Saturday, 20 August 2016

Andro in Orkney

I have a very special TGirlfriend called Roz White who has rejoiced at my triumphs and comiserated with my tragedies over the years. Ever since I met her online in around 2008 I have been trying to meet up with Roz in real life. But the problem has been distance as she lives at the opposite end of Britain from me. So after many discussions and failed attempts, and years of being just e-friends, I decided to visit her at home in the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland. It’s the furthest north I have ever been.

Roz’s family now know she is trans and have been very accepting in the time since she came out to them. And they are a lovely, welcoming family, too, and I was made to feel very much at home. For me, it was wonderful to meet my friend at last, take a break from all the house and work troubles I have been having, and see something totally new over a long weekend. I also met several cats, chickens and horses, not to mention eagles, eider ducks and seabirds by the hundred.

Flying there was no problem and Roz’s male alter-ego met me at Kirkwall Airport. I recognised her straight away, despite her disguise (and mine, although I dress fairly andro these days).

Orkney is famous for stone-age archaeology, wind and battleships, probably the best place in the world for all three!

So here is my diary, mainly in pictures.

Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site Wikipedia entry

The Standing Stones of Stenness, about 5000 years old

Neolithic village near the Stones of Stenness (the stones are in the background)
Ness of Brodgar, an incredible site with big solid houses from 3000 years ago - only about a tenth has been unearthed so far

Not Hobbiton, but Skara Brae, an incredibly well preserved village occupied 4,500-5000 years ago

Skara Brae
At home with the Flintstones: stone 'dresser', central hearth, bed alcoves

Large home at Skara Brae

The curious Dwarfie Stane on the island of Hoy, a tomb hollowed from a solid rock which itself was left in place in a valley after the retreat of the Ice Age. Nearby are sea eagles' nests, and peat is cut for fuel.
Just part of the large Ring of Brodgar standing stones erected about 4000-4,500 years ago
Maes Howe, another major site, was too booked up with coach parties from the vast cruise ships that call in at Kirkwall. Pity, but we'll save it for next time.

Scapa Flow (Orkney at war)

This huge natural harbour must have been an extraordinary sight in the two World Wars when it was the navy's main anchorage for warships of all sorts. All military presence is gone now apart from a few collapsing jetties, huts and crumbling gun emplacements and the expanse of Scapa Flow is empty apart from the ferries, the odd drilling rig in for repairs and ships serving the oil terminal. A green buoy marks the resting place of HMS Royal Oak, sunk by a bold German submarine in 1939.

In 1919 the German High Seas Fleet was interned here and was famously scuttled to prevent the Allies getting hold of it. Today the remaining German wrecks are the world's primary source of low-background steel (i.e. steel produced before the detonation of atomic bombs from 1945, which is used for medical and scientific sensors which could do without nuclear contamination).

Salvaged German guns (WW1). The memorial to the WW2 Arctic Convoys is on the hill behind.

Extraordinary chapel built out of nissen huts and scrap by Italian prisoners of war in WW2. The interior is beautifully painted Italian_Chapel

The well-preserved Hackness martello tower which protected British ships against pesky American privateers during the War of 1812. It was windy up at the top!

Other stuff

I love the pale purple hue of these thistles. And the landscape seems typical of Mainland.

That cat who felt trapped in a dog's body. I know how poor kitty feels!

An oil rig chugs out to sea under it's own power. It was towed in by ships earlier, presumably for repairs or maintenance.

The sandstone columns of Kirkwall's cathedral have not weathered well!

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, has a lovely colour
The hills of the island of Hoy wearing their cloud hats. Beyond is the open Atlantic.

Looking towards Scapa Flow from an abandoned battery near Stromness.
Remote Rackwick on Hoy with it's beach of smooth round boulders. The famous Old Man of Hoy sea stack is 3 miles round the cliff (but we didn't get to see it as lunch was calling). The ferry from mainland Scotland is in the far distance.
Disused fortifications, oil rigs, lighthouses, a scattering of islands, rolling farmland, changeable sky... I think this photo sums up what I saw of Orkney

Farewell... islands drop away as I fly back to London

Thank you Roz and your lovely family for a perfect, peaceful break. One day we will meet in our posh frocks.

Read Roz on her blog (see list to the right) or make friends with her online. It's worth it.

Sue x


  1. Dear girl, it was wonderful beyond words to finally meet you!! I'm very happy you felt welcome - 'cos you were - and we really must do it again sometime!! Also thankyou for those last few words - too kind! xxx

    1. You and yours are perfect hosts and it was wonderful. Looking forward to next time we meet. Sue xxx

  2. Fabulous post, hon! The UK is such a perfect destination. So many wonderful things to see. I last visited in 1981 and 1982, but haven't been back since.

    Maybe someday...



    1. I do hope you can visit again, Mandy. Lots to see! Sue x

  3. You seem so relaxed in your travelogue, it sounds as if the trip has done you a power of good - Good for Roz!

    Orkney ... hmm, it's not as warm as Crete, but those were very appealing photos and I haven't traveled as much in the UK (as it is, for now!) as much as I should have, so it's going on my to-do list!

    1. I liked Orkney a lot. Probably to dark and cold and windy in winter for my tastes but July was good. Sue x