2: Rough road to Rackwick

Narrator: Marion Talbot

Contributors: James Stockan / Dan Lee / Olivia Thomson / Donnie MacKinnon / Jimmy Moar / Gordon Hill / Jack Rendall / Lee Shields / Terry Thomson / Jean Thomson / Frankie Sinclair / Margaret Moar / Tom Muir / Dorothy Rendall

Music: James Watson, Wooden Sole Music

Credits: The Orcadian / Orkney Library & Archive / John Bremner, Hoy The dark Enchanted Isle, Bellavista 1997

Rough road to Rackwick Tales o Hoy

Follow the journey in our interactive map showing you the places along the way.

We start this journey near Orgil where we ended up in Episode 1. From there we head on between the hills of Hoy.

Groups, Braebuster in the early 1920s photographed by Shetlander J. Peterson

Archaeologist Dan Lee starts us off on this journey pointing out the old hill dyke and sites around Braebuster.

You can find ORCA’s archaeology report including Braebuster here. The wartime sites are noted here.

Next on to the start of the RSPB Hoy Reserve and Sandy Loch.

James Sinclair, the botanist from the Bu, had collected over 500 species of plants in Orkney by his twenties, many of them in Hoy. Find out about more about James here. Some of his herbarium sheets held at RBGE can be seen below.

Hoy is rich with flora and you can identify any species you see when you get to Hoy Heritage Centre and explore the Effy Everiss Natural History Library. Mavis Strudwick and her husband Frank were keen botanists and we have digital copies of their extensive slide collection of Hoy flora. Here are some of Frank’s images.

Next on our journey we climb the Cuilags and witness the debris left at a chilling plane crash site. Eight Czech men lost their lives when the wing of their Liberator clipped the hill on New Year’s Day 1945. Air accident research here.

Now back down the hill to rejoin the Old Road. In the audio Jack Rendall talks of walking the 5 mile round journey to Hoy Kirk. Tommy talks of Rackwick folk visiting families in Hoy and after kirk, Tommy uses the old Orkney word ‘voy’ – a term for accompanying vistors part way on their journey home so conversations could continue, voying them up the road.

This path was the only connecting route between the township of Rackwick and the other communities in Hoy parish. The peat track can be wet and rough and was the only vehicle that could handle the terrain was a bullock drawn mail cart called The Hoy Express. This unusual transportation captured the Edwardian imagination and became a popular postcard subject. Find out more here.

RSPB Warden for Hoy, Lee Shields, joins us on the journey to point out some of the fauna of the area and surprises us with the fact that Great skuas, called Bonxies here, are as rare as Polar bears. Neither should be approached!

Orkney based wildlife cameraman Raymond Besant travels the world to film the animal kingdom, one of his favourites is the Mountain hare. See here. Hoy is home to the Mountain Hare.

Ward Hill towers above the flat landscape of Orkney, but at just over 1,500 feet it is only half the height requirement for a munro. Here however it is, as Marion our narrator says, like Everest.

Jean Thomson tells us about climbing Ward Hill on horseback, it could have been one of these horses kept by her father at the Bu.

Jimmy Moar would take his CB gear up Ward Hill to see how far he could reach and his wife Margaret would climb up with sandwiches and a flask.

Next on our route is Berriedale, Britain’s northernmost native woodland. Visit here at Orkney.com

We carry on through the old peat track and Dorothy describes the process of winning peats from the hill.

We leave this journey at the point where the Old Road meets the New Road and we enter the valley of Rackwick.

Before we leave Dan Lee tells us about the mysterious patch of green known as Dead Boy’s Grave part way up the very steep east-facing side of Clicknafea.

images: Hoy Heritage, Orkney Library & Archive, Dan Lee, Creative Commons, Karl Cooper (Sandy Loch), Colin Kinnear (Cuilags and wreckage), Raymond Besant, Orkney.com

Inn the next episode we explore Rackwick.

Available 15 May