Although two weeks of lesson planning stopped me sharing on my blog, it didn’t stop us from getting out and about in the Orkney Islands. It was my kids holiday fortnight after all and we had two wonderful days, exploring more of Orkney’s Mainland.
It’s only a short 20 minute ferry ride for us to island hop over to the mainland, but usually our trips over, are just to get supplies. So it was a real treat to take two full days, just to have fun and see the sights!
The glorious picture at the top of this post was taken at Skaill Bay. We have been once before, whilst visiting Skara Brae, when we first arrived in Orkney. It was a beautiful day on that occasion too. We were not disappointed by our return visit and the rough winter seas just made this beautiful stretch of coast, even more stunning.
Our kids had a wonderful time chasing each other in and out of the waves and getting thoroughly soaked. Even though we spend a lot of time on the beaches in Rousay, we always appreciate the excitement of visiting a beach that we don’t often go to.
I always find the sea to be incredibly healing, especially when it’s a bit wild, so this was just what I needed to blow away the stresses, of what has been a very busy few months.
We didn’t just want to spend time on Orkney’s wonderful beaches though (tempting as it is!), we were on the hunt for Orkney’s small patches of woodland too.
Our kids grew up in Cornwall before moving up here and were used to being surrounded by some truly beautiful woodland. We do have a lot of trees on our land, but the wind keeps them short and we wanted a walk amongst tall trees.
So, we headed off to Binscarth Woods, just outside of Finstown.
I think this will become our regular dose of woodland goodness, from now on. It was so nice to see a bit of the autumn colour that we were so used to, to climb trees and hunt for cones and other woodland treasures.
This particular patch of woodland had other delights as well; a series of rope swings running along by the river, some dens to explore and even a funny little gargoyle in one of the trees. I could see how much our kids were enjoying being back among the trees and can’t wait to return and see how the woods change through the seasons.
On the second of our day trips to the mainland, we decided to go for another woodland/coast double bill.
This time we started off at Happy Valley, just outside of Stenness. We had heard people talk about this little gem, which is used by locals as a place for picnics and walks.
It was originally the garden and life’s work of Edwin Harrold, who lived in the traditional single storey cottage here from 1948. After his death the land was gifted to the local community and a charity was set up to help maintain this beautiful woodland garden.
Despite visiting when much of the plant life had already died back for winter, it was still a magical place. The full and urgent river that runs through the grounds has a series of waterfalls and some thoughtful stone benches, provide a peaceful place to stop and enjoy natures beauty.
I am told that Happy Valley is full of bluebells in the spring and we will certainly be returning to find out. We left feeling relaxed and very “happy” indeed!
Finally, with bellies full from our picnic, we headed over to Birsay.
We actually stayed in Birsay, for three weeks when we first move up to Orkney, but a mixture of exhaustion and shock from the stresses of relocating a large family from one end of the UK to the other, meant that we didn’t fully explore the area.
So although we have had walks on a small part of Birsay beach, when much of it was covered by the sea, we had never explored at low tide.
Again, we were very lucky with the weather, especially as it is November and the low winter sun made everywhere look magical!
There are lots of rock pools here (unfortunately, we hadn’t really come prepared for rockpooling, but we will return!) and at low tide you can walk all the way across to the Brough of Birsay. Although the tide had already turned, our kids were determined to walk across, so we made our way quickly but carefully over and then came straight back so that we didn’t get cut off.
There is so much to do and explore along this stretch of coastline and I am looking forward to spending time there next spring and summer.
With the difficulties of covid this year, we haven’t had the chance to explore the islands as we would have liked to. We often feel like we don’t really know what our life here will really be like, when the world is not caught up in a pandemic. We are very fortunate that restrictions have not tightened up here over winter and these couple of days, just spent enjoying this incredible place, have been just what we needed. A glimpse of life outside the little bubble that we have found ourselves in for much of 2020.
I hope that we will get the chance to see a lot more of Orkney’s wonderful landscapes in 2021, but for now we feel refreshed and ready to take on another winter!