Dog walks and house building

Keep in touch with the latest blog from author Richard Clubley as he begins his move to becoming a full-time Orkney resident.

We’ve arrived - the local vicar has written our names in his book. ‘I meet so many people,’ he told me. ‘I have to keep a note of who they are in this little book.’ ‘That book’s replaced his brain,’ said Mrs V, ‘he’d be lost without it.’

We have bought land here and will build a house. We are to invest in Orkney and she will invest in us. Our first instalment was an entry in the vicar’s book. I was sitting with the minister, and others, in the weekly community coffee morning where, for just £1, one can enjoy coffee, a home bake and a good blether. The kirk is 5 minutes from our plot and, as a lover of cakes (but probably beyond redemption), I’m sure I’ll be back most Thursdays. ‘We’re sort of Presbyterian here,’ he said. ‘Well, I must confess to being lapsed Methodist,’ I told him. ‘Oh don’t worry, there’s plenty of time.’

There are plenty of places for dog walking and getting outside in Orkney

Down the side of the kirk the quiet lane leads to the shore, and this is already becoming my regular dog walk. There’s almost no traffic and the cliff top is soon reached. I can make a circular walk back to the house by turning left or right onto the cliff path but left is favourite as it involves less road walking.

In the summer the narrow strip of maritime heath, squeezed in between the cliff top and the fields, was a joy. There were ling and bell heathers, tormentil, eyebright, thrift, clover, buttercup, hogweed, thistles, lady’s finger and others beyond my ken. Fulmars patrolled at eye-level and a bonxie (great skua) kept an eye on them, like a security supervisor at a football match. The narrow path is insufficiently trodden to be much more than a sheep track. In wet weather ankles are soon soaked from swishing against the heathers.

Wildlflowers brighten up Orkney walks during the summer months

The walk drops down to sea-level. This is a little-visited part of Orkney and odd bits of nylon rope have washed ashore, lost overboard from boats or fish farms (my walk is not included in the annual, community efforts that maintain cleanliness on more popular beaches). In two or three passages, however, I collected everything that was there, carried or dragged it to the road for collection later and transfer to the “Pick Up Three” collection bin sponsored by local school children.

I have appointed myself Guardian of the Path. I reckon I’ll be able to keep it more or less clean with a few regular walks. Who knows? I might even find a barrel of brandy, lump of ambergris, message in a bottle or see a killer whale. Even without the rare sightings the walk, and the conservation work, are deeply satisfying and I look forward to more of them after the move.

The path soon reaches an old pier, with a super beach just beyond. Sandy beaches are often thought of as August places but when there’s an R in the month this is a great spot for flocks of golden plover, redshank, long-tailed duck, curlew and a supporting cast of ringed plover, shag, cormorant, eider ducks, common and grey seals.

Common and grey seals on the shore in Orkney - image by Raymond Besant

There’s a seat on the pier, sheltered from the wind, and a good place from which to watch. Sitting here for half an hour is as good as an NHS prescription for a course of mindfulness I reckon. I would ask for my half hour on the NHS but, like all of life’s best, it’s already free at the point of use.

The farm track carries me back up to my starting height and views over Scapa Flow that take in almost everything, from Hoxa Head and the main entrance to the Flow, Flotta and the Oil Terminal and round to Hoy. Stromness can’t be seen but I can see the headland behind which the little town is hiding.

The vast expanse of Orkney's Scapa Flow, one of the world's great natural harbours - image by Colin Keldie

Beuy, what a place. Orkney really is somewhere special – wild flowers, birds, sea- and landscapes. There’s so much history out in the Flow. There’s archaeology almost back to the ice age and telemetry on hill tops listening to satellites. They’re harnessing the waves and tides are driving progress. Life on the edge is going to be exciting.

The track gives onto the road again for a five minute walk home with Dog on the lead. The village is fairly new, with in-fill building making a neat little community. The attractions of Orkney include wide open spaces, big skies, peace and quiet but, after all that, it’s nice to have street lights all the way home as the light fades.

Richard contributes regularly to Scottish Islands Explorer magazine and his first book: 'Scotland’s Islands – A Special Kind of Freedom' was published in 2014. He is working on the sequel: 'Orkney – A Special Place' which he hopes will be out in 2017. Newsletter

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