|2 November: Yesterday morning we walked around Inverness in glorious sunshine. Many beautiful old churches and lots of bridges over the river Ness which was lined with trees in beautiful autumn yellow. The river was shallow with a stony bottom and appeared to be clean. Lisa found another music shop in which to while away time and came out with a book of bagpipe tunes compiled by William Gunn and maybe...... nah, just kidding - Lisa didn't buy bagpipes or even a practice chanter. We caught the 2 pm train to Thurso, arriving just on dark. The change in countryside as we travelled north was noticeable - from intensive cropping and break fed stock near Inverness to quite rugged and scrubby sheep country at the top. Our rail/sail ticket included the taxi transfer from Thurso to Scrabster where we boarded the massive MV Hamnavoe to Stromness. This is normally a 90 minute trip but took nearly 2 hours as the sea conditions were rough and the master opted to go the long way through Scapa Flow. Dinner was fantastic lentil and bacon soup on board and after disembarking we trundled our packs along the narrow cobbled main street to our cottage. A quick cuppa, showers and in to bed.
This morning we explored Stromness. The streets are very narrow - the main street is often only wide enough for one car and pedestrians have to either squeeze up against the buildings or nip down a side lane; it's not as dangerous as it sounds as everyone drives very slowly. It was sunny but cold. We bought provisions as the cottage is self-catering (although many pantry items like spices, oil, flour, tea etc are provided). We also took the opportunity to do several loads of washing and after a lunch of local cheese on local oatcakes we snoozed and read. Further exploration resulted in shopping at one of the two butchers - local sirloin, some veges, milk, more cheese all from the one shop. By the time we got back at 4.30 it was dusk (see photo) but didn't get properly dark for ages. We watched the ferry go out and were entertained by a seal who was cruising around in large circles just off the pier - literally a stone's throw away. Jen plumbed the depths of her memory to cook dinner which was delicious and a top effort on her part as a) she doesn't like cooking and b) is still feeling the after-effects of the ferry crossing.
We're loving this little 1800's fisherman's cottage which has been renovated to a very high standard. Every window has amazing views and it's so quiet. We have a bedroom and bathroom each (Lisa's upstairs) and plenty of heating to combat the cold - today maxed at 9 degrees - but with no wind it was quite pleasant. Early night tonight as we aim to catch a local bus to Kingwall for tourist information and to be tourists!