After visiting the Ring of Brodgar we realized our No-Plan Plan would not serve us well in a place we knew very little about. We drove the 20 minutes back to Kirkwall — this is a small island — to visit the tourist office and get some guidance. I listened intently to the data dump from the guy at the desk but I could see Jack glaze over around the start of the paragraph two. I gathered up the pile of brochures, maps, ferry schedules and facilities lists and we went back to the van to assess and regroup.
We found a free parkup right in the center of town. Oddly enough it’s equivalent to a Walmart parking lot, but if you play your cards right and get there early you get the spot on the end adjacent to a lake. Even with a couple of motorhomes parked on the other side, it’s absolutely quiet overnight and easy to forget you’re within a 3-minute walk of a Tesco, a Lidl and a Co-op.
We also learned of a campground around the corner where we can either stay overnight or just pay a small fee to use the facilities. Now we have three legal places to stay in town, two of them free, and we embraced this opportunity to get to know a town. We’ve missed that.
First we needed to check out all the various food and specialty shops, then find a cafe to call home. The cafe was easy. How can you pass up The Archive, housed in the former town library? You can’t. And lucky for us, the food is great. I can’t count the number of times we ate there. Jack ordered the same thing every time (Eggs Benedict) but I tried every vegetarian item on the menu.
Next we followed a self guided walking tour that took us to to St. Magnus Cathedral and along some interesting streets and alleyways until we got distracted by local shops offering Fair Isle knitwear (we admired but didn’t buy) and anything you can imagine with a puffin on it.
We found a laundry to wash and dry our bundle in a couple of hours for a reasonable fee. Jack bought a long-searched-for coffee scoop that judging from the price is apparently museum quality. I found a shop with locally grown organic produce whose owner swapped us a better shower head out of his own motorhome.
One Saturday we stepped into a doorway to make way for traffic. A delivery van stopped next to us and our shopkeeper friend rolled down the window.
“The sourdough’s in the back,” he told us. We followed the van to the store and bought enough still-warm baked goods for a family of eight.
We found the zero meridian that 18th century cartographer Murdoch MacKenzie established before there was any national reference point for navigational charts. One hundred and one years later the UK decided the prime meridian should be at the Royal Onservatory in Greenwich and of course the rest of the world accepted that standard. MacKenzie’s original point now lies at about 3°W longitude.
We explored the harbor, the distillery, and just about every street in town during our many visits back to the place. Kirkwall became our Orkney home.