Puffins, Great Skuas, ancient ruins and shipwrecks. I’m not sure I can fit my 3 days in Orkney into one post and we definitely didn’t get everything done

I am officially exhausted, but our flight back from Edinburgh to Gatwick is delayed, so now seems like a good time to start writing a post about our ten-year wedding anniversary to Orkney.

We packed so much into three days and have so much that we’d like to have done/seen/tried if we’d had time, that I’m not sure where to start and I don’t know if I’ll fit it all into one post without my arm falling off from typing. So, I’ll start with:

Day one -our search for the last remaining puffins

Despite the fact that we arrived in Kirkwall on a propeller plane at 4pm on our anniversary and proceeded to have a fair few celebratory drinks, Friday was the best day to get a ferry to Westray. Unfortunately, it left at 7.20 am before the hotel started serving breakfast, and so we had to do the whole day uncaffeinated!!

Fortunately, the weather and sea were kind, with barely a ripple in the water. Perfect Cetacean spotting conditions, but none of them graced us with a visit.

I scanned the surface with my binoculars for most of the trip, hoping one elusive fin tip to appear. A dolphin or a porpoise would have done. I knew Orcas, which scour the sea around Orkney in search of a seal supper/breakfast/lunch were unlikely….. But not even a harbour porpoise came for a visit. Never mind. You can’t be greedy with nature.

We got Gannets diving by the bucket load; Fulmars flying alongside the boat; little aulks, and Great Skuas mobbing poor Fulmars. And that was all before we landed on Westray at 9.15 am. A pretty good haul of new birds! I’ve seem many a Gannet before and never grow tired, but all the others were new to us and great to see. Even the mean Skuas. They’re very impressive.

We also spotted distant Seals, lounging on the beaches with their bellies in the air like my cat, but the proper camera had a meltdown and we couldn’t zoom in enough with our phone cameras to get a good shot.

When we landed, we walked the couple of miles to Castle Burian, passing the gorgeous Bay of Tafts but opting to get to the rock stacks rather than take a detour in search of closer seals due to time constraints: we picked Friday to visit because there was a 12.20 pm ferry, meaning we weren’t stranded on Westray until late. It was a good choice. After the boiling summer we’ve had down South, Orkney, in its north of John O’Groats position, felt very chilly. I was glad of my layers and the extra fat I’ve gained from all the meals out on trips away from home!

The cliff top path to Castle Burian is safe and not too terrifying for someone with an aversion to heights, like me. It’s manageable.

What I presume was ‘the Castle’, is a hunk of rock, just below the cliff top path, giving a perfect vantage point for watching puffins flying in and out of their burrows with fish and sand eels to feed their young. Look closely and you can see the burrows (especially in the bottom photo).

Visiting now, in mid-August is on the cusp of when the puffins leave their nest sites for a winter at sea, hence our search for the last remaining puffins. Their population has also declined dramatically, due to overfishing of Sandeels (actually a type of fish) for use as bait and susceptibility to pollution.

Did we see any?

Yes.

Eventually.

We waited patiently (ish) for about half an hour, trying to decide if the bunch of black and white birds we could see floating in the sea were puffins….. and we were about to go, when a Scandinavian lady spotted one popping out of a hole in the rock. Not a burrow! They will nest in available holes too.

This one popped in and out, did a little dance for us, then eventually flew off in search of fish. When it went, another one landed by a burrow and then another. We still dont know for sure if the birds in the sea were puffins, but we think so! When they fledge/leave the nest site they spend the winter at sea and these birds looked puffin shaped through the binoculars….but they were just too far away to be sure!

We then made our way back to the ferry for impromptu trip to Papa Westray to pick up cargo. The cargo was a trailer full of cows, a car, and some crates of shellfish…. All of which had to be hoisted aboard using a crane….

Day two – Neolithic villages, standing stones and a Grebe family….to follow because I am now off into the wilds of Cumbria/The Lake District UK to sllep in a tip I, go walking in the rain and swim round a freezing cold lake with a bunch of other loons 😂

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