Sunday, July 08, 2007

Orkney 2007 - Day 6

Saturday 30th June - Hoy

This was my favourite day of the holiday; a trip over to the isle of Hoy, the next biggest of the Orkney isles after the mainland.  Hoy takes its name from Old Norse in which it means 'high island'; an accurate description of this rugged island as it features the tallest sea stack (137m) in the UK in the Old Man of Hoy, the third highest and most vertical sea-cliff in the UK (335m) in St John's Head, and the highest point in Orkney (479m) in Ward Hill.

Sonia and I joined the guys on the car ferry from Houton to Lyness, a trip of some 45 minutes that requires booking in advance, and then up with them to Rackwick from which we began our day's walking, with the first target being the Old Man.  Sonia and I were then to continue on to St John's Head and the fine hill Cuilags before getting a passenger ferry service from Moaness to Stromness.  Meanwhile the guys hit the Scapa Flow visitor's centre before returning to the mainland and then meeting us later after our ferry.

A fair bit of a stomp was required to get you to the Old Man (just over 4 km from the car park) but it proved well worth it;  the Old Man is very impressive, even more so when you realise despite its seeminly impossible sheerness that not only do people come to climb up it but that the first ascent wasn't until 1966 when none other than Chris Bonnington managed it. Oh, and we saw puffins there too!

The full day's route in red, including our search for food!

As you can see, an awful crossing on the ferry:

Ward Hill from the road to Rackwick:

Looking to the hills from Rackwick:

The bay of Rackwick was fine enough:

Almost at the Old Man, the Stromness ferry shows up:

In all its splendour (for now), the Old Man:

Getting some puffin action:

The cliffs south of the Old Man:

And to the north:

Looking back from height showed its
precarious positioning even more:

Coming up on St John's Head:

An impressive crack in the cliff face:

Not a bad spot for a rest:

After the Old Man, Sonia and I went on alone in search of even greater cliff-action with St John's Head, a staggeringly huge chunk of vertical sea-cliff, the scale of which was hard to comprehend.  Indeed, if you looked closely at its base you suddenly realised that the little white flies buzing around it were actually sea-birds!  We spent as much time as we could here eating lunch in full view as fulmars flew beneath us, looking up questioningly.

Step away from the edge, St John's Head:

A lazy fulmar gliding to its nest:

And another, showing just how vertical that cliff-face is:

In panoramic splendour:

Fulmars however, I can cope with.  Next on our wildlife list as we headed toward the summit of Cuilags was the arctic skua, and a lot of them.  These ground-nesting birds are noitoriously protective of their nesting area and it later turned out that 12% of the world's population of this bird bred on Hoy.  By my rough calculations therefore, I believe that somewhere between 10 and 11% of all skua's anywhere attacked us on our little hike, which made things a little more eventful than the average Munro.  When I say attacked, I don't mean actual contact, but these are big and fast birds and there were scary enough for me to come up with the concept for a computer game entitled 'Skua Chick Soup'.  Let's just say it would likely come with an age-restriction...

Anyway, we eventually made it to the top of Cuilags and were rewarded with stunning views all around, including out to the wave-power experiment in Hoy Sound.  From here we could see Moaness, the isle of Graemsay, and over to the mainland as well as fine views of neighbouring hill Ward Hill.  Onwards there was just the small issue of a rather steep descent that unnerved Sonia somewhat, plotted kindly of course by yours truly.

Sonia ducks from advancing skuas:

Coming right at you:

On Sui Fea, getting ready for Cuilags:

Hoy Sound from Cuilags:

Graemsay and the mainland from Cuilags:

A more central shot of Graemsay:

Ward Hill and Sandy Loch from our descent:

Who the hell chose this way down??

Once down, we made our way over to The Hoy Inn, as directed by the many prominent signs, with my mouth drooling for a pint of anything cold and alcohol; a pink alcopop would have been welcomed!  Alas, cruelly, this establishment was no longer in operation and we were met by nothing more than an empty shack.  Deflated, hungry and thirsty we walked back up to the Youth Hostel in hope, but that was closed. We finally gave up and retired to the ferry waiting room, which itself didn't even have a vending machine!  In desperation, I even texted ahead in an attempt to try and ensure that at least a cold bottle of beer would await me in Stromness!  A thoroughly fantastic day, but make sure your supplies are well-stocked!!

One of those mocking signs for available refreshment:

Our saviour from the drinkless land!

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Blogger Scott said...

Very cool trip. The old man is impressive.

I will note, however, that you seemed to have adequate time to take photos of Sonia getting hit by a bird, rather than putting the camera down and protecting the lass! :-)

(I probably wouldn't have done differently.)

17 July 2007 at 22:35  
Blogger Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Definitely a great day! Glad you stayed away from the edge and loved your computer game idea - though next time, since you already have the pictures, protect the Sonia better lad...;)

Grand pics etc and brilliant to feel as if have done the journey with you thanks to your great pictures.

18 July 2007 at 20:14  
Anonymous chrissie allen said...

George, the pictures and account of your sojourn are absolutely amazing.Thank you so much for publishing them so as to enable readers like me to take a fantastic virtual trip to those hauntingly beautiful places. Terrific! Best wishes to you.

19 July 2007 at 13:57  
Blogger George Walks said...

Scott - yes, there was comment to that effect, but what a great shot! The Old Man's day's are apparently limited, so I feel pretty good at seeing it!

Lisa & Chrissie - you are both very welcome. I am very happy to put this stuff up here and even happier that you find the pics and stories engaging!

25 July 2007 at 18:47  

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