Day 51 Tues 19 April: A simple plan – be on the road by 9.00a.m. at the latest. This should ensure that the ferry from Houton to Lyness on Hoy would be reached on time. Switching on Garmin informs me it is already 9.01 whilst the chill wind on my face informs me that it’s going to be slower progress than reckoned. I must not let such minor irritations spoil the ride. Just appreciate the fact that the sun is shining and the gales are now a mere breeze. Show no panic. Not even when, on cresting the brow above Houton, I could see the last car boarding the ferry. Just freewheel up to the Cyclists Must Dismount sign and calmly walk Fondo down the slipway and up the ramp. No one can read my heart rate. Cutting it a bit fine? Not at all. Just precise timing. Phew.
The huge old wartime Naval base at Lyness is looking derelict, some crumbling buildings, jetties & piers submitting to the will of nature. Close to the small ferry terminal is the Scapa Flow visitor centre and museum. Quite atmosheric with many pieces of Naval hardware, including several big guns, now rusting in peace. It’s hard to imagine what it was like here at the height of both World Wars. Earily quiet now, just the sound of a few oystercatchers. Daffodils nodding around gun emplacements and pill boxes. Sure to be busy this year, with the Battle of Jutland Centenary to be commemorated here on the Orkneys this summer.
A few more miles around the bay on the east side of Hoy, across the causeway towards Longhope. Just before crossing, I see to the right the unmistakable giant Nissen shaped form of an old Lifeboat house with a steep slip way. A small sign indicates the way to Longhope Lifeboat Museum. Time for a quick detour. All locked up, no one around. Onwards to Longhope harbour, where the current Tamar Class All-Weather Lifeboat is kept afloat and ready. What a welcome! Just as I wonder how on earth they manage to staff a major Lifeboat in such a small, remote place, what appears to be a full crew of seven or eight emerge from the large Lifeboat Station on the quay. Today’s thanks go to Mary (LPO), Kevin (Cox’n), Alex (Mech), Jamie & Dougie (crew), Ian (LOM), Geordie, (DLA) and John (DLA/Mech[retd]). Great company. Great place. Great coffee & chocolate coated flapjacks.
There is still a touch of poignancy in the air here at Longhope. This, my 81st Lifeboat Station, shares a tragic history, similar to that of the first one visited last autumn. Penlee lost a full crew in the Solomon Brown disaster 13 years after the 1969 Longhope tragedy, where they too lost an entire crew of eight. Before leaving, there was time to accept Geordie’s kind offer to open up the the original boathouse for me. If you are ever in this remote, wonderful part of these islands, do not go home without visiting Longhope Lifeboat Museum. It’s a gem. Not only is the old Boathouse full of fascinating items of historical note and some great paintings and photographs, it has something very special indeed. The original Watson Lifeboat, which served here for over 30 years and saved many dozens of lives, has been returned, restored and now resides in its own old Boathouse. It even has occasional outings, with a slipway launching! Well done Geordie and friends.
In the local cemetery at Osmondwall, on a hill above Longhope, stands a lone statue of a Lifeboat man, erected in memory of those who were tragically lost in the 1969 Longhope Lifeboat Disaster. The plaque at the base of the statue reads “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his fellow men”
My last few hours on Orkney before boarding the Hamnavoe could have been a miserable ordeal. As I cycled back from Longhope to Kirkwall I realised that I had not planned anything for the five remaining hours before 9.00 pm, the earliest I could check in to the ferry terminal for the 23:45 departure. I needn’t have worried. On returning to pick up some kit, my kind and generous hosts in Kirkwall, Aileen & Albert were happy to let me stay a while to use their wifi. By the time I’d caught up with all things in the digital ether-world and rolled down the hill for a fish supper, it was almost time to cycle through the gloaming, up to the ferry terminal to check in for the long, overnight crossing to the Shetland Isles.