Midwinter Day Trip to Orkney: Mad or What?

‘It was turning out to be a beautiful calm sunny day, even if the temperature was minus 4 degrees’: Hamnavoe (behind) and a ‘dormant looking’ Pentalina, pictured at Stromness when Graeme Roy visited Orkney earlier this month

CRSC member Graeme Roy and his daughter Eilish recently set off on a day trip to Orkney to visit relatives. Here he shares the experience of sailing to Stromness in the deepest depths of winter.

There can’t be many people who would travel from London to Bellshill via Orkney in mid December, especially in the recent Arctic conditions.  But for the last three years the pre-Christmas visit to see mother, by my daughter and me, has included an element of adventure.

I’ll skip the challenges of flying to Inverness and driving to Thurso in snow and ice, as even the boat trip from Scrabster to Stromness may be stretching any relevance to the River Clyde!

Sunrise at 10am

Suffice to say that on 13 December 2022, Eilish and I boarded Hamnavoe of NorthLink Ferries at Scrabster on the darkest of mornings. After the early rise, my next jolt of the day was the cost of the return day trip for a car and two concessionary passengers. At over £170 for a journey time of only 90 minutes each way, this did feel a bit steep.

Putting the fare aside, Hamnavoe departed a good 10 minutes ahead of her scheduled time of 0845. I immediately felt that she was a cut above most CalMac ferries in terms of internal accommodation. She is very well appointed, with comfortable seats, a good restaurant, a children’s play area, a VIP lounge if you want to pay for it, as well as sleeping berths.

The only disappointment for aficionados is the lack of forward-looking outdoor viewing space. The large rear deck is somewhat optimistically called the ‘sundeck’. Really?! And there are two small outdoor viewing areas amidships. Each of these areas had very few seats.

Hamnavoe was built in 2002. She was originally ordered from the Fergusons shipyard in Port Glasgow, but was actually completed in Finland after Fergusons withdrew from the contract due to design and production scheduling issues.

The sea was choppy, but Hamnavoe coped well, and when the sun eventually came up at 1000 hours, we were treated to a good view of the Old Man of Hoy on the starboard side.

Passing the Old Man of Hoy

Indeed, as we entered Hoy Sound and sailed past Graemsay Island (almost my namesake) on our way to Stromness, it was turning out to be a beautiful calm sunny day, even if the temperature was minus 4 degrees.

At Stromness we berthed alongside the dormant looking catamaran Pentalina, and noticed some of the ferries to the smaller islands were coming and going.

I’ll skip the adventures of trying to visit neolithic stone circles and settlements on single track roads covered in sheets of ice, and of seemingly being the only tourists on the Orkney mainland. But we did visit the lovely city of Kirkwall, where, once again, the island ferries of varying shapes and sizes were in evidence.

Back at Stromness there was time for more hot coffee and some photographs just as the sun went to bed at 1500 hours and the snow re-appeared. Much to our relief, Hamnavoe again departed on time for a smooth sail back to Scrabster.

It’s lovely when you can do a day trip like this, with sensible departure times which give you a day to explore a new place. Orkney is to be recommended. Our only disappointment was that on the next day (14 December), the drive from Wick to Glasgow took longer than planned and we missed the CRSC meeting.

Graeme Roy lives near London but sees plenty of benefits of CRSC membership. You can join CRSC here and, like him, share your interest in ships with like-minded enthusiasts.

Arrival at Stromness

Stromness scene: Graemsay, one of the ferries connecting smaller islands with the Orkney mainland

Leaving Stromness in snow: ‘It’s lovely when you can do a day trip like this in winter, with sensible departure times which give you a day to explore’


Answering the Call of the Northern Isles

The NorthLink Operation

Mark Nicolson’s Orkney Diary

Published on 27 December 2022