9 March 2011, part 4 & 10 March 2011, part 1

9 03 2011

We’re now aboard for Edinburgh and my patience is thin.  They’re tired and cranky and almost every word said to them results in either a tantrum, pout or huff.  And while I sympathize for how exhausting this has all been, the girls both chose not to sleep for the last 16 hours, but rather play with the in flight entertainment and watch movies.

This promises to be a rough flight with strong winds, so I won’t likely write further til we board for Orkney.


The flight from Edinburgh to Orkney was likewise rough, so I’ll write now.  We flew in on a SAAB 340 which was described to me by our assistant James at Edinburgh as being a “poodle hopper”.  James was a friendly young man, and he showed me pictures of his girlfriend, Molly, as we passed time.  Molly was a cute black terrier of sorts, and her pictures were like those you might expect to see on a demotivational poster.  Cute dog, his girlfriend.  His mum usually looked after her while he was gone and he was anxious to soon go to Las Vegas when Celine Dion returns there and he hoped his mum would watch his girlfriend Molly while he was away.  He could ask his brother to do it, but their girlfriends didn’t get along well.

The flight proved to be choppy to Orkney, the clouds so thick we couldn’t see the wing outside our window at times.  But it would be worth any amount of turbulence to get to Skara Brae.

It was nightfall there already when we arrived, though for the record, the sun sets around 4 pm.  It only took about ten minutes or so to get the rental – another twenty or so for Glenn to acquaint himself with a manual transmission, with no clutch, paddle shifts that drove from the right side of the car on the wrong side of the road.  And those twenty minutes didn’t include anything beyond getting out of the parking lot stall.

We took out Billy here and plugged him in, praying he could guide us to the hotel in Stromness from Kirkwall.  It took almost an hour, after countless wrong turns and bickering with Glenn over miles vs. kilometres.

The hotel a Stromness in one word – breathtaking.  It wasn’t a royal or elegant place per se, but it had an appreciable charm and quality to it that I can’t really describe well.  At the desk, a young man with an accent like a German (he told me this was the Orcadian accent) was ready and helpful to check us in.  He showed me the lift, which might have been two feet wide by three feet deep.  It holds 3 says the sign, but not even the girls could fit two in with room to turn themselves around.

The room was fitted with one double bed and three twin beds.  There was an antiquated heating apparatus on the wall and pull chains to operate it.  I left the task to Glenn.  The lights for the room operated by odd circular style knobs that looked to easily be 100 years old, and considering the hotel was slightly older than that, I am betting they were.

We went downstairs for dinner and Kate, a vibrant young waitress with reddened cheeks, set us in the window for a lovely view out to the sea.  Oh dear god the food.  We studied the menu and options and mentally jogged through recent discussions on safe foods and we hoped for the best as we ordered.  It was priced at 20 pounds a person, which I couldn’t help but quick estimate to being roughly 40 US dollars, but if you ignored the price, you would love the food.

The girls both ordered Orcadian Haddock with chippies; Glenn and I both ordered the Ale Pie, with Orkney raised beef.  The pie wasn’t a pie at all, but rather large tender beef chunks in an ale based gravy with mushrooms (which I plucked out) and onions.  It was heaven.  And the haddock was some of the best fish I’ve ever eaten, and I’m not a big fish fan, but that put every fish I’ve ever tried to shame.

Kate, our waitress, was planning a trip to New York to get warm and at the time, we didn’t get it.  We would though, in a day’s time.

We got up promptly at 4:30 am, having set both the provided electrical alarm clock and Kayla’s old fashioned bell ringing one for this ungodly hour of the dead of night.  We rushed quickly through turns at the shower and layering up for a brisk jaunt to the Ring of Brodgar, only a few minutes north and east, to watch the sun rise over the standing stones.  But as we made it past the heavy wooden door of the hotel we walked headfirst into a blizzard of snow blowing sideways.


But I was determined and so out we trekked.  Billy was readied and Glenn re-familiarized himself with the manual transmission, with no clutch, paddle shifts that drove from the right side of the car on the wrong side of the road.  We set out in pitch darkness of five inch deep newly fallen snow, praying we would find our way.  Somehow the five minute journey became a twenty minute one and thankfully I’d “driven” the route many times on Google Earth or I am certain we’d have floated out from the flow and to the North Sea and be halfway to Russia by now.

Amazingly, the bright snow and the white of the skies illuminated the whole area with a bluish glow and I could visually make out the standing stones as they jut out from the mound.

The girls stepped out of the car for perhaps fifteen seconds, at best, before quickly bolting back to the car.  I began the hike up the mound/hill with Glenn slightly behind me, yet by the time I made it to the ring, he was barely visible.  He arrived up only to tell me he was turning back, but I pressed onward.

It was such an emboldening experience, standing aside and touching, breathing in such stones that have stood the test of time.  I forgot about the cold, the snow, and the rest of the world.  All I could think of was these magical erections and how many people before me had appreciated them as well.  Who or why they were placed here means little to me, but to know that someone felt it important enough to move the large stones to make that accomplishment happen – that tells me there is a significance to these stones.

I plucked a heather clipping and immediately felt bad, thinking back to Marie’s warning of what if everyone went about picking flowers and how there’d be none left.  But I reasoned it was better than the antiquarian age of chiseling away the stones as souvenirs and I went on back towards the car.  I was cursed with the song Wild Mountain Thyme getting stuck in my head, for the remainder of the day.  That’ll teach me!

As I walked back to the car I began to realize the cold.  The water that had sloshed into my boots at some point, my gloves were thoroughly soaked, my hair which was dripped cold water down my back, and the wind which was blowing salt and sleet and snow into my skin like nails battering my flesh.

I got back out to the car and the girls and Glenn and learned they were all determined to give it another go.  So up the hill once more I went, with them in tow.  They kept their faces bundled and down and we shuffled along.  It was almost as magnificent the second time around, except that now I was painfully aware of the cold.

We left the ring and circled by the cairn.  The path was steep and snow/ice covered and we quickly ruled it out, heading back to the hotel to dry off, clean up and eat.

Kate met us at the door to guide us to the ‘Breakfast Room’.  We could choose from an array of juices, teas and instant coffee.  For our cooked portion, there was a choice of eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, haggis, blood sausage, porridge, or omelets.  (Or Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam and Spam!)  Kayla selected porridge while the rest of us opted for omelets, which seemed the safest route.

After a hearty meal, we set out for Skara Brae.  The drive out was in the worst of the regular morning snow storm.  The snow blew sideways in gusts of over 50 knots as we traveled at speeds nearing ten whole miles per hour, curving along the roads within one foot of taking a nice dive into the North Sea or Bay of Birsay.  As my one guide book said, the next land to the west is the Americas.  This sobering thought traveled with us along the long journey.

It took us an hour to drive the 6.5 miles to the ancient site and we pulled into the driveway of the Skaill House, where you have to enter to access the mounds.  We drove the wrong way up the drive initially, maneuvering in reverse with my hand tightly clenching the oh shit bar.

There were road tracks in the snow, obviously recent since they’d not yet been blown over with snow, so I knew I was in luck!

Then, thee on the front door I saw it – “Closed Due To Inclement Weather”.  All these years, twenty-eight if I were to count them, here I was next to the one place I’ve dreamt of seeing for twenty-eight years and I couldn’t go in!

I contemplated jumping their locked kissing gates, but I thought better of it.  So instead I sobbed.  Like the two year old spoiled child who has just been told no – I cried.  The tears froze on my cheeks and rolled their little ice cubes down my face, but I cried even more.

Glenn tied to offer comfort but there was none unless he could magically make them open the damned place up!

We took a few snapshots, smoked a few fags, pissed on their wall, and then we left.




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