The next morning saw us substitute a few group members due to those on differing tour lengths, and we set off to be told we were in for another day of lots of time spent on the bus.
We made one or two relatively pointless stops (yes, cracks starting to show with the tour guide!) before we made it to the north west corner of mainland Britain near Durness, where a freezing cold Scottish beach awaited, as well as the windy Durness Golf Club and amazingly good Cocoa Mountain chocolate shop. Our last stop here was Smoo cave which can usually be explored even further by boat, but this option was unavailable due to danger of flooding!
A quick stop at Dunnet Head (northern most point of mainland Britain) and it was onto a ferry headed for our home for the next two nights, St Margarets Hope in the Orkney Islands. The trip on the ferry alone was quite interesting, with one completely abandoned island still loaded with housing from it's last inhabitants in the 1970s and other islands still sporting towers and pillboxes from when the islands were used as a naval base during the war.
Approaching the dock, St Margarets Hope (population 450) appeared like a small hidden island hideaway as if out of a Bond movie perhaps. Our hostel was cozily tucked in between the towns cafe and pub, two of only around five businesses in the town. Being so far north now we still arrived in time to see a great island sunset (approx 1030pm!) before visiting the local next door and sampling the outstanding Orkney Island Brewery offerings.
We began our exploration of the islands the next morning, and were amazed to still see deliberately sunken ships in certain channels between the islands, a defensive ploy to keep enemy ships out during WW2. We visited an Italian Chapel constructed on the islands by POWs before taking a walk along a range of cliffs nearby.
For lunch we stopped in Kirkness, the biggest town (pop. 9,000) amongst the islands. While an adequate town in its own right it was amazing to look around it and wonder how isolated it would be to live there, with a ferry back to mainland Scotland a good 2+ hour round trip. We were even told how some school students on the smaller nearby islands have to take flights each day to and from school.
The Orkney Islanders were certainly proud of their produce though, and rightly so, as what we had the chance to try was outstanding (especially the icecream).
For the afternoon we visited two old stone circles and Skara Brae, ruins found that are estimated to be from 3100 BC. We also went to some more seaside cliffs to spot some puffins, and after giving up because our tour guide gave us little help in finding them, an avid photographer amongst our group snapped one just metres away from where we were sitting.
That night Barry again did his best to wriggle out of group cooking duties, instead offering his services as dishwasher, before we again retired to the pub next door.