Map Orkney Month final contributions: Pict’s houses, Little Pete and feeding the Flotta penguins

Nic Thake: Shapinsay – Stromness 21/03


Sometimes the best trails make use of an opportunity to combine lots of elements.

This trail brought together Shapinsay’s electric car, a return crossing on the ferry from Shapinsay to Kirkwall, a return drive to Stromness pier head (via Tesco in Kirkwall and Orkney Fisheries in Stromness), an unlikely meeting with a man from Bute (who was supposed to be somewhere else) and attendance at Dan’s mapping workshop at the Pier Arts Centre.

Lois joined me for my journey but chose to take a sunny walk at Ness and watch the ferry arrive rather than learn about GIS, GPS and the open source software options available to budding map makers.

All in all it was fine day out from which we returned with some new knowledge, cans of dog food and a fine selection of excellent fish for the freezer. That evening was spent learning to use QGIS which Dan had introduced me to during the afternoon session.


Maureen Flaws: Wyre 22/03

I marked the Wyre Heritage Centre as it really is a lovely place to visit.  Looking onto Cubbie Roo’s Castle and St. Mary’s Chapel you step into deep history of Viking times. Of the more recent generations on the island, you will find interesting tales, facts and pictures aplenty, whilst the colourful displays of wildlife and seabed fauna are fabulous to look at. Displays from the recent archaeological excavation at the “Braes of Ha’Breck” Early Neolithic settlement are on show.

I continued on from the Heritage Centre, down Testaquoys’ footpath to the Back Shore, around the Taing, and on to the Pier, from where I headed home to Heldie. Was it windy and rainy?  Probably … but I fairly enjoyed the walk and took a few pics.

Linda Heath: Hoy 25/03

A ferry from Stromness to Hoy and climbed Cuilags – the second highest hill in Orkney. I do this regularly for photography, wildlife, & fitness.

Hazel Moore: Westray – Kirkwall 26/03

A trip on the ferry from Westray to town and back with my dad: a photographic journey.



Mary Harris, Laura Johnston and Trish Avis: Hoy 28/03

We were a bit late but we had decided to go to Rackwick to celebrate the spring equinox. A small group of us try to salute the Orkney seasons by making a pilgrimage to this beautiful bay at the Equinox and Solstice times of the year. We have a walk, pick up beach bruck and finish off with a picnic and a wee dram in the bothy. However, today we had other tasks to do including contributing to Map Orkney Month, check for Skate egg cases, photograph some war time buildings at Lyness for an Orkney web site and take Little Pete* on an adventure.

Our journey started at Longhope – first stop at Lyness. The weather couldn’t have been more hostile with lashing rain and low cloud. Therefore I went back the next day to photograph the Naval Headquarters and Communication Centre on Wea Fea and the Recreation Centre, above. Lyness was the former Royal Navy base during WWII and many buildings from this time still haunt the landscape today.

Leaving Lyness we drove north to Moaness pier and the rain eased enough to tempt us out of the car and have a quick walk along the Bay of Creekland. Trish and I walk this and other beaches on Hoy once a month for the RSPB to record any stranded dead birds. We also look for and record Skate egg cases (mermaids purses) and notify the Orkney Skate Trust of our findings. Today we found 4 and also came across a small stone cist/box structure that is often buried under a bank of beach debris.

As the heavens opened once again we sped back to the car and took the magnificent road to Rackwick. However, today the tops of the hills were veiled in mist and the grey skies seemed to sink into the sodden surrounding moorland. We felt cocooned in cloud.

The Rackwick burn that meanders through the valley had burst its banks and we stared in wonder at the new landscape of silvery pools. And the rain…. rained on and on and we got thoroughly soaked walking down to the bothy on the shore.


We sat at the table with the water dripping from us and steam rising from our heads. Some young lads had lit the fire. We shivered through our picnic and, just as we raised our glasses to the vernal equinox, cursed the weather, Map Orkney Month and all and sundry, a shaft of sunlight split the smoky room in half. We are known as the Witches of Rackwick and it looked like our cursing had done the trick. We hurriedly sploshed and squelched outside to the sea. Part of our ritual is to admire and stroke a few of the amazing boulders before we start picking up bruck from the shore. See above for some of the rubbish we’ve removed from the beach over the last few months,

Some of the rubbish we’ve removed from the beach over the last few months, but before we left we introduced *Little Pete to Orkney.

Copy of email sent to me about Little Pete:

Little Pete was recently found at Carbis Bay in Cornwall with an extremely poignant message in a bottle.

He was discovered twice in fact, the second time by Jacob Brain, grandson of retired Newquay fisherman Bill Brain, who brought Little Pete to me. With the family’s permission, we are bringing you Little Pete’s story.

We already have several adventures lined up for him, and have set up a facebook page to record his journey.

Nigel Palmer, Archie and Albie’s dad, told us: “Pete was a sailor at heart having served nearly eight years in the Royal Navy and loved everything about the sea. So as a family we decided to combine two of his loves to say goodbye to him – Cornwall and the sea. As a surprise to all the family my wife Sarah and her mum came up with the idea of knitting a little sailor man to leave behind in Cornwall as a little token of our love and to let Archie & Albie say goodbye in a way they may remember.

We decided to travel to Cornwall for the August bank holiday as a family. Sarah and I told everyone about Little Pete on the Sunday morning and we decided to find a suitable place to leave him and the note at Carbis Bay. We had spent many a family holiday there as kids and it has a very special place in our hearts. We left Little Pete and the note on a little path onto the beach and moved down to the water’s edge to scatter my dad’s ashes. As we were doing so we saw that Little Pete had been found by a couple and their young boys. It was so nice to see this from afar and not be interfering in his next journey. We cannot wait to know what he will get up to in the future. It would be just in my dad’s character this story and something he would have loved to be a part of.”

That is the story of Little (for now…. Peedie…) Pete. He was part of our life the day we did Map Orkney and we thought yes, Rackwick Bay is a special place. Daylight was fading fast and it was time to leave.

On the way home we stopped to look and wave at the Dwarfie Stane and the final stop to pay our respects to poor old Betty Corrigall’s sad little grave. A quick warm up and some Guinness beside a roaring fire in The Royal Hotel, Longhope and job done.

I found this an interesting and challenging day. We often head off to Rackwick and not really think much about the journey or the things we do at the beach. It’s normally a question of lets get there and now we’re here, let’s get on with it. But on this day I looked at what we were doing from a different perspective. I asked myself would other people find this interesting even though we do it time after time? Should we stop here or over there to take a photo? Will we break our journey to look at that and what does it mean to us.

I also know we wouldn’t have bothered going there today with the weather being so awful if it wasn’t for this task. I’m so pleased we went although we got drenched and chilled to the bone. We did stuff that’s important to us, strengthened our friendship bond, finished Trish’s rhubarb vodka and we enjoyed our beautiful island once again. So thank you Map Orkney Month.


Doris Shearer: Stronsay 29/03

My husband and I drove from Airy to the end of Housebay road, then started our walk to Lamb Head. On the right-hand side, the farm of Housebay is in the distance. Below is the ‘Dane’s Pier’ – natural or man-made? We made our way to Hell’s Mouth, well named when it is blowing a hurricane. Seals lying on the ledge. Looking to the left is Burgh Head.

Housebay Dane's Pier

Hell's Mouth Pict's House / broch

This is one of the Pict’s Houses (above right). I can remember being in this many years ago and it was quite a job to get back out again, but it has been filled in with stones since then. Pity, because it’s a very interesting place.

Pict's House cell Auskerry

Whaligeo at the other side of Lamb Head with Auskerry in the distance. Copinsay in the background, but a bit hazy for a good photo. We came home via Cleat Cottage and had a welcome cup of coffee. Then we had a drive around the island.

Mill Bay Old Manse

On the left, is Mill Bay with community hall and school on top of the brae. Definitely a spring-like sign at the school with lots of daffodils out when we passed. On the right, old Manse in the foreground, recently renovated, with pier and Whitehall village in the background.

Kenny Gee: Flotta 29/03

West Hill penguins

The day turned out quite well as the sun shone for us, we had our first stop at the West Hill road which comes up from Gibraltar Pier we travelled past it to the south/west, passing Flotta airport and stopped to feed the penguins, then onwards to the south side looking across to the island of Switha then upwards to the highest point called the Witter.

View video panorama from the Witter here

Top of the North road Witter

Stanger Head Stanger Head view west

Finally, on to Stanger Head with loads of relics left by WW1 and WW2.

Lydia Harris: Westray 31/03

A walk around the bay.

Sandquoy houses Sandquoy pier


Jennifer Foley: Papa Westray 31/03

Day starts from Hundland at north end of Papay. Hens and dogs fed, pick up Papay Co-op co-worker at ‘The Y’ and head south to Papa Westray Hostel to prepare for new arrivals. Slow down to help divert escaped sheep at Rossigar and Holland. Mornings work at the hostel then back north to drop off colleague. Walk dogs down through the Ness Park, round the Kelp Green, past Neil’s Helly (no groatie buckies today) and Leapers Geo and on to Fowl Craig returning past the Hundland sheepie shelters – snow showers and strong winds en-route. Drive back south to Beltane to deliver drawing board to visiting artists and back north to Kimbland for home help work. Back south to drop off library box to the Steamer, on to Papay School for Crafty afternoon then pick up visitors from the airfield for the hostel and return home via Whitelooms. Walk back south via the North & South Wicks and the Old Pier at Nouster to use photocopier at the kirk then and cadge a lift home along the Top Road to Rose Cottage and return home to Hundland in time to feed hens and dogs again.


See my non-digital map of Papay on a normal working Tuesday.


Well, we made it! That’s the last contribution from Map Orkney Month to be included in the blog. Sorry to those few who were not included, it has ended up being quite epic! Many thanks to all involved in Orkney and Elsewhere for an amazing month, it has surpassed all my expectations. I’ll be posting soon with a follow-up for the project and the final map. Watch this space … (and map it if you like).


Imaginary tours of Orkney from Elsewhere: Mapping archipelagos in East London

Before moving to London in 2012 we lived on the Åland Islands, population 28,000 and with a similar population density to Orkney. Bearing that sense of scale in mind and with London large and sprawling and Orkney surrounded by the sea, we decided to limit our mapping to an area containing the same population as Orkney, c 21,000.

In London this is, on average and approximately, an area a mile by a mile and a half. We drew a rectangle, of similar proportions to one drawn around Orkney, and centred it on Kirkwall Place in east London. We mapped the stops on the Imaginary tours of Orkney from Elsewhere itinerary by eye then explored like this:

We flew to Kirkwall via the District and Central Lines (listen here), touching down at the Bethnal Green terminal and proceeding directly to Kirkwall Place.

We found some rock and other art and stopped at the Camel for refreshments and eavesdropping. “So what did you have for breakfast?” “sourdough and avocado”, “well that’s the thing isn’t it, it’s great here now, people like you move in, it was a dump before”.

We spotted two other people who may or may not have been mapping Orkney.

We headed towards Kirkwall Airport, at the south-west corner of Meath Gardens, where we photographed a rather magnificent Gothic arch. Happy to find souvenirs so early on in our journey we acquired a plywood suitcase, Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos from a rather carelessly constructed cairn beside Mary MacArthur House. Close to the airport we recorded local wildlife, signage and earthworks and the broch on Usk Street.

We continued northwards towards Victoria Park and, skirting what might have been the edge of Ingerness Bay, spotted a rugged little pony.

At the Palm Tree, for further refreshments, we again eavesdropped on locals: “years ago, when I was a kid, yeah, during the air raid when the doodlebugs was about, we lived in a house that had an Anderson shelter out in the yard and it had a big tree there and when we used to go down, it was all, and you used to have a bit of string, when you all got in there and you were holding the bleeding string and you used to hear them doodlebugs, and all of a sudden oh damn it, that ff! It’s the tree!”

Revived, we continued onwards past further earthworks and waterscapes;

… we even spotted a whale.

On entering Victoria Park we discovered more islands, a Ring, a mystical grove,

a windswept plain and two more Rings,

one of which was surrounded by a semi defensive moat.

Emerging on the northern side we headed westwards and, nearing the coast we reached the site of four Great Rings. Turning south we searched for Skara Brae in Temple Street and though the settlement did not take the form we were expecting, imagining and hoping for, by its angularity and simplicity of form we did believe we’d found it.

Though we’d found Rings in several places before, the actual Ring of Brodgar should have been somewhere near the corner of Old Bethnal Green Road and St Jude’s Road. In fact, it appeared on Middleton Green.

We took a photograph but were beginning to attract attention so decided to head onwards towards Old Ford Road in the hope of finding a seascape to photograph.

Footweary and thirsty, the search for Helgi’s took us to the Gallery Cafe at St Margaret’s House, which sounded so nearly like St Margaret’s Hope that we assumed it must be the right place. No cocktails were available but the local ale proved a fine substitute.

Our exploration of Orkney from Elsewhere took about 4 hours. Tired but happy and with other places to explore we flew westwards from Bethnal Green, into the city, with our souvenirs.

by Lara Band and Dave Webb


Map Orkney Month Week 3: Groatee buckies, budgies and re-forming the pearl

Norna Sinclair: Stromness 12/03

A VERY windy start to the day and an invigorating walk to the viewpoint on top of Brinkies Brae, looking over Stromness to Hoy.

Continuing on round the west shore and my special groatie buckie beach (small cowrie shell, the finding of which brings good luck!).

Then on past the Point ‘o’ Ness and through Stromness!

Later a quick ‘nip tae the toon’ via Waulkmill Bay, Orphir.

Neil Ackerman: Kirkwall 12/03

A walk around Kirkwall …

A day of meandering with my son, trying to keep us both amused and stop him running riot in the house. An initial walk through the Willows to see the crows then into the shelter of the garden centre to see the budgies. After this we wondered through town picking up a mother’s day card and few bits and bobs from the shops, through the town centre then home. After lunch, and a nap for the wee one, we braved the weather to post the mother’s day card down to Edinburgh, then a wonder around the harbour then round the Peedie Sea. The weather was enough to give even the Peedie Sea some pretty impressive waves, so we retreated for an adventure into the great known that is jungle world. After dealing with the weather, some familiar smiling cartoon lions in a nice warm soft room was very welcome. A dash home with the buggy zipped up concluded our adventure, a tired dad and son happy to be have a hot dinner and get ready for bed to face another day.

Listen to the budgies

Listen to the wind and rooks in the trees

Beth Murray: Kirkwall to Herston 14/03

I started out in St Ola and headed into the town and up to the college. A lot of the day was spent in and around the college but there was a rather exciting jaunt out. We headed out to Herston in South Ronaldsay to look at what was left of the Monarch (Canmore ID: 101994) as well as to do a preliminary survey of some of the smaller derelict boats on the foreshore as part of the NAS course in Foreshore and Underwater Archaeology. There’s plenty of activity on the beach and up the grass verge as I moved around the boat and to collect pieces of equipment. Herston is also great for sea glass and I managed to collect a piece or two of pottery too! After a trip back to the college it was time for home (and an early night) but first I stopped by the harbour to admire the lovely sunset.

Jenny Campbell: Eday 14/03


I chose this day to map Eday as it was my last full day living here, after two and a half years working as ranger and a bird surveyor on the island; I was leaving the following day. It was also my final event as Eday ranger, as part of British Science Week, together with Eday Heritage Centre, we had organised ‘Lichenopolis, the weird and wonderful world of Lichen’. My first trip of the day was from where I live in the north end, Calfsound, to pick up our guest for the day, at the pier. Julian Branscombe from RSPB came along to give us a talk on Lichen for beginners and help us identify some ‘in the field’; the ‘field’ being the old Kirkyard at Skaill a few miles south of the Heritage Centre (itself an old Baptist church).

Back to the Heritage Centre in the afternoon for sausage, egg and chip lunch then a few afternoon activities involving lichen quizzes, microscopes, oldest lichen competition and dyeing wool using lichens!

It was a bit windy but sunny and a fair few folk turned out to join in and learn a bit about Eday’s lichens as well as say goodbye, so it was a really lovely way to spend my last day on Eday.

Alan Craigie: Hoxa Head 15/03

A walk from St Margret’s Hope around Hoxa Head and back.

Rowena Baker: Kirkwall Bay 15/03

My mapping day started with feeding the hens and helping my daughter revise for her National 5’s. We both then went to Hatson slip for rowing practice with the Orkney Rowing Club, rowing a traditional Fair Isle Yoal and getting a Viking eye view of the Orkney Landscape.

Afterwards, back home and more revision followed by a walk down the field to the shore from where we can see the buoy marking the site of the Royal Oak (sunk by a u-boat in WWII ).

While walking along the shore and within sight of the Royal Oak buoy I found part of a poppy wreath that may have been laid down on 14th October to commemorate the loss of 883 young lives.


 Stromness Community Garden: mapping workshop 15/03

We mapped the garden (plots, paths, drain, shed, car park & polytunnel) to create an accurate plan.

Black = Garmin handheld GPS x 2 (5m accuracy)

Red = Lecia Viva GNSS (15mm accuracy)

See here for more details


Tonje Birkeland: Bergen // Hoy 15/03

Gulfjellstoppen, Bergen, Norway

60°38’75.3″N 5°59’04.8″W

Ward Hill, Hoy, Orkney

58°54’23.1″N 3°20’10.5″W

I imagine it possible to stand on one of these mountains, both of them the tallest mountain, the peak of the specific piece of land surrounding it.

Both mountains may be covered in mist or clouds, the wind may hit them over and over again. Yet, this particular day in March, the sun shines at Gulfjellet. I imagine the skies being blue all the way to Hoy, as if I may see that mountain if I just gaze long enough in the exact right direction.

Luelle stood on both of these mountains. While standing on one of the peaks; did she long for the other?


III. White Hares of Ward Hill                                                              

White shirt clings chest in spirals, as the solid black valleys surround the scene.

Wild wind, whirling in salty waves, fifteen thousand feet above wave and water.

Wild hares with white winter fur, running wild on black land,

emerge as evidence of earlier human presence, easy to forget.

White shirt, whirling wind and wild hares: Ward Hill on the island Hoy.

Luelle Magdalon Lumiére, Hoy, February 1901.



Luelle Magdalon Lumiére, stereo photographer, reaches the peak of her career around 1913. Luelle is a restless, yet strong woman that never settles. In her earlier years she wanders among the mountains of western Norway. Later she gets aboard a ship and travels west to the enormous urbanity of New York, the frontiers of Brooklyn and the boardwalks of Coney Island. One day she leaves to travel back north, first here, to Papa Westray, Orkney – travelling forth, driven by mystery, illusion and magic, from one island, one independent reality, to the next.


Rosey Priestman & Brendan Colvert: Stove, Sanday 13/03

Re-forming the Stove Pearl …

Due to a GPS technical hitch, the Stove Pearl was re-mapped on 13/03. What a beautiful map!


The map so far:

Map Orkney Month mapping workshops this weekend

There are two short Map Orkney Month mapping workshops this weekend. It will be a good chance to meet you, show you the process of creating your tracks/maps and disuss the project. It would be great to hear your thoughts and ideas. Bring any interesting maps you may have.

Sat 21st March: Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, 2-4pm (upstairs in small room)

Sun 22nd March: Grooves Records, Kirkwall, 2-4pm (upstairs in small room)

Free and no booking necessary…
Hope to see you there!

Map Orkney Month Week 2: Re-imagined journeys, gale force winds & a postcard from Sanday

Rebecca Marr: Stromness – Kirkwall 04/03

When, after my commute from Stromness, I arrive at Orkney Library and Archives in Kirkwall the journey begins. Travelling in my workroom I can cover astonishing distances, Papay and North Ronaldsay before tea break, Hoy and Wyre after lunch. Visiting places fleetingly or sometimes lingering longer, I do this through the photography of Gunnie Moberg.

I decided to map the photographs in Gunnie Moberg’s first publication Stone Built published in 1979 by Stromness Books and Prints (which happens to be the shop I live above and where my physical GPS mapped journey began).

To trace this journey I used Blaeu’s 17th century map of the islands, one of the earliest maps of Orkney. The map holds its own peculiarities so plotting some of the sites was tricky, but happily the map features Sule Skerry as being right next to North Ronaldsay (rather than 60km west of the mainland) so I was able to plot the lighthouse without falling off the map. Because of the early nature of this map, the shape plotted by going from point to point, in the sequence dictated by the book, will be particular to Blaeu and quite different from accurate co-ordinates. This seemed to fit the geographically irregular and deeply satisfying journey of Stone Built.

It seems positively unnatural to travel without taking a camera along… The very activity of taking pictures is soothing and assuages general feelings of disorientation that are likely to be exacerbated by travel. Susan Sontag 1977, On Photography’

Barrier: Gunnie Moberg (Orkney Library & Archive)

North Ronaldsay Beacon: Gunnie Moberg (Orkney Library & Archive)

Lynne Collinson: Shapinsay 06/03

Chickens fed, I set out from the yard to the Kirk’s World Day of Prayer. The ‘Green Isle at the Heart of Orkney’ joining forces with believers in the Bahamas and other liminal and not so liminal places.

Hands stretching out to each other around the earth – feet washed miles apart – in joint acts of humility….


…..journeying alone after – to the older, abandoned Kirk, I wonder what such a service might have meant to that congregation. Their prayers, though different, were not presumably in vain. The roofless structure inspires me to gaze up into the big Orkney sky and to expect no limits. What did they ask for? Do we have it – yet?

…..pausing near the War Memorial to view once-connected Helliar Holm, I ponder the ancient chapel remains there – imagine blessings still being passed down – our inheritance from those long silent lips which once petitioned Heaven…..

…….. passing preparation for next day’s ploughing match I am reminded that we so often reap a wonderful harvest from the good things sown by those who were here before us…..even the lovely carpet of spring flowers in my garden is not of my doing.

Returning from this mini pilgrimage, I sense today we joined hands not just across our world but also with many previous generations of faith on this peaceful isle. Maybe the huge answers they believed for but never saw – will gloriously burst forth in today’s Shapinsay and truly amaze us!

Mark Cook: Kirkwall 07/03

A typical day in the taxi never knowing where my journey will take me and who will be my traveling companion. Sometimes they are regulars and we have a few minutes to blether and catch up, other times it’s someone I’ve not met before, and like speed dating on wheels I have a limited time to find out about their story!

Scapa Flow, view from Houton Tower looking south (via Wei Ha Wei, China)

My photo is a large panoramic print that’s approximately 100 years old. We were given it as a present nearly 20 years ago and told it was Scapa Flow in Orkney. We had for many years wanted to visit Orkney, and when we finally did we brought the picture with us to find the location, and quickly confirmed it was not around Orkney after all and also noticed it was inscribed ‘Wei Ha Wei, China’. Nevertheless, we loved Orkney and 9 months later had moved here. The picture, therefore, is an imaginary view from Houton Tower which I visited on the way home on Saturday.

Rod Thorne: Sanday 08/03

Colin Mitchell: South Ronaldsay 10/03

The track I have recorded is the route that I am fortunate enough to have as my regular morning walk. It is popular with dog walkers and nature lovers and also has several points of interest relating to Orkney’s more recent heritage.

Starting from the car park at the North end of Churchill Barrier Number 4, we immediately come upon the enigmatic wooden statue gazing out over the bay. No one seems sure why he was put there and by whom but he stands watch over a popular summer picnic site.

Continuing South along the beach we encounter the remains of the Canaller one of the block ships sunk to protect Scapa Flow before the Churchill Barriers were built. Unlike many other parts of Orkney where coastal erosion is a problem this dune and beach area has formed due to the accumulation of sand since Water Sound was blocked by the Barrier. Photographs from as recently as the 1970s show large parts of the hull of the Canaller exposed, now entirely buried by the accumulating sand.

Leaving the beach and walking along the Honey Geo road, we pass the remains of a World War II searchlight emplacement which has ingenuously been converted into a storm resistant garden shed.

Immediately beyond lies the remains of the Coastal Battery which the searchlight served. The battery is now somewhat incongruously situated amongst modern housing but is well preserved.

Further along the road a signposted track takes us back to the beach. Turning left we head back along the shore towards the Barrier. On the way we pass the ruins of New London, one of a group of three former fisherman’s cottages.

Continuing along the beach in front of the Coastal Battery we come across the remains of another searchlight emplacement precariously perched on the beach, its foundations eroded by the sea.

Re-entering the dune area we can look across the Barrier towards Burray and then follow one of a number of informal paths zig-zagging through the dunes. Although this landscape is of very recent origin it provides a habitat for several varieties of coastal plants which in summer provide a colourful carpet of flowers to walk through on our way back to the car park.

Josephine Jones: Mainland 11/03

Moorside to St Andrew’s and back.

Sian Thomas: Graemsay 11/03

Wind, weather and walking, or not.

My mapping day on Graemsay dawned with an average wind speed of about 47mph with gusts about 60 mph.  But, undaunted, I donned waterproofs and wellies, with GPS firmly in a pocket and set off first to feed my hens at Sandside.  I could barely stand up and they were getting blown about, so no photo opportunity there. The stone hen house is part of the old farm buildings and gets some shelter from the wind. The 5ft garden dyke that leads to the buildings also helps, especially as I’m quite short! But as soon as I get away from any shelter I’m nearly blown over.  Not the time for a walk along the shore yet then.

I retreated to the warmth of home and stared glumly at the Orkney Harbours wind speed graph and peered hopefully out of the window.  Eventually, at just after 3pm, the wind dropped to a mere 38 mph, though gusts were about 58 mph. Plan B would have to be put into action,  I’d have to drive round the island rather than walk.  Getting out the house was the easy bit, getting into the car and still retaining the car door was the challenge.  I couldn’t shut the car door while I was inside, so I did consider opening the window, shutting the door from the outside and scrambling in through the window. But then I had visions of the photo opportunity for Facebook this would provide my neighbours if I got stuck and decided I’d retreat inside until the wind moved round a little.  A bit later,  I set off down to the main Graemsay pier, where the waves were crashing against the stone. Our ferry services had been cancelled for the day!

Back up the road, past Sandside house and a stop at waypoint 1, the old pier built to transport the stone when the Hoy Sound High and Low lights were built in 1851.  There is a beautiful shell beach on the other side, my favourite place on Graemsay, I walk there whenever I can, but not today, sadly.  It had to remain out of sight, a treasure not to be shared on this trip.

Further along the road and Waypoint 2 is the sandy beach at Sandside. Generations of children have played here, made sand castles and sand angels and swum in the shallows.  Even I have managed some bare feet paddling in the summer.

Then, a slow drive up the hill past the old Manse, on past the Quarry, to look towards the dark mass of the Hoy hills.  The ruin on the croft of Dean stood starkly against Ward Hill.

Map Orkney Month map so far

Final Call: phonebox conferencing and mapping obsolescence


Tourists love them. Folk over 35 probably have fond memories of using them. In an emergency one could just save your life. But when did you last call to or from a red phonebox? Let’s face it they are pretty much obsolete for communication.

So for Map Orkney Month I set off on my bike around West Mainland – loaded up with 20p coins and a notebook – to see what remains of these once-essential communication portals. Several are marked on the OS map. Are any still be there? Do any still work?


I didn’t just want to find them, but invite the world to call them, thanks to my nonsense notion of Phonebox Conferencing.

What’s a phonebox conference? A chance to share stories, ideas, experiences with random people around the world – via the intermediary of one person armed with a pencil, answering a phonebox if and when it rings.


Oh and there’s a secret weapon, a Twitter account that lets me publish the phonebox’s number on the Internet.

I’ve always tried to find remote phoneboxes. And they have to be the old red type. Previous conferences have been on Rannoch Moor and in Bristol and Stromness. In Orkney I’ve also tried and failed on Graemsay, Eday, Papa Westray.


Sunday March 8th was West Mainland’s turn for a phonebox conference. While the MoM GPS would track where I went, I was keen to share success and failure in real-time on Twitter. (Although the paradox is I need a mobile phone signal to send a tweet.)








Who called? Six people in total: from Orkney, mainland Scotland, England and Wales. For once, most of the callers were folk I didn’t already know. So two successful conferences from the last two working red phoneboxes I could find in West Mainland. Who knows how long even they will last?

Ian Garman, Stromness


Map Orkney Month mapping workshop at Stromness Community Garden, Sunday 15th

There will be a Map Orkney Month mapping workshop at Stromness Community Garden this Sunday. Come along and learn how to map the garden using various GPS devices (hand held, differential). The aim is to create an accurate map of the garden and share mapping skills.
Sunday 15th March 2-4pm (free, no booking necessary) – Meet at the garden
See blog for details:
Updates on Twitter: @pa2015info   #MapOrkneyMonth

Map Orkney Month Week 1: Ponies, pearls and pancakes at Purtabreck

Jo Inkster: Rousay 01/03

A typical Sunday on the farm for this time of year. Cattle feeding duties followed by a wet and windy hack out on my favourite horse Storm. Rode out to the Westside of Rousay and my Waypoint picture is taken looking out over Quandale (site of the General Burrow’s Clearances) towards the Mainland. The rest of my day was spent with more cattle feeding, a quick dog walk and some work in the workshop.

Chris Gee: Firth 01/03

On Sunday afternoon we set off on our regular Sunday outing. This time we decided to go up the track into the Firth hills to the west of Holland Farm. We have been there a number of times before over the years. On the walk up the track you can see the bedrock exposed and there are what seem to be small stone quarries at the side – probably 19th century in date. The boys have fun pushing each other into the tussacks along the banks while I stare out towards Redland and the sky. We saw a double rainbow on the way up this time.

The first official stop is a small gully formed by the Burn o Geo. Here the boys have made up a game called “level one hundred”. It involves climbing along the steep heathery banks as far as possible without sliding down into the (very shallow) burn. Up stream someone has built a couple of little bridges that are good to go under. Dams are easy to make with the flagstones. The torrent released when the dam is opened quickly can carry turf divets and toy boats far down the rapids.


At the edge of the burn on the shoulder of a natural terrace sits a large circular, flat topped mound (NMR number HY31NE 17). Raymond Lamb – onetime County Archaeologist – suggested that it might have been either a burial mound or a burnt mound. There is some indication of an old water channel leading from the burn higher upstream around the other side of the mound as if the water could once have been diverted towards it. And even further upstream a couple of years ago we found what seems to be a dam and pond. If the mound is indeed a burnt mound then the supply of water to it would have been of prime importance. Burnt mounds usually surround or cover a water tank which was heated up using hot stones (which then eventually form the burnt mound).

Even though the boys had wet feet and their spare gloves were a bit thin we continued further up the track. On the journey we spoke about the frog that we had seen a couple of years before at a particular point, I remembered a bit of haematite I had found. It’s interesting how a piece of landscape can seem to hold memories and stories. Looking out towards Redland I remembered Eoin Scott and stories he had told me years ago about buildings there. If you could see all the stories and memories of everyone through the ages impressed on the landscape it would be very full I’m sure.

We walked as far as the old peat track above the Hammars of Syradale, into the Parish of Harray I think. There’s supposed to be a fairy’s pool in the rocks there, I was told. There is a spectacular view over the Harray and Stenness Lochs towards Hoy at this point. People used to walk up the dale to the hamars and carve their names in stone Sundays once. Sometimes it’s hard to separate these Sunday walks in time.

 Sarah Gee: South Ronaldsay and Mainland 01/03

This GPS trail for 01.03.15 shows a re-visit to the mainland locations for an installation work undertaken in 2012 (title: RePlace Orkney Without actually ending up at the installation sites themselves, we travelled to a point near the northernmost (Brough of Birsay) and then traversed the Mainland taking in locations at the Ring of Brodgar, Ness of Brodgar and Wideford Hill, before driving to the nearest parking spot to the Balfour Battery, which was the southernmost installation site (where I was interviewed for BBC Radio Orkney: Tulliementan by Fion, in May 2012).

In the time available I could not visit my installation’s westernmost (Hoy) or easternmost (North Ronaldsay) locations, but it was brilliant to have a beautiful day and great companions for a nostalgic trip. And we did manage a somewhat potholey experience to visit Shunan Loch to see a Blue-winged Teal!

Fabulous day, beautiful weather. Magic place.

 Rosey Priestman & Brendan Colvert: Sanday 01/03

Helga Tulloch: North Ronaldsay 04/03

Isabella and I went out between planes to feed the sheep at Cruesbreck and hens at Verracott, pick up a dehumidifier and managed to fit in a walk round the West Beach and pancakes at Purtabreck.

Site record for the hen house at Verracott is 59 22 30 north/02 25 39 west.

Jane: Kirkwall 04/03

Earl’s Palace in Kirkwall – I just love this place. I often wonder what it looked like before the roof was taken off. I know that it doesn’t have the best history, but it is still a magnificent building. I always wanted to live near a castle when I was younger (which clearly wasn’t going to happen to someone who lived in Australia) but now at least I can say I do live near a couple of palaces at least! I also love the rooks that are usually sitting in the trees in the palace grounds – it’s like they are holding meetings there when they talk to each other, so I have included a photo of them too.


St Olaf’s Kirk archway – I like the archway because of its connection to the naming of Kirkwall. If it wasn’t there, then the town wouldn’t ever have been named Kirkjuvagr (Church Bay) which over the years has changed to Kirkwall. Also the name St Olaf shows the connection of Orkney with the Norse, so for me this is also interesting because I study the Vikings.

Kirkwall Harbour – I feel the harbour is very important to Orkney as a whole as islands rely on the sea so much. It’s always so busy where the ferries come in too, connecting Kirkwall to the rest of Orkney (so I have included Earls Thorfinn and Sigurd ferries in the photos).

Map Orkney Month map so far:

More contributions from Week 1 to follow…