Friday was a bit of a wild day so there was no way I was going to paddle across to Hoy on my own. The wind was gusting westerly about 60mph - too strong for me!
Instead we took the passenger ferry from Stromness to Moaness. It went to the east and south of Graemsay, which is good because I didn’t fancy going through the tiderace in that weather! Although folk still headed over to see the film, Dave McLeod himself got stuck in Thurso because the Hamnavoe got a broken window and couldn’t cross the Firth. The film was really good and it was particularly moving to watch Ed Drummond, who made the first ascent in 1970, return to the island. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest you do so now! You can get it from Dave’s website here.
The climbing club had arranged for folk to go over and see the film, stay the night in the Hoy Centre and have a day out on the hills today. Because of the weather, only 5 of us decided to stay overnight and 3 of us had a long walk today (the other 2 were on their mountain bikes). Hoy is completely different to any other part of Orkney so it is nice to get away from it all over there!
I have only seen the Old Man of Hoy from the ferry so was keen to see it from land, while, having watched the film the night before, I was keen to see St John’s Head too. It is also the highest sea cliff in Britain so certainly worthy of a visit. Off we set just before 10am, into the teeth of the wind and rain. I was confident (ha ha) that the weather would improve as the day went on and that by going the way round we were going, that we would have the wind behind us when on the exposed ridge.
My companions set off at a hell of a speed and I was practically running to keep up! We were conscious that we had a ferry to catch at 4.30pm so didn’t do much hanging around! After a couple of hours we made it to the Old Man, where the wind was coming straight off the sea at a horrific speed. We hunkered down for a few minutes and ate our pieces before setting off again.
We carried on towards St John’s Head climbing all the time. The head is essentially a ridge that has had the end chopped off to give the high cliffs. Stopping for a breath now and again afforded us some lovely views of the Old Man. The sun was also beginning to appear.
It was too windy to venture out onto St John’s Head when we got there, but it was great to be there and see the highest sea cliff in Britain. There is a stone that the climbers have carved their initials onto and I would like to see that one day. As we set off from St John’s Head to go up and over Cuilags, the mist descended rapidly. A bit of map and compass work was required but by the time we got to the col before the climb up to Cuilags the mist had lifted again and we were afforded a fine view from the top.
The way down into the glen is really steep and hard on the joints. I was feeling my age and was a little saddened that I haven’t done more with my life. To distract myself from the sore hips and knees, I took in the view back down to Rackwick. It really is a stunning place.
Safely back on the flat, we had time for a sit down at the hostel before making our way to the ferry. I wasn’t sure what way he was going to go, but he headed up through Burra Sound. Right through the tiderace.
At the time, I reckoned the tide was on the ebb, and given how low the tide seemed to be, it shouldn’t have been running that fast…. I have just found out that the boat left about 20 minutes before low tide but there was nothing slack about Burra Sound when we went through it! I’d have liked to have seen it 2 hours earlier (or maybe not!).
We ploughed through the race and at one point I was clinging on for dear life for fear of being thrown over board as we pitched and rolled. I HAVE to visit Burra Sound in my sea kayak one day!
As we sailed away from Hoy, we were all knackered, but in the end we’d had a lovely day out and the weather was kind in the end. It’s sometimes easy to forget what you have just 30 minutes away on the ferry. This summer, I shall have to try to remember more often!