One of the reasons I opted to swap city life for island life is my love of the coast. I could happily potter about beaches and stroll along cliff tops all day long - in fact, that is exactly how I spent last weekend.
When I found out the latest Orkney 'See You at the Weekend' itinerary detailed below was based on local seascapes, with four coastal walks to cover, I was in my element. This was the excuse I had been looking for to ditch mundane household chores and adult responsibilities for the day. Instead, I lost track of time walking along wave battered cliffs, mesmerised by churning seas and feeling revitalised by the brisk sea-breeze.
It would have been easy for me to focus solely on the dramatic scenery but I was intrigued by the physical remnants left behind by the people who lived and worked along these stretches of coast over the centuries. Although each walk took me through a unique and equally stunning landscape, my imagination was in overdrive as I followed in the steps of prehistoric man, Vikings, soldiers and fishermen.
If there is one thing I recommend you do on a visit to Orkney, it would be to include at least one coastal walk in your itinerary.
ABOUT THE ITINERARY AND MY ADVICE
The itinerary is one of several autumn and spring themed day trip ideas that are being introduced by Destination Orkney over the coming months as part of their 'See You at The Weekend' campaign. I'll be trying them all out so stay tuned for lots more Orkney inspiration from me.
The Seascape itinerary involves as much or as little walking as you are comfortable with but I do recommend wearing sturdy, waterproof footwear and be prepared for all seasons in 1 day! Also, please be careful along the cliff walks and keep to the paths. It might be very tempting to snap a photo of you balanced on the cliff edge for Instagram likes, but it is a very long way down in some places and just not worth becoming a statistic.
I also recommend taking a spare bag with you to pick up some of the litter that washes up along the beaches. If we all remove a few bits on our walk, we can make a bigger difference
ORKNEY SEASCAPE ITINERARY LOCATIONS
The walk along the cliffs at Yesnaby is without doubt one of the most dramatic coastal walks on Orkney Mainland. With rugged red crags, sea stacks, arches and geos, there are plenty of striking features to look out for.
The surrounding geology spans hundreds of millions of years and the many layers reveal the history of the landscape dating back to a time when Orkney was located south of the equator. During that period much of Yesnaby formed the bottom of a vast freshwater lake called Lake Orcadie.
On a windy day (of which there are many on Orkney!) the sea below bubbles and churns like a cauldron. The waves crash over rocks and rush through small gaps with ferocious power. On really windy days, sea foam and spray are blown over the cliff tops.
Yesnaby is a great spot if you want to witness the might of Mother Nature.
Earlier this year I enjoyed my first proper trip to Royal Deeside when I stayed at the gorgeous Mill of Dess Lodge. As I found out, this is an ideal area of Scotland to base yourself if you are a lover of castles and the outdoors, and I'm definitely a fan of both. I pretty much split my time between scenic walks and historical ruins, with a few great restaurants and cafes thrown in for good measure.
One of my favourite local discoveries was Burn O'Vat, an amazing bowl-shaped geological feature which was carved out by glacial melt at the end of the last Ice Age. As it was just a 15 minute drive from my accommodation, I headed there earlyish in the morning as it apparently gets quite busy later in the day. After parking at the Burn O'Vat visitor centre car park I set off on the very short and easy walk to reach the 'Vat' itself.
The route is well signposted and crosses a green wooden bridge before carrying on past a second bridge and then coming to an abrupt stop at a rock face - or so you think!
If you look closely, you will spot the narrow entrance-way which leads to the natural amphitheatre beyond. The next section to reach the gap does require a bit of agility to get over the boulders and across the stream, but isn't too strenuous and is actually quite fun!
Arriving at the entrance feels a bit like an Indiana Jones moment, with the possibility of ancient treasures or a forgotten civilisation hidden beyond the giant moss covered boulders. Okay, I'm being a little dramatic but its hard not to let your imagination run wild in a place like this, especially when there's no-one else about.
Crossing the stepping stones, negotiating the well placed tree trunk and the glimpses of a waterfall just add to the feeling of adventure although I should probably add that waterproof footwear will come in handy if the water levels are high or your balancing skills are lacking!
I love coming across scenic walks in Scotland that are hardly known outside their local area and its even better when they are steeped in history and legend. Crichope Linn near the hamlet of Gatelawbridge in Dumfries and Galloway certainly ticks all those boxes. I only came across the details of the trail thanks to local literature provided for guests during my stay at the nearby Trigony House Hotel and I was immediately intrigued. A search on Google provided some spectacular images of the waterfall and gorge, along with a few tales of the famous visitors that had once frequented this now almost forgotten about part of southern Scotland. It was time to explore this hidden gem for myself...
The entrance to the walk is easy to miss with just a rustic sign pointing the way from the quiet, minor road. A small parking area nearby is enough to accommodate a few cars and the start of the route was concealed by greenery when I visited. At the bottom of this blog I've pinned the location on a Google map to make it easier for you to find.
The first section of the trail runs through a wooded area before meeting up with a stream that flows down from the waterfall ahead. Occasional remnants of an old footpath are the only survivor of a network of tracks, bridges and viewing points that existed when Crichope Linn was a popular destination for Victorian tourists. Today it is a bit more hazardous to get around with muddy narrow paths, slippery rocks and fallen trees. The current atmosphere of overgrown abandonment makes it hard to imagine that this was once a famous and well frequented Scottish beauty spot.
After a short jaunt through the trees, the path opens up to reveal mossy covered red sandstone walls that tower upwards either side of the gorge. Countless visitors over the centuries have left their mark on the soft rock faces and it is even said that the initials of Robert Burns can be found among the stone carvings. I didn't spot them but he did live at nearby Ellisland Farm so there is every possibility that he visited here.
Other famous literary figures that definitely were inspired by the unique scenery were Thomas Carlyle and Sir Walter Scott who featured Crichope Linn in his novel 'Old Mortality'.
The Fairy Legends of Puck's Glen
Navigating the well worn and sometimes slippery stone steps that wind through the narrow woodland gorge of Puck's Glen is hazardous enough at times, but they are not the only reason you have to drag your eyes from the bewitching scenery to check your footing from time to time. Poca Ban is the resident spirit that disguises itself as a ball of wool and rolls around the glen looking for unsuspecting victims to trip up all in the name of some warped fairy fun. It seems quite fitting that a glen named after the mischievous sprite in Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' has a playful spirit of its own.
Poca Ban is not the only mystical Scottish fairy that you might encounter on your walk through Puck's Glen, concealed in the trees you might spot a Ghillie Dhu, wearing clothes of leaves and moss or catch a glimpse of the nature sprites that dance in the leafy shade of the ferns.
It's very easy to believe that enchanted creatures are hiding in the shadows of this magical landscape and I mean magical in the truest sense of the word as it really feels like you have crossed an invisible barrier into an otherworldly dimension. Frothy waterfalls, bubbling pools, hanging moss, tumbled stones and tall shady ferns, Puck's Glen is prime real estate for fairy folk.
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