Shapinsay: 2014


My holiday in Orkney, in 2014, was somewhat of an adventure; it was certainly a step into the unknown (which worked out well in the end).  We had wanted to go to Orkney for some time; it was about choosing how to get there.  You can go by boat, with the car, from Aberdeen but it is a very long boat journey, in often rough seas, and Liz isn’t very good on choppy water.  You can sail from Gills Bay, only a very short sea journey but a long and tedious car journey to get there. Or you can fly.  Flying is good; you can go from Birmingham but Liz can’t hire a car on Orkney (adaptations and all that).   Having looked at public transport on Orkney, we decided to fly and use the buses to get around.  It was more than 40 years since I’d been to Orkney, so if I remembered anything about the place, it wasn’t going to be any use.  We were staying in a cottage in the village of Doune; there was a bus that passed through but we didn’t really know about (a) where the bus stop was in relation to the cottage and (b) how frequent the bus service was.  Definitely adventurous.

There were several buses a day to Kirkwall, the capital; the bus stop was one minute from our cottage.  So far, so good.  The buses really cater for people working in Kirkwall so the early morning bus at 8.30 was really good, because it would give us a whole day out.  The last bus back left Kirkwall at 5.30pm.  That was fine unless you wanted to visit one of the other islands.  Either boats didn’t go and come back the same day or, if they did, the boat didn’t get you back into Kirkwall in time to catch the last bus.  The exception was the boat to Shapinsay.  So one day we went to Shapinsay.

Shapinsay was 25 minutes away from Kirkwall, by ferry.  As long as we caught the 4.45pm ferry back we’d be ok.  Sounded like a plan.  The one thing we learnt very quickly about Orkney was that the weather changes fast; you can’t be fooled by the weather first thing in the morning.  It could, and probably would, change during the day.  The day for Shapinsay was bright and sunny, really warm (but we had the waterproof gear in the ruck sack).  The boat wasn’t crowded; actually there were only two other passengers.  Halfway to Shapinsay, the black clouds swarmed quickly across the skies and it started to rain.  Fortunately, because we were undercover, it was easy to put all the waterproofs on.  Once the ferry stopped, we walked off the boat, undaunted.   It was that cold rain that stings the face and penetrates the joints.  Then, surprise surprise, after a few minutes walking, we came across The Smithy.  The Smithy is the island tea room, cafe, restaurant……. We couldn’t pass by without popping in.  As we entered, we could smell that distinctive aroma of newly baked scones.  Nothing like a big pot of tea and some freshly baked scones to set you off on a good day out.  While we were eating the scones, we noticed the main menu; it was fish and chips for lunch.  We would definitely be back.  Actually, the woman serving said that it was looking to be pretty awful weather so if we wanted to come back, to sit in the dry, we could; we didn’t have to buy a drink.  You don’t often get hospitality like that.

However, the sun had now come out again, the rain had stopped.  We decided that we were not going to take off the waterproofs because you never knew what the weather would do next.  We set off for the RSPB Reserve, Mill Dam.  Up a small incline, from where you could see across fields, watch farmers cutting hay, see the bales piling high.  We found the bird hide overlooking so many birds on the water; there weren’t any ‘special’ birds but it was the sheer quantity of birds.  We stayed there for an hour and then wandered further along the coast to Elwick Mill, a former corn mill which had been converted into a pottery.  There was still a lot of work to be done, to create a proper gallery but David Holmes creates some amazing pieces of art, unusual.  We realised that we had seen his distinctive style in many of the craft shops around Orkney.  It was great to meet him and see him at work.

By this time we were very hungry, it had just started to rain again so we went back for fish and chips.  We were still the only customers but it was nice being able to talk the woman about island life.  There were nearly 300 residents; there is a school for under 11s and then children go to the Mainland, on the little ferry.  The sun came out again and we walked along the coast and watched what we thought was a seal; as we stared out on to the rocks, we realised this wasn’t one seal but very many, just lying on the rocks, playing in the water; they were staring at us and we were photographing them.  It was mesmerising, so close up.  Was that another spit of rain?  Time to go to the Museum, on the upper flooor above the cafe.  It was here that I bought this tea towel.  The museum was absolutely fascinating, full of artefacts, from the two world wars, from past centuries, each labelled with the story.  This is my sort of museum, where the artefacts relate to this particular, small piece of land, and all it’s residents; not items that have no relevance.  It must be an amazing teaching resource for the school; the social history of the island.  Photographs, medals, clothing, household items, things relating to the land and sea.  I could have spent all day there.

4.30pm.  Time to go to the ferry; can’t miss the boat.  We had spent the whole day on Shapinsay and had only seen a fraction of the island.  We could have walked to the top of Ward Hill, only 210 feet high but you can apparently see the whole of Orkney from there; we could have walked the full length of Shapinsay, because it is only 6 miles long; we could have gone to see Balfour Castle but it doesn’t matter about any of this.  We both loved Shapinsay and had a truly great day out.  Having a tea towel, from this small island, is a wonderful way of holding on to those memories and hoping that you can go back again someday.

Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum


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