An Unexpected Journey…

On our previous visit to Orkney we had been left with the certainty that Orkney does not have consecutive sunny days, and indeed we knew from experience that the sun only shone on Mondays. These certainties were well and truly dashed, having arrived on a hot and sunny Wednesday, we woke to yet another glorious Orkney day.

We were treated to a lovely lunch with Matthew, and the delightful Sue and Colin at the Kirk Cafe in Tankerness, which is also a showcase and workshop for Orkney designer jeweller, Sheila Fleet. The jewellery is exquisite and the food delicious, I would thoroughly recommend a visit if you are on Orkney. All too soon though it was time to make the journey back to Stromness to catch our ferry back to the mainland; shuttling between Matthew’s car for the start of the journey and then transferring to Colin & Sue’s car for the remainder. We were though delighted to witness the local legend that is the elderly lady who cycles daily between Kirkwall and Stromness, a distance of some 15 miles. We were though pleased that we saw her on her return journey to Kirkwall as we travelled in the opposite direction given the extent that she allegedly slows the traffic.

We were fortunate enough to have another smooth crossing, enjoying the cake that we had picked up from the Kirk Cafe with our coffee.

The sun was still shining when we arrived at Stromness and collected Sam the Van, and made our way to John O’Groats, with the intent to make a quick stop there and travel on to Wick for the night. However, it was such a lovely evening, and John O’Groats was devoid of the tourists that evidently flock there in the daytime, so we wandered along the coast and around the area a little, taking the requisite photograph with the famous sign post. We decided to park up and spend the night there, which proved to be very peaceful. The next morning I took the short stroll to the post office to post some birthday cards (some a little early) so that they would have the JOG post-stamp.

Once we had completed our morning ablutions and preparations for the day, we set off early to make our way down to Tain, where we had a room booked in a lovely guesthouse we had stayed in a couple of years before.

The route was lovely, hugging the coast for the most part. We were disappointed to have not seen the stop for the alluringly named Hill O Many Stanes until it was too late, but did make the stop for Badbae, which offered the opportunity to stretch our legs and explore what little is left of a Clearance Village, where Highlanders had to try and subsist after they were forced out of their more fertile lands to make way for the more profitable sheep by landowners. We visited the site on a calm, warm day, but it was not difficult to imagine just how inhospitable the place could be with the weather raging in from the sea. Such was the danger of the proximity of the cliffs that livestock and children were tethered so that they did not fall off the edge.

We moved on and arrived in Tain around midday. We had found what looked like a pleasant ride out to Alness, so parked up overlooking the estuary and readied Twolula and ourselves. The ride was lovely, though tended countryside with the sun shining. We did come across a roadblock, where a burst pipe was being repaired, but were kindly allowed to go through rather than have to peddle the detour, which are never devised with cyclists in their contemplation so we tend to take the tack that road closures do not necessarily apply to those without the benefit of an engine, and have only been thwarted on one occasion.

Having made our way to Alness, noting the abundance of oil rigs moored in the estuary, we stopped for a coffee break before wending our way back, by this time the burst pipe had been fixed. We checked into our guesthouse, which like our last stay, was seemingly run by house-elves as we did not interact with anyone – everything was prepared and ready for us, so we each had a lovely long hot shower before languishing in our super king-sized bed to eat supper. Breakfast magically appeared on the little table outside the room the next morning. Just our kind of place.

The following morning we set off around 10.00hrs towards Inverness and onwards, along the A96 to Elgin to spend a couple of days with my cousin Morag. Having messaged her of our departure, I was a little concerned that the message had not been received, so tried an alternative method, which again did not appear to be received and when we arrived and I called her, there was a little consternation as a miscommunication of which weekend was meant by ‘next weekend’ had led her to believe that we were a week ahead of schedule, and she was in the middle of decorating the ‘wee hoose’ that she had just moved into. No worries, we are self-contained and would spend some time meandering around the town of my birth to give her some breathing space after the shock of our unexpected arrival. We did laugh about it later, but knowing how I would have been completely discombobulated in the same situation, I was in admiration at how unfazed she was.

After spending a lovely evening, having supper and a few snifters, we slept soundly and rose, not as early as planned, to embark upon a cycle to the coastal town of Losssiemouth and back. Though we have made visits to the town when we lived in the Highlands, we were not really familiar with it, and found that it was a charming place with a community spirit that clearly took pride in the place, which was larger than we had always envisaged. There is a large RAF base near the town, which had previously been a RNAS, though Mr V had never been stationed there during his time in the forces, my father was when it was a naval base, and this is how and where he met my mother.

Though the weather was not as showery as had been predicted, it was still a little gloomy, but this did not detract from the lovely ride and the bracing sea air. We arrived back in Elgin around lunchtime, and Morag fed us some delicious lentil soup, over which we discussed our ride, and she commented that she was surprised that we did not take the direct route along the disused railway line to Lossie. We did not know about it, that was why. On consulting View Ranger there was no evidence of such a route. After lunch Mo suggested that we take a nice walk to the Spynie Palace which are the remains of the Bishop’s Palace and along what was the former railway line she had been telling us about.

The weather had improved as the day wore on, and it was a lovely afternoon for a walk. We came to the palace after about 45 minutes, admiring it and discussing the argument amongst local historians as to whether it is a palace or a castle. We walked on chatting as we went and enjoying the countryside in the warm early evening sun. With the intended destination of Spynie having been reached, there appeared to be a collective acquiescence to meandering on. To be fair, Mr V with his long legs does take such distances in his stride so to speak, and the road was flat with the going pleasant, so we all just got carried along its length. After what turned out to be nearly a couple of hours, Mo and I, who are both equipped with considerably shorter legs, were tiring a little, and it was only when we consulted with google maps that we realised that we were practically at Lossiemouth without realising it. It transpired that each of us were expecting one of the others to declare the point of return at some point along the way.

We thought that we would make the best of it, and finish the journey with chips on the seafront where we could rest our weary feet before deciding how we were going to make our way home. After an initial threat of rain, the clouds parted and we sat in the positively hot sunshine looking out to the turquoise blue sea lapping at the shore, it was difficult to believe that we were on the north coast of Scotland and not some secluded Mediterranean beach. I suspect that a toe in the water would have dispelled any illusions though, viewing the open water swimmers along the beach with admiration at their hardiness.

We weighed up the options for the return journey:

A) Bus (but being a Sunday there was a limited service that finished at 17.00hrs)

B)Taxi

C) Mr V with his long legs strides on ahead to get the van and pick us up

D) Dig deep and walk the further 2 hours home

Mo and I decided that though we be but little, we are fierce, and would not be bowed by the task, so would press onward despite the sore feet and full bladders. We did manage to alleviate the discomfort of the latter thanks to the public conveniences, though such was the disarray of the ladies, we had to avail ourselves of the gentlemen’s facilities with Mr V standing guard, but shall draw a veil over this, as there may be those reading this who are of a delicate disposition.

The walk back was embarked upon with trepidation, but in fact turned out to be swifter and more pleasant than expected; we were even able to join the family Sunday zoom call for a time when connection allowed. The waining sun cast a lovely golden light over the countryside as we journeyed on. There was not a breath of wind making it a perfect ‘Goldilocks’ evening – not too hot, not too cold – just right.

We arrived back to Mo’s wee hoose, and within minutes we were inhaling hot tea with warm scones and jam, resting our tired feet, but basking in the achievement of our unexpected journey.

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