orkney & Shetland
We had smooth sailing all night and our first day was in Orkney. We weren't able to get either of the tour alternatives I wanted, so we decided to wander the town of Kirkwall for the morning and do the Distillery tour late afternoon. That worked well for us - we saw the Earls castle and the Bishops castle both built around 1600 and in remarkably good condition. We then wandered around streets and the small shopping strip stopping to buy a cross stitch of puffins! After that it was back to the boat and onto the tour we'd booked - we drove to the highland View whisky distillery where we had a great tour - a bit like seeing a craft as it evolved, and they also gave us gorgeous little whisky (or port) glasses! After that it was down past the Scarpa Flow and the Churchill barriers, then onto the Italian Chapel built by Japanese prisoners of war inside two Nissen huts. The prisoners decorated the inside by painting it as a replica of a holy card which had been given Chiechecco by his mother when he went to war. Camp 60 was off to the side of Scarpa Flow and in the middle of a field, so it must have been freezing while they were there.
After that (and the bus breaking down for a little while) we went back into Kirkwall to see the Cathedral. Built in 1120, and added to a few times later so that it's a mix of Gothic and Roman - quite impressive, as was the whole tour
Lerwick in Shetland was quite different. We had no tour here so we had to wait till after 10am before we could get a tender. When we got there we found the village maybe less developed, but the scenery more wonderful! Perhaps that was because we chose to have just a quick look at the fort, church and shops and then went straight to the walks and made our way up and around the bluff, seeing nesting seagulls as we went. We had to be back on the ship by 3pm, so we couldn't see much else, but I think there was lots more worth seeing.
Then it was Wednesday, so that meant we must have been at Lewis & Harris, and tenders would take us to Stornoway. We were on a tour this time, which was lucky because most things are further into the island. We were taken to a Blackhouse for crafters which was an old stone house with thatched roof, a barn for animals, living area for people and a byrne for chickens and supplies all under one small roof. Heating was by a peat fire, the smoke of which filled the place and killed all bugs and mildew! They were found to be health hazards and occupants moved into smaller houses with the last occupants moving in mid 1900s.
We then went on to the Standing Stones of Callanish which are dated to the Neolithic time ie about 4000-5000BC. It was quite an impressive group of stones, and from that circle we could see two more circles. In the middle of this one was a grave and the stones appeared to represent a cross with the circle around the join in the cross. The landscape was very barren and tough, and strangely the stones seemed to fit!
After that it was back to Stornoway and a wander round the town, then back to the ship.
We have hoped to sea Puffins here, so took the tender filled with anticipation!
The Sealife Survey boat was quite substantial much to my relief, and we were told is all the things in the area that we might see, with the focus on a pair of white tailed sea eagles who have been nesting in the area for five years.
On a nice calm sea, with even the touch of sunshine, we set off. We first saw gulls, then cormorants, then shags and gannets, then through binoculars you could see an eagle in the trees! Having searched for that for a while, with most people satisfied that they'd seen it (at least a sudden of white!) we moved on. We then saw a sea eagle sitting on a rock who then took off, and sailed gloriously overhead. With a wing span of about 2m he was very impressive. Then Trev had his highlight of seeing an otter running across the rocks and jumping into a cave! That was followed by a buzzard circling over the mountain close by, and after that we saw seals lazing in the shallow water, and shags in the cliff face - about 6 adults and a couple of nests with babies in them. This was all in a landscape which was quite beautiful, green, luscious and harsh!
After the tour we had very fresh fish for lunch, then walked around (and up and down) the town. The houses on the shore line are all colourfully painted, and the next row of houses which are at a higher level are really well maintained, and add to the beauty of the town.
Unfortunately it was raining slightly by the time we got the tender, then came down quite heavily once we made shore, but we had only one chance to see the Skye, so we still walked. We wound our way across the foreshore, and ended up slightly lost in suburban Portree (where the large number of B&Bs were all full) but the found our way back to the typical main drag. Lots of souvenir shops with lots of woollen and other local wares (but it appears on the islands that anything from any island is considered local - Harris tweed being the best example). We stopped for coffee when we found a place not full - rainy day in a port where a cruise ship is in makes for crowds!
We then found the information centre and got a map for a few walks, so it was up to the craft fair in the community centre, then past the medical centre and church to head around the point and up to the lookout. The track we were told to follow was quite overgrown and with the current summer, also quite muddy, and my shoes were no longer waterproof! We then stopped for lunch and thought about getting a bus up around Uig, but thought we really needed a full day for that, so we opted for another walk. This time it was across to the other point, and to the Clan MacMacnheil (now known as Nichol) memorial, which provided a lovely view.
After that we were feeling wet and tired enough to return to the ship for drinks!