Highlands and Islands

We awoke this morning to a bright day with a little fog on the horizon and a flat calm North Sea.  It looked as though it was going to be another fine day today.  We were due to arrive in Kirkwall, Orkney at around mid-day.

We went along to the buffet restaurant for our breakfast, and took it out to the deck at the stern to eat outside.  There were quite a lot of people out there already, no doubt to make the most of the sunshine. We took a walk around the decks; although the weather was bright there was still a brisk sea breeze with enough of a nip to remind us that summer was still not yet here.

At around 10.00am there was a demonstration from the beauty salon, where a volunteer was given a 15 minute hot stone massage, no doubt to try to sell the spa treatments.  I have had one of these massages in the past and it is a lovely relaxing experience.

Afterwards there was some fun on the aft decks where some members of the entertainments team took part in a game called “I’m An Entertainer… Get Me Out Of Here”, based on the I’m A Celebrity… television show.  Members of the team had to carry out various tasks and then the passengers had to vote for which one was eliminated in each round; the loser then got a soaking by having a bucket of cold water tipped over them.  It really was quite funny and just a bit of a light-hearted way of passing the time.  Nearby bar staff set up a table with a special promotion of mojitos for only £2.95, so we each indulged in one, which was nice and cold and refreshing.  🙂

As it is so pleasant on the aft decks, we sat outside a little longer before making our way to the Marco Polo lounge where David Shute, a former reporter with the BBC, was doing a talk. I’ve never actually heard of him so it must have been a long time ago that he worked for the BBC.

When we came out of the lounge the Marco Polo had just docked in Kirkwall, capital of the Orkney islands.  There are about 70 islands that make up the Orkneys, but only 16 of them are inhabited.

After a quick lunch we disembarked the Marco Polo and boarded the coach for our excursion, which would take us all around the island.  The first thing we noticed was that, once we left the main town of Kirkwall, civilisation became very remote and most of the land was given over to fields of sheep, cattle and arable land, with only the odd farmhouse dotted here and there. It wasn’t really mountainous, but rather gentle hills rolled into the misty-blue distance.

The coach took us along the scenic, winding route, stopping every now and again to allow us to take photographs.  There were lots of Aberdeen Angus cows in the fields; in fact we saw more cows than people.  We arrived at a spectacular viewing point at Marwick Head, which was set on steep cliffs and rocks with a sheer drop into the sea 300 feet below.  Away to our left we could just see the famous Old Man of Hoy, a steep column of rock 449 feet tall and so beloved of climbers, including the mountaineer Chris Bonington.

Marwick Head is a protected reserve of the RSPB and we could see a lot of sea birds, including oyster catchers and skuas.

We then boarded the coach again for a short ride to a local hotel for a cup of tea and some delicious home-baked shortbread and cakes.

Back on the coach we drove along the road adjacent to Scapa Flow, which served as the location of a well-known Naval Base during both world wars.  The base finally closed in 1957.  A lot of German ships were sunk in Scapa Flow and while most of them were salvaged, there are about seven which still remain and which are popular with divers.

On our way back we had another stop; this time at the Standing Stones of Stenness, one of the earliest known stone circles, dating from the Neolithic age.

Back on the Marco Polo time was getting on after a very interesting, very full day.  We barely had 20 minutes to get washed and changed for dinner and we were late getting to the Waldorf Restaurant.  But no matter – we were still the first ones to arrive on our table.  Eventually the other three couples turned up.  Although the dress code this evening was “informal” it still stipulated in the daily programme that jackets and shirts were to be worn (for the men).  However, Trevor was the only one on our table dressed correctly in a jacket, shirt and tie; two of the other guys had jackets on (but no ties) and one bloke was just in his shirt sleeves with no tie, more like the smart-casual evening.  They are from Newton Aycliffe and it is their first cruise.  So far the woman had complained about everything; she’s what you’d call a professional moaner.  Only two days into the cruise and she’d decided that she was never going to go on another ship.  She complained about the cabin being noisy (it usually is, if you’re low down in the ship towards the stern, i.e. over the engine room), she complained that she couldn’t find her way around (heaven’s sake, the ship is only a pup at 22,080 tons!), she complained about the food and she complained about the fact that you have to pay your bill at the end, instead of as you go.  She’s one of those types who is never happy unless she’s miserable.  🙂

After our dinner (the service is very quick on the Marco Polo so we were out of the dining room in good time), we went along to the Marco Polo lounge for the evening’s cabaret, which was a tribute to Queen, a scaled down version of We Will Rock You, which we actually saw in the West End in February 2008.  It was excellent; in fact the show company is very good indeed.  They did Bohemian Rhapsody for their encore, then off we went to Scott’s Bar to finish the evening off.

In Scott’s Bar the game show tonight was Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, based on the popular ITV game, and they needed three couples, so Trevor and I volunteered!  Each couple would take the famous chair to pit their wits and answer 15 questions to try to win “one million pounds”.  Obviously it was only pretend, but the winner would get bragging rights.  🙂

The first couple up got as far as £64,000 but then decided to stick.  At this point it was time for Trevor and me to get up.  We worked our way through the questions, using the lifelines as appropriate, until we got to the £125,000 question which we answered successfully, thereby eliminating the first couple from the contest.  However, we didn’t know the answer to the £250,000 question and we didn’t want to risk it, so we opted to walk away.

That meant the final couple had to win £250,000 or above to beat us.  They got as far as the £250,000 question and decided to gamble, but they got the answer wrong and dropped back to 32K.  That meant that Trevor and I won!  🙂

So once again we received a Cruise & Maritime Voyages medallion (a.k.a. trolley token) and a free cocktail of the day.  The cocktail was called Banana Mama and consisted of white rum, banana liqueur and pineapple juice and was very nice – I enjoyed it better than yesterday’s cocktail.  The fact that it was free made it even nicer!

We finished the evening in Scott’s Bar, where there was a quiz consisting of 20 questions where you had to listen to, and identify, TV themes.  We got 16 out of 20 but the winners scored 19.

When the quiz had finished I noticed it was still quite light outside, even though it was about 10.30pm, but we are so much further north so I suppose that’s to be expected.  When I went outside on deck I was surprised at how mild it was; a beautiful calm night with hardly a ripple on the sea.

Then members of the show company came back on stage and sang some famous duets before we went off to bed, once again well after midnight.

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