A Hoy There

Shelley and I visited the island of Hoy today, arriving there via 30-minute ferry ride from the pier just down the street in Stromness. We rented bikes in order to be able to see more of the place in our mandatory eight-hour stay (there’s only one ferry back on Sundays). Hoy dominates the skyline for much of this area – if you see photos of our dig with a pair of (usually cloudy) mountains in the background, you see Hoy.

Our primary objective was to see the Old Man of Hoy, a geologic formation known as a stack, which is the free-standing remains of harder rock that results when softer rock is worn away to each side and behind. This one is the tallest in Britain, about 450 feet high, and often serves as am emblem for all of Orkney, and anyone who arrives via one of the major ferry routes from mainland Scotland will see it along the way.

We also planned to see the Dwarfie Stane, a large block of stone out in the middle of nowhere that’s been carved out so that it is mostly hollow, but has kind of a divided chamber to one side and a more open on one the other. Most likely this was a tomb made thousands of years ago by a laborious process of pecking out the interior with other stones or antlers. Or perhaps careful use of heating / freezing cycles could be employed to achieve the result we have now.

Luckily the weather cooperated for this trip: sunny and dry for the most part. But windy! Oh, so windy. At times we had to pedal downhill. With respect to hiking out to the Old Man, not so far away from cliff edges, and then viewing the Old Man from rather close to cliff edges, the wind was not welcome at all.

Returning from the Old Man trek, we decided to visit the nearby beaches of Rackwick. In the early afternoon, with the sun on the azure water and white sand, it almost seemed tropical. Not a day for swimming, though, with the cold water and blustery winds!

On the way back from Rackwick we stopped at the Dwarfie Stane and hiked a short ways out to it, across a nice boardwalk. Whilst there taking photos and poking about, a small group of people arrived. I could hardly believe it, but it turned out to be Jennifer Wrigley and her family! (She’s the fiddle player I went to see in town the previous weekend). We had a nice chat about playing fiddles, music, archaeology, the Dwarfie Stane, etc. It turns out that she hasn’t visited the Stane since a grade-school field trip.

Last on our agenda, we tried to find the Braebuster broch, but no joy. We cycled around where the map indicated it would be found, but if it’s there it must have been down near the shore, out of sight, and too far away to allow time to hike to find out for sure. So we headed for tea and scones at the cafe next to the ferry pier and found it – most thankfully – to be open. The wind had – if anything – picked up and become worse, and colder, and clouds had come in to block the sunlight.

We feared the ferry ride back to Stromness would result in loss of both tea and scones, because the water looked rather rough (with wind and strong tidal effects). However, the ferry ran smoothly and we returned in time for a late dinner and our last cider together for this trip: Shelley leaves in the morning.

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