THE LANES OF HARRAY
Submitted by Tim Dean
This circular walk begins and finishes at the Harray Community Centre. It is a walk of just over four kilometres chiefly along some of Harray’s lanes and paths that radiate like the spokes of a wheel from St Michael’s Kirk. It provides sweeping views of the West Mainland across to Hoy and also plenty to interest the naturalist as the route crosses the Nettleton burn and takes in the Bosquoy loch.
Park at the Harray Community Centre. In the picnic area, the well-established shrubs provide shelter for Wrens and Blackbirds. Across the road in the wet fields that drain into the Nettleton burn, Moorhens can often be seen. From the Community Centre follow the main road south. A glance over the bridge might just detect a Moorhen scuttling away upstream. Turn right and west along the Netherbrough road. The stand of willows is often home to Redwings and Fieldfares in autumn and Greenfinches in winter and spring. Near a clutch of new houses and a couple of hundred metres from the Dounby road, a track, still with remnants of heath vegetation, leaves the road and heads due west towards East Garth. Groups of Greylag Geese in the burnside fields are a frequent feature of the winter months. After 600 metres, the track meets the road. Turn right and north here. In front another lane heads to Nisthouse and Runas at the top of the hill.
Some 100 metres along, a bridge crosses the burn. Willows and Reed Canary Grass line the water’s edge to the east. Mallards usually reveal themselves in a flurry of wings and quacking. More subtle are the Reed Buntings that breed here – soft calls and white-edged flicking tails usually betray their presence. Downstream the burn tumbles over the falls of Mananeeban, invisible from here and viewed at their best from the road to the Merkister. Surely some day a Grey Wagtail or a Dipper might be seen here! Almost at the head of the hill the path leads northwest for 200 metres skirting the double storey Midhouse – take a breather here and turn around to face south – laid out before you is a stunning vista taking in the cradle of civilization with its hills of Hoy backdrop. Emerging above Quean at a crossroads on the hill track to the kirk, a gorse-lined lane straight ahead leads north and from here a panorama of Harray, Sandwick and Birsay opens up. Below too lies the Loch of Bosquoy, one of Orkney’s hidden lochs.
The fields are home to lolloping Brown Hares – March sees lots of chases and boxing matches. Flocks of Curlews roost in the fields and Greylag Geese fatten up on Orkney’s fine grass. Nearing the loch, the boulders near the water’s edge often hold roosting Snipe, their long-billed silhouettes profiling against the black water. The garden of the wooden house provides shelter for Blackbirds, Redwings and Fieldfares in the winter. A little further on the grassed remains of an ancient building (still yet to feature on maps) provides an ideal picnic spot from which to take in the views and wildlife; sometimes your moments of relaxation will be witnessed by a watchful and inquisitive pair of Stonechats. The edges of the loch are home to flocks of Curlews, Lapwings and Golden Plovers while the watery margins are the haunts of Wigeon, Teal and Mallards. Sharp eyes may detect both drake and duck Shovelers and the furtive movements of Little Grebes, Moorhens and Coots. Out in mid water loosely gathered Tufted Ducks will be to the fore with smaller numbers of Goldeneyes and Pochards. The appearance of a hunting Hen Harrier over the loch will put everything to flight. Watch out too in springtime when Swallows and possibly House Martins and Sand Martins swoop and glide for flying insects.
If you can tear yourself away, head east along another gorse lined path for 200 metres before tracking south past the two storey Moan and the quarry from which these substantial homes originated. With St Michael’s kirk firmly in view, a gate leads through pasture. Keen-eyed walkers will detect the ancient path line as it ascends the field to the east of the kirk. The path meets with another at Appietown and it is well worth the detour of 200 metres west to the top of the hill and the kirk to take in the Orkney views again – there is even a seat provided! The remains of a broch are evident in the kirkyard and here too are the headstones for Eric and Marjorie Linlaklater.
Joining the tarmac the route takes us past Holland House. With its well vegetated garden and neighbouring gardens equally well-blessed, garden birds such as Collared Doves, Chaffinches and Greenfinches can often be found. A little further south we rejoin the main Dounby road and return to the Harray Community Centre after a walk in Orkney’s Harray heartlands.