On the road to find the old man

So, it’s been a while. Kirkwall keeps serving up surprising things to do but inevitably even a tiny palm tree decorated island paradise in the Malacca Strait can get old. There is just no avoiding it. So we are inexorably drawn to it. It’s bigger than us. Passage booked, we are off to Hoy! In addition Marce has found a fabulous free parkup near the jumping off point for the hike to the Old Man. So it’s there if we dare.

We prudently stayed at the Kirkwall town campground to ease camper maintenance, less said the better, and made it to the ferry ahead of schedule.

We’re old hands at ferry protocol but due to the short duration of the trip we just stayed in EV.

Marce planned a few little side adventures on the way to the parkup. First stop was the Longhope Lifeboat Museum featuring the beautifully restored Thomas McCunn in her original rapid-deployment setting. (See link for a short video of the thrilling rapid launch.)

Lifeboats stationed on Hoy respond to vessels in distress in the North Sea and Pentland Firth, some of the most dangerous waters in the world. We were regaled with tales of heroism and tragedy, reminding us of some of the shipwreck memorials we visited in Shetland.

The honored list of lost heros is as impressive as it is sad. When one of the lifeboats doesn’t make it back home, it represents a large percentage of this tiny community’s population including several members of the same family since many fathers and sons serve together.

As sailors we’re grateful for every brave mariner who responds to an SOS. Every time these folks get a call, someone is having the worst day of their lives in some of the worst conditions on earth.

Next up and further down the road was the Hackness Martello Tower, built in 1813 at the height of the Napoleonic Wars. The style of tower derives its name from the original design at Mortella Point in Corsica where in 1794 the French mounted two small cannon on top of a projectile-deflecting round masonry tower some 4 meters thick, which enabled the French to fend off two British warships carrying the combined firepower of 106 guns.

This so impressed the Brits, understanding good value for money, that they built over 100 similar towers in the South East coast of England when Napoleon began gathering his forces to invade Britain. They apparently misremembered the name, and the British towers are called Martello instead of the original Mortella.

So you have a nearly bomb-proof structure housing ammunition, complete gun crew, a cistern for water, and the British innovation of an oval shaped tower, with elevated gun platform for a 24 pounder, replaced fifty years later by a 68 pounder.

Two sister towers protected the massive anchorage at Scapa Flow from 19th century American privateers and through both world wars, never firing a shot in anger.

Finally we drove 45 minutes the entire length of Hoy to Rackwick at the end of the road.

On the other side of the mountains the clouds parted and we descended into the vast beautiful valley under a rare blue sky.

Rackwick is the settlement at the end of the earth and the closest you can get to the Old Man of Hoy by car. A good place to stop.

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One Response to On the road to find the old man

  1. Jim Kennedy

    Fascinating! Write a book would ya!

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