Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Beyond John o'Groats

Had a lovely sleep at the B&B in Helmsdale : no internet, so no late night blogging. I have to be at the ferry terminal at Scrabster by 12.45, and since that's only about 30 miles away, there's plenty of time to make a slight detour out to John o'Groats.

John o'Groats is known as the most northeasterly point of mainland Britain, making the route from Land's End in Cornwall, the longest one spanning the island. The driving distance is about the same as the NSW coastline (shown here from Eden to Tweed Heads). In actuality, Duncansby Head a few miles further on is further northeast, and Dunnet Head, a few miles to the west is the most northerly point.

The last few miles from Jo'G to Duncansby Head. The Orkney Islands are clearly visible to the north (off camera left here).

Today's journey; the entire route from Edinburgh

Walk to Duncansby Stacks; looking back to John o'Groats

I don't like to overplan my routes, so that I can still discover stuff along the way. After parking near the Duncansby Head lighthouse, Bondi and I trotted over a grassy rise, keeping a distance from Britain's most northeasterly sheep, and saw the jagged outline of the Duncansby Stacks about a half-mile off.

Duncansby Head

Duncansby Stacks and the arch of Thirle Door

Breadth of Duncansby Head


There wasn't much more to see on the road along to Thurso and the Scrabster ferry port, although we did pass the Castle of Mey, holiday home of Britain's most northeasterly Queen Mother.

We drove onto the Northlink ferry Hamnavoe at about 1pm. Bondi was allowed to ride outside the car as long as he stayed on the aft sun-deck. Although the weather continued to be very mild, I might have reconsidered that if I had known we were going to be pinned between the ship's exhaust fumes and the banished smokers for the 90 minute crossing.

The Old Man of Hoy (137m/450ft)

About a half-hour before reaching Stromness, we passed the sea stack known as The Old Man of Hoy.

Stromness is a huddle of grey sheltering before a low treeless hill. Although it is perhaps the most well known town amongst the Orkneys (the islands' total population is about 20,000 and thus barely 0.3 on the Wagga Wagga population scale), my ultimate destination is the Royal Burg of Kirkwall, another 20 minutes by road across this "Mainland" island.

Khyber Pass; Eliza Fraser; Hellihole Road; Gray's Noust (dry dock)

Stromness resident Eliza Fraser is memorialised in having Fraser Island named after her, as well as the movie, a novel (Patrick White's A Fringe of Leaves) and pictorial references by Sidney Nolan. Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island, is also much larger in area than all of the Orkneys combined.

The tourist guides talk up the "narrow winding streets" of Stromness as a gauge of character over Kirkwall. There are about 1.5 streets as such, with an angular wiggle through the grey, but a lot of the commercial properties seem to be boarded up. The narrowness and absence if footpaths really just means extra vigilance for road traffic.

Kirkwall is much larger, but as grey as Stromness. We had a very friendly welcome at our B&B home for the week, and I located a surprisingly good Indian restaurant for an evening meal.

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