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( Charity Number SC 027207 )

From 29th may to 2nd June 2015, a number of our members headed to Orkney on our Spring Tour. A short report on the trip is given below.

Spring Tour to Orkney, 29 May to 2 June 2015

There is a special quality to the light in Northern Scotland, probably due to the clarity of the air. It brings out the colours in the landscape, such as the bands of bright yellow gorse extending across green fields and moorland. We saw it so well during this year's Spring Tour which began with a visit to the late Queen Mother's charming Castle of Mey with its walled garden overlooking the Pentland Firth. Crossing by ferry to the Orkneys, we passed the west-facing Old Man of Hoy as the evening sun lit up the red sandstone cliffs among the highest in the UK - while black and white oyster-catchers, flying in formation, skimmed across the surface of the water.

London Members' Centre Members at Nortland Castle, Westray

Our hotel looked out on the colourful harbour in Kirkwall. As well as being an attractive town, it provided a good starting point for visits to all the interesting sites on the Orkney Mainland: Scarpa Flow (Britain's largest natural harbour) with its small islands linked by the Churchill Barriers (designed to secure it from wartime attack) ; and the Italian Chapel built by prisoners-of-war using a range of skills to transform the interior of Nissen huts into a place of worship. Since the NTS-LMC has a strong sense of spirit of place, a visit to the Highland Park whisky distillery - the most northerly in the world - was entirely appropriate. (Orkney is a place of superlatives - the highest, the largest etc!)

To add to its other claims, Orkney has the UK's oldest archaeological sites, dating back some 5,000 years. It was unfortunate that we were to visit these on the one day of almost unceasing rain, but we were undeterred. Dressed for the weather, we bent almost double along a low tunnel to emerge in the Neolithic tomb at Maeshowe; we squelched around the Ring of Brodgar; and we withstood the wind to admire the household "comforts" of life at Skara Brae. It was no drier in Stromness - a once important port supplying the Hudson's Bay Company, with its one street so unchanged that it is used to film 19th century dramas. The Pier Arts Centre with its exceptional collection of 20th century works, and the Museum with displays about the locally-born explorer Dr John Rae, give the town a particular interest. But it was welcome to hear Orcadians, even after an exceptionally wet Spring, acknowledge that the weather that day had been "dire".

For our visit by ferry to Westray - "The Queen of the Orkney Isles" - we were rewarded with a day of glorious sunshine. So unique was the sight of a 53-seater coach, that a herd of cows strolled over to get a better look, and the locals smiled and waved as we passed by. Nortland Castle provided an ideal backdrop for the group photograph before we set off in minibuses for the RSPB's Noup Head, notable for the number and variety of breeding seabirds on its dramatic cliff ledges. From there we went to a Neolithic site under excavation where a 4,000 year old well had been uncovered only two weeks previously. Still intact are the stone steps that lead down to a pool fed to this day by a fresh-water spring. Under a blue sky, with surf breaking on the nearby sandy beach, it seemed to us an idyllic spot. In the Heritage Centre we were able to see some of the artefacts found at the site, such as the figurine known as the "Westray wife".

Watching the birds at Noup Head, Westray

Crossing back to the Scottish mainland, our final visit was to Dunrobin Castle, seat of the Earls of Sutherland. Its ancient origins are largely hidden in a 19th century building in the style of a French chateau with turrets, complemented by formal gardens laid out in parterres.

Our thanks go to Lesley Gill for leading such a special tour, to our knowledgeable local guides, and to Brightwaters for making all the arrangements, including some of the best shortbread we had ever tasted!

For more details on LMC activities, please contact Bill Kemp ( Visit Co-ordinator ) either :-
by telephone - 020 8642 1491 or
by e-mail - billkemp48@hotmail.com.

The National Trust for Scotland - London Members' Centre is a registered Scottish charity number SC027207.

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