I have just returned home after an inspirational trip to Orkney. Funded by the John Muir Trust (Des Rubens and Bill Wallace Grant), I set out to investigate and report on disability access to the archaeological areas of Orkney. I spent the week looking at historical sites and remains from as far back as the neolithic age and experienced the wonders of times long ago. As well as visiting Historic Scotland locations, I experienced a breathtaking array of scenery, colours and wildlife and I have had an amazing trip.
Earlier this year I applied to the John Muir Trust (Des Rubens and Bill Wallace Grant) for a small grant to enable me to visit Orkney. The idea came after looking at guided tours on Orkney that specifically said that disabled people are not catered for. Feeling somewhat frustrated I decided I wanted to go there and see for myself and so that is exactly what I did.
Leaving Edinburgh at 6am we had a long journey ahead of us. Due to sailing from Gills Bay at 4pm we decided to leave in plenty of time so that we were not under pressure. We made good progress up the A9, that notoriously slow road, and stopped just south of Aviemore, for breakfast. The Ralia Cafe by Newtonmore provided a delicious bacon sandwich and a well needed break. Once we passed Inverness, the next stage of the journey was all new to me. I hadn’t been up the far north east coast since I was a child. We passed through some quaint coastal towns. The further we got to the north coast, the flatter the landscape became but the rolling moorland scenery made for a very nice journey. Before I knew it we were approaching John O’Groats, a place I have wanted to experience for sometime. An experience it was ! Full of tacky tourist shops and not a lot else. We made our stop there brief and travelled further to catch the ferry at Gills Bay a few miles west along the coast.
Arriving on Orkney
After a smooth ferry crossing we arrived at St Margaret’s Hope around 5pm and had about a 40 minute drive to our accommodation. It was a fine, dry evening after some late afternoon showers and it gave us our first taste of the wonderful scenery and sites that were to come. Approaching our accommodation, I caught my first glimpse of the Ring of Brodger, something I had been looking forward to seeing for such a long time. There it was in open moorland slightly elevated above Loch Stenness. I was so excited. This was just the first taste of what was to come in a week packed with the most magnificent sites.
Our cottage, which would be our base for the next week was lovely. Not far from Stenness we sat looking out over the hills of Hoy feeling an enormous sense of gratitude. As the evening progressed and we settled in we were very conscious of the difference in daylight hours between Orkney and Edinburgh. Towards 11pm it began to get dim, although I would not describe it as dark, we could still see clearly outside.
Having settled we began to plan. There was so much to see and only a week to do it in. I’ve been to many of the Scottish Islands but I have never arrived on one with so much I wanted to see. We were both exhausted after the long journey and finally got to bed sometime towards midnight. I still wouldn’t describe it as dark outside.
Earlier this month I was very grateful to spend time with Elliot Reeves and be interviewed for his website Inspired Edinburgh.
“Inspired Edinburgh is a media company Founded by Elliot Reeves. It is centred around an interview show and podcast which features fascinating people from all walks of life.
The conversations are thought provoking, hard-hitting, and emotionally rousing. They tackle real issues and challenge mainstream perceptions by going in search of the truth. Watching or listening to an Inspired Edinburgh interview will prompt you to live a more conscious life by encouraging you to reflect on your identity, your beliefs, your purpose, and your worldview.”
Below is a link to the interview. As well my passion for the Outdoors, we discuss a bit about my past and my hopes for the future. I hope it will help motivate and inspire you and that you can take a little bit from my story. I am very grateful to Elliot, and would be delighted with any comment you might like to leave below. Thanks
Since I started hillwalking again recently, my enthusiasm for the mountains has really come back and I am looking forward to getting into the hills again. Although I normally go walking with other people I have a bit of desire to eventually go out on my own and go solo. In order to do that, and to be confident, I must have good mapping and compass skills. I was lucky enough last weekend to take part in a navigation course.
Navigation is crucial when you are out on the hills. The Scottish Mountains can be dangerous places particularly in winter time. Weather conditions can change by the hour, and sometimes you need every skill in the book. The Pentland Hills provided a perfect environment to develop confidence with mapping. I joined a team called ‘ Venturing Out ‘ in order to learn some new, and brush up on old skills.
I had done a bit of map and compass work in the past. When I was in the Scouts I leaned the basics of setting a map and giving grid references, although this was a very long time ago. I looked forward to brushing up on old skills and learning some new ones.
Four of us spent the day in the Pentland Hills taking turns to practice different skills :
Going Out With Confidence
I enjoyed the day very much. In particular I was really surprised how accurately I could pace out a distance by knowing the number of my own paces that equate to 100 metres. I do feel more confident about map reading now. However, I found it difficult to hold the map and compass and work with them. It’s fine on a summer’s day when it’s dry and you can spread the map out on the ground. But, it might be more difficult in the winter. I have invested in a map case which should make it easier. I really look forward to venturing into the hills again soon. I hope one day to be able to go solo and have the confidence to know where I am at all times in the hills and mountains.
The John Muir Trust is a conservation charity dedicated to protecting and enhancing wild places. Each year the John Muir Trust award a small number of grants to individuals, to enable them to visit and explore wild places. Grants are to enable people to go and experience wild environments while, at the same time, raise awareness for the protection of wild places. I am thrilled to say that I have been awarded one of this grants this year. Later this month I will embark on a tour of Orkney to report on disability access to the fascinating archaeological sites.
Earlier in the year, I had the idea that I wanted to visit Orkney. Readers of my blog will know that last year I cycled the length of the Outer Hebrides and, among other things, visited Callanish. This 5000 year old neolithic stone circle was a truly amazing site and it really ingnited my enthusiasm for taking a look into the past. I have heard from many people that Orkney was an amazing place and just steeped in archaeological history.
Before long I was looking at organised tours of Orkney that I could join. As well as being phenomenally expensive, one of the tours specifically said that it was not suitable for disabled people. This, like a red rag to a bull, made me even more determined to see for myself.
With the grant from the John Muir Trust, I will be visiting Orkney later this month to visit the archaeological sites for myself. I am very excited about this. As part of my on going work, I will be reporting on the accessibility of the sites for disabled people and way in which disabled people can also have a glimpse into the past as well. I hope that by doing this I will help improve access to tourism for disabled people to allow them to enjoy wild places as much as everyone else can.