What do Suzie and Heather do when they are scouting? You might think they flit about, soaking up leisurely breakfasts and gazing out over beautiful vistas for hours at a time. Doesn’t that sound nice?
But that’s not really how it goes.
Our aim, when we travel to research and prepare for putting together a tour, is to seek out as many of the people, experiences, sites of artisan craftwork and cultural education as possible. We do this so we can curate (Heather loves to use that word!) the very best of these offerings. By the time we’ve incorporated them into a tour, we’re confident we’ve created a really worthwhile day, every day. But that means seeing and doing a LOT while scouting. We prepare a rough itinerary ahead of time. Inevitably though, our list of things to do lengthens by getting ideas in situ and by talking with people along the way. Oh! You’re doing that? Then you should go talk to…
And so what starts off as a reasonable schedule of visits quickly accelerates into a whirlwind of activity. On one day in Orkney, we left our hotel room at 7:30 am for breakfast and didn’t return until 11 pm! Here’s what we did, if you’re interested. If not, feel free to skip over this part. We visited:
The Brough of Bursay – ruins of a Viking settlement
The Woolshed – tiny wool/yarn/craft shop
The Broch of Burness – a partially excavated neolitic settlement
Skara Brae – the world famous neolithic settlement, excavated and then protected for public access, museum, cafe, etc
Okney Brewing – a craft brewery, for a tasting and tour. Our guide spoke so fast and with such a stong accent that even Heather couldn’t understand him.
Stromness – the town in which you arrive on Orkney if coming over via the Scrabster ferry) where there’s a yarn shop called The Quernstone
We drove by the very famous archaeological sites of Stones of Stennes, Ring of Broadgar, and Maes Howe. No time to stop! We have an appointment!
A visit with Orkney Boreray – the owner, Jane Cooper, keeps a small flock of rare breed Boreray sheep on her lovely, hillside croft.
A drive back to our base town of Kirkwall to find dinner.
Back out to the countryside to attend a storytelling evening. We allowed ourselves time to actually stop at the Ring of Brodgar. And good timing it was. In the morning, when we went by, there were dozens of people there. Now evening, the place was deserted and atmospheric. Stone circles and henges are still not completely understood. We know how they were constructed but not why. Nonetheless, they have a certain ageless presence that makes itself felt- especially if you’re lucky enough to visit with very few humans around.
But somewhere in there (between fish & chips , stone circles and listening to sea tales from Orkney) we also found ourselves with an extra half hour. We decided to drive down a little road to something called Yasneby. What is Yasneby? We had no idea. So we went to take a look.
And came right to the edge of our island, looking across to the island of Hoy.
It was a half hour of crazy goodness. Pounding surf, sea birds, a view to the landmark stone called The Old Man of Hoy and petting a few visiting dogs. What could be better?
We then enjoyed a really beautiful storytelling evening full of tales of selkies and farmers and fisherman.
The next morning I was able to visit a place I’ve long wanted to go. St. Magnus Cathedral. It’s perhaps the only stone cathedral built in predominantly red sandstone. I walked in, wandered a bit and then just sat myself down for a good look at how the thing was built, its many intricate carvings and the wonderful, massive central columns. Covid precautions meant no access to the belltower or really any guided tours. So, it was just me and the building, saying hello to each other.
We left the Orkney Islands after that. Onward to the rest of the north coast. More to see, do, scope out. And I’ll share some of that with you soon.