I was getting over a cold, had little energy and so wanted a gentle toddle rather than a strenuous stomp. So I bethought myself of the Lochside Viewpoint, in Harray. Back in the year 2000, on our first visit to Orkney, we drove off the ferry in Stromness and looked for somewhere for Ben-The-Dog to empty his tanks. On the Inter-City-Super-Highway from Stromness to Kirkwall we saw a sign just past Maeshowe, for the Lochside Viewpoint. We turned to the left, off the main road, soon turned into the car park and – viewed the loch, while Ben ran about like a mad thing. First impressions of Orkney – we’d come to the right place.
We’ve been back many times since and, on a sunny autumn Sunday, we went for a stroll there, once again.
Parts of this walk are boardwalk as in places it’s over wetland – the boardwalks make for easy walking and perfect for if you’re not feeling robust, or if you just want a bit of an airing.
At the beginning of the walk a detour to your right will take you to two mounds which are divided by a bit of a ditch and bank.
From the top of the larger mound you are in a perfect situation to appreciate the position of this place, and these mounds, in the bowl in the hills which holds the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. Some of the surrounding sites you can see – some you can’t see – but you know they are there – Zen and the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. Starting from your left and sweeping round, clockwise (of course!) there is … Maeshowe and the Barnhouse Stone, Mid Hill, Unstan Cairn and the Deepdale Stone, the Stones of Stenness, the Hoy Hills – with their cairns atop – overlooking all, Brodgar, Bookan, then, swing round, to the stone on Staney Hill. There may appear to be a big gap between Bookan and the Staney Hill stone, there is – a gap in the hills, leading through to Skara Brae.
What a situation. I’m sure that this was a significant place in the distant past. Water, hills, stones, and all surrounding this place, with this cairn, which doesn’t get much attention. And, from the top of the bigger cairn, the smaller one becomes more clearly defined.
You can walk right over the larger mound and, turning either to left or right, walk round it and back to the main path.
In the spring and summer the pools here are full of water plants – bogbean, water mint, water forget-me-not, marsh marigold. It’s glorious, with the flowers coming up through the boardwalk beneath your feet in places.
Follow the boardwalk over the wetland and then there is a path through the heather which is a bit more rough and can be soggy too, until you come to a stile with a sign.
Crossing the stile, before heading off along the side of the loch, you can walk out onto a little spit of land which leads out into the lake. Looking over to your left, you can just make out the Stones of Stenness and of Brodgar. When we first visited Lochside Viewpoint that was what we could see – now, in between the two sets of standing stones, is the Ness of Brodgar which was always there – folk had just forgotten about it.
What a spot on which to stand, look about you, and see the ‘sites’ of Neolithic Orkney laid out in front of you.
I have been known to walk out into the lake here (in my wellies!) and drop a stone or two into the water just because it feels right – acknowledging the water, the ancient sites, and the position of it all, in that bowl in the hills.
Retracing your steps along the spit of land to the stile, you can turn to your right, cross another stile, and walk along by the loch. The going gets a bit difficult after a while – very soggy – but it’s worth going some way along if you can; it’s such a lovely place to be.
Back to the stile and heading back to the car park, where there is another short circular walk by the loch, around the area which has picnic tables. It’s a grand spot to sit and eat your sandwiches, drink tea – maybe with a dash of whisky in the winter – on a fine day of blue sky, white clouds, blue waters, green hills – and look about you, and … be.