The Old Man of Hoy

Mountains of Hoy from Stromness, OrkneyMy most recent trail time was all about trail building. My impending escapes are all about trail maintenance. Mostly I have had my head down in front of a computer. Now, working a bow saw and loppers, even typing words, is just fine, but I have a strong desire for a long, mind-clearing, limb-stretching hike. I’ve decided to take it in the Orkney Islands.

I can’t go to Orkney, of course, not physically. It is 3,000 miles away – planes, trains, automobiles, days and bucks away. But I can go in memory. What use are memories if we can’t call on them when we need them? To help me along I have an Ordnance Survey map and not as many photos as I should have.

Stromness, Orkney IslandsThe hike took place in mid-July 2011. It was just me and my youngest daughter. Since she was born with the millennium, she was 11 years old then – just. Our trip to Scotland had brought us to Stromness, the second biggest town of the Orkney Islands. The islands are 10 miles north of the far-north coast of the mainland. Stromness was a beautiful place to leave from – a lively harbor town of winding streets and alleys. We could see the mountains of Hoy from our campground on the edge of town, across placid Hoy Sound.

We got to Hoy on an open passenger ferry. I realized on board that I’d left our camera in Stromness, I hoped in the trunk of the car. We planned to do a circuit of the northwest of Hoy, camping overnight at the hamlet of Rackwick. This divided our hike into two unequal parts – a long moor and cliff walk, and a shorter glen walk. I asked Marjorie which she wanted to do first. She chose the wild side. I think that summed up her approach to the hike. She was positive, but also had a let’s-get-this-over-with determination.

The things I remember most:

  • Sweating up the steep, midge-infested hill called Cuilags.
  • Being dive-bombed by “Bonxies” (Great Skuas) between Cuilags and the cliffs.
  • The mist coming down before we reached the cliff edge, and being left with palpable but invisible chasm just to the right of our steps.
  • Descending from the mist to see the Old Man.
  • The fantastic place-names of this once-Norwegian isle – Lounders Fea, Tuaks of the Boy, Geo of Hellia, Aikel of Flett.

The Old Man of Hoy, Hoy, OrkneyThere, hiking has served its purpose again – renewal, and in this instance second time around. I’ll have to do the limb-stretching later. Oh, and in case there is any doubt, the Old man is the sea stack in the picture to the left (taken from the ferry back to mainland Scotland two days later).

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