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Scrabster to Stromness is possibly the most dramatic sea voyage in Scotland. This is a ferry crossing of 90 minutes (or longer in bad weather) from Scrabster, near Thurso, on the north coast, to Stromness in Orkney. This crosses the famous Pentland Firth, where the Atlantic and the North Sea Tides meet in battle.
I've made this crossing quite a few times now but it's still exciting. Unless the captain says otherwise - and that happens when it gets rough - I can't resist standing on deck to watch the awesome cliffs of the island of Hoy slide by on the starboard side.
The famous Old Man of Hoy (above), the capital letter at the beginning of the dramatic statement that is Orkney, (ooh, get him, with his implausible metaphors) seems to detach itself from the red cliffs of Hoy as you sail past it. Come to think of it, that's a silly thing to write. After all, it is already detached, otherwise it wouldn't be a sea-stack. But it's a highlight of the Scrabster to Stromness journey.
Then - above - the Old Man of Hoy gradually shrinks when compared to the sheer scale of the cliffs of St John's Head, a little further to the north. The Old Man of Hoy is the little tooth on the right, while the mighty cliffs of St John's Head tower up to 346m (1135 ft).
Towards the end of the Scrabster to Stromness run, just when you think Orkney is going to be all awesome cliffs and verticalities, everything changes with a serious turn to starboard, east into Hoy Sound.
Suddenly, on the port side to the north, it's (almost) gentle and green, with contained fields and grazing flocks - and even a golf course (pictured above). This is the main island of Orkney, called 'Mainland', its name demonstrating a wholly admirable sense of importance.
The boat turns to port and north again - and Stromness appears, scattered along the shore, and not looking Scottish at all. What I mean is, it looks Scandinavian. This is also a problematical statement, as I've never been to Norway. (I don't know what's wrong with me today.)
But this is also part of the appeal - Orkney is different. The Scrabster to Stromness journey is just the start. In the above picture, that's the island of Hoy just peeping up on the far left.
And (above) there's the ferry - the blue and white boat, definitely not the wee red one - docked on the far right by the Stromness quayside. Yes, I'm sure it's the most entertaining 90 minutes sail anywhere in Scotland. Tricky to photograph in places though, as the light is against you in the morning with the cliffs east of the boat, while Hoy lies to the south when seen from Mainland Orkney. You'll get better pics of the 'Old Man' in an afternoon or summer evening return sailing to mainland Scotland.
For some must sees in Orkney after you've made the Scrabster to Stromness journey, follow the link for more information.
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Scotland in Three Days