Our Orkney Winter Adventures
Sitting here looking out of the dining room window on a wet and wild windy scene I’m reminded of the week we arrived in Orkney. Having visited Orkney in the summer, where we were treated to an unusually warm week…shorts, and trips to the beach, and having viewed only a handful of properties as there were few available, we viewed ‘Newhall’, our awesome family home. The day we viewed it, there was mist, or ‘harr’ as it is called here surrounding the house, but nevertheless, we fell in love with it. It may be because it reminded us of our first house in Scotland which was very similar, or we simply loved its rural location.
Remember we couldn’t see anything in the summer for the harr, our view was and still is spectacular. However, the night we arrived was very different. Having spent two days reaching our destination and a rough ferry trip from Gills Bay to St. Margaret’s Hope (fondly called ‘The Hup’ here) we arrived at our new house. Our lovely solicitor met us so that we could enter the house on that wet, windy Sunday night, to enable 3 adults (granny was in tow for an adventure!), 3 children, and 2 guinea pigs to spend their first night in their new home. Bearing in mind it was the middle of October we were prepared for wet and windy weather we had previously lived in Caithness which is just across the Pentland Firth from Orkney. We weren’t however prepared for the view that met us that first morning we woke up!
We look out on the most beautiful farming countryside, the sea, Copinsay Island (Old norse: Kolbeinsey, Kolbein’s island) and the Horse of Copinsay. Orkney (Old norse: Orkneyjar) also known as the ‘Orkney Islands’ is itself an archipelago in the Northern Isles of Scotland. Consisting of approximately 70 islands of which 20 are inhabited. Copinsay Island and the Horse of Copinsay being two of the many uninhabited islands. Copinsay itself is a small wedge-shaped island, lying off the south-eastern shore of Deerness, the most easterly parish of Orkney Mainland. It provides the ideal breeding ground for sea birds thanks to its mile-long 70m high cliff on its east side. It forms part of an RSPB Reserve and is home to fulmars, guillemots, razorbills, puffins and kittiwakes. If birds aren’t your thing, Copinsay also has an established colony of grey seals which pup on Copinsay in the autumn and live there all year. Once inhabited by a large family who even had their own school in one of the rooms of the main house and complete with its own lighthouse. Need to know more about Copinsay head over to http://orkneyguide.com/ogbpdf/Copinsay.pdf
Copinsay is a fascinating place to visit and encompasses the slightly perplexing tale of the Copinsay Brownie (no, not the edible version!). Hughbo – the Brownie of Copinsay is told to be an ugly naked creature that visited the only inhabitant of Copinsay at the time a farmer. Hughbo after scaring the farmer explained that having always lived in the sea he did not wish to gnaw on the bones of drowned men (ughh!) and wished to live on the land. To enable that he was willing to work well for his lodging. Even the farmers sweetheart took to the strange creature and after marrying the farmer Hughbo remained in their house as a servant by all accounts. Until one night the husband’s new wife made a warm cloak with an ample hood to clothe Hughbos naked figure and unwittingly this kind act caused Hughbo to howl and sob and repeat “Hughbo’s gotten cloak an’ hood, so Hughbo can do no more good!” and fly out into the Orkney night never to be seen again.
The ‘Horse of Copinsay’ is not to be forgotten, a large rock 28m high with a blaster hole at the north end which also houses a large bird colony. Although it is hard to reach due to the strong tides surrounding it, it is apparently a must for ‘island-baggers’. We often have the privilege of sitting watching the waves crash around it in our stormy weather and watching the beautiful sunrises and sunsets in the calmer seasons.
Our winter that ensued did not let up on the weather at all, alternate weeks of storms were met with a week or so of calm weather, the darkness of the few true winter months were bearable given the coming of the spring and we were rewarded for our patience with the few summer months where it never gets dark! However, trying to get children to go to bed then was pretty difficult as you can imagine! For many folk the Orkney winter is not for them and they return to where they came from. For us, that first year was the start of our new adventure.
Check back soon to see what other adventures we’ve been up to!