Today I joined a local tour to the Orkney Islands. I took the first departure of bus 77 from the hostel to John O'Groats. The bus the company used today was even old than the one they used yesterday. It was actually a coach, not a bus, with manual transmission. The Volvo B59 I took yesterday was fitted with automatic transmission.
But anyway, I arrived John O'Groats an hour earlier than the tour started. I got a chance to walk around John O'Groats again. I bought some chocolate bar from the shop inside First and Last House as breakfast. After eating my breakfast, I had a prayer at the coast. The weather didn't look nice today. I prayed for a safe journey and the sailing would not be too rough.
The wooden hut on the left is the office of John O'Groats Ferry. This hut is among the ten buildings in John O'Groats area. And in the right picture is the ferry taking me to the Orkney. The wind was not very strong at that time I took this picture. But there is a photo of this ferry being blew onto the shore showing in the museum inside the First and Last House.
The ferry departed at 0850 hours. It was the first and the last departure from John O'Groats to Orkney Islands on that day.
The upper deck of the ferry is open-top. The lower deck is a concealed compartment with heating. However, it seemed that they just started the heating some 5 minutes before I boarded the ferry. And the whole lower compartment was still freezing for the first 10 minutes of sailing.
I was told that there was a chance to see whales, seals and dolphins during the sailing. So I went up upstairs and stayed there for 10 minutes. But sadly, I saw nothing. Before I was frozen to death, I went back to the lower deck. The sail was not too rough. But I could see whirlpools around the ferry.
After 45 minutes of sailing, the ferry arrived Burwick, the south most point on the Orkney Islands. Berwick was actually a bare land. Apart from a small car park and a pier, there was nothing there. The coach was waiting for me already. Altogether, there were 45 people joining the tour. All seats on the coach were occupied.
Orkney Islands were formed by many small islands. The largest towns, Kirkwall and Stromness, were situated on the mainland. Berwick was on a small island south of the mainland called South Ronaldsay. This island, together with 3 other smaller islands were linked up to the mainland by roads built on barriers. The coach moved along the roads on Orkney Islands while the driver told us the history of Orkney.
We arrived the largest town on the island called Kirkwall. The population of Kirkwall was around 7000. We visited the St. Mugus Cathedral in the town center. I was told that to have such a large Cathedral in a small town like Kirkwall is not usual. We visited the museum and watched a film about the live of people on Orkney Islands.
After a short stay in Kirkwall, we moved on to the Stromness, the second largest town on the islands. The population of Stromness is only 2000. With other minor towns, the total population on Orkney Islands should not reach 12000. The driver told us that there were only 19 people unemployed on Orkney. This was because of the well established petroleum and tourism industries on the islands. Farming is also a major business activity on the islands. We stayed there for 2 hours for lunch.
Stromness is a little town built along the coastal line. Stromness pier is the main gateway for the islanders. It provides daily sailings to several smaller islands of Orkney. There is even car ferry linking up the Scottish mainland even during the winter.
Cats could be found everywhere in Stromness. They looked cute.
There were several restaurants in Stromness. But because of my tight budget, I could only afford a fish and chips meal. However, the Fish and Chips from the only chip shop in Stromness were excellent. Unlike the one in Greenwich, this chip shop was small and did not offer customers a choice of fish. But the fish it provided was very fresh. Today, it served haddock. Yummy!
With scottish music on the background, walking along the high street of Stromness was a real pleasure.
The bus above was operating on route 98, from Stromness Pier to Skara Brae. This route only operates twice per day, with no service on Thursdays and Sundays. I was also going to Skara Brae, but not by this bus as I was in the local tour.
Skara Brae is a large stone-built Neolithic settlement, located in the Bay of Skaill on the west coast of mainland Orkney. It is Europe's most complete Neolithic village. The admission charge to Skara Brae is 6. I visited the museum shop afterwards and bought a cup of Orkney Ice-cream. The ice-cream, cost 1, got a very strong milk taste. Not bad.
Over the fences surround Skara Brae are farmlands. I saw Dolly and cows.
My tour continued to Ring of Brodgar. The Ring of Brodgar (or Brogar) is a neolithic henge and stone circle in Orkney, somewhat similar to Stonehenge in England. It is thought that the stone circle was constructed around 2500 BC. It was believed the Brogar was built for religious reasons.
There were also another site of standing stones nearby. We stopped there as well and the weather began to getting worse.
The tour bus went back to Kirkwall where I got 2 hours for shopping till 6. Later, I found out that nearly all shops closed at 5 and the last hour was boring. I went into a supermarket to buy my dinner first. Then I went to post office to buy some stamps and postcards and found a place to write to my friends. I also found a internet cafe where I can send email to others. I did not expect to get on line on Orkney Islands.
Since I got an hour to kill before the tour left Kirkwall, I visited the St. Magnus Cathedral again.
Finally, I left Kirkwall, heading to Burwick for ferry back to John O'Groats. There was one more attraction to see on Orkney, the Italian Chapel. This chapel was located on one of the small island between South Ronaldsay and Orkney mainland.
Don't be fooled by the photos above. These were not real tiles. They were paintings only. As you can see from the photo, the weather were getting worse and worse. I started to worry about the return sailing and my 45 minutes walk back to the hostel.
I prayed to have a stable, or at lease not too rough, sailing. But the sea became really rough. Some passengers vomited. I also wanted to join them but luckily I didn't. I bet I must join them if the sailing was just 10 minutes longer. The time was 8 when I arrived John O'Groats. Although shops in Kirkwall closed at 5, I found that the souvenir shop in John O'Groats still opened. I stayed inside for 10 minutes, hoping the rain to stop soon. I prayed for the rain to stop for just 45 minutes. But it just kept on raining heavily. I just couldn't stay in the shop forever. I braved my heart and started to walk back. I changed my prayer to "not being sick after the 45 minutes walk in the rain".
I walked for about 1 minute and my whole trousers became wet. I felt really cold. I thought I had reached my physical limit. "Maybe God is answering my prayer", I thought, "I won't be sick after the walk because I will die in the midway!" At that moment, miracle happened. A man traveling with his son on a Mercedes stopped next to me and drove me back to the hostel!
What an wonderful experience! I prayed to have a pleasure, stable sailing but it turned out to be a very rough one. However, I managed not to vomit. I prayed to have a nice walk back to the hostel with sunshine and warm breeze but God gave me a free Mercedes Benz ride instead. God always answer prayers. But He does not always answer it as the way we wish.
So what I got for dinner? It is British Beef Sausages with pasta. Not bad.