After a fantastic day
exploring Kirkwall and the East side of Orkney (Read Here!), the next morning we said our goodbyes to our wonderful couchsurfing host, Ryan, and caught the bus towards Stromness. We hopped off at the Maeshow Chambered Cairn and were lucky enough to get a spot on the next tour.
Maeshow Chambered Cairns
Although it was outwardly unimpressive, an odd grassy mound in the middle of a field, the inside was absolutely fascinating. After almost crawling through a small stone tunnel the length of a school bus we found ourselves in an intricate stone tomb with four separate rooms.
Built over 5,000 years ago it is still a subject of burning questions as to its true purpose (remains were never found there) and why it was abandoned 4,500 years ago. Then in 1153 Vikings discovered Maeshowe when attempting to take shelter from a brutal snowstorm while crossing Orkney. By the time they were able to continue their journey they left behind a collection of graffiti and drawings in the stone walls. They used ancient Norse code to claim responsibility for their inscriptions (“Tryggr carved these ruins”) and claiming they had found treasure, which they then took away. Our tour guide was phenomenal, definitely not a place to miss while in Orkney.
Standing Stones of Stenness
We threw our packs on our backs and continued walking down the road – the next destination the Standing Stones of Stenness. However as we walked amongst the grazing sheep and cows we began to notice swarms of bugs in the air – finally I had met the infamous midges!! Midges are mosquito like bugs, notorious in Scotland in the summertime, whose bites are painful and itchy. Thankfully Steph had bug spray and we emptied almost the entire can making sure we were as midge repellent as possible! I still cannot get the laugh-worthy image of Steph; walking along with her body completely covered except her two eyeballs, looking out and spraying at the bugs every time they even think about getting close.
The Standing Stones of Stenness are the most impressive stone ring I have seen yet. Although it only contains a couple of stones and it isn’t the largest ring, they definitely still had an eerie, impressive presence.
As it was beginning to drizzle we could not have been happier when our next couchsurfing host, Ewan, offered to come pick us up! Ewan was friendly and extremely Scottish – rolling r’s and all. He quickly showed us his place before heading back to work (which he had left to come give us a ride)… We spent the afternoon walking around the adorable town of Stromness, popping into the cute stores, charity shops and Pier Arts Centre.
We made a quick dinner (with crab toe & prawn appetizers provided by Ewan) before heading into town to watch his pipe band practice (like I said, so Scottish). Located in The Legion (exactly the same as the Legions in the States – a Veteran bar) we grabbed a quick pint downstairs before the main event. With only three other older people in the bar we were quickly asked 1. Where are you from, 2. Why are you in Orkney and 3. Why in the world are you at the Legion?! Laughing we enjoyed friendly conversation learning about the islands and local gossip before heading up for the band practice.
In case you were unaware, bagpipes are loud. Like really loud. With our beers we sat in the back corner continuously alternating between fits of silent giggles (from appreciation of our current situation) to respect and awe of the music being played from the snare drums, bass drum and bagpipes. Needless to say it was an unforgettable, wonderful evening.
We woke up on our final morning with the entire day in front of us – our ferry didn’t leave until midnight! Our agenda included visiting Ewan’s work and then hiking up the west coast to Skara Brae.
Ewan works at a shellfish company and was excited to show us the lobsters, crawfish and clams. Crawling in and out of the tanks he kept handing them to us while showing us the wonders inside each tank. Laughing we finally left having gotten our fill of sea critters for the day.
Hiking up the West Coast of Orkney Mainland
We then embarked on our wild journey of hiking up the coast. If you’re thinking about doing the hike definitely check out this website – they do a great job explaining all the different parts!
It ended up being about a 9-mile hike and took a little over 5 hours. Although absolutely exhausting, it was 100% worth it. With a changing landscape from beautiful beaches to never-ending cliffs and sea stacks, we constantly were in awe of our environment.
We ended up walking through a bunch of WWII bunkers, Black Craig (amazing), the Yesnaby Cliffs and Broch of Borwick. Definitely not a trek for the weak, we couldn’t have been happier (after a near-death encounter with an electric fence) upon reaching Skara Brae.
Skara Brae is one of the oldest, best preserved prehistoric villages in the world. Having been buried by sand until the late 1800’s, almost everything from when the functioning village still remains, even the stone furniture! To see something so immaculate and know that it was built over 5,000 years ago was truly mind blowing.
Ewan came to our rescue again by picking us up (thank goodness we did not have to walk the 5 hours back…) and even served us a delicious meal of mince and tatties before driving us back to Kirkwall. Honestly we could not be more grateful for Ewan’s hospitality and warmth, he really made our time in Stromness fantastic.
Ferry back to Aberdeen
Finally it was time to catch the ferry back to Aberdeen. Still giddy from our long day we grabbed a seat in the bar and got a beer. Quickly we discovered we had sat next to a group of drunk Scottish, Irish and English men who were extremely keen to talk to us and continue buying us drinks and sandwiches. Needless to say it was a quite an entertaining ferry ride home (where I think we understood only about a quarter of what was actually said).
Arriving back to Aberdeen at 7 am we were full of smiles and adventure, what a great trip up north it had been!