Tuesday, 22 June 2010

A Postcard from Orkney and Shetland. Part Two.

St Magnus Cathedral. I spent so long in here I'm on first name terms with the Saint!

Dwarfie Stone, Hoy. Theres a large stone nearby that some joker painted windows and a door on. It fooled one of our group for sure. No one lives within miles apart from the Trolls!

Rackwick Bay,Hoy

Great Skua

10th June. This morning was a rather relaxed one as we concentrated on Kirkwall itself, which included a guided tour the magnificent sandstone Cathedral of St Magnus and the ruins of the Renaissance architectural ruins of the nearby Earls and Bishops Palaces. The afternoon saw me crawling into an underground Neolithic tomb at Cuween Hill on my hands and knees. Thankfully I was let out again. At this point we found a Common Buzzard, quite a rarity for Orkney I believe.

We also eventually found the Bearded Seal again with pup, but this time managed a close up sighting so there was no doubt what species it was. A rather comical looking animal, with a really long grey beard, which usually breed around the Svalbard and Arctic areas. I reckon it was quite a find and I count it as a lifer as from today, as my previous view was so poor it could have been anything! Common Seals and Brown Hare were also found. Then we were up into the hills after having had lunch at Scapa Beach..

You may have noted that so far Hen Harrier is missing from the list. Well after no little looking today we did eventually find both male and ringtail, but with quite distant views. As we where watching the Hen Harriers another Short Eared Owl gave excellent views as it quartered the area before settling on a post near to us. It was difficult to know which way to look. We also found Kestrel.

We also found a significant number of Red Breasted Merganser today, Raven and Great Skua.

11th June. We were off to Hoy today. It rained quite heavily early on, but nothing stopped our progress and it was soon clear.

We visited the Dwarfie Stone a stone carved tomb in a desolate mountainous area. I didn’t crawl into this one! Fulmars called from the mountain side above us and I found some good specimens of Sundew. The Dwarfie Stone is a huge block of sandstone which is the only rock cut tomb in Britain dating from around 3000 BC. According to Sir Walter Scott it is the residence of a Troll. I think I have met a few of them in my lifetime!

One of the highlights of the week for me was a visit to the beautiful sandy bay at Rackwick which is below very high cliffs. I walked alone along by the sea and from underneath the cliffs there was a view of the Old Man of Hoy, if a somewhat distant view. There are large numbers of Great Skua in the area, and fewer Arctic Skua. I’d become quite surprised as to how close you can get to these birds.

The first Grey Heron of the week appeared and I seem to remember counting up to six Red Throated Divers some of them nesting. Stonechat was added to the list and Kestrel was seen again. The bird of the day had to be the Hen Harrier. This time we had both male and ringtail in close up. On the return to the hotel as everyone else seemed to have given up on the bird watching, including the leaders, and were chatting away, I caught site of another male Hen Harrier making it five for the week. We had five Short Eared Owls also.

I gave my after dinner walk to the harbour a miss tonight as there were gale force winds coming of the sea. Instead I prayed they would die out before the following night as I would be on the overnight ferry to Lerwick, Shetland!

12th June. It was going to be a long day as the rest of the group (they had been a friendly bunch) left for home and I was left to await a ferry that did not leave until 11.45pm. The hotel were happy to allow me to use their facilities and I decided to explore Kirkwall in some depth, including Tourist Information, St Magnus Centre (I even let the staff think I had been fascinated by the video!), St Magnus Cathedral again (anyone watching might have thought I had found religion, I spent so long in there) and the Kirkwall Museum (which is very good indeed). Spare time was spent eating and finding a reserve set of footwear as I had no faith that my boots would make it until the end of the following week as the stitching was falling apart! As luck would have it the Orkney Traditional Music Project was giving a free concert in the Cathedral so I spent a good hour listening to the kids aged from around eight to seventeen playing traditional tunes. They were excellent and I bought the CD! After dinner, come 11.45 I was on the way to Shetland not really knowing what to expect and I didn’t sleep too well such was the anticipation. Thankfully the wind had died out! More postcards on the way!

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