Different people have different priorities when planning a few days or a week or two away from home to unwind and return refreshed with batteries re-charged to re-commence the 9 to 5.
Invariably if you tell anyone you are heading off to Orkney for a short break, for instance, the stock response might almost sympathetically be: “I hope you get the weather.”
It’s a reaction that reveals a lack of understanding about the nature of the place, or why folks head there again and again for all kinds of reasons other than “the weather.”
In reality, few will head to Orkney looking to top up the sun tan. If it turns fine, and some summers are sublime, it is a bonus. Can you imagine a beach barbecue at 3am with the sun still hovering just out of sight on the horizon?
But extreme winds – and occasionally snow in winter time – can make the place even more appealing and dramatic – and reward with bursts of exhilaration more thrilling than any rollercoaster ride.
Looking for an adrenalin rush? Then stand on the cliff top (not too close to the crumbling edge) at Yesnaby with a force eight or nine gale blowing great lumps of Atlantic crashing against the rocks below and you’ll see what I mean. After a bracing experience this good, breathtaking takes on a new meaning.
So, I suppose “the weather” – at the extreme end, might actually be precisely what some adventure seekers are hoping for, and in winter time, especially, they sure won’t be disappointed.
On the most easterly point of the Orkney mainland at Deerness, another spectacle is equally breathtaking, and again, best seen when conditions are at their wildest.
High above the waves which batter the cliffs of Mull Head relentlessly throughout the short winter days, you can stand and marvel at a famous landmark called The Gloup.
Formed by the roof collapse of a sea cave, all that remains is short archway through which the high tide roars, echoing off the sheer 60-foot sides of the steep chasm as it rushes in and out again.
These cliffs too are home to razorbills, kittiwakes, puffins and guillemots all of which breed on the wind-hewn ledges.
Orkney is one of the few remaining destinations in Scotland where visitors can still be sure of a good old-fashioned taste of traditional ways. Spend a long weekend – or better still, a week – on any one of the welcoming islands, and it’s a cert you’ll fall in love with the place.
They’ve been hunting and fishing, living off the land and celebrating a strong sense of community here for thousands of years.
There can be few places in Britain with so many internationally-important sites of historical interest, found so tightly grouped in the same location. It’s a crazy statistic, but there’s an average of three archaeological sites per square mile! Organised digs continue to throw up clues about what life was like there five thousand-plus years ago.
Many of the very oldest traditions are still practised today, passed from generation to generation.
Take the annual midwinter clash between the Uppies and Doonies in Kirkwall, called The Ba’ Game for instance. It’s thought to date back to Viking times.
One year when we were visiting, and out for a stroll with friends along the shoreline at Shapinsay, a young lad who had just recently started school, told me how the fishermen had let him have his very own lobster pot which was put out with theirs.
He was allowed to keep any of the partens (crabs big enough for the pot) that were caught.
This was to help teach him the ways, get him used to the prospect of bringing fresh seafood home for the table, and instil in him a feeling of being one of them and belonging to that long-standing community tradition.
All over these islands you will meet families who have been working the same land for countless generations, baking from recipes handed down across the centuries, tending livestock or fishing. Many of them may even be proud to be using the same equipment that their forefathers toiled with.
Mystery may still shroud the exactly-what-for of impressive monuments such as the Maes Howe burial chamber or the Ring of Brodgar standing stones, but Skara Brae is so well preserved and set out for all to see and comprehend that the well-presented visitor centre can easily put it all into full perspective.
Yes, Orkney packs in so many attractions that it’s well and truly an all-year-round attraction.
A bit of homework in advance will pay handsome rewards, or you may choose to engage one of the very talented Orkney guides (see details at end) for very worthwhile dividends.
We always love to source the classic home-made oatcakes, some of which have been produced from ancient family recipes passed from generation to generation, and are the finest that money can buy. Team them up with crumbly Grimbister, known locally as “squeeky cheese”, or save some of that to enjoy with bere meal or ‘floory’ bannocks made respectively from treacle-dark barley and a kind of girdle scone mix, and you’ll savour a true Orkney delicacy.
The Ferry Loupers as the locals refer to us folks from “the sooth” have been heading this way, and invariably returning over and over for many, many years.
Morag Robertson who welcomes B&B guests to the exceptional Mill of Eyrland, near the Loch of Stenness, has a long list of people who have become more like friends after repeated visits. The fabulous property was lovingly created from a fully-restored grain mill dating back to 1862 and is something really special.
Wild Brown Trout
In the winter months there’s nothing like a brisk walk along the shore to build up a sharp appetite. If guests land lucky and anglers have been enjoying tight lines, you may be offered wild