I must admit when my husband decided to book a trip for us to the Orkneys mid February I was not impressed. I imagined trains following snow ploughs ~ high seas and towering waves and wind and sleet swept islands.
We left Kinghorn in high spirits. It was dull but dry and fairly calm and the ride to Perth was uneventful. It was north of the city that the adventure began, as we rolled through the snow covered mountains of the Cairngorms. As the train strained to the highest tracks in the UK, we were riveted by the sight of such a winter wonderland.
At Inverness we only had twenty minutes so after a comfort break we settled into our new carriage. The journey north was quite a contrast as we wove inland along estuaries, up wild and windy coastlines and then through the remotest regions of the British Isles. There we followed the path of a river, no roads in sight. We even spotted a couple of stag on the craggy hillsides in the twilight. This last leg of our journey was three and three quarter hours and it was pitch black when we finally arrived at Thurso Station. We were fortunate that a business man travelling on the night ferry was happy to share a taxi with us and we were dropped off at The Ferry Inn at Scrabster, our destination for the night. A w and potatoarm welcome and a pleasant room overlooking the harbour awaited us.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we walked to the ferry ~ only ten minutes but it was raining and windy. We were excited to see the islands appear, especially The Old Man of Hoy which we witnessed close up. It’s a famous rock which sticks oddly out of the sea and I’m told that brave people try to climb it.
The sun had come out for our arrival at Stromness, a wee port with tiny cobbled streets and stone houses. Since we had all our luggage with us we only stopped for a coffee before catching a bus to Kirkwall where we found a bar to have some Cullen Skink (haddock and potato soup) for lunch whilst watching the winter olympic curling.
It was another bus ride to Houton Ferry and our hotel, Houton Lodge ~ originally a WW1 seaplane station looking out over Scapa Flow towards the mountains of the island of Hoy, a beautiful and peaceful base for our stay.