Not for nothing did the poet and novelist George Mackay Brown say that the Orkney imagination was haunted by time. There’s something otherworldly about the Orkney Islands. There’s been a human presence here for thousands of years; the living in places like Skara Brae and the dead in the Neolithic burial chamber of Maes Howe, whose entry shaft is perfectly aligned with the setting sun on the winter solstice.
The land’s been smoothed over by the prevailing winds, and the resulting views are of rolling hills and water, water everywhere between the 70 islands that make up the archipelago. The dun hills are are like the patternless tweed of a geography teacher’s jacket and the sky can do everything from broody to menthol-clear.
Many visitors arrive on the short ferry hop from Gills Bay, between Thurso and John O'Groats, to the charming little port village of St Margaret's Hope. From here it's a couple of miles over the hill to Wheems Organic Farm. Owned by Mike Roberts, though now largely run by his daughter Islay, the campsite has a simple and fitting ethos; to keep things small, simple and eco friendly but, most of all, to share the beauty of this ethereal setting with all who choose to visit.
For those seeking creature comforts, Mike has constructed two solid wooden bothies, insulated with sheeps’ fleece and with long double-glazed doors that open onto a deck overlooking the bay. Islay, meanwhile, has poured her efforts into a new, Mongolian-style yurt, with beautiful latticework walls and a toasty log-burning stove in its centre. Between them they bridge the various gaps in the world of camping accomodation, leaving something for every visitor. Campers and caravanners can pitch in the meadows, visitors travelling light can bunk in the wooden bothies, while those pipping for the full comforts of a double bed and furnishings can head straight for the yurt. Everyone is welcome.
Facilities-wise, there are toilets, showers and a communal kitchen housed alongside the farm buildings and, if the hens are playing ball, fresh eggs are available along with other homegrown produce (when in season). BBQs and small campfires are permitted, depending on the wind direction and the possibility of spark damage to neighbouring tents – if unsure do check with the owners first. Dogs are welcome as long as they are kept on leads.
On your way back south, try if you can to stop at the small Italian chapel on Lamb Holm, built by and for the POWs while they were here and skillfully preserved. Like most things in the Orkneys, it’s a simple and unassuming place, but beautifully done.
The campsite owner saysWheems Organic Farm is an ecological and organic 6 hectare horticulture and animal smallholding, producing organic food for a local market. Wheems farm buildings are 200 years old and have been renovated using local, traditional and sustainable materials. Wheems farmland has been sensitively landscaped with areas set aside for conservation, areas carved out with stone dyke walling, and areas of tree planting.
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