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  Stromness - The Haven Bay

Stromness Panorama: Picture by Sigurd Towrie

"Draped like grey lace on an emerald shore, the Orkney town of Stromness recalls a past of whaling, war and trade."
Bill Bryson

Around sixteen miles to the west of Kirkwall is Stromness.

Orkney's second main town, Stromness lies on the south western tip of the Mainland, clustered tightly on the shores of Hamnavoe beneath the rocky ridge known as Brinkie's Brae.

Arriving in Orkney from Scrabster, on the Scottish mainland, Stromness is the first port of call. Gliding into the sheltered harbour, the visitor is greeted by a view that has met seafarers for centuries.

The first impression of Stromness is that of an old traditional stone built port, nestling comfortably against the hillside of Brinkie's Brae. Not as old as Kirkwall, Stromness flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries as a result of increased trade with the New World.

Stromness. Picture Sigurd TowrieThe wars between England and France also meant that shipping in the English Channel was dangerous, so the vessels made their way across the north of Scotland and used Stromness as a stop-off point. The ships of the Hudson's Bay Company and the whaling fleets became regular visitors with the town an important recruiting centre for crewmen.

Stromness is similar to Kirkwall in that it follows one long winding road - simply known as "the street" - also flagstoned, and also shared by pedestrian and motorist.

From this street a great number of narrow lanes and closes branch off. This gives the town a labyrinthine quality with steep narrow paths climbing the hillside on the north side of the street, while on the south, the houses and shops back onto the shore.

However, not all visitors to Stromness we captivated by its charms. When Sir Walter Scott visited Orkney in 1814, he complained that Stromness:

"cannot be traversed by a cart or even by a horse, for there are stairs up and down even in the principal street... whose twistings are often caused by a little enclosure before the house, a sort of yard, about twenty feet square called a park."

Little has changed in central Stromness since Scott's visit. Where once the narrow streets and closes thronged with seamen, whalers and traders now wander tourists, visitors and sightseers.