Small Bars in Wollongong – Part 2

More On Wollongong’s nightlife

A few months ago I published my first set of reviews for Wollongong’s small bars. Six bars done over two nights. In that post, I promised to review some more with my trusty group of Old Chook researchers. You can read that first comprehensive review here.

Since then the group has grown. From three foundation members we now have five. This poses a few questions in regards to the reliability of our study. I have had to do some tricky statistical calculations to try and reduce any problems with our data. The total scores for all the bars have been moderated by calculating the raw score dividing by the number of participants and then multiplying the per person score by 4 to give a moderated value. Rough and ready perhaps, but OK for these purposes.

This review covers six more venues. Red Square, His Boy Elroy, the Humber Bar (in early June); Howling Wolf, The Little Prince and The Bavarian (in early August) . We used the same scoring matrix we used in the other reviews.

June Session Reviews:

Red Square.

108 Keira Street

The Red Square is a vodka bar. We were there early, and as we have noticed before for this early time slot, the place was more or less empty. A few groups of office workers were having extended Friday after-work drinks. The vibe was friendly and relaxed.

The decor is dark with lots of bright neon lights on the bar itself while the rest of the lighting is  very subdued – you could say it was dark! But we like that. Easy on the eyes and you don’t feel like you are in a supermarket. This bar won the prettiest bar competition for the night. The back-lighting behind the bottles and the matching labels were very effective.

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The bare floorboards and bare walls made for a noisy interior although we all agreed the playlist was good. The music itself was not obtrusive and we liked the selection. They do have live music but we left before that started.  While it was easy to get a seat, the seats themselves were basic unpadded stools. Despite being a vodka bar there was a good selection of other drinks and the prices very reasonable. They had some nice cocktails on offer. The food offerings were good and well priced, although you might find it tough to make a selection if you were vegetarian.

We would all go again. The service was friendly and efficient  but there was little interaction.

BEST: Red Square offered good value for money for both their drinks and food menu with a good choice of offerings.

WORST: The seats. Sorry fellas but a cushion would be good!

His Boy Elroy.

Keira Street (in the shopping mall)

His Boy Elroy used to be in Globe Lane. I went there a few times at that location and remember it to be a hipster sort of place where neat beards would be de rigueur. Not now. The new His Boy Elroy would be best described as a sports bar. There were lots of  TVs playing sports channels and sports related paraphernalia bedecking the walls. Even though it was relatively early – around 8:30 PM when we arrived, we had to wait for an inside table. We could get one outside but it was chilly and the outdoor heater not close enough to the available table.

As Old Chooks we felt very much out of place here, and while the bar staff were friendly and welcoming, the very obvious presence of security people was a bit off putting. The other customers were all at least half our age. HBE scored poorly in  few areas. Firstly the toilet facilities. While clean and fragrant they are a long way away! As the bar is part of the shopping complex you actually have to go into the mall and find the toilets in there. Don’t leave it to the last minute is my advice!

There was a limited choice of food and drinks. Ten varieties of beers and only a choice of two whites and two red wines. It’s a burger joint so there are burgers and not much else on the food menu. We opted for loaded fries. The serving was very generous and they were tasty.

The music was described as loud doof-doof which made talking difficult. The one standout in the scoring was  that we all agreed we would not go again.

This is not an Old Chooks Bar! If you are under 30 and looking for a place to hang out with friends, it would be a great place, but  it’s not what we would look for in a good night out.

BEST: The food was reasonably priced and in generous portions.

WORST:  The noise levels. TV on, Music On, People ON! Too much on!

The Humber Bar

226 Crown Street

Now, this was more like it. The Humber Bar is on three levels. It has plenty of room and each floor has a different atmosphere. We opted for the mezzanine level. There were only a few people there. It was  more crowded upstairs, but as you should know by now crowds do not necessarily make a good Old Chooks’ night out!  The Humber Bar has pleasant but minimalist decor. It has lounges around two sides of its triangular walls. The lighting is good, not too dark or bright and the volume of the music excellent. The food selection was impressive and at a good price. The drinks menu equally good and served in nice glassware. The bar staff were very friendly,  with two people serving about ten people we did not have to wait at all and they were happy to chat.

Co-incidentally an impromptu drama unfolded in front of us. A 40-something man sitting at the bar cuddling a much younger woman. Another woman and her friend walked in. She yelled, he jumped, the younger woman disappeared and the friend spent the rest of the night consoling the older woman. Turns out the man’s wife had busted him with the “other woman”. Very dramatic although you could have missed all the action, if you weren’t so observant.

We would all go again. This was a good location for an Old Chooks’ night out and the upper level would be a good place if you are looking for somewhere more lively.

BEST: Wide selection of food and drinks.

WORST: The Humber scored well in all aspects; to pick a worst, it was the un-padded bar stools, once again. We could have sat on the lounges but that was not really suitable for a group of four.

August Session

We had set the date for our August research a few weeks in advance. As usual, finding a date when everyone is free is not easy, but the stars aligned and we had a date fixed. The unusually cold weather and predicted 100 km winds did not deter us from our mission! We rugged up with jackets, scarves and beanies and headed off, our group expanded by one more member.

Our planned bars for the night were, Howlin’ Wolf, The Little Prince and Another Burger Joint. We discovered that the Burger Joint had closed down so we opted for the Bavarian after cruising past  Holey Moley and another bar underneath Crown Central. We avoided both of those but in the interests of social science we will go back to them to complete our study. But heads up, they may not score well on the Chook-o-meter. One is a putt putt golf bar, the other full of arcade games.

Down to business.

The Howlin’ Wolf Whiskey Bar

103/53-61 Crown Street (it’s in an arcade)

I arrived at the Howlin Wolf  a little before 7PM. My Uber had come quicker than expected. The bar is located in a laneway that runs off Crown Street. There is a pizza shop at one end of the lane and a burger place at the other. The bar itself is very hip with dark interiors, some hand painted “artworks” on the walls and ceiling.  By the time everyone arrived and ordered first drinks it was about 7:10. We had apparently missed happy hour by 10 minutes. Oh well… we thought… but then the next people to get served (by a different waiter) DID get the happy hour prices! We felt a little ripped off!

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Despite this, the prices were still reasonable and the selection of wine good even though it’s a whiskey bar. The tables were  small and the stools low and rickety. The music was loud although in good taste. We could sing along to it all. They probably thought they were being very retro but it was the soundtrack of our youth!  Food was an issue. They did not have a kitchen of their own. They had a few choices available which came from the aforementioned pizza/burger places OR since they had deals with most of the other restaurants in the area you could order online and get it delivered. We opted to do without so the scores will be a bit low because of this. The stemless glassware was elegant and apart from missing out on the happy  hour pricing, we were happy with the selection. The toilets were clean and abundant. 80% said they would return. Howlin’ Wolf is also a live music venue. They were setting up as we left.

BEST: The good playlist.

WORST: Inconsistent application of happy hour policy!

 

The Little Prince

Globe Lane

The Little Prince is a flagship small bar in Wollongong. It has been open for as long as I can remember. I can’t find anything on their Facebook page to say how long they have been opened, but it’s a long time. It has been a steady favourite for many and was one of the first alternate wine bars to open in the ‘Gong. It is relaxed and elegant with a small indoor seating area and a larger outdoor area, some of which is undercover. It is a great summer venue. We were there in August and as I said above the winds were raging and the temperature below 10C. All the inside seats were understandably taken and we made our way out to sit undercover and near a heater. We kept our jackets and scarfs on. The seating is very comfortable and the general atmosphere cozy. We watched the wind whip the plastic walls in and out.

The drinks menu is good and there is a wide range of tapas and pizza to choose from. Our group ordered a pizza and some hot chips. Both came quickly and were piping hot. The servers were friendly and were able to advise on alternatives to a wine that was out of stock. The music was unobtrusive, to the point that none of us made special mention of it in our surveys. It was easy to chat and we stayed longer than anticipated. A good sign I guess!

BEST: Excellent food selection

WORST: While we were out of the wind, we needed to keep our jackets on. Not really a winter venue.

 

The Bavarian

Crown Street – Wollongong Central Complex

The Bavarian  is also part of the Wollongong Central Shopping Mall. It only opened very recently. It is advertised as a German Restaurant and Bar and is part of a chain. The wooden bench seating and bright lighting made it feel like a McDonalds with alcohol. There were also TV’s on the walls playing sports. Is this the thing now?

The bar staff were very friendly and welcoming. A fellow a bit like Hagar the Horrible opened the door for us. He was obviously security but unlike His Boy Elroy he was not dressed in black so he did not look like security. This must be part of the deal of having a bar in this complex?

The bar was nicely set up with glasses hanging from racks. The bar prices were not so pretty. Starting at about $12 a glass, which is not unusual,  the servings were VERY small. You could buy a larger serve which was twice the price but not twice the volume. Food choices were good and we were able to select a few share plates. The fried Camembert tasty, but perhaps a little outdated? (or is it so out of date it’s retro?) 60% of us would go back. I think it would be a great venue for  big group booking. You could be as noisy as you wanted without a care. It was certainly not the place to go on an intimate first date.

BEST: Glassware and quality of the wine.

WORST: Value for money.

And the winner is…..

So to get to the nitty gritty.  The winner out of these 6 bars was the Humber with Red Sqaure and The Little Prince only a few points behind.

Session 2 chart

Overall, Births and Deaths is still our top scoring venue, although there is not much in it. I think we may have been a little harsh on Throsby’s? Perhaps we need to revisit there and give them a chance to redeem themselves.

overall chart

Stayed tuned for Part 3 when we finish off the small bars in Wollongong!

First responder.

A traffic accident on Harris Island, Scotland.

June 2019

I am still not sure what made me look up at that particular moment. I guess something must have caught my eye. With more than 40 years driving experience under your seat belt,  you remain alert even when you are admiring the broad, rugged landscapes of Harris Island.

But look up, I did. Just in time to see the large white SUV, which was the second car behind me, pull out onto the other side of the road to overtake. At the same moment, the car directly behind me also pulled out and accelerated rapidly.

“No! Mate! No!” I shouted at the silver car “Don’t!”

The small silver car slammed into the side of the larger, white car, and became airborne sailing over the top of the white car, rolling over and over again. It dropped into a gully next to the road. I didn’t see it hit the ground, but when I did see where it had come to rest, I could tell from the dug-up field, that it had skated on its roof across the rock-studded grass. The white car spun on its wheels and ended up facing the right way in the correct lane, front tyre punctured, passenger side caved in, airbags fully deployed

It all happened in a fraction of a second, but as people say, it seemed as if it was in slow motion. Every nanosecond etched on my mind.

I pulled over to the shoulder of the road and grabbed my phone from the charger. I opened the boot of the car and fished out my first kit. The one I had brought in case I sprained my ankle while hiking.

As I jabbed 999 on the phone’s keyboard,  I thought to myself “I don’t have enough Bandaids for this accident. Those people are dead for sure.”

“Ambulance, Fire or Police?” the calm female voice said at the other end of the line.

“Ambulance and Police,” I said, already fumbling with my phone to put it on loudspeaker, so I could use the Emergency App to give my location.

 

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These are the emergency contacts for NSW, Australia, I don’t remember if it gave the 999 number in Scotland. I think I just remembered it from TV shows!

“Which one first?”

“Ambulance, I would say. I have just witnessed a serious road crash. My location is XYZ”, and I gave my coordinates, reading from the screen.

I ran down the hill, the tiny first aid kit tucked under my arm.

I got to the white car first.

“Are you hurt? Any injuries?”

“No,” they both said, “We are OK, just a bit shaky.”

“Stay in the car,” I said, “I have called an ambulance.”

I turned to see a young man and woman crawling out of the silver car and watched incredulously, as they scrambled up the embankment.

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“Come! Sit!” I said, sizing up their injuries. Scratched hands from the broken glass. A large graze on his temple. Cuts to her shins and shredded tights. Both had dilated pupils and were rambling on about what had happened.

“I just didn’t see him!” the young man said.

They were in shock.

I passed my assessment on to the calm lady who was still on the other end of the phone.

“I’ll send two ambulances,” she said. “it will be a while.”

I pulled out a gauze pad from my kit and told the girl to hold it on the largest cut on her shin. The blood flowing freely from the cut, making it look more gruesome than it was.

“Press  hard with this,” I said, “what’s your name?”

“Joanna”

“Where are you hurt, Joanna? Is it ok if I touch you to see if you have any injuries?

“My back and neck are really sore.”

“I imagine they are! Can you just stay really still for me?” I draped my one, silver blanket over her shaking body and asked her to breathe with me. “Nice deep breaths Joanna… Slow down, slow down… you’ll be Ok. The ambulance is on its way.”

By this stage, some other people had begun to pull up.

“Do you need help?”

“Yes, I do! Do you have a blanket?

The Dutchman nods.

“Get it, and wrap this fellow up. He needs to stay warm.”

“What’s your name, mate?” I asked the dazed man.

“John”

“You’ve got a bit of a bump on your head there John! Can I have a look at it?”

I took another piece of gauze from the meagre first aid kit and pressed it against his bleeding head.

“Can I help? another voice said from the crowd. “I am a navy medic.”

“Take over here, mate, you can do a better job than me!”

“No, you seem to have it under control.” He walked away and melted back into the crowd.

“HANG ON!!” I thought, “Is there no one here better equipped than me to deal with this? Here I am on the other side of the world in a foreign country being a very bossy Australian telling Scottish people what to do?? Is there no-one?”

It would seem I was it.

The Uncle of the White Car Man (who I now knew was Alex) turned up at my side. They had called him straight after the crash.

“You need help,” he said. Not a question but a statement.

“Yes, mate!”

Thank god, another person willing to lead.  “Can you stop the traffic up there. We don’t want to get run over ourselves.”

There was no verge, and we were sitting right on the road.

The traffic was calm and patient. A few people got out to look at what was happening and then returned to their cars. There were offers of food and water for the injured.

“No,” I said “You don’t know if they are going to need surgery. Let’s wait for the ambo’s”.

The quizzical looks reminded me that abbreviating a word and adding an O was a uniquely Australian practice.

We waited. I checked on the two in the SUV again. They were still shaky but definitely uninjured.

My phone rang.

“Yes?”

“Harris Police here, can you tell me what has happened?”

“Road crash at (co-ordinates).  No major injuries. The traffic is building up.”

All matter of fact, as if I do this every day.

“We’ll be there as soon as we can, but we are already dealing with another matter at the other end of the island.”

It seemed like an episode of Shetland. The majestic scenery was laid out before me. The rocky outcrops, the soaring birds, the inquisitive bystanders. The grey, scudding clouds.

More time elapsed.  perhaps 30 minutes, and then the welcome wail of a siren. One ambulance had arrived.

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“Ok,” the green-clad fellow said, “What’s going on here?”

“Traffic accident, four people involved the two in the white car are a bit shaky but otherwise appear to be OK. These two, John and Joanna, crawled out of that car (the ambo lets out a long low whistle) and up the hill. They have some superficial injuries (pointing to their legs and hands)  but are both complaining of headache, backache and a sore neck. They have been conscious and lucid the whole time. Their breathing has steadied, and they seem to be able to move freely, but I have asked them to stay still. Joanna is the most distressed, but I am concerned about his contusion on John’s forehead.”

“Ah hah…” he said slowly as he put on his gloves.

Shit! No gloves! I forgot to put mine on!!

“How long ago?”

“About 40 minutes?

“Hmm ok. Can you just hold John’s head still while I have a look.”

I cradled John’s head in the way I had been shown in the advanced first aid course I had done.

The paramedic looked at me and said: “Hmmm you know what to do… are you a first responder?”

First responder? I smiled and as a million thoughts went through my head as to how an Australian holidaying in Scotland had taken charge of a traffic accident, was well, not a first responder per se, but certainly a well trained NSW SES volunteer.  How do you describe what the NSW SES is? Tick tock tick tock …it all flicked through my mind, and I decided on

“Well, no, not exactly. I am a volunteer in the emergency services in Australia. I have had some advanced training in this sort of thing.”

That would do for the time being. Another ambulance crew turned up. The paramedics decided to treat John and Joanna as having potential spinal injuries, which meant very cautious handling. I helped them strap the two onto spinal boards, and lift them onto the ambulance.

As they departed, I looked at the long, long queues of traffic stretching back on both sides of the road. The white car was still in the middle of the lane, immobile, blocking the traffic.  The once patient drivers beginning to get impatient as the ambulance vanished over the hill. To me, it seemed like another accident waiting to happen, as people began to pull out willy-nilly, trying to get past.

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In rapid-fire, I said to the Uncle “Contra-flow traffic, ten cars each way. You let ten cars past and then stop them, and then I‘ll let ten go from my end. Do that until we finish. Hold up your hand like this (the stop signal) and raise your other hand to me when you are ready to change over,”  I demonstrated a beckoning signal.

I went up the road and waved the first car on. It didn’t move. An older woman in the driver’s seat was slumped over the wheel.

“Oh my god,” I thought, “don’t tell me she’s had a heart attack while we’ve been waiting? And the ambulance has just left!”

I walked gingerly up to her car and tapped on the window. She woke up, startled. I let out the breath I hadn’t realised I had been holding.

“Move on please ma’am.”

For the next 15 minutes, we directed the traffic. I cursed the fact that I was dressed all in black and had no hi-vis, no glowing traffic wand. Not like in the training I had done.

The police rang again. They’d be there soon.

After 2 hours, they did finally arrive. The queues of traffic had gone, the ambulance had taken John and Joanna away. Alex (the driver of the white car) had calmed down, and his Aunty was now just plain angry that the police had taken so long to get there. The Uncle and I were congratulating each other on what a fantastic job we had done with the traffic. It seemed so peaceful.

The police officer began to get my details.

“Hang on a minute,” she said. “I just have to check on my colleague”. He was striding down the road, fishing something out of his pocket.

“It was his first day yesterday.”  Eye roll  “I just have to make sure he does not breathalyse them without me as a witness.”

She came back to me 20 minutes later and started to retake my statement.

It was cold. The wind had picked up, and I was busting to go to the toilet. While caught up in the middle of the emergency, I had stayed calm and in control. The only thing I could think of now was not wetting my pants in front of this police officer.

I told her I needed to go.

“Go down the road to the Youth Centre. It’s just around the bend here. Tell them the Police sent you. They’ll let you use their loo. Wait for us there.”

“Right yeah sure,” I thought. But sure enough I said the police had sent me, they let me use their loo and now more comfortable, I sat on the car bonnet and waited. Another 15 minutes later, the Police pulled up at the Youth Centre, and I  gave them my statement.

It was now three and a half hours since I had looked in that rear-view mirror and I  was finally on my way again. Cold, hungry and thirsty. However, my overwhelming emotion was pride! I had done good! I had stayed calm. I had been useful! I had used the training I had been given through the NSW State Emergency Service to render first aid and direct traffic. I might be a bossy Aussie, but who bloody cares! On this day, at that moment, I was the right person at the right time, and I helped people. Really, really helped them.

Punch the air,  Old Chook! Today you were truly invincible and very visible!


The NSW SES is a volunteer organisation which has jurisdiction over storm and flood events in New South Wales, Australia. In some rural units, they also look after road crashes. I have been an SES member for nearly 5 years. I have been trained in many aspects of emergency management. You can read about the SES here. It’s a government-funded body and one of the things I really love about Australia. We look after each other!

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Furious Fiction 5

What …with planning a big adventure to Scotland and all my creative energy directed towards travel and photography I haven’t written anything other than blog posts for a LONG time! Here is my effort for the August 2019 Australian Writers’ Centre Furious Fiction Competition.

500 words 55 hours $500 prize money!

I give myself the added restriction of if it doesn’t get finished on Friday night I don’t submit it. So essentially done and submitted in five hours!

The rules from their post are as follows:

Hey hey, it’s ‘Adjective August’ (not to be confused with ‘Alliteration August’) – and we’ve gone absolutely description crazy…

  • Your story must include, word for word, ALL of the following SIX descriptions (describing whatever you want):
  1. SHINY, SILVER
  2. COLD AND GREASY
  3. SCRATCHED AND WEATHER-WORN
  4. SWEET AND PUNGENT
  5. INK-STAINED
  6. SHRILL, PIERCING
  • One of these six descriptions MUST appear in the first sentence of your story. (The rest, wherever you like.).

 

Ten reams to go:

The shrill, piercing shreik punctuated the dark, quiet air like an ill-placed comma. It disturbed the reverie of the gnarly old writer for only a second, but this was enough to fracture her flow so completely that the shiny, silver lake of ideas that had been swirling in her mind was sucked into the vortex of her brain as is someone had pulled the plug. The story, the line of dialogue, was now a  slithery trail of deceptive fiction never to be found again.

What had sounded like a dying baby was in fact only a peacock, settling in the trees after another steamy day in Paradise.

“Hah! Paradise!” she thought. How that description seemed so distant from the truth. The boundless enthusiasm of youth had been replaced by the scratched and weather-worn psyche of an older, creakier woman.  The entertaining antics of the monkeys, now dull. The massive, crawling creatures that infested her shoes, no longer a source of wonder. She’d been here 25 years. 24 years, 11 months and 2 weeks longer than she had intended. For her, the holiday in Paradise had turned into something very different – a lifelong commitment.

She got up from the rickety table, pushing herself back with ink-stained hands. No computer for this one. She had to take it slow. She had to be more deliberate and carve each word into the paper indelibly with a slender blue pen. The cut and paste needed to happen in her mind before any words could land on that precious paper, fully formed and perfect. Editing was not a simple keystroke away but rather a laborious trudge of rewriting. Editing meant wasting paper, and paper was more valuable than anything she’d ever owned.

She placed the cold and greasy remains of her Sunday dinner on the floor and banged on the door.

“I’m done” she called.

While she waited, she farted and enjoyed the sweet and pungent aroma of herself wafting around her, enveloping her with the only marker of self-identity she had beyond her writing.

The heavy boots boomed down the corridor. The top hatch opened, and the eyes peered in.

“Move away from the door,” the warden barked.

The bottom hatch opened, the tin plate was whisked away and replaced by five sheets of paper. Five! It was Sunday, Paper Day!

She danced as she held the sheets tightly to her chest. Not too tightly! She didn’t want to crease them.  She glanced at the other 6500-odd slivers of joy in the corner of her cell. They groaned under the weight of tightly-packed double-sided scrawl. The once bold script faded, in the same way her initial rants and protests had faded into a jaded acceptance. 

The judge had said “Life” when he had banged that gavel. Life? This pile was her life!  Would it be as tall as her when they shipped her out in a box? She did the maths. Ten reams to go. She’d run out of time.

 

Travel Mascots Part 4

The return of Iain

Several weeks ago, I reported that I had very carelessly lost Iain, my wee travel companion. I surmised that I had perhaps left him on the rooftop of my car while I packed my things or that I had simply left him on the rocks at Salen Jetty.

 

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The last known sighting of Iain

 

While devastated by his loss, I found another travel companion, Iain mac Iain. His black watch kilt and shawl at odds with the Royal Stewart tartan of his “father”. But hey, you have to make do with what you have, and I had a very generous donation of black watch tweed from my Airbnb host in Lewis.

Iain mac Iain was a valiant replacement. Forever seeking out his father, befriending other seemingly lost or abandoned travel mascots, he made it home safely to Australia after spending the better part of a month in Scotland. He had some grand adventures and has appeared in many unknown facebook posts as he was included in other people’s family snaps.

I sought the help of the good people of Salen Jetty. I messaged the shop as soon as I realised he was missing. We stayed in contact and finally the day after I flew back into Australia an Iain- sighting was made on Facebook! True to his armoury loving-self he was found sitting on top of a canon! My Salen Jetty shop contacts were quick to claim on my behalf.

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Now, three weeks after that first sighting he is here with me in Wollongong, Australia having a grand reunion with his dad! After an awkward handshake and a few minutes of small talk, it was man hugs all round!

 

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Dad!

 

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come here, Son!

Thanks to the power of the interwebs and the friendliness of a small community, we have been reunited! If you are ever in Salen Jetty, please drop in on these good folks, tell them you read the story of Iain and thank them on my behalf!

Thank you also to my friends who have joined in on Iain and Iain’s journeys, we’ve had some fun!

 

Walking in the Orkney Islands.

As part of my recent  Scottish Adventure, I booked a 6-day walking tour with About Argyll Walking Holidays. It was all-inclusive except for dinner and drinks. I won’t include details of price or the intinerary here. You can find the most up-to-date information on their own site.

I have written about my experiences with small group tours in some other posts, and I am pleased to report that this was a very positive experience that would suit most people interested in walking, history and wildlife (in particular – birds). This is NOT a rollicking adventure holiday! If you are looking for strenuous walking or wild partying – look elsewhere! If you are looking for pleasant walking in the company of like-minded people with a well-informed guide; then this is the holiday for you.

The walks, for the most part, are gentle and do not extend beyond 10km (6 miles). The terrain, while sometimes uneven and rocky and at other times very close to cliff edges,  was not difficult to traverse. Having said that, you do need to have a reasonable level of fitness if you are going to enjoy it and not slow everyone down. The group I joined was fully booked with 8 people. Two couples and four singles. From the UK, Italy, the US and me the Aussie. Our tour guide Nigel, also from the UK, rounded off the group.

The tour starts at either Glasgow or Aberdeen Railway stations and takes the Northlink Ferry to Kirkwall and back. This first 7-hour ferry ride gives you the opportunity to get to know your fellow travellers quickly. On the way back you get a sleeper cabin.

We stayed at Bellavista, which was a little less than 2 km from the town of Kirkwall. The rooms were comfortable and cosy. The breakfast provided was generous, and the owner, Patsy,  prepared our packed lunch for each walking day. We ate in the restaurants of local hotels except for one night when we had a quick fish and chips before heading off to listen to some traditional Orkney music at The Reel. Nigel sounded out the group on the first night to get an idea of the type of places we would like to eat at and how much we wanted to spend and then booked them on our behalf. We ate dinner as a group and were usually back at the BnB by 10PM each night. I spent around £30-35 on most evening meals which included two courses and two glasses of wine.  We started the day at a very civilised time with breakfast at 8 and departure at 9AM.

The group meshed well with everyone generously sharing stories of their life and times. We were mostly in the same stage of life with grown-up children and grandchildren. I enjoyed chatting with C from Italy, who was keen to improve her already excellent English. We had some fun discussing the various different euphemisms for urinating, and we laughed when we decided that “taking a leak” was preferable to “taking a piss” and “call of nature” was perhaps the most polite! The English and Australians see a “man about a dog” while in the US they “talk to a man about a horse”. Urinating was a topic of conversation because when you’re walking in the middle of nowhere with very few trees and a group of people, you have to talk about it!

The weather was very mixed and unpredictable. We had a combination of sun, rain, fog and wind. You will need to be properly equipped with water-proof clothing and a cover for your backpack. (I fashioned quite a useful one from a sturdy plastic carrier bag! see the header photo) Although our walk was in early July and theoretically summer, I started each day with thermals under my hiking pants, a warm fleece and jacket. I also wore a beanie and scarf for at least part of every day. On two of the days when it warmed up to 22°C,  I stripped down to my undershirt and wished I had not worn the thermal tights. Proper waterproof hiking boots/shoes with good tread are essential as there are several very boggy areas to walk across.

I made these little videos each day using my iPhone and iMovie.

I found this tour to be the most relaxing part of my 5-week holiday. I didn’t have to worry about anything! I could let go of the super vigilant reins I had been holding and let someone else do all the running around. The most taxing element for me was deciding whether to try haggis or not!

 

PS: I did try the haggis – once – that was enough!