Our final day on Westray was still relentlessly windy but, once the overnight fog (known as haar in these parts) had cleared, we had bright sunshine – perfect for a long hike up to the NE corner of the island to bag another lighthouse. But first we called in at Hume Sweet Hume, a successful designer knitwear business where we chatted to the owner and then enjoyed a delicious pizza lunch at the new café, Saintear. Noup Head light, another Stephenson design, is perched precariously close to a sheer cliff face that is home to thousands of nesting seabirds.
|Di giving Graham palpitations - it looks as though she's a lot closer to the edge than she was!|
During our island hikes we also came across this little stone-built structure on the edge of one of the beaches.
At first we
assumed that it was very old but it appears to have been constructed recently
with an excellent purpose:
|Inside there's a bbq basket and even a bag of kindling!|
The SE winds were forecast to continue for several days and the outlook for Sunday night was for them to increase to Force 6-7. The otherwise excellent little harbour and marina in Pierowell was open to wind-driven waves from that direction so we decided to get out while we could and sail the 23 miles over to Stronsay. Of course, the wind was on our nose, so we tacked (zig-zagging toward our destination) the whole way and it was a reasonably challenging sail, with some fierce tides to contend with at the end.
|The red track was our route into Westray, the black track is the passage to Stronsay|
|Whitehall harbour is well sheltered in SE winds|
|A calm sunset, before the next batch of wind|
Stronsay is an interesting island – it’s very flat (the highest point is only 43m above sea level) so wind is a pretty constant feature. The land is obviously very fertile, so beef and sheep farming are the main activities here. The sleepy little village of Whitehall has a small shop, a café and a hotel. The hotel was bought by the community in May but is struggling to get going, (familiar challenges of staffing and skills availability) so hasn’t been open while we’ve been here.
Whitehall village, at its peak, had 40 pubs and the old Stronsay Hotel boasted the longest bar north of Inverness! The boom collapsed in the 1930’s as over-fishing destroyed the once-huge stocks of fish and, with it, Stronsay’s prosperity came to an end.
Today the island is home to only about 320 people and Whitehall has a slightly dejected feel about it. However, there’s obviously a lot of effort being put in to keep the place alive and funding has been sought to try to widen its appeal to visitors (though we suspect some residents aren’t that keen on encouraging incomers!). We were amazed to find that there are four excellent electric bikes available to borrow, free of charge, so yesterday we took two of them to go and explore. We were very thankful of the battery assistance as the brisk SE’ly wind had returned with a vengeance and were able to see some of the superb coastline features.
We’ll be here for one more day. The wind is forecast to ease a little tomorrow, so we’ll sail east and south down to the Churchill Barriers on South Ronaldsay, ready to cross the Pentland Firth on Friday. Spot-on tidal planning will be vital for the 30 mile passage to Wick as the Pentland Firth is probably the most tidal stretch of water in Britain, with currents running at up to 12 knots if you cross it at spring tide. We will, naturally, be crossing at spring tide so our traverse of the 6-mile-wide scary bit will be timed to coincide with the least current. We’ll let you know how it goes!