Friday, 31 December 2021

Orkney Trip Day 4

The morning after the dinner party at Brough House, Mark, Katherine and I started on the dishes. There had been paired wines for the various courses so with 17 guests and 8 courses, you can imagine the quantity of glassware. At one stage during the meal, Mark lost synchronization with his wines and courses and went into a mild panic. I tried to reassure him "I don't think anyone has noticed". :-)

Mark offered us a tour of the island and asked what we would like to see. I understand you have a castle on this island" came my reply. :-) Noltland Castle is a substantial tower house built in the late 16th Century for a Gilbert Balfour who was the master of Mary Queen of Scots' household. When Mary was deposed and arrested, Balfour took refuge in the castle, but the building was seized from him although eventually he got it back. Indeed the building went in and out of Balfour ownership, until it was handed into stage care in 1911 by a Balfour. It is now maintained by Historic Environment Scotland.

Instead of windows the bottom two levels of the castle have "gun loops". This indicates a high level of paranoia regarding attacks, and I have seen nothing like this elsewhere. The building was never completed, and Mark wondered how the castle was heated - there is no wood or coal on Westray. 

Noltland Castle: frontage

In another location Norland would be much more valued. Significant parts of it are intact, and there is still a large amount of interior accommodation. The impressive vaulted kitchen is like the greatest of great halls. A number of the gun loops provide illumination in here - though they are too high up to shoot out of!  

Noltland  is a perfect restoration candidate, though the location is too remote for most people. Given the lack of fuel on the islands, Orkney is leading the way in alternative technologies, and Noltland most certainly needs a good alternative heating plan. :-) Katherine had to retreat to the car due to the cold and did not even realise there was an inside, but Mark and I had a good run around, and I made certain I had done the entirety of the structure albeit at high speed.

Noltland Castle: kitchen

Noltland Castle: ginormous spiral staircase

Noltland Castle: click to see VR panorama of courtyard at rear

We then explored most of the rest of the island with Mark highlighting the island gossip associated with the different locations. He pointed out the small number of shops, which are an absolute lifeline. Katherine picked up some Orkney cannonball cheese at one. We had both tried this at the dinner party and fallen in love with it - both the smoked and unsmoked varieties.

We caught the ferry back to the Orkney mainland that evening. While we were waiting for the boat to come in, we saw what looked like a dead body wrapped in black plastic wrap being handled for loading. The first though in my head was that even the way they handle dead people here is alarmingly different! However, Katherine got out the car and asked a few questions - this was a dead porpoise that has been found and that was being sent to the mainland for autopsy. Katherine insists that she knew it was a dolphin or some such from the start, due to the tail. However, I discerned no tail myself, and seeing a dead human being taken out of a van by forklift, had certainly got my heart pumping. 

For this journey, the tiny passenger lounge was above deck. Mark has advised prior to our trip to always go for a lower lounge in any sailing, as the swaying would be less.  By the end of the Orkney trip I had not sussed whether there was more than one lounge to be found or whether different ferries just had a single lounge with different configurations. Bacon butties, however, were doing a good trade on all sailings.

Once back on the Orkney mainland, we went to find our AirBnB accommodation in Stromness. I had wanted to get accommodation in Kirkwall, the capital, as this is very central, but I could not find anywhere as nice and such good value there. In fact Stromness, was win-win: no-where is far from anywhere on Orkney and I have subsequently found out that a number of people think Stromness has more character - and it is at the epicentre of the Neolithic sites we wanted to explore the following day.

Westray ferry terminal

lounge on Westray to Orkney ferry

We found the rough location of the AirBnB accommodation very quickly, though the final part was more tricky as it was up a narrow dark alley, whose entrance we had walked past a number of times without noticing it. The heating was air source heat pump - which I had never seen in the flesh before. There were two wall-fixed units, each controlled by their own remote. We took an age to master the units: finally flaps opened-up and they started emitting warm air.

spacious Stromness AirBnB flat - air source unit above door

Once we had settled in, it was time to explore the fleshpots of Stromness and we eventually settled in a pub filled with locals. Katherine and I were discussing the music, and I exposed a weakness in my heavy metal knowledge. Thankfully a local fisherman sitting on his own, called Rhys, came to my rescue - and Katherine invited him over to sit with us and chat. She is good like that! You don't want to know some of the things you can find in creel pots. :-)

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