Friday, 24 March 2017

Whitehall, Stronsay (Orkneys) - a gloomy feeling of far North, plus an impressive natural arch.

At over 59º N, this is almost sub-arctic Scotland, in a small island northeast of Orkney Mainland. Whitehall is two hours away by ferry from Kirkwall, the most populated and nearest town with urban and social services.

Whitehall is a small village with about 50 houses. It has a fishing harbour and ferry pier, post office, hotel, pub and B&B, shop, café and heritage centre, a chapel. And a small bank branch rarely open.

In the Orkneys, Stronsay is known as the 'star island' for its shape. Bays, coves and cliffs carve the low coastline (max. 44 m). A larger map is displayed at the end of this post.

The village between two piers: left, the ferry pier (east); right, the fisherman pier (west).

Whitehall, Stronsay Island, Orkneys

Coordinates:  59° 8′ N, 2° 36′ W
                     (as Uppsala, Norway)
Population:  ~ 370

The west tip of Whitehall.

The village spreads along its main and only street, between the arms of its two piers. Most of its properties are hints of considerable past wealth.

Aligned in a curved bay waterfront, houses look like fancy dwellings dating from the days when the vast herring fleet came in, from the 17th century until the 1930s.

The 'white house' and, at right, the RBS little agency.

Central Whitehall

Whitehall takes its name from a (white) house built in the 1670s that has been demolished.

The best view is probably this row of houses reflected on calm waters.

Until the 2nd World War, Whitehall had been the biggest herring port in the northern Orkney Islands, trading mainly with the Baltic ports of Russia and Eastern Europe. This wealth brought a larger population and was evident in some of the houses.

These fine gabled houses witness the wealth earned from the fisheries.

Some of Whitehall houses:

The Post Office

The only colourful house in Whitehall.

White house in Whitehall. Not the original, though.

A few houses have glassed sunrooms like this to enjoy the sea view in sunny days.

The best building in town - the Stronsay Hotel, restored and refurbished.

Corner at the cosy Hotel bar

Music at the bar.

One only shop:

Ebenezer Stores

Soap from Stronsay's 'Craftship Enterprise'.

Oh that ? it's the Royal Bank of Scotland !

Not many customers, so, one only opening day!

As for reading the news:

The Stronsay Limpet is the local monthly newsletter.

A village between two piers.

Whitehall harbour is the terminus for the ferry service from Kirkwall.

The Harbour Office

The first building as you leave the pier is the Fish Mart, a long house which once was the local market and now is a hostel and café.

Offering teas, coffees, homemade cakes, light lunches and accommodation.

Delicacies from the café.

The two piers enclose a herring fishing history.

The fishermen's pier, west of Whitehall.

Whitehall historical growth and decline is closely linked to the herring industry, which was initially developed by the Dutch.

At its height, 300 boats were moored in the harbour, along with fifteen curing stations. The fleet followed the herring shoals down the coast. By 1939 the herring had moved elsewhere and the start of the Second World War brought the trade to an end.

It is difficult to imagine Whitehall as it would have looked each July and August during the height of the herring boom from the 1880s. For some six weeks the population of Stronsay, normally around 1200 at the time, would rise to over 5000 as fishing fleets, fish gutters and others descended on what at the time was by far Orkney's most important fishing port. Not less than forty pubs worked here in the high season, and many houses took lodgers.

Stronsay Inland 

There is a smaller living centre in the island, between St Catherine's Bay and the Vat of Kilbister. The Junior High School, with a public gym and swimming pool; an old chapel has been converted to shelter the iconic Craftship Enterprise, housing Airy Fairy and others.

At Stronsay Junior School.

The old chapel (Mallettt),
now the Craftship Enterprise

This chapel now named Mallett was  built in 1800 during one of the schisms in the Scottish church.

Presently the Craftship Enterprise hosts there workshops and holidays, producing unique greeting cards and handmade wedding and home decorations. Quality quilts, children’s clothes and fabrics from Airy Fairy are widely appreciated.

A ‘Crafteria’ is also available for lunches, homebakes, teas, coffees and cakes.
Some examples:

The Moncur memorial Church

Stronsay's only church lies by the centre of the island on the B9060 road. It was built between 1950 and 1955.

A very sober interior, the design emphasises simplicity.

Stronsay, the "star Island".

Stronsay was named by one seafaring people (the Vikings) and then settled by another (the Dutch), so its people always had close links with the sea. For such a small area (33 km2), the coast length is amazing - over 35 km - , due to its indented star-shaped form.

The name Stronsay comes from the Norse Strjónsey meaning "Star Island" ; it is also one of the most fertile of the Orkney Islands, even though it's treeless by nature.

Holland Farm at Tor Ness, Stronsay

A tree in Stronsay ! or at least kind of...

The island is relatively flat and the highest point is Burgh Hill at 46 metres.

The coast of Stronsay - rocks, cliffs and sandy bays

The old Mill (now disused) at Mill Bay.

St Catherine’s Bay, the Bay of Holland, the Bay of Huip and Mill Bay have the largest expanses of sand, but there are many other small beaches to explore, with all choices of sun and wind direction.

 Mill Bay sands.

Rothiesholm sands.

Maybe the best sany beach in Stronsay.

Sunset at Rothiesholm.

The Vat of Kirbuster, a giant natural stone arch in the rocks

This arch on the southeastern coast is 10.6 m long and 20m above the sea. It was created bu the collapse of a cave in the cliffs.

Nearby, the remains of a broch - once an iron-age defensive tower with rooms within the double walls. Stronsay has a number of archaeological sites, like brochs and cairns. A large chambered cairn near the Bu and two smaller ones at Lamb Head.

These two flint arrow heads from the Mesolithic Period found in 2007 at Links House, Stronsay, are believed to date back to between 10 000 and 12 000 years ago.

Several caves are visible in Burgh Head and Lamb´s Head

Sea stack and high cliff at Burgh's Head. Nearby Burgh Hill, at 46 m, is the island's highest point.

Whitehall Under Storm

Sea storms are the most feared threat to Whitehall. People are usually prepared, nevertheless the damage is often heavy.

Things seem to get worse in recent years.

The Hotel is somehow protected by the further waterfrontly Fish Mart.

There is a landing strip on Stronsay for small planes, but it is by ferry that people in Stromsay have most contacts with the outside world.

Some links:

Craftship Enterprise:

Stronsay Fishmart Cafe & Hostel

Airy Fairy

Stronsay Limpet

Orkney Star Island Soap & Textiles

Storehouse B&B.

Yes !