A Hoy Egg hunting Adventure

From Dark Enchanted Isle by John Bremner

John was the eldest son of Margaret (née Ritch) of Quholme (now Bunnertoon). Margaret was the daughter of Isaac, William Sinclair Ritch’s brother. 

‘A relation of mine, who had spent many years in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company, took me, a boy of nine at the time, on an egg-hunting expedition to the famous plain of Geniefea, where the seagulls nest in their thousands. It is a long walk from Rackwick; one must first climb the steep face of Melfea hill, and walk for a distance of about six miles ere he arrives at Geniefea.

The day – a Saturday- was fine when we started out, and continued thus until we had begun the trek homeward. We had done well in our search; we had ten dozen eggs in our basket. But alas, those eggs were not destined to adorn our tables! The mist was beginning to creep down over the lonely moors ere we reached Willie Young’s Cairn, on the summit of the hill of the Sneuk, and soon it had settled down over the whole area; a drizzle of fine rain along with the mist made the situation anything but pleasant. But worse was to come.

When eventually we arrived at the cairn, we thought – at least I did – that the worst was over. I was to be sadly disillusioned. We left the cairn, a fatal move – and struck out bravely in the direction of Rackwick as we thought. After walking for an hour or so, to our intense chagrin, the cairn loomed up once more through the mist, appearing twice its normal size in the vaporous mass by which it was enveloped. Weary and disappointed, again we left the friendly shelter of the cairn, and trusted to good luck to guide us. After which seemed to us a lengthy period we reached the cliff-edge, and by all the laws of geography, should have reached our homes in good time, by keeping the cliffs on our left hand. But it was not to be thus. The man who had traversed the wild wastes of Hudson Bay for the long period of thirty-eight years, was well and truly lost in his own native island. As for myself, it was a case of ‘follow my leader’, though, had I been on my own, I would certainly have arrived home in safety. The perversity of Fate made us walk in the opposite direction, with the result that, late that night, we arrived in the district of Saltness, Longhope, where kind friends – now, alas dead – ministered to our needs. Personally, I was cold, tired, and ravenously hungry. We slept far into the next day, and then took the trail once more – this time in the right direction, eventually arriving safe home.

I quote this instance to show how easy it is to get lost, and perforce, to walk about with no sense of direction, and the Hills of Hoy are not the best of places in which to roam aimlessly around.’

image: Herring gull egg, Stromness Museum