Saturday, September 19, 2009

We crawled out of bed at 6am Friday morning to catch the Northlink Ferry from Stromness on Orkney, south across the Pentland Firth, an unreliable strait famous for treacherous tides and sudden storms, to Scrabster, a ride of about an hour and a half. this picture shows our last look at Stromness, by early morning light.

But the sun came out, and except for mild swells which began at 4-6 feet and increased to 10-12 feet, the sea remained billowly calm (I could say bilously calm). Allen couldn't eat breakfast, but I downed good Scottish porridge happily and staggered outside to see the Old Man of Hoy, a 450 foot high column, a sandstone stack completely separate from the cliffs around it, etched with morning fog, whitecaps at its base. This picture from Wikipedia on a sunnier day (mine were way too foggy):
We were somewhat sad to leave Orkney; the first two weeks of our time in Scotland are now behind us. But yesterday we walked all over Stromness and admired the old stone houses and fishing stations still present that speak of the 19th Century life here. At the small but very rewarding Stromness Museum we poured over beaded and carved artifacts from the Ibo in Africa and the Cree in Canada, as well as background on whaling and the Hudson's Bay Company, for Orcadians were highly regarded and comprised nearly 70% of Hudson Bay recruits.

A special exhibit at the Stromness Museum highlighted the trials of Eliza Fraser, the intrepid wife of a sea captain, who was shipwrecked near Australia. She was captured by aborigines there, lost her baby and her husband, struggled through wilderness with some of the surviving crew, and was enslaved (a common treatment of captives by North American tribes in the 18th Century). Mrs. Fraser was ultimately rescued by an Irish convict who had been transported to Australia and who was knowledgeable in the way of the natives there. She returned to England as a sensation, and ultimately remarried and returned to Orkney. We saw her simple stone house in Stromness.

This month's SCOTLAND HISTORY focuses on the connections between Scotland and Australia, with one article about Eliza Fraser.

Landing safely in Scrabster, we hopped on a bus that followed the coastal highway past Wick, Helmsdale, Dunsbeath, Cromarty (all important to the herring fishing trade), and finally to Inverness.

Of course we passed the infamous statue of Sutherland along the way, a monument nearly 100 feet high that sits at the top of Ben Bhraggi, a high hill near Golspie, and looks out over the sea. We understand some Scots prefer this statue be pulled down, given his estate's role in the clearances. The Duke of Sutherland evicted 15,000 tenant farmers to clear and “improve” his land by importing sheep, certainly more profitable in the early days of the Industrial Revolution (roughly 1820). The rolling countryside next to the deep blue sea is beautifully green, marked by immense fields still populated by a mix of cattle and sheep, but I'm remembering the crofters who were evicted.

The islands of Orkney and Shetland are now behind us. Inverness awaits for the next week or so, with its many stone buildings of the 19th Century to explore. We feel a little cut off from news of home with no regular internet access, but these intense weeks here in Scotland are going very quickly.

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