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Day 10 - May 19, 2010 - Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland

By Kara Weller, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 58° 57.5 ’N – 03° 17.4’W
Weather:  sunny
Air temperature: 13° C
Wind: 4 km per hour
Pressure: 1022 hPa

At 6 am we eased slowly up to the pier at Stromness in the Orkney Islands. The sun was shining as I stood out on deck watching the Prince Albert II come slowly closer to this small charming place. Stromness is the second largest town in the Orkneys after Kirkwall with just over 2,000 residents and is situated on the main island of the Orkneys.

From the ship we could see the small gray houses clustered around the edge of the water. Stromness has always been a seaport and maritime trade and activity has been its main focus for hundreds of years.

After breakfast the busses were lined up outside on the pier ready to take us on a tour through the countryside to see the cultural highlights and ancient treasures. Heading west, the tour entered a World Heritage Site and the first stop was at the Standing Stones of Stenness, followed by the Ring of Brodgar, a huge ceremonial circle of stones from the Neolithic period, approximately 5,000 years ago although the exact age is still being debated.

The other fascinating stop on this tour was Skara Brae – a Neolithic settlement that had been buried in the sand dunes and was comprised of 10 houses that were occupied around 3,000 BC. Called sometimes “British Pompeii” it is Europe’s most complete Neolithic village and, surprisingly, was only discovered 150 years ago.

The sun continued to shine all day although a cool breeze picked up in the afternoon when we headed out from the ship once again for a walking tour of the town. Stromness is charming and the narrow streets that we wound our way through gave it a wonderful calm atmosphere – that is until a car needed to pass through these narrow gaps that seemed far too small to be capable of handling 2-way traffic. Luckily there weren’t many cars.

The local guides told us about the various building we saw and the stories associated with them. Many houses had very unusual shapes to them that were interesting to see, and we passed many nice craft shops – an indication that the arts scene was very much alive here in the far-flung Orkney Islands. After a short tour, everyone had free time to explore on their own or visit the local museum before making their way back to the ship in time for our departure.

The other historical point of interest in this area is Scapa Flow, which we passed on our way out. We stared at the vast expanse of water and wondered about the naval maneuvers and all the ships that were sunk and still lie at the bottom of this body of water.

This evening we got together once again in The Theatre for our farewell cocktail party, even though we still have a full day ahead of us in Aberdeen tomorrow, followed by our Captain’s farewell dinner.

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