Stronsay is one of the ‘other’ Orkney islands. I’ve not been there before because there’s no way of getting there from Westray without going south back to the Orkney mainland and then setting off back north on another ferry to Stronsay. That is, until the Special Summer Excursion ferry run by Orkney Ferries. Marvellous. I’m set to travel direct. Stronsay here I come. I book a ticket and turn up with my bike and a rucksack full of camera gear.
I’m not sure of the route we’re taking on the ferry but it’s suitably epic, with steep cliffs and seabird cities as well as beautiful green fields on assorted islands.
The ferry is wonderful. The sea is flat calm and the sky is blue. Gannets fly overhead and Fulmars cruise past us. A Cormorant flies alongside us and Puffins duck underwater and splash wildly out of the way.
It’s impossible to tell the size of any of the islands or even which land is joined to which land because of the number of bays and the irregularity of each island.
It is more difficult to tell which part belongs to Stronsay and which doesn’t than it is for most Orkney islands as it’s an irregular shape with huge bites taken out of it by massive sandy bays. Looking at the map I finally understand why Stronsay’s soap manufacturer is called Star Island Soap. I now get the points.
There’s a comedy lighthouse on our approach:
My first glimpse of Stronsay is of the village, Whitehall. It’s a historic Herring fishing port with beautiful cottages, some of which have seen better days. I have just four hours to enjoy what the island has to offer.
First impressions are great. There’s good fresh food readily available and a warm welcome from friendly faces before I begin cycling to the south. I’m heading for a natural rock arch formed after the collapse of a sea cave. It’s called the Vat of Kirbister and has a suitably weathered sign.
It also has a suitably weathered rock arch.
The sea is deep green at the bottom of the vat. Shags sun themselves here and bathe in peace and comfort.
I love their green eyes and bronze plumage.
Wild Angelica grows on the cliff-tops. It’s just pushing through here and will soon erupt into the familiar thick stems and domes of flowers.
Just like it has here:
As I picnic, a Bonxie, a Great Skua, flies past. I’m used to them heading straight for me so I’m relieved this one has a life to lead without involving me:
Getting dressed in the morning is so much easier when all I have to do is put camouflage gear on.
On first impressions, Stronsay is green. Unnaturally green. It’s as green as the greenest green thing. The grass in some of the fields is straight out of the Teletubbies. It’s proof of what they say, the other island’s grass is always greener.
Someone’s been working hard doing round-baling and the Starlings aim to get as much fun out of each roll as they can while they have the chance..
They’re clearly less impressed with the pyramids of rectangular bales in other fields.
The beaches have sand dunes and white shell sand. They are glorious in any direction. On Stronsay there’s a beach for every wind direction.
I need to cycle back to Whitehall now as the ferry awaits.
Four hours isn’t enough to even scratch the surface of what Stronsay has to offer. It’s clearly a creative place and I’d love to spend time there and walk its coast. It must have one of the longest coast to island-area ratios of any of the inhabited Orkney islands. I wonder if anyone’s done the calculations? No, it’s probably just me who cares about things like that.
Then it’s home past the Holms of Spurness, three tiny islands, one of which has this abandoned house:
Stronsay. I’ll be back.