Monthly Archives: August 2012

Westray Island for three nights

There is much to love about the Orkney Islands, aside from the changing colors of the ocean and the sky, the green grass, sheep, cows and friendly people. The Islands believe in fair trade purchasing, windmill energy, and have good recycling habits.

I got to the place where I’ll stay for two nights from the generosity of visiting campers  on the grounds of the hostel where I stayed last night.

David Scott, his son Hamish and their friend William McCormack were outside in the morning when I was outside waiting to head up to the B&B I had reserved for two nights.

I was waiting for the lady who runs the hostel, and who said she would find out from the B&B if they could pick me up. I waited until 11 a.m., and was too hungry to wait any longer. So I put the three men in charge of my bags and trundled up to the hotel where I ate dinner last night. The restaurant wasn’t opened, so back I walked, hungry.

David loaned me his phone and I called the first lady who obviously hadn’t even tried to find anything out for me, so I left the key on the table. David agreed to take me to the Old Manse B&B.  He stopped someone on the way who knew exactly where it was. Sheila, a retired mail delivery woman graciously accepted me, and showed my my beautiful room that overlooks the harbor.

Then I walked on the road to a restaurant called the Half Yok Cafe’. The spelling is correct. The explanation is given for that spelling, is that it is a Westray term for a workman’s ‘piece’ of his time to eat and drink when he stops for a break. I opted for a panini with cheese and a chutney, passing up a ‘tattie’ which is a potato.

The people who own the cozy restaurant also take folks on mini-island tours, so I signed up for a one-half day tour tomorrow which includes lunch.

A word of advice for senior travelers: it isn’t necessary to see everything, but to pick a few places that you would enjoy. Just walking around a new place affords a lot of  ways to fill your senses: the smell of the ocean, food smells from kitchens, the sites of animals in yards or in fields, birds who flock together in the sky – deciding who should lead and who will follow – and inside stores. It’s fun to see merchandise you’re not familiar with, the ingredients that go into the item and how it is packaged and where it was produced.

After I did all of the above, including a walk around a grassy cemetery with old and new tombstones and a remnant of a very old stone church, I met the three campers, on the road looking for the Half Yok Cafe, so I gave them the directions.

The Old Manse B&B my home for two nights

Made the shortest booked flight in the world

The flight from Papa Westlay Island to  Westlay Island in the Orkneys north of Scotland, took one minute and twenty-seconds from the time we lifted off from one Island, to when the tires hit the tarmac on the other. This flight is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the shortest booked flight in the world.

I was lucky to get to sit in the co-pilot’s seat, as arranged by John, the aerobatic pilot instructor who lives on Papa Westlay.  Other tourists from Ireland sat in the seats in back.

This was the second try to get this flight.  If you have read a past blog, you’ll remember  when I tried to get the flight the first time, we were fogged in and, instead, flew to six other islands dropping people off, and picking up others, until we finally landed on Papa Westray.


John, the aerobatic instructor in front of the barn where I met him.

The five days in Papal, as the locals call it, will go down as one of my best life-time memories. With only seventy-five residents on the small island, twenty miles north of the city Kirkwall, it is just four miles long and one mile wide, and full of history. Consider the Knap of Howar,  a neolithic farmstead and the oldest preserved house in northern Europe, dating around 3,500 BC. But all over the island you can see crumbled structures from days gone by, and many of those rehabilitated for modern use.

Today, knowing I would be leaving, I took one last walk. White fluffy clouds floated in the blue, and birds flying near and around me, some even taking a seat on top of a black Angus cow. The cows and Shetland horses seemed to recognize my voice as they would walk close to the fence and stare at me.

I walked to a house of a man who many people thought I should meet, for he is a writer and a retired editor from the biggest newspaper in Scotland. He generously invited me in to his house. His wife made coffee and provided ‘sweeties’, as sweets are called in Scotland. We exchanged war stories regarding journalism, and he showed me several books he has published in far ranging interests, with many of those about life in the Orkneys.

Later, I weakened my resolve not to purchase souvenirs, but decided on a pair of home knitted wool socks from the craft store inside the post office. They will have a practical use during the winter.

John picked me up from the hostel, with two other ladies in the van. The one lady, in her 80s grew up on the Island and said, like others have said, much has changed in ten to fifteen years. John had invited them for an afternoon drive around the island.

“We didn’t have water in our homes only fifteen years ago,” the lady in her 80s  said. About the time she said that, the postmaster walked up to the airport with a wheel barrel full of mail to put on board the airplane.

“Ten years from now that will seem like history,” I told her and she agreed.

Before heading to the airport, we drove to the new Pier, where on four  daily trips, a ferry picks and drops people off. Soon the young man I had mentioned in an earlier post as the drummer during the ‘pub night’ , got off the ferry and a school van picked him up to take him home. He attends school in Westray everyday and goes by ferry to get there.

When he is high school age, he’ll go by plane to Kirkwell, and if the weather doesn’t permit a return home for the weekend, by either ferry or plane, he will stay all night in the dorm where he stays during the weekday.

These are rugged folks, generous and lovely to speak with. I’ve learned to use the word lovely, as it is used often here in Scotland.

Now I’m in a lovely hotel using wifi, as the hostel where I’ll stay the night isn’t equipped with it. The guy who drove the taxi had a great big smile on his face as he had two loads of people at the airport to take to hotels and B&B’s. He arrived at the airport just to pick me up, but ended driving more than he though he would. He is the son of the lovely woman, a former teacher, who owns the Barn Hostel.  He is a musician, with several gospel CV’s.

I’m the only person in the hostel right now, and will have the living room all to myself. I walked around a cove to get to the hotel where I first had dinner, and then back again when I picked up my computer.

Dinner was delicious. Haddock cooked to perfection, baked potato and vegetables. Then I had a dessert using rhubarb. Rhubarb is big in this end of the world.





Precious gifts

It is my birthday today and I received the most precious gifts.

The Papa Westray Island folks have a community get together every Wednesday in the community room which is located inside the church, where the doctor’s office is, as well.


A birthday present

I got there at the appointed hour and soon after, the folks came in and took a seat at one of the tables covered with delicious cakes, cookies, scones and cheese. The cups were kept filled with tea and coffee. Conversation was soft and pleasant.

After the chairs were all taken, Jennifer, who expertly runs the hostel where I’m staying said, “I’d like your attention please, a visitor on our island has a birthday today, so join in with me to wish Laureen a happy birthday.” She brought a cake to me with five  lit candles and everyone sang. John presented me with a card that I circulated in the room. I wanted to remember this day and the lovely people who live here.

Afterwards I went for a walk on the beach. The Frenchman, Andre had told me he found a quiet place on the beach where he swims nearly everyday, so I wanted to find that spot and began following shoe steps, then the shoe steps were replaced with barefoot steps.

On my way, I picked up sea shells and when there were so many of the same kind, I realized how human nature makes us selective as something becomes plentiful. I got more particular in my search, and at the same time, I looked out at the ocean and nearby there were about nine seals watching me.

Andre had told me earlier in the day, that when he swims there’s one that gets real close to him. “I talk to him.”

“What do you say?”

“I asked what he would have for lunch today, and he replied, ‘fish’”

The seals began watching me as Andre was sitting on the shoreline. Yes, I found his beach, and he was right. It was white sand and quiet, except for the conversation between the seals, and the conversation among the birds, and the sound of the rolling surf.

The seals just stared at me while I tried to get my camera adjusted to record the scene. They would swim close, then, get back together again, and then they would just stay in one spot and watch me. I was in a zoo.

Andre left. and, for awhile, they followed him until he was off the beach, then they came back to watch me. I was in the water up to my knees.

I became distracted with my own thoughts, as I began to think about my life of 75 years and my childhood, and my brother, Jack. Even though he spent most of his life in the mountains, I knew he would have loved the Orkney Islands, and Papa Westray, in particular.

I looked down and found the second gift. A heart-shaped rock in the sand.


Tuesday walk


It would take another few visits for me to see everything on this small, but history covered Island. But I got an early start on something I couldn’t leave without seeing this morning.

I walked up the road, passed the black Angus cows, who watched me as I walked  to the Holland farm and down a path to the Knap of Howar.

A big fat rabbit watched me without moving. He was brave.

The Knap of Howar is a monument of the earliest North European dwellings known, dating back to around 3800 years B.C. The two stone dwellings are considered to represent a Neolitic farmstead. The furniture and fitting include hearths, pits, built-in cupboards and stone benches. You can almost hear one of the Flintstones tell their neighbor, “Come on in and get yourself a chair.” He would then point to a stone slab to sit on with a stone back.

But before the greeting, Flintstone’s neighbor would enter the house by a low narrow passage way. I’m average height and I almost had to crawl in there. My brother Jack, with his height would have needed to slither in on his belly.

The Holland farm

The house and Holland farm (I haven’t learned the origin of the name Holland, but will, I’m sure), dominates the landscape of Papal and is situated on a hill overlooking the ocean inlet. It was the farm of the Traill family who ruled the island for three centuries.

The hostel where I’m staying at one time housed the farm laborers and their families, who were more like servants, I have been told.

Holland farm is currently owned by John and Annie Jean Rendall and their son Neil. The farm is currently operated by Neil and his wife, Jocelyn.

A joiner and a blacksmith were employed full time on the farm in the past, with the last smith until 1938.

The Old Bothy was the accommodation for single men servants until 1922. It is the museum that I was interested in seeing. It is generous of this community to keep it open and free to anyone. Museum artifacts and memorabilia have been donated through the generosity of the locals.

There was a bedroom, and a fireplace, chairs, and cheese-making equipment, clothing and tools of many trades. I saw old phonograph player and old records, dishes and other items used throughout the years.

The barn

The barn structure, of stone, on the property dates from the early 19th century. It is now used for dances and concerts. When I got inside, I imagined the barn square dances my parents attended.

The threshing milll

The cone shaped stone structure was powered by horses yoked to the machinery in the mill tramp. In 1899 this was replaced by a seventeen horse powered Campbell paraffin engine, which ran the mill until a 35 horse power Lister diesel engine was installed in 1954.

Before the threshing mill was built in 1820, the sheaves were threshed by flail in the old barn, then winnowed with riddles between the doors so that the draught blew away the chaff. The grain was dried, over a slow fire, in the kiln before being ground into meal or made into malt for brewing.

The 17th dovecote, that I thought looked like a huge basket, kept the laird supplied with pigeons and their eggs, both of which were used for food.

From the hill top near the farm, I could clearly see fishing boats and the opposite side of the Island, and then the plane came in and landed near the shoreline. Cows, sheep and many birds complete the present day reality of life on an island.


Guess the wifi gremlins are at it again. I cannot seem to get the photos posted, so wait until I get a more secure wifi. I had such good ones, too.

Photos for story below

Post Office on Papa Westlay

Weird walking

It was a lovely walk this morning and then back again in the afternoon. But before I started out,  went to the Store, as the locals call it. I needed a small notebook, as I have filled up about five of them on this journey. Rachel, a lady I met yesterday on the road was the salesclerk. She told me that I might find the tide high and may be unable to walk on the beach. I don’t care. I’ve long adjusted to the adage, “it is what it is”, so my activities are not influenced that much by the weather. Unless of course, it’s not getting off the Island.

After seeing Rachel, I made my way to the post office/craft store. The first room had some yarn from the Orkney Islands and lots of little key chains and other bling, and post cards and home made cards with photos of local views.

The post office is run by a fellow from Germany who many years ago fell in love with Papa Westlay when he and his wife were tourists. When they discovered a house for sale online a while later, they came back and purchased it and in a few years they were the post office officials for the Island.

I found another man, who I took a photo of yesterday as he hung up his clothing to dry on a clothesline, again this afternoon, but in person today.

When I walked by a large stone building on the way to the beach, I heard faint music inside and the door was open.


“Oh, hello.” The tall, curly haired man said as he came to the door from the back of the building. He was wearing knee high boots, with corduroy pants tucked inside them, and a jacket.

“I’m a nosey person and saw the door open and just wondered what was happening in here?”

“Yes, you are nosey, and I can tell you’re one of those weird Americans.”

“Yes, I am very weird, and I’ll be sure not to disappoint you. I’m also a former news reporter and very weird for that alone.”

It went like this back and forth for awhile, for I didn’t want to let him get the best of me.

He told me the community hasn’t yet decided what to do with the building, but it has a beautiful view of the ocean and the Holm of Papay, an ancient chambered cairn. That Island is reached only by ferry and is uninhabited.

John Harper is the gentleman’s name and he hails from England. He eventually invited the weird American to his house for ‘tea’.

He was the same guy who I photographed yesterday, and he knew who I was.

“You were taking a photo of me and you wore turquoise yesterday.”

“Wow, just about everyone knows who is on this Island.”

“Yes, with only a few folks, you cannot hide here.”

We walked up the road together to his two story stone home, and in the front yard, I immediately saw an old wooden chair I thought would make a great photo. He laughed.

But inside his home there were small picture cards of famous paintings, and I was able to name two of them, Van Gogh and Manet, so that gave this weird American two points.

He asked if I preferred tea or coffee and I said coffee. “That’s right Americans like coffee and the drink it weak.”

“No, not me. I like my coffee strong, please.”

Turns out he is a flight instructor, commercial pilot and a aerobatics instructor.

We eventually found a meeting place and exchanged pleasantries. He has lived for eleven years on Papa Westlay, and like everyone else, finds it close to paradise.

I asked him about the name Papa, and his remark was that no one really quite agrees, but it is generally thought that it came from a priest who would come to the Island many centuries ago as a missionary. And that makes sense to me.

After coffee and conversation inside the comfortable home, I continued back down the road.

How could one person be so blessed, I thought:  I’m sitting on a bench, writing into my new notebook, watching turquoise water break waves on the white sandy beach. Out toward the horizon, I see Holm of Papay, and to my right, under the white and azure clouds, I see the stone buildings I just passed. The seals are barking to each other, and birds fly all around me. I interrupted the daily plans of two rabbits, and both scurried into the tall grass.

On my walk, I spoke to the Shetland horses who now greet me at the fence. I have met cows, horses, rabbits and chickens, so far.

In the calm of the ocean sound and the birds calling to each other, I think of you.

The church in Papa Westlay

In the calm of the ocean sound and the birds calling to each other, I think of you.


I couldn’t be much closer to paradise than I am right now on the Island of Papa Westlay.

It feels as though I’ve been here all my life; the people are warm and inviting and the surroundings are serene.

I was introduced to how the Islanders here purchase their groceries. In a store, called the community store that is connected to the hostel where I’m staying, has shelves and freezers full of almost every thing anyone could want. I stocked up a bit.

And then, last night, the Island, with a population of 75, held their weekly “Pub Night” in the community room of the hostel.

Margaret, a woman around my age, wearing a head scarf and coat, played the acordian, her grandsons accompanied her, one on the drums, and one on the guitar. Then there were two other guitar players and a man on the mandarin. They ‘oom pa pa ed’ until the wee hours of the night. But before they gave up the night, one other gentleman joined the group with a jews harp that twanged away.

This Sunday morning I got up at 6 a.m. to write the blog. I sat like a pretzel near the telephone, where one of the teenaged girls from last night told me the wifi was the strongest.

I had a hard time posting photos, but got the text down okay.

So after I woke up again around 10 a.m., I said goodbye to the nice Scot I met on the plane coming over, who was also hoping to make the shortest booked flight, and didn’t. He left later today, and since the sky is blue, it’s no doubt he accomplished his goal.

I took a slow walk, actually more like a stroll, to the water’s edge, past the church, primary school, and the combination craft store and post office. I’ll go see that tomorrow.

I also walked near the Angus cows and Shetland horses I took a photo of yesterday, and found some happy looking chickens that didn’t seem to mind posing for the stranger.

While I sat on a stone, in the peace and quiet, I thought about growing up and how my family took nature trips into the Colorado mountains. How Jack would have loved to see this place.

A man from Paris, Andre Boudic walked up the road as I sat quietly and we talked for awhile. He had just come back from finding a secluded beach and went swimming. I’d think it would be cold, but he didn’t mind. “If it’s what you want to do, you’ll find a way,” he said, about swimming and everything else.

He works in theater as a technician, with backgrounds, sets, and anything related to the theater, and has opportunities to travel near and far for his job. But, now he is enjoying his second time in Papa Westlay.

“I found it a peaceful place when I was here last time, and knew I wanted to return. It’s a great place to get away from city life,” he said.

Two German ladies, both loving archeology, were thrilled with the activities they’ve found on the Orkney Islands, and Papa Westlay, in particular. They took a boat out to the Holm of Papay, an uninhabited Island that has a 5,000 year old tomb.

I plan to hire a boat to take me there, as well.

When I first went on my walk, and observed the church, I was welcomed in and told to go in and take a photo if I wanted, and also to come back to the church at 2 o’clock service. That I did.

I met Margaret again and she gave me a brief idea on what life was like growing up on the Island. “We didn’t have television until the 60s,” she said. And it wasn’t until 1980 that electricity came to the Island. Up until then, they used generators for power, and they used coal to heat their houses. “A lot has changed,” she reminisced.

But, change comes slow as children attend primary school, then the next step is on the Island of Westlay where they take a boat. High school transportation is the airplane.

At the church service, I felt part of the community, as they waited for the Pastor to arrive from Westlay on a boat. By the way, the church has a space designated for a doctor and surgery.

End of life




From Papa Westray

"Who’s that? She’s a stranger here in Papa Westlay“

Storming the Islands

Seen from the air

Today was an adventure unparalleled so far. The event I looked forward to didn’t happen due to the unpredictable Orkney Island weather. But the day was an unexpected adventure anyway.

I got a taxi early in the morning from Stromness, to board a plane at the Kirkwell Airport, about one hour away by car. The plane from there goes to the Island of Westray and then on to Papa Westray.

The flight from Westray to Papa Westray is the flight I looked forward to as it is in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the shortest booked flight. From Westray it takes under two minutes to land in Papa Westray.

Ready to fly to Papa Westrayfrom the airon the Island of Papa Westlay"Watch her and see what she does"A typical view in Stromness IslandStromnessStromness

Two minutes! And it was fogged in! I would have received a certificate for taking the shortest booked flight in the world. Didn’t happen.

We waited for over an hour for the fog to rise, and as I sat watching the blue of the ocean water and the green in front of the airport, peaking through the fog, it began to look promising. There was one other passenger with the same goal, as mine.

The plane holds eight passengers and we took off with seven toward Westray, where the pilot said it was clearing up, but “we’ll see what it looks like when we get there,” he told us.

At Westray we dropped off two passengers and picked up two other passengers, but we sat in the airplane waiting for the pilot inside the building making calls for the decision, of should we go to Papa Westlay, or should we not go?

A few minutes later the pilot said, “looks like Papa Westray is still fogged in so we’ll go to Sanday,”  another Orkney Island.

Then after picking up and dropping passengers, the decision was to head to the Stromsay Island, where two people got off  and two on, then we headed back to where we started…Kirkwell, where we dropped off all passengers except two.

It was around noon by then, and we had been flying all over the Islands, so I was a bit hungry and ordered a bowl of carrot and parsnip soup. “It will take about five minutes,” the lady at the snack bar said.

“Oh, that’s okay, looks like I’m in no hurry.”

Then the other passenger with Papa Weslay and the shortest book flight adventure, on his mind, came to me and said, “We’re going to leave right away.”

“Oh no, I just ordered soup.”

When it was brought to me it was blazing hot and I had to slurp it fast, and I did my best, because we were boarding again. Gosh, I don’t even know what carrot and parsnip soup tastes like, I downed it so fast.

We headed up to the North Ronaldsay Island and dropped everyone off, but picked up two people.

“Well looks like we’ll make it to Papa Westray after all,” the pilot announced with relief.

Well, sure we landed at Papa Westray Island where I’ll be for about six days, but the shortest flight? Maybe I’ll try that going back. Or maybe I’ll book a ferry, or maybe I’ll be happy for the adventure I had.

The pilot was a former bush pilot and I had guessed that right. He powered up the engine as he turned from the taxi way to the runway.

This morning I left three days of bliss at the 45 John Street B&B in Stromness. Kay and Neill Sinclair are excellent hosts. Kay presents breakfast as  work of art, with home made bread, jams and jellies all from her garden.

“I don’t waste anything, I use it all.” She said, pointing out the little pots of home made    goodness, including various examples on how to put rhubarb to use.

The B&B was spotless clean and the bedrooms and community rooms looked as though they had just been refurbished. Not so, the Sinclairs just keep up with what needs to be done.

Sinclair is a name my brother Jack and I knew from old Doc Sinclair who lived across the street from us in the Barnum neighborhood of Denver. He’d get mad at the neighbor kids when a ball would land in his yard. Other than that, his strangeness was tolerated. His wife, Jean was an accomplished painter. I still have one of her paintings, and Jack remarked about it when he saw it hanging on my wall.

While in Stromness, I took a bus around historical sites in the countryside.

I saw the Neolithic village Skara Brae in Sandwick, one of Orkneys most remarkable monuments in Europe.

So Flintstones, eat your heart out.  The rock homes and village are just the way it was left 5,000 years ago, the village made of stone, with stone furniture sits near a farm and an  ocean inlet.

It sits quietly surrounded by cows, mostly Angus grazing, sea gulls squawking, little motor boat motors taking fishermen out to sea, and I can’t help but wonder what the people all those centuries ago ever thought what the future would look like.

They were intelligent human beings and that is evident in what they accomplished with primitive means.

After I saw Skara Brae, we drove past the excavation, whereby a photographer from National Geographic was on the site taking photos that will be in the magazine next year. The lovely lady, Kay, who runs the 45 John Street B&B told me and the other folks visiting at breakfast, how her father is one of the volunteer excavators. She said the experts think there is a large structure on the Ness of Brodgar site, as the walls are thick, and they have found artifacts and continue to carefully expose whatever lies beneath the surface.

Next on the trip, we saw the incredible Ring of Brodgar, stones, that are posted deep inside the ground. Some are tall and some are short, but they line up in a perfect circle. It’s not known what motivated the folks all those centuries ago to build such a site, and the muscle and brain it must have taken to accomplish putting the stones deep into the ground in such a formation, leaves you breathless with wonder.  This site is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

This venture is just one of the many Orkney Island sites you can see and still not see it all.

On the way to Stromness to get to the B&B a few days ago, the ferry traveled near the Old Man of Hoy, a natural stone that rises from the land right next to the sea; that was the beginning of the wonders of the Orkney Islands.

The Stromness Island, as is all the islands, are steeped in history, and the stone houses in Stomness where people live today, are said to be reminiscent of old Norwegian villages, as the building face the harbor with crooked slate and cobble stone streets. Pedestrians must move to the side of the buildings so cars can drive through.

Big yachts and cruise ships come into the harbor in Stromness, and fishing vessels, as well.