Sailing into the Orkneys in the early morning and stepping out on to a wet balcony, I feel the cold wind and rain lash across my face. I can sense the remoteness. The whistling of the wind has such an eerie feel and I have the notion that Agatha Christie has been here before me.
Disembarking at the dock in Kirkwall later in the morning, the lashing rain and wind returns but when the sun does peep through in the afternoon it creates such a gentle quality of light.
As sightseers, we find our way to the main street and the wonderful 11th century St Magnus Cathedral. Across the way, there’s the ruins of the 17th century Renaissance-style Earl’s Palace built by Patrick, Earl of Orkney, the illegitimate cousin of King James VI. The whole area is welcoming and provides many photo opportunities.
Sydney friends, Sue and Graeme Crabbe had been to the Orkneys for a few days over Easter. They were all for my venturing south of the islands to a little bistro on the cliffs on the southern tip of South Ronaldsay. That we do, and so easily, after we engage local taxi driver Gail outside the Cathedral. And what a great local tour guide to boot, all for £40 per hour.
We bet that the weather will be better on the way home, so we don’t spend too much time at the Churchill Barriers or the Italian Chapel, and continue our drive through pasture lands in the rain. Beautifully situated along twists and turns of country lanes, we find Skerries Bistro, a few metres from the cliff, and in good time to get a window table with the whole panorama of sea and Scotland before us.
The scallops were just delicious, crisp on the outside from the hot pan, and moist and flavoursome. Even the orange roe, so sweet, that I don’t usually like was delicious. Eat your hearts out friends, while I eat the ‘partan’s tae’, the delicious claw of an Orkney crab – just a wee part of my local seafood platter that followed. Looking at Pam’s organic salmon fish cake, I was wishing that I’d had more room.
Coming back to the ship in the sunshine, we stop at the Italian Chapel, a beautiful Roman Catholic chapel on the edge of Scapa Flow. The chapel consisting of two Nissen huts was built by WWII Italian prisoners of war captured in North Africa and put to work on the Churchill Barriers. It is the most visited tourist attraction in all of the Orkneys.
I don’t believe that all four of us fronted up for Afternoon Tea with hot scones and little sandwiches when we got back to the ship. Mea cupla!