"Draped like grey
lace on an emerald shore, the Orkney town of Stromness recalls
a past of whaling, war and trade."
Around sixteen miles to the west of Kirkwall
Orkney's second main town, Stromness lies on the
south western tip of the Mainland,
clustered tightly on the shores of Hamnavoe beneath the rocky ridge
known as Brinkie's Brae.
Arriving in Orkney from Scrabster, on the Scottish
mainland, Stromness is the first port of call. Gliding into the
sheltered harbour, the visitor is greeted by a view that has met
seafarers for centuries.
The first impression of Stromness is that of an
old traditional stone built port, nestling comfortably against the
hillside of Brinkie's Brae. Not as old as Kirkwall, Stromness flourished
in the 17th and 18th centuries as a result of increased trade with
the New World.
wars between England and France also meant that shipping in the
English Channel was dangerous, so the vessels made their way across
the north of Scotland and used Stromness as a stop-off point. The
ships of the Hudson's Bay Company and the
whaling fleets became regular visitors with the town an important
recruiting centre for crewmen.
Stromness is similar to Kirkwall in that it follows
one long winding road - simply known as "the street" -
also flagstoned, and also shared by pedestrian and motorist.
From this street a great number of narrow lanes
and closes branch off. This gives the town a labyrinthine quality
with steep narrow paths climbing the hillside on the north side
of the street, while on the south, the houses and shops back onto
However, not all visitors to Stromness we captivated
by its charms. When Sir Walter Scott visited Orkney in 1814, he complained
"cannot be traversed by a cart or even by
a horse, for there are stairs up and down even in the principal
street... whose twistings are often caused by a little enclosure
before the house, a sort of yard, about twenty feet square called
Little has changed in central
Stromness since Scott's visit. Where once the narrow streets and
closes thronged with seamen, whalers and traders now wander tourists,
visitors and sightseers.