Clandestine in Orkney

Right after Bespoked this year, I took the long old train up to Aberdeen, and the ferry after that, and rode onto the Orkney Island archipelago. For two weeks, my partner and I meandered from island to island, camping by the shore, or up hillsides, or in the corners of fields.

Orkney is alternatively wild and pastoral, raging storm lashed and tropical white sands. You can hop onto the little ferries between the islands, all of them ringed or cris-crossed with tiny roads, grass up the middle and perfect for touring.

Each island has it’s own character, from desolate and uninhabited, to rural micro community idyll. The whole time we rode in perpetual fear of running out of food: a real possibility on islands that might have a couple of ferries a day and but one shop open twice a week for a few hours. So we carried a hilarious amount of food with us at all times, savouring slow Trangia cooking and luxurious tea stops, restocking everywhere we could.

We’d roll gently round the islands, sometimes grinding into screaming headwinds, other times gliding through rolling farmland. We’d stop to whip out the binoculars for impromptu bird spotting, or to keep the cold at bay with a slug of tea from the thermos, or else to duck into ancient burial mounds.

I feel a huge affinity for the quiet far north. It’s a place to catch a breath, to roll slowly through. I’m not entirely sure that places like Orkney aren’t the whole reason I build the bikes I do. Bikes for the slow roll, for carrying gear and real food into the hills to explore stone age landscapes, to go for days without worrying about missing the last ferry of the day.