Windows in Time

By ColourWeaver

Piffin, RSPB Papay Westrey, Orkneys

Today was a very busy and fulfilling day. Up at 0530 for 0600 breakfast, followed by getting to down to the ferry terminal for 0700 to board the first ferry to Westrey leaving at 0720. It took 90 minutes to travel there, passing various islands on the way, namely, Shapinsay, Gairsay, Wyre, Egilsay, Muckle Green Holm, Faray, and Faray Holm, before getting to Westrey. Arrive here at 0900 to catch a bus to Pierowall to catch the foot-ferry to Papay Westrey.

The weather today start off cool, but by the time the tour started the sun had come out and it became steadily warmer. I joined three other people, namely Nick (Reid just retired chemical engineer for a petroleum company), Steve & Sue (former NGO worker in Rhodesia, South Africa, and India) and Ruth and her son Ned from Australia) all of whom were booked on an RSPB reserve and historical tour of this little island. We were in the experience and guide-full hands of Chris Sills.

Of all the bird I saw today, namely, Shag, Fulmar, Kittiwakes, Gullemots, and Razorbill photographed, the one bird that I had come to see was the Puffins. I was reward by this single Puffin standing just 20 feet below us on a ledge, posing for the paparazzi. The island's highest point is North Hill standing just 49 metres above sea level and is also part of the RSPB nature reserve. Many sea birds breed on the island, including Artic Terns and Skuas. This island was one of the last places where the Great Auk was found; the last individual was killed in 1813 and there is a monument dedicated to this historic moment. The reserve is also home to the rare and tiny purple-flowered Scottish Primrose (Primula scotica), which by the way is a very small plant with an equally small flower!

We were well fed and looked after here by the Papey Community Hostel. Everything here on the island was geared toward community life working together for the good of the island. Money in the main being earned from tourist. However, Papa Westray, is also known as Papay, The soil here is very fertile, and this has long been one of the main reasons why this island draws people to it.

We saw a number of historical attractions on the island include Holland House with an associated folk museum and the Knap of Howar a Neolithic farmstead, which is now looked after by Historic Scotland. This farmstead are accessible at all times of the year and is the oldest preserved house in northern Europe, dating from around 3500 BC.

If you are wondering how many people live on this island, the ninth largest of the Orkney Islands with an area of 2,270 acres and the population in the 2011 census recorded 90 people.

You can gain access to Papay by either catching the foot-ferry, or you can fly from Kirkwall Airport to Papa Westray via Westray by Loganair. The short hop from Westray to Papay is the world's shortest scheduled flight, at approximately 2 minutes!

Local tradition has it that in the 800 AD, the Pictish King Nechtan attempted to seduce a young woman from the island named Triduana, who in response gouged her own eyes out. She later became abbess of a nunnery in Edinburgh. The 1200 parish church, St Boniface Kirk, was consecrated to her on Papa Westray and became a place of pilgrimage for people with eye complaints. The graveyard around the chapel also contains a Norse “hogback” gravestone. It is thought that this chapel stand on an earlier Pictish religious site.

My day concluded with a Ceilidh at St Andrew’s Community Hall in Tankerness. I arrived late as the ferry from Westray got in at 1920 and the Ceilidh stated at 1930. Anyway when I got there everyone was sitting at tables. After a while it was explained to me that the concert was not the Ceilidh, that would come later after we all had supper at around 10pm! The Ceilidh would start at 11pm and would go on for a couple of hours. A quick calculation meant that it would end at 1am, they did not disappoint...

After the first dance of learning the Gay Gordon, I was out of breath and took several moment to utter the words, “water please”, to the barman, who just watched me and smiled and said, “First time at a Ceilidh?” I nodded, as talking and catching one’s breath were not coexisting too well.

It was a great day and evening, with four barman impressed that an Englishman in Orkneys was reasonable knowledgable about Whiskey and had visited the local distillery and was taking some home with him. Bless them, they apologised for treating me to a wee dram of Bells...

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