Sunday, 20 April 2014

Orkney History Tour

World War Two towers at Houton look out over Bring Deeps.
 A gentle 15km trip to start  the paddling season off in fine weather from Houton at Scapa Flow into the Loch of Stenness. After leaving Houton we passed the three lookout towers which are situated on one side of the Flow. Between Houton Head and Scad Head in Hoy, there were anti ship and submarine boom defence nets during the war the Second World War.  

Clear water and cold clear air. Great visibility above and below the surface.
It was unusually still and quiet - after months of incessant wind and rain it was unusual to hear sounds of so many birds - fulmars, swans, eider, merganser, shell ducks, gannets, black throated diver, greylag geese, redshank, turnstones, cormorants...
 The clarity of the water was mermerising. Tiny jellyfish bobbed along with the incoming tide.

Hall of Clestrain
 We passed the birthplace of the famous Arctic explorer John Rae.
He grew up here and developed his sailing skills in Scapa Flow.
Hoy hills.
 We stopped at Sailhouse Bay below the Hall of Clestrain. This must surely have been where John Rae and his brothers launched their sailing boats from, before racing each other between Orphir and Stromness.
Sailhouse Bay, with Hoy High Light on Graemsay, and Hoy behind.

Stromness ahead with the gateway to the Nor' Wast through Hoy Sound on the horizon. 
 On past a few sleeping seals on the skerries and beaches up to the Brig O'Waithe, observed briefly from the water by an otter which was gone as soon as I was certain it was indeed an otter and not a piece of kelp or a young seal. In fact it was the movements and manner of its disappearance that made me pretty certain it was an otter.

Easily under the Brig
 Around the corner and on to the Standing Stones of Stenness with a brisker pace for a change, just to check paddle fitness, or lack of...

 I have always meant to take this route -  there is something novel about paddling from salt water to fresh on an island with no rivers - a uniquely Orcadian trip, paddling past remnants of  WWII, the days of Hudson's Bay Company, to the neolithic.