Day 2 |
May 22, 2010

Underway North Of Scotland, En Route And At Stromness, Orkney Islands

By Peter W. Damisch, General Naturalist & Cartographer

Coordinates: 58° 57' N, 008° 17' W

Weather: Warm, then cooling with calm, flat seas with overcast and intermittent fog.

Air Temperature: + 13o C (55o F)

Sea Temperature: + 10o C (48o F)

Pressure: 1025 Hpa

Wind: 10 Km / hour

There can’t be many other days in life that are better than being on the first full day at sea, heading out towards new horizons while meeting new friends.

Last night the Prince Albert II cruised through absolutely smooth waters. I woke up a bit early to email my wife to let her know that we were on our way and that I had already met many interesting guests. It was also a great pleasure to visit with several couples who I had sailed with on the Prince Albert II earlier this year in the Antarctic.

As is often done on our first day at sea, Richard Sidey, our onboard professional photographer and videographer, gave a wonderful overview of how to get as much as possible out everyone’s personal camera during our voyage. Richard is an absolute genius on this important subject and his excellent presentation provided a superb overview of ‘tricks and techniques’ that should give everyone the chance to get just the right shot to bring home memories that will last a lifetime.

Next up in the morning was our Expedition Leader, Robin West. He reviewed the operations and safety requirements of our Zodiacs, the inflatable boats that give Prince Albert II guests the unique opportunity to reach beautiful and remote locations around the world in true expedition style. These boats are incredibly easy to use and allow us get in close to wildlife, nature preserves and many places that simply cannot be reached by any other method.

There was time for a wonderful lunch in The Restaurant, which provides a 270-degree view of the surrounding ocean, and we kept a lookout for any seals that might be cruising the area. At that time we were just approaching the outer areas of the Orkney Islands, our beautiful but remote destination for the afternoon.

Soon the Captain deftly maneuvered the Prince Albert II alongside the wharf in Stromness, a small harbor and fishing village with a long tradition of seafaring. We transferred to busses that had been pre-arranged to give all of us the opportunity to tour a unique UNESCO World Heritage site. There are very few such sites around the world and each has a special linkage to human history. In this case we headed into the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, which has numerous stone structures that date back in time more than 5,000 years. They are some of the oldest human constructions in the world and pre-date even the pyramids in Egypt.

Along the way we were able to sight a number of individual stones that had been erected by Stone Age peoples of long ago. We also had the chance to pass by the ancient Maeshowe burial mound.

Our first stop was the Standing Stones of Stenness. These vertical lichen covered pieces of sandstone look out across verdant pastures filled with sheep. The guide provided us with a wonderful overview of the excellent archeological work that has been and is being done to expand our knowledge of the peoples who worked so hard and so long ago to build these structures over many, many decades.

We moved on to the Ring of Brodgar, an enormous structure of giant stones, much like Stonehenge in the South of England. Yet this remote northerly environment must have been much more challenging to the builders and people of the area as they worked to develop some of the first farming techniques in the world to expand their prior hunter-gatherer existence. From this knoll of stones we could observe many birds including mute swans flying by as well as other burial mounds as well as another loch that could be clearly seen in the distance.

The final stop for the day offered a combination of Skaill Manor House built in 1620 as well as Skara Brae, built earlier than 3,000 B.C. Skara Brae is one of the most advanced, early human stone settlements known anywhere in the world. When constructed it lay some distance from the ocean but was slowly covered with sand dunes as the sea came closer. Eventually the site was abandoned and forgotten until a 19th-century storm partially revealed the site, which was fully excavated in 1930. Many people have described the location as a “British Pompeii” and it was simply fascinating to see how people lived and how their houses were constructed so long ago.

Skaill House is a large stone structure that dates back almost four centuries and is the home of the local ‘laird’ or large land owner. It is a wonderful living museum that was visited by Captain Cook in the 18th century and by many members of the Royal Family in the 20th century. The walls are covered with paintings and family mementoes, including a flag from the Russian Civil War. Interestingly enough, a Viking burial ground was discovered under the floor of the entryway when the home was reconstructed in the 1930s.

Shortly after our return to the ship, we had another wonderful treat. A group of school children visited on board and provided a truly unique concert of local music from the Orkney Islands. They have participated in music competitions across the U.K. and their passion has been to maintain the traditional music that has entertained the local population over the many centuries.

Our entire day was a unique experience with technology ranging from the modern, Internet Café and fine dining on board the Prince Albert II to visiting a location dating from the end of the Renaissance and another that spans back thousands of years where humans first began to build some of their first stone structures. It was truly a day of wonders and treasures!