It is customary for me, while travelling, to offer Shiatsu in return for a bed. When I was planning my first trip to Spain, I announced the idea to my Facebook ‘friends’ and was put in touch with Gill, a Shiatsu networker there. She was invaluable, and introduced me to prospective hosts. One contact led to another and I had a ball – travelling all over the country and meeting and exchanging with local practitioners. It will come as no surprise that I have since done the same thing in different countries.
I had visited Orkney only once to work with Meg Webster, a fellow practitioner and teacher. That time I also grabbed the opportunity to visit the famous standing stones of Stenness, an important archeological and spiritual site. It was a gloriously sunny and snowy day, and the quiet and peacefulness of the area with the view of the loch made a strong impression on me. Over the winter, when I was planning this trip, I discovered that the St Magnus Way doesn’t go through there, and thus I was pleased I had had that experience beforehand.
Planning my trip
I began my search for accommodation by emailing Meg, and she was most generous in telling her meditation students about me and my offer. As a result the news spread somewhat and some people knew in advance that I was coming, which eased my passage later on. Kiersty T-G was one of the group and she kindly extended me an invitation for bed and board in return for a session.
I also did some research on the internet and found a blog which mentioned the St Magnus Way. I contacted the writer to introduce myself and make my offer: Ragnhild was most generous in considering this alliance before she even knew me. Below are some photos of her special Viking Hiking tours, and you will be able to read more on ‘The Last Day’.
I looked for artists and other creative bods who might be open to such a suggestion and received a great response from Jeanne at Artworks of the Earth in Stromness (say ‘stroom’ and then ‘ness’ softly, as if your voice is fading away into the distance). She was keen and also had a friend who she wanted to introduce me to. For various reasons, neither possibilities came to fruition, but it was lovely to discover her work and know that people were so open, something I was to find all over the island. It was Jeanne who reminded me that my visit would coincide with the famous Orkney Folk Festival. Lots of visitors come to the islands at this time and I had a happy meeting with two of them on the ferry to Egilsay. I also attended a brilliant concert, quite by chance, when in Finstown.
The camping question:
Before I started walking, I therefore knew I had some hospitality to look forward to, but I also wanted to follow the way stage by stage and so was faced with some places where there were no affordable options. Accommodation in Spain, at least on the Caminos, is very cheap (5 – 12 euros a night for a bunk in a dormitory), but in France and Austria, for example, even the hostels are expensive, never mind the hotels or bed and breakfasts (traditional or air). I had been thinking for some time that I might try carrying a tent but was not at all sure I could manage the load. Plus, wild camping is not allowed in some countries, and I am mindful of my safety because I travel alone.
The Scottish ‘Right to Roam’
I am glad to say that one of the many delights of Scotland is that everyone is allowed to camp and walk almost anywhere (excepting private ground or fields where crops are growing. Please note that it is polite to ask the land owner before pitching, if possible.) Taking all that into account, and this being a short trip, I therefore chose to take a tent in my rucksack for the first time. See below for a link to more information on this.
In short, this was my accommodation:
Night 1, Stromness: Point of Ness Campsite, Stromness. Run by Orkney Council, this has an easy on-line booking system.
Night 2, Evie: with Kiersty
Night 3, Evie: with Meg
Night 4, Birsay: Outdoor Caravan and Camping Site. Also run by Orkney Council, this has the same on-line booking system as night one, meaning I did not have to re-register
Night 5, Dounby: I camped beside the Milestone Community church
Night 6, Finstown: I camped by the beach, at the back of the public toilets
Night 7, Orphir: I camped in the Milennium Garden beside the Orphir Kirk
Night 8, Kirkwall: with Ragnhild, Christopher and family
Night 9, Stromness: On board the Hamnavoe ferry in the Stromness docks
The Point of Ness campsite at Stromness has excellent facilities: I received a friendly welcome; there were warm showers and a clean bathroom; I could boil water for tea (there were no implements so I was glad I had my cup and tea bags in my backpack); the deliciously warm sitting area has ample leaflets (I discovered later that some important ones were out of date) and a local information board.
I got chatting to a cheerful camping couple from Blairgowrie. When they heard that I was a Shiatsu practitioner, the man told me he had a ‘bad neck’ and asked me what I suggested, so I showed him the BL makko-ho and semi-supine exercises. They recommended I take one of the blankets from the sitting room for the night and perhaps consider sleeping on the sofa if it was too chilly. They were right, I did need the blanket, but I was too determined to spend my first night under canvas so I didn’t de-camp inside. There was a woman parked beside me with her equally tiny tent and sports car (an intriguing combination).
Staying with Kiersty and Meg in Evie was wonderful. They gave me delicious food, a cosy bed, and famous conversation. I am ever so grateful for their kindness.
After my first day’s hike, I stayed at the Birsay Outdoor (Caravan and) Camping Centre which was also very good and had the same degree of service as above. Thankfully, the ground was not waterlogged as it was in Stromness. There is a hostel there too with a large dining room, book exchange, and sockets for phone charging.
In Orphir I pitched in the Milennium Garden in the early evening, thinking my site was private. Later, however, I overheard the owner of the Noust Bar and Restaurant advising an enquiring French camper van owner to park in a space right beside me. I was tucked away behind the bushes so I don’t think he knew I was there until the morning, but I could hear him snoring. It was just like the Spanish albergues!
I thoroughly enjoyed staying the night on that ferry at the end of my trip while it sat in Stromness harbour waiting to leave at 6.30am the next day. (The downside of the ferries is that they leave their engines running all night and this causes extensive pollution. On my first night there I could hear their engines droning as I slept in my tent half an hours’ walk away). I booked a shared cabin but had it all to myself.
Here is a link to the excellent St Magnus Way website.
Scottish Access Code – telling you where you can walk and camp in Scotland
Other campsites: The other campsite on the West Mainland of Orkney is a private one in Evie which I was told was more expensive than the others.
Here are a couple of extra places I came across:
Ashleigh Bed and Breakfast I didn’t try it but you wouldn’t have to go far back into the town to start on the path the next day to Finstown.
The Merchister Hotel I didn’t go here either, but it looks nice. It is also not so far from Dounby (on the way to Finstown).
Links to the other blogs in this series:
The Last Day
Resources – shops, cafes, pubs etc
Finding your way