Secret places

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Orkney has a lot of secrets. Enough unexcavated archaeology to keep experts busy for generations and areas of great natural beauty little known and even less visited.

Many visitors return again and again to continue their exploration of these magical islands, some visitors even end up moving here to continue the affair for the rest of their lives.

These are just a few of my favourites.

Rackwick

Rackwick1.jpgThough not exactly a secret, Rackwick is good for you. It has a primal grandeur that is quite simply raw nature at her best. The scale and beauty of the cliffs mingled with the absurdly outsized boulders cast on the sandy beach like a giants pebble collection is quite breathtaking.

Situated on the west side of Hoy it is one of the main reasons to make a visit to the brooding dark island that dominates many backdrops to views from the West Mainland.

The visit should include an investigation of the Dwarfie Stane, a remarkable neolithic hollowed out boulder and perhaps a walk over the cliff tops for a close encounter with the Old Man of Hoy, or alternatively a walk back through the valley to the exquisite woods of Berridale, the most Northerly native woodland in the UK, or if a rugged walker, both.

A trip to the North end of Hoy is something every visitor should make time for.

Broch of Borwick

The Broch of Borwick is a hidden gem, intentionally obscured by the powers that be due the somewhat precarious nature of the site. Not suitable for small children or dogs perhaps but sensible able travellers should not be too concerned. borwick2.jpg

A degree of care is required but the visitor will be rewarded with a truly memorable experience. Borwick is located on the west coast of the West Mainland, about a mile north of the Yesnaby car park. Already humbled by the majesty of this coastline this walk northward will bring a small mound seemingly hanging on to the cliff top for dear life into view.

Sweeping down into a small valley you will climb back up to find the mound to be an Iron age Broch that appears to have been only recently abandoned. At the least a very interesting comparison with the more refined Broch of Gurness, the location and untouched beauty of this place will stay in your memory for a long time.

Egilsay

Egilsay is a dimunitive arrow head shaped island, located to the east of Rousay, from which it is separated by Rousay Sound, 12 miles (19 km) north of Kirkwall. Extending to 650 ha (1606 acres), the island had a population of 190 in 1840 which has dwindled to around 30 today. The future of the island as a community is very dubious and it is certainly possible that this generation may be the last. Associated with St Magnus, its most noted landmark is the ruined 12th Century Church of St Magnus with its 15m (49 foot) round tower. A monument nearby commemorates the supposedly exact location and murder of St Magnus here in 1117.flagiris.jpg

Around half of the island has been acquired by the RSPB over the last twenty years and much of this land today is known as the Onziebust RSPB reserve. This investment was aimed at creating ideal habitat for the elusive Corncrake and has been pretty much a total and embarrassing failure as the Corncrake has seemingly shunned all the RSPB's efforts and the island remains without the rasping call of the intended beneficiary.

For some this is indicative of a apparent wilful habitat arrogance and refusal to recognise wider realities (the Corncrake is thriving happily in Eastern Europe) within the RSPB. Whatever the case, the by-product of this policy has been to create something truly wonderful.

A combination of old fashioned farmland management techniques allied with wetland habitat creation has created an environment that from late spring covers the island in a quilt of yellow flag iris and rampant wildflowers such as the golden yellow of Marsh marigold, Buttercup, Bird's-foot trefoil and Tormentil; the pink and purple of Marsh orchids, Ragged robin, Hearts-ease, Spring squill, Campion; the white Grass of parnassus, Vetch, Eyebright and Daisy.

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Skylarks may not have been the birds that the RSPB intended to encourage but the density of these cheerful songsters on Egilsay is greater than anywhere else in Orkney, where the Skylark in general is still a common Summertime bird.

Other birds have also been less picky than the Corncrake. Curlews, Oystercatchers, Redshanks and Snipe abound, as do the many seabirds that can be seen from the astonishingly beautiful beachs of Mae Banks on the Southern side of the island.

RSPB Failure perhaps but for me, during late May and June a picnic on Egilsay is just about the perfect day out.