United Kingdom

From Inverness to the Orkneys

From Inverness to the Orkneys
Route von Inverness auf die Orkneys

The route from Inverness to the Orkneys takes us northwards along the east coast. In the past people took the ferry from John o’Groats across to the islands and back to the mainland. Incidentally, it was on the return journey about 45 years ago that I got really sick on a boat for the first time. Before that, I didn’t mind any rocking.

But on that return trip to John o’Groats, it was raining and storming like crazy and I stayed below deck, where the mainly local passengers spread a mixture of thick clouds of smoke, the intense smell of sweat and the disgusting fumes of beer and schnapps in a very confined space. Although I fled up into the forces of nature after hearing alarming reports from the centre of my body, I have not been completely immune to seasickness ever since!

Please excuse the digression, but the memory is so intense … No, don’t worry, I’m fine!

Today the ferries to the Orkneys no longer depart from John o’Groats, but from Gills Bay as well as Thurso. What’s more, these are no longer small boats, but fully-grown roll-on roll-off ferries. An important anchor point on the way from Inverness to the Orkneys is therefore the punctual arrival at the pier in Gills Bay at 6.15 pm at the latest. But one thing at a time!

At our Hotel Columba, we are not served a meagre breakfast by bored-looking staff, but rather allowed to eat it. The location of the hotel is excellent. The reception last night was remarkably friendly. But the ravages of time are clearly peeping through the plaster in all the other corners. But no matter, we are looking forward to the journey from Inverness to the Orkneys.

The weather seems to mean well with us today! And because we have enough time before the ferry departs, we allow ourselves a diversion to the tip of a peninsula where a beautiful red and white painted lighthouse stands. It is the Tarbat Ness Lighthouse, and the diversions is worth it for the marvellous landscape on this peninsula alone.

Back on the main road, we take a detour to the west to see Skibo Castle. But a “Private Road” sign denies us access and we turn back a little disappointed. After all, there is more to see on the way from Inverness to the Orkneys than Skibo Castle.

One example of this is Dunrobin Castle, which we now visit at length. It was the seat of many Scottish rulers and the rooms that have been preserved and opened to visitors are certainly very impressive. The fact that there are already five buses in the car park, disgorging passengers from a cruise ship, should have deterred us from a rather expensive visit, but it didn’t.

And so, squeezed between crowds of other visitors, we let ourselves be pushed through the rooms of the castle. At least the sun is shining, so half an hour on the terrace of the castle with a view of the beautifully landscaped garden makes up for the sweating masses inside.

We continue on to the Castle of Old Wick. Here, the name sounds completely different to what is on offer. Only three remains of the castle’s walls are still standing, and it is forbidden to visit them due to the risk of collapse.

On the other hand, the coast at this point is of a wildness that can hardly be surpassed. The sea has washed three deep and long inlets into the landscape. The vertical cliffs are colonised by countless seagulls. The birds amaze us with their incredible flying skills. All in all, the picture is quite unique: the rugged cliffs surrounded by the sea, the gentle meadows and the wild birds – spectacular.

The next stop is John o’Groats, where we stop off briefly at the 8Doors distillery. This is a fairly young whisky distillery, which mainly offers promotional items in the visitor rooms, but also a reasonably good whisky. And while we’re in Scotland, it would be a sin to leave the country without visiting a distillery!

And, oh wonder of wonders, even our two whisky refuseniks don’t refuse this time and at least drink a whisky liqueur!

A few metres further on is the John o’Groats brewery, where we kill time until the ferry departs. The crossing is uneventful, although a young woman is almost constantly scanning the water with binoculars to see if there is a whale somewhere.

Murray Arms - Seafood Platter
Seafood Platter
In St Margaret’s Hope, we receive a very warm welcome at our hotel, The Murray Arms Hotel & Seafood Restaurant. My motorbike buddies from the Northern Cape and I were already very impressed with this hotel last year! And today we are also very impressed by the seafood platter! Here, only what is really freshly caught is brought to the table. Excellent! And the glass of whisky doesn’t even cost five pounds!

Schafköpfe im Murray Arms
Schafköpfe im Murray Arms
After about fifteen pounds per man and many rounds of sheep’s head, we lay our heads down in the beds provided and look forward to the next day on the islands!

Good night!

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