The Orkney Isles and the journey home…

After a evening of food and good company I was up reasonably early to see off the group that had arrived last night. As I mentioned last night, hats off to them and best of luck. If you want to keep up with their progress then take a look at their blog at: http://www.2men1bike.co.uk

With the closest shop about two miles away and the hostel offering no food at all I had to head out to get breakfast from somewhere. I’d managed to negotiate the night before and arranged to get breakfast from a friend of the hostel owner’s over the road. So at nine o’clock I pottered over to see what was on offer…

…a full fry up, a good natter about the state of John O’Groats and its future later and I knew it was a good idea.

Not having a distance to cover for the day felt a little weird and the rain falling from the grey sky did little to lift spirits in all honesty! On leaving the hostel I had three hours to kill before the ferry was due to depart…

Having done John O’Groats the day before I really didn’t fancy heading back in the gloom…it was depressing enough in the sunlight! I opted instead for a pootle along the coast back towards Thurso.

I stopped off after a mile or so to take a look around Canisbay’s church. It’s a lovely, peaceful place and was the church that the Queen Mother regularly attended. It’s also the home of a stone laid by John De Groat back in the 1600s.

After leaving the church I carried on to a small cafe, the Tea Cosy, which is also home to a craft shop displaying local artist’s work. After looking round the pieces if art I settled down with a hot chocolate and cake and had a read of the local paper to kill off the rest of the time I had to wait (top local news story? A girl’s bought a t-shirt printing machine and has produced shirts for a 10k race).

I got to Gills Bay and boarded the ferry over to the Orkneys. The hour long journey was a little choppy in places, the uneasy sea due to the gods stirring salt into the sea at that point according to mythology (thought that was quite cute). After landing at St. Margaret’s Hope I cycled off towards Kirkwall…

The Orkneys are hillier than I imagined. Not steep but slow climbs, and ever sp green – especially when compared to the brown nothingness I’d experienced in the Highlands the couple of days before.

I stopped off at the Italian Chapel en route, a place of worship built by Italian prisoners of war during the Second World War out of two Nissen huts; its interior beautifully painted.

Over a couple of Churchill Barriers (built to stop German U-Boats) and I was nearly there. Three miles to go and ‘crack’…my freehub went!

Basically the freehub is the bit that makes the back wheel turn as you pedal. Well, no matter how fast I pedalled it wasn’t going anywhere. Sigh.

I covered the final three miles in a freewheel / push / pedal method (it occasionally engaged, just for laughs) and went into Orkney Cycles for a diagnosis. He confirmed my thoughts and advised I return to Geoffrey Butker as it should be under warranty. That’ll be a fun trip on my return!

I finally made it to the hostel and opted for an early night after picking up some excellent fish and chips (best of the trip!).

With the bike not co-operating quite as I’d like it to, I decided to boom myself onto a coach trip for the day so that I could see the sights that the island has to offer.

I’m glad I did as the weather swayed from sunshine and showers during the day (two hundred and forty days of rain a year in the Orkneys, weather fans!). It was good to see the sights with a running commentary and it gave me a chance to learn a bit about the history of the islands that I wouldn’t have done had I been on my bike.

After seeing pretty much all the island has to offer, including the 3,500 B.C. settlement at Scara Brae and the Standing Stones, the tour was done and I had seven hours to fill before my ferry back to Aberdeen.

I wandered Kirkwall and stopped in a few bars for a while, before grabbing an excellent meal at The Shore and deciding it was worth getting a taxi over to the ferry terminal (well, it was raining!).

It was at the ferry terminal I bumped into a familiar face, someone I’d chatted to in the Loch Ness hostel a few days before. It was nice to have a bit of a chat and share the experience with someone else who had just done the End-to-End.

Although I had a sleeper seat booked the cinema was done for the night and was available so I settled in for the night. Drifting off on the recliner I got about an hour’s sleep in before waking up with two dead legs. The seat wasn’t working so I decided to try the floor…as had most of the others in the room!

Come 05.00 there was no chance of me getting any more sleep so I went for a wander around the ship. It was amusing to see the state of the place; like a war film or zombie flick bodies were spread everywhere, people grabbing any opportunity to get some shut-eye…a really glamorous way to travel!

We docked at seven and I made my way over to Aberdeen station to wait for my 09.52 train back home. Settling into the coffee shop, I took advantage of the socket available next to my table and killed time online before boarding.

The train trip was long and busy, students heading back for Easter from St. Andrews (Leuchars) filling the coaches with bags upon bags.

The sights you can see from the east coast mainline train are incredible north of the border with the trainline hugging the coast and it was nice to get a decent view out over the Forth Bridge having been over it on the bike in the fog the week before.

People do say it’s hard to get back from John O’Groats, and I’d be inclined to agree. It took me (not including waiting times between them) an hour long ferry over to the Orkneys, a seven hour ferry journey back to Aberdeen, a seven hour train journey to London Kings Cross and a half hour cycle back to Shepherds Bush but…I was home!

One final lot of updates to go before this blog is finished for all intents and purposes (try to hold back the tears…). I’ve got the food list to put up once it’s all compiled, the cost of the trip to tot up and publish and a ‘final thoughts’ bit where I’m going to try and sum it all up into a few paragraphs…stay tuned! (ha!)

Stats for The Orkney Isles

It doesn’t matter any more…woo hoo!

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