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In 1967 I was an avid consumer of British TV, and one of the groundbreaking broadcasts that year was the BBC live coverage of climbers scaling The Old Man of Hoy, a dramatic, tall sea-stack off the coast of the island of Hoy in the Orkneys. Fast forward to 2012 and we had tickets to the opening and closing ceremonies of the London Olympics, but nothing much for the two weeks in between. We chose to use that time to visit the Orkney and Shetland Isles with an old friend. And with the images from 45 years before still in my mind, I felt we had to visit The Old Man.
We booked our car on the ferry from Houton on Orkney Mainland to Lyness on Hoy, but on the evening before we visited the town of Stromness a few miles further along the coast. There is a ferry from there to Hoy, but for pedestrians only, and we definitely needed our car on Hoy. But Stromness itself is well worth a visit to wander all the narrow lanes and alleys, and see the houses crowded onto the shore.
Our ferry crossing started in Houton in thick mist which only got slightly clearer by the time we arrived in Lyness. From there we had a 30 minute drive to Rackwick where we started the 8 hike out to The Old Man and back. It was a great hike, mainly on a well established path, but tempered by the mist and cloud that was so thick and low that we couldn’t see much. When we arrived at the cliff edge beside The Old Man, we could see nothing. Why had we come all this way?! But patience and the gods smiling on us allowed the mist to slowly clear so we could start to make out the shape. Eventually we enjoyed a magnificent view, and we didn’t want to turn around and head back. Well, well worth the ferry, the drive, the hike and the waitassuming you like that sort of thing, which I do.
We had time before the return ferry to deviate to the southern end of Hoy and cross the causeway to the island of South Walls and look at the Cantick Head lighthouse. In our day-trip we had already covered just about all of the significant roads on Hoy.
Hoy forms the western protection for Scapa Flow, a large body of relatively sheltered water which has played a major role in navigation for hundreds of years. It is probably best know as the location where the German battle fleet was anchored after the First World War, and then scuttled in 1919. Lyness has long had a history of being a base for the Royal Navy and for the salvaging of the scuttled German boats. As we returned to wait for the ferry we could see various signs of this history, with old military roads and buildings, both standing and demolished, and a military museum. The area is now popular as a base for divers exploring the remaining German wrecks.

Ferry info
Crossing time 35 and distance about 13.
The boat
When I used the ferry
August 2012

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