I didn’t finish Day Four’s walk. My toe made that decision for me. Despite being a man, I’m not used to parts of my anatomy making decisions for me.
Today I’ll finish Day Four and walk from Rapness Pier to Twiness Road. I’ve done it before and I know it’s a lovely walk. It’s only a few miles and the weather is glorious, so I’m going to take my time and luxuriate in every minute today.
The weather this morning is wonderful so I’m watching the Swallows outside the back of my house. There are 14 of them on my washing line. Before you ask, no, I haven’t hung them out to dry. I keep meaning to get some photographs of them in flight but the wind’s got to be just right. They are too tricky otherwise. I pop outside with my camera and spend a while taking a few shots. They are such tricky subjects. This is one:
It’s exactly the shot I wanted. I can even identify the species of moth it has in its beak. It’s a Silver Y moth, Autographa gamma. My camera is a piece of science fiction.
I hear a raucous “Caawww” and see a pair of Ravens on the roof. I manage to photograph one as it flies overhead.
I love the way the sun is shining through its neck and showing blood red. I’ve wanted to do a photographic or art project on Ravens ever since I was at school and heard the traditional ballad The Twa Corbies.
In the afternoon I drive to Twiness, take my bicycle out of the boot and leave it there and then drive to Rapness. I’ve remembered to take my antibiotics and painkillers for the ‘manky foot’ so I rattle slightly as I start to walk. Rapness Pier slowly disappears as I walk.
It’s glorious here: blue skies, deeper blue seas and tremulous clouds.
There’s a beach I don’t remember being here; the Sands of Helzie. Westray is a landscape of smudged edges. There’s the gradual change in the colour of the sea from green to blue and the gradual change of the grass from green to brown. Westray has the colour palette of a confident artist:
This is why I love it here; Orkney has more sky than anywhere else I know:
Getting an electricity supply onto the Island when its coast is so rocky must have been a problem. They decided to use the southern-most beach, near East Sous and bring the cable ashore there.
There’s an artificial Pier further along the coast at Scarra Tang which zig-zags into the turquoise and royal blue water, like a fine nib going into mixed Quink ink.
On the Pier are three juvenile Shags. They plop into the water as I approach and bob up and down with big, watchful eyes:
They even do a little formation swimming like a synchronised swimming team. They have yet to get the intense emerald eyes of their parents:
Many of the gates on the walk around this part of the Island aren’t actually gates; they are moveable bits of fence. Here’s one, where the fence can be unhooked and you can squeeze through. It’s a great solution to wet and wind moving your gateposts.
I love the place names along the coast, although Cubby Geo sounds like a disease. At the southernmost tip of the Island there’s an amazing view from the Point of Huro.
There are rocks called skerries here as well as a tiny island called a holm. The rocks are Broad Shoal, The Clumps, The Wells and Flood Skerry. The holm is Wart Holm. What wonderful, creative, inventive descriptions
There’s a huge piece of driftwood on the grass above the rocky shore. At first I think it looks like the underside of a whale. Then I see an eye and think it’s a goose:
What do you see?
Someone must have bought a job-lot of what look like concrete railway sleepers. I’m sure they’re not. They are scattered around the coast. Here they are in the water of this inlet as if they are matchsticks. I feel sure I couldn’t lift one:
Across the water I can see the silhouette of Fitty Hill. I’ve already walked along it so I know the end of my circumnavigation is in sight. I only have one small walk to do on Sunday and I’ll have completed the full circuit of the Westray Coast 50.
My choice now is between clambering on the beach or entering a field full of cattle. My decision is simple: fewer people are killed by beaches. The white house ahead is Stancro. The Ordnance Survey map of Westray says ‘Geo of Stancro’ twice next to it, so it’s either very important, or there are two of them, or it’s a careless mistake by the cartographer.
There’s a style of gate I’ve never see before here. It’s a wonderful iron gate with the rust of ages upon it:
There’s a Twite on the rocks. I love Twite. They are such hardy birds and their plumage is so subtle and effective. They’re almost invisible in this landscape:
I’m being careful to not move. This is possibly my best chance of getting a decent photograph of one. It flies up onto a barbed-wire fence and I manage to capture it:
Then it gives me that cheeky over the shoulder look.
Orcadians call them Heather Linties.
When I see the merry dance of the wind over the cereal crops I wish I’d brought my tripod to film some video. Then I remember how heavy my tripod is and I’m relieved that I’m into stills photography and not video.
The crops here reach almost to the edge of the shore, using every bit of space:
I’ve now walked all the way round to the Bay of Tafts. On the Bay is another mysterious burnt mound, the Knowe of Hamar. There are Bronze Age burnt mounds all over Orkney. They are usually noticeable mounds on the landscape and contain lots of ash and heat- cracked stones. The ones they have excavated have a stone-lined tank which would have been filled with water heated by hot stones which had been heated in a nearby fire. Some have low walls meaning they probably had roofs as well. Nobody knows for sure what they were used for. Routine cooking? Saunas?
It’s just another puzzle about our ancient past which Orkney gives us clues to. Tafts is my go-to beach for sunsets:
The quality of light changes so fast here that every sunset is a dozen experiences bundled into one.
It’s possible that the sunset at Noup has a more dramatic setting, and the sunset at Grobust has more finesse. But the sunset at Tafts – that’s my favourite.
Today’s walk was only five and a half miles. It took me just two hours. There were many waders on the rocks with the occasional Curlew and flocks of Bar-Tailed Godwits and Golden Plovers which were all quite distant. There was the occasional ‘V’ of Pink Footed Geese flying over. Today was more about the light and the breeze than the wildlife. My pace was also faster, probably due to being wind-assisted, although that could have been a side-effect of the antibiotics.
Tomorrow there’s no walk for me. I’ll be at the Westray Industrial Show and marvelling at the cabbages, jams and bere bannocks.
Tonight I’m lying in the bath with my sore toe perched on the edge thinking about Burnt Mounds. As I wallow in the warm water and breathe in the steam, I think they were definitely for bathing.
As for today’s section of the Westray Coast 50, here’s why I did it:
And if that’s not enough, here:
Today was brought to you by sunlight, wind and the Atlantic Ocean. It was accompanied by loud humming of About Fun by Psapp, accompanied by actions where the squeaky toys appear in the record. I hope you weren’t watching. By the way, Psapp is pronounced ‘Psapp’. I hope that’s clear.