Part II, Orkney Journey
Written May 7, 2018
As many of you know I took a side trip to the Orkney Islands or as many people around that area call it simply Orkney. Oh and don’t call them the “Orkneys” for some reason this doesn’t settle well, or at least that’s what I’ve been told and read.
So I was in Orkney in the seaside village of Stromness and I was taken ill by some sort of cold. Originally I had planned to go to Orkney is search of probably their most famous bird, a puffin. However, due to my lovely little cold I was in no state to rent a bicycle and peddle out to some rural cliffs to find these rare birds. Thus, I walked around the village briefly and more or less went to bed at 2, woke again at 4, got organized and packed for the next days early morning journey and then bought come groceries for the morning and decided on bed. Though that sounds dreadfully boring, I plan to go into a little detail on what I did see, smell and taste while in Orkney.
I started the day about 11:30, I walked down the winding old stone streets along, that were almost abandoned. The city felt like this town was left behind, even to the point where one can see men with large beards and pipes and newsy hats standing by the bay. Stromness truly feels like a portal to about 100 years ago, just the feel of the people, the hostel, the town, the smells in the air aren’t modern, the streets still remain small and bumpy. Horses graze on the steep grass slope just above you; and the rest of the town is fenced in with old stone walls. It is just so calming and mind blowing at the same time with how something could hold onto its original identity for so long. Of course, it is not that the town hasn’t been exposed to anything modern, it’s just that the core of it has stayed the same.
My first moment of realizing the distinction of the city was when I was walking the main sort of street, which is really about five different streets all linked together. Suddenly from nowhere, I see a hearse winding its way down the road, where I then realize it in fact has a coffin in it. So I stop to let it pass. Being that the streets are so narrow one can barely fit any car through it, yet alone a hearse. The coffin was simple wood and then covered in a rich and kind array of flowers. A large van followed, probably filled with close family and friends but after that I was truly surprised at the 30 to 40 people walking behind the van and hearse, all in mourning.
All of the mourners walked behind the hearse, dressed in their black suits, all with solemn looks on their face. Of course it’s by no means weird a funeral and all that happens with it but I was truly surprised on the group walking to the cemetery. It was really like something out of a movie.
Of course, I don’t know how Scottish Tradition works around funerals, and really how it functions outside of Colorado. Yet I had gone into the world under the impression it was very much like at home where we drove, because everything was so far spread out.
So this rare sort of intimate sight was another conformation on how little this area has changed. It was just beautiful and tragic and heartfelt and something, though sad, I won’t likely forget.
After seeing the funeral procession and snapping photos of the town along the way, I made my way to the small local Museum of Stromness. So small and low on visitors I was only charged £2.50 and was told I could come back as many times as I liked in the next week.
For being such a small museum they really had some interesting items from a local and famous shipwreck dating back to the 1700’s. As well as a more modern German fleet from the first world war. It was a fascinating to look on these items with barnacles and sea urchins still attached from their ocean graves. They also had interesting bits on whaling, fishing, arctic explorations, and trade in Canada. All of which was fascinating but I felt so ill I had to hurry to start heading back to my bed because nothing sounded better.
I admittedly stopped in a gift shop and bought some local honey and a wool hat. The hat was made from the wool of a rare type of sheep that lives only in that area. The hat is adorable and so warm!
The honey, however, is simply the best I have ever had in my life. At home I’m a total honey junky, commonly eating spoonfuls daily. While I’ve been traveling, my honey eating has been few and far between, so I felt like spoiling myself and and helping my sore throat in one go. The best way to describe the honey, is the taste is the same as the smell of the entire island. That may sound unpleasant, but it’s one of the single most pleasurable tastes and sensations one can have with food.
The smell of the island is rich, salty ocean, earthy, grassy, fields and with it’\s lack of modernization it almost smells like an antique. Not quite musty and not really mildew, not rust but just a calming and beautiful sensation. The honey, of course, seems to have captured this in the perfect means, which makes it so delightful, soft, and just a work of perfection! So thank you you little Orkney bees!
After my honey venture I picked up some fish and chips for a quick lunch and found myself a small stuffed toy puffin to try and satisfy my anguish at not seeing a wild one. I truly can’t win everything but I have done so much, I can’t complain!
The next morning I did have to get up at 4:15am to get myself ready to get on the ferry that left at 6:30am back to Scrabster. I wasn’t overly groggy either and left 30 minutes earlier than my sort of last call out the door I had planned. This time I found my way to the dock with no problem! Oh and the odd thing about being so far north is it never gets truly truly dark! It’s more a gray overshadow all “night” and then the sun eventually may peak through the clouds. It’s rather odd and charming at the same time.
The ferry was a nice ride back to the mainland, I joyfully watched the large beasts of islands show up out my window and take over the plain of vision. Sea birds happily diving in the water for their breakfast and the thick deep blue cold water churning around the boat peaking into small wisps of light blue as it beat upon the side. It made me realize how much I love being on the sea and in that environment. Maybe my next adventure will be buying a boat or buying a ticket on one that travels around for a time. I think that would be a grand adventure right there!
HAPPY TRAVELS future and past!