Saturday, 14 July 2012

Orkney Saga- Papa Westray

The island of Papa Westray, known locally as Papay lies just off the east coast of its larger neighbour, Westray. We ducked the opportunity of taking the world's shortest flight across the sound and opted for the ferry from Pierowall. From the pier in the bay of Moclett we walked west round the bay and Vestness to tackle the west coast against a stiff north wind . Enormous flights of sea ducks greeted us. We didn't recognise the species until our bird book mentioned hybrids- ducks! The island looks very green and fertile and I'm sure that cattle will greatly outnumber the seventy inhabitants who operate as a community to keep island life going. A shop and visitors hostel are owned and run by the community. Half way along the west coast we came to Knap of Howar, northern Europe's earliest house dating from over 5000 years ago. It was thrilling to sit there and imagine the life of the early settlers cultivating the island for the first time.

     Not much further along the west coast we find St Boniface's Church, one of the oldest Christian sites in the North of Scotland. Some of the stonework dates from the 12th century. St Boniface was an important figure in the development of the early church, especially in Germany so it isn't quite clear why Papay claimed him. The building has two doors, one leading to the ground floor and a second up an external staircase to the gallery, where the laird would have sat with his family, well insulated from his tenants below. The restoration of the church is celebrated in a ceramic of the Saint arriving by ship on Papay. It was made by local school children. At this point we turned east to cross the island along the top of the airfield, hitting the east coast near the old pier where the steamer from Kirkwall used to call once a week, before the current new pier was built in 1970.

Below the pier we find the shell of an ancient watermill, last used to mill oats and bere 100 years ago. The mill stones and the bones of the undershot wheel are still there.

     On the land curlews abound and the coast is constantly patrolled by marauding artic skuas. They are aerial pirates who bully mainy terns into disgorging the fish they have just swallowed. We came across a fulmar nesting behind a wall on the footpath. After a little coaxing the chick emerged from under its mother to be photographed. We stopped on the beach in the Bay of Burland, to gather sea shells, a childish habit that still afflicts us. In particular we were looking for the small cowrie 'Groatie Buckie.' We found a few but that's another story. Round the last headland we find ourselves back at the pier waiting for the ferry and anticipating a fish dinner at the Pierowall Hotel back on Westray.

The Stuart Agenda by Alan Calder, published by Willow Moon. e-Book and paperback on all Amazon sites. Reviews at 

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