After a remarkable run of fine weather I saw a nasty storm on the way. Bad weather is definitely easier to deal with in a campervan than on a boat at anchor but we still have considerations. There’s always the option of rolling into a campground and forking over a fee to plug into shore power, crank up the heat, take long hot showers and settle in for the duration.
Our preference, as you can imagine, is to find a parkup that’s sheltered or at the very least, where we can orient ourselves facing directly into the tempest to be reasonably comfortable even in high winds.
We weren’t ready to leave the Stromness area so we opted for a tiny car park that’s only accessible by driving through a golf course and along very narrow lanes squeezed around stone buildings. Google maps directed us to turn into a lane marked “Private” but we scofflaws went anyway, only to find the road lined with cars and crowded with people. We hadn’t seen this many people in one place for months. It was raining, not that it bothered anyone. Jack maneuvered Escape Velocity around the bend past the jumble of oddly parked vehicles without making contact, and onto an impossibly narrow lane past what looked like the back nine of a golf course. Aha! That was the golf club, and a very busy Saturday morning it was.
We followed the road to the end and as the wind picked up we did our usual animated parkup dance and got situated behind the ruin of an old guardhouse with a magnificent view of the channel and Hoy in the distance. That is, if we could see anything in the bluster.
Within minutes the full brunt of the storm moved in and we expected two days of reading, writing, eating, sleeping. The Scots, we learn again and again, are made of stronger stuff. They are undaunted. Foul weather only affects their clothing choices and often not even that. A car pulled in beside us and out popped a man fully kitted with a hi-viz vest, a spotting scope, camera, and binoculars. He positioned himself directly in front of our van.
Curiosity got the best of me and I suited up and went outside to talk to him. He’s a volunteer with an organization that monitors the populations of whales and dolphins along Scotland’s Coast.
“This is my spot,” he told me, and he pointed to the impression in the ground right in front of our bumper, where he planted the monopod supporting his spotting scope. I didn’t ask if he wanted us to move. I’m sure he did, but when you get a motorhome level and it’s pissing down rain, all bets are off. Besides, we really weren’t interfering with his work, which was to spend an hour every day scanning the water for marine life. He didn’t see any that day but told me he’d seen a few harbor porpoises yesterday.
I wished him well and retreated to the shelter of the van.
“Did you see this?” Jack asked incredulously, and he pointed out the back. In winds of 25-30 kts and driving rain, the golf course was full of intrepid players. You’re kidding, I thought. How can you even predict where the ball will go in these gusts? Who are these people?!
This required a little googling and it only took a minute or two to learn this is an annual open tournament, men today, women and kids tomorrow. I guess having spent the money to enter, no one was going to miss it. Or, more likely, it didn’t bother the players. From our dry and cozy shelter it sure looked like they were playing at a normal pace. There was no sheltering under umbrellas, no shoulders hunched against the downpour. I couldn’t imagine enjoying hitting a wet ball over soggy terrain with chapped hands, but I guess the Scottish part of my DNA doesn’t included the “impervious to fierce weather” gene.
There are no further photos of the day, or most of the next day because neither one of us wanted to get chilled to the bone for the sake of the blog. Sorry, folks.
By dusk on Sunday the storm had pretty much blown itself out and we could once again see the silhouette of the beautiful island of Hoy across the channel, looming like Bali Hai. The sight made us question our decision to pass on a trip over. Should we? Yes? No? When we feel energetic the answer is yes. Other times, no way. The discussion continues.
With dry weather predicted again we drove back toward Kirkwall to reprovision and plan our exploration of Orkney’s East Mainland. On the way we stopped at Maeshowe, the final element of the UNESCO Heart of Neolithic Orkney Site. We’d already visited the other sites, Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar, and the Stones of Stenness.
We breezed into the visitors center unticketed and lucked into the next guided tour, starting in five minutes. This involved a small bus to the actual site, a magnificent chambered cairn and tomb. Even with the bus ride, there was still a bit of a walk out to the site, which looks on the approach like a great big mound.
To enter you have to crouch very low and duckwalk through a long tunnel.
Once inside, the main chamber is about 12 feet high. There are no photos allowed in the cairn, and very few that I could find on the internet. Here’s the Wikipedia entry.
It’s an amazing structure, estimated to be about 5000 years old, the same as the other significant Neolithic sites in Orkney. Our guide was knowledgeable and enthusiastic and our fellow tourists interested and inquisitive. We stayed inside for quite a while as the guide recounted the history and significance of the structure and answered all our questions. He also translated the more recent Viking graffiti, carved in Old Norse, most of which was the Nordic equivalent of “Kilroy was here.”
Then it was back to Kirkwall and our favorite harborfront parkup for some city time.