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28th June 2007

Nice coffee in the sunshine
Stromness to Scrabster
Clycle up the hill to Thurso
Catch the train – the conducter checks that my bike has a reservation – of course it does! what a thing to suggest that we would travel illicitly! – What a lovely train ride, now that we can see the scenery.
Connect at Inverness with just a few minutes – we need all of these minutes as some job’s worth gets neurotic about my not having an orange ticket for the bike. I have a number – this eventually is OK and I jump on the train, just in time. Another wonderful journey.
The change in Perth is uneventful but tight – train ride through Fife – all right but not in the same league (sorry Fifers!)
Back home – too culture-lagged to go to my usual pub session.

Watch this space for my next travels – which will be to London and France, starting 10th July.

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Leaving Hoy – 27th June

I am getting better at getting the bike on and off this ferry and didn’t have much trouble. It is a beautiful day and there are seals playing by the pier. Back to Stromness – where the coffee shop is quite a bit of compensation for missing Hoy. Back to the hostel, catch up on my email and head off on the bike to Maeshowe.

Getting more into the Orkney pace of life now so I change my ferry booking for tomorrow to the later one – early starts are all very well but I will hang around for a bit longer and then I should still be able to catch the train at Thurso.

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Get your sheep off my roof!

On the way to Rackwick to walk to the Old Man of Hoy, we passed a car and our host, Albert, got out to chat to the driver. He explained to us that there was a problem with one of his (Albert’s) sheep. The man had complained that the sheep was in his garden. This was bad enough but the house has a turf/grass roof which slopes to near the ground. The sheep was wandering onto the roof and “he is getting a bit fed up of it”, to quote Albert. Albert was very sympathetic and took away the sheep. But it was the wrong sheep and the poor householder found another sheep on his roof the next day. Albert is much concerned about being a poor neighbour (the fact that these people live 6 miles apart is a detail) and will try to catch the sheep and put it somewhere more secure.

Then we had a lovely walk to the “Auld Man” and a mini-bus tour of Hoy. This was lovely and a big relief not to be on the bike as it was cold and windy, but sunny and dry. I was able to check out South Hoy and plan a future cycle trip. Back to the B&B for a sleep before dinner and then a lovely walk afterwards. It is very bright this evening and I can see that there will be no darkness at all.

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Hoy

A bit of feminine hesitation at the pier on Hoy meant that a strong man took my bike up the short few steps. Then I cycled up the hill and turned left, just like I had been told.

What a magical place! The weather is still nice and is dry, while there is flooding in England and general rain elsewhere. The B&B seems like luxury about my hostelling. I think that it might seem like luxury even if I have been 5 star hotelling. There is a lounge/dining room with three sides of window, looking over the bay.

There are very few facilities on Hoy and the nearest shop is 16 miles so I had wisely booked an evening meal with my hospitable hostess. By now the wind is freshening and I can see the gradient of the hills so I accept the offer of a tour of the island the next day. Meanwhile the other guests had come onto Hoy without much petrol and little cash. Very difficult situation but the host sold them some petrol which he had for the lawnmower and one of them found a chequebook. Their plastic cards carried no weight on the island. There is a petrol pump but it was closed and was 16 miles away anyway and they needed to get to the early ferry. I think that they are a bit wiser about island life now.

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A fresh breezy cycle ride

Lovely concert in the Cathedral (apparently a concerto, but I don’t know the difference) and then I set off into the “breeze”. I was impressed with myself to make it with enough time to stop for a coffee, muffin and custard at Gerri’s ice-cream parlour (no, I am not kidding) in Steness. The wind felt quite fierce but was not often in my face – more like over my right shoulder.

Got to the ferry for Hoy in plenty of time – super-cyclist that I am! The next drama came when I had to take my bike down the narrow steps to the ferry. Aargh. Next time I will take off the paniers first and reduce the risk of a headlong crash into the water.

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Wind direction

I have to cycle from Kirkwall to Stromness between the end of a concert (14:00) and the Hoy ferry (16:30). While I give all the appearance of a fit and experienced cyclist, this 15 mile trip is a bit of a challenge and I need a big rest in the middle. The wind direction is all important and it shifted from the east to the north yesterday. So we have a northerly wind at 25 miles an hour – a gently breeze for these parts. An east wind would have been so nice – I will manage the north wind, if I am not blown sideways, but am grateful that it is not from the west.

Meanwhile, a trip to the library to take advantage of their lovely computers and the hour-a-day free internet access for visitors. Then off to some poetry by Andrew Motion and a concert in Cathedral. Then my dash (I use the word loosely) across to Stromness. Then to Hoy. The timetable solemnly tells me that I must be at the pier 5 minutes before departure time. What a nice change from airport check-in times! The B&B directions are “ask anyone” and “up the hill and left”, so I don’t expect any problems finding it. For those who don’t know, my mother’s family name was Hoy so it is very exciting to be able to visit.

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Sunday in Kirkwall

Sunday 24th June.

A lovely start to the day as I met V & D for coffee – we would never have time to arrange that in Edinburgh. We were pleasantly surprised to find a coffee shop open at that time.

Then I attended the service in the Cathedral, which was just amazing – maybe the highlight of my visit. The integration of music, the festival and visitors within the community is inspiring. I am sure that there are many parts of Kirwall untouched by the festival, but not untouched by the music, I would think. Some strings from the BBB SSO played during the service; there was the usual choir and then there were pipes and trumpets. All this within a lovely inclusive service which was primarily for the normal congregation. Tea and coffee (with home-made shortbread) afterwards is almost what one expects now.

I did a bit of sightseeing and then had a marvellous cycle up Wideford Hill, from where you have a 360 degree view. I could see for miles – as far as the Scottish coast. Perhaps we could arrange management training up there … There is a 5000 year old burial cairn there which I explored, as you do … thinking “some people would think it a little daft to go down into a burial chamber on your own” – but there was a torch and no-one jumped out of the heather to lock me in, so all is well.

What a great cycle back down the hill – lucky I had new brakes put on recently … Then a little cycle down to Scapa beach, where I sat out of the wind and in the sun for ages, watching some kids pour water from a bucket into a hole in the sand… timeless activity.

Note that this was a warm (out of the wind) and very sunny afternoon -I gather that we are having better weather than Scotland, but the wind changed to the North later on.

I had a lovely sociable evening in the hostel. All the books I brought to read are still unread – I had some idea that I would have quiet time because I was on my own – no chance …

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Blacking – 23 June 2007

After two lovely concerts (how many concerts have two of the (live) composers in the audience?), I was having lunch opposing the Cathedral with a bird’s eye view of a “Blacking”. In advance of a wedding (but not the same day, luckily), the bride and groom are “blacked” with treacle (they tell me it used to be sheep’s blood), driven around in separate open trucks with their mates (who needs enemies?) and then the groom is tied with cling film to the cross outside the Cathedral (imagine doing this in Ballingarry!) and left, with a ball and chain, while his mates (see earlier remark about enemies) go off. They eventually return and release him.

The same then happens to the bride, but she has handcuffs instead of a ball and chain. Great photo opportunities for the tourists. I am told that this is mostly a Kirwall custom but does happen in other parts of Orkney too.

Lovely craft fair and then a trip here to the libary before heading off for a cycle.

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Speigeltent – 22nd June

I thought that a Speigeltent was a drinking place sponsored by a beer company called “Speigel”. That is how cultured I am! A speigeltent is a hand-made pavilion of wood, mirrors and leaded glass, with velvet and brocade ceiling hangings, which were used across Europe as travelling dance halls, bars and entertainment salons.

Well, there certainly was entertainment there last night. The show was a mix of burlesque, music hall and a stag night. It was very very funny and mostly very rude too. They were clear about the over 16 admission rule, which was just as well or they would be reported to the social work department. Great fun and I met a bunch of interesting Orcadians, had conversations about young people and drugs across the Northern and Western Isles and so on and so forth.

Walking back to the hostel at 1.30 am was lovely – while it seems dark in the town, it is not really dark at all.

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Where are my false teeth?

22 June 2007
Boy can I sleep after all this cycling and staying out late! I finally got up and had some breakfast. When I went to wash my teeth there was a set of dentures in a mug in the bathroom. Horrified, I hastily checked the whereabouts of mine and found, to my relief, that there were in my mouth. Phew!

A few minutes later a man who had left the hostel to get the ferry had realised that he had left his teeth and negotiated with the boat to let him come back to get them – he was suitably embarrassed.

I packed my things and stocked up with food for the day (this exercise makes me ravenous!) and headed east for Kirkwall. On the way I joined a ranger’s talk about the Ring of Brodgar, which was fascinating. She talked for an hour and a half as she walked us through the surrounding landscape. Historic Scotland and the RSPB are planting the surrounding area so as to encourage and protect a wide range of wild flowers and birds. Great information and I got a real sense of the place of the Ring in Orkney life and culture.

Speaking of culture, I pedalled on towards Kirkwall to pick up my festival tickets. This festival is a huge success and the long queues and “sold out” notices sit a bit uneasily in this faraway place. Not that it feels faraway as there are so many visitors and I met Val and Diane from Edinburgh. There is a feel of the Edinburgh Festival about it in the way that people dash from event to event. I don’t dash anywhere – largely because so many of the tickets were sold out when I got around to booking, and also because I am too relaxed to dash.

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