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Monday, 2 July 2012

A cycle ride in Orkney - and a campsite at Skara Brae

Monday, Monday… and back at the desk, wondering where to start.

I have two major writing projects to think about, a new e-book almost ready to launch, an hour-long talk to prepare for the University of the Third Age, and a vegetable garden in which 90% of the seeds we planted last May have failed to germinate. Still, if the weather here has been dire I doubt it was much worse than what we experienced the first couple of weeks in the far north: temperatures hovering around 8-9 degrees C (46-48 F) and a brisk northerly wind. Bracing, you might say.

Our journey out wasn’t the simplest. Since the appearance of all these cheap short-haul flights, the ferries that used to criss-cross the North Sea from the UK to Scandinavia have, by and large, disappeared. In order to get to Bergen (Norway)  we had to take a train to Aberdeen, a ferry to Orkney, another ferry, overnight, to Shetland, and then hop on one of the twice-weekly flights to Bergen. And that meant dismantling the bikes, packing them in cardboard boxes (if we could find such things) and hoping that the Wednesday flight, on which we were booked, had room for them. If not, we would have to wait until Saturday.

Still, all of the above meant that we did get to explore Orkney, and its remarkable Stone Age sites - such as this stone circle…


...and the settlement at Skara Brae:






This complex of stone dwellings, all connected by passageways, with many of the doorways - and even the stone beds - intact, lay buried under the dunes for 5000 years until a severe storm in the 1850s swept away the sand. They reminded me, as much as anything, of the Anasazi villages I’ve seen in the southwestern USA. We were so fascinated that we visited the site twice. And thanks to a tip from a local, we showed up both times at six in the evening - after the pay-booth had closed. That’s what we Orcadians do, we were told.

We camped about a mile away. Less than that. Found a patch of vacant land just across the road from the beach and spent two very comfortable nights on a cushion of grass. Just a hundred-yard walk in the morning to an excellent public toilet which offered hot and cold running water. We weren’t the only users: there were three or four motor caravans parked nearby. That’s the far north for you.


In Shetland, the weather worsened: same temperatures, same wind, but less sun. Still, there were compensations in the extraordinary light - as on the evening we climbed the hill behind our campsite to look out over the main island and the capital, Lerwick.


Then it was time to scrounge the boxes from the local bike shop, book into a B&B, and tackle the dismantling process. It wasn’t the handle-bars and saddle that caused the problem, rather the mudguards and carrier frames. They were extraordinarily difficult to take apart. After three hours we went for dinner, then came back and spent another two hours cramming the bits into their containers and securing them with every kind of packaging we could muster, plus two large rolls of parcel tape


Next morning we took a taxi 25 miles to Sumburgh airport and prepared ourselves for the ordeal of reversing the process in Bergen. And I’ll post a few notes on Bergen tomorrow.