Another Walk on Sanday

with Roderick Thorne, the Sanday Ranger

HY 704 414 is on the B 9069, halfway between Lady Village and the island’s golf course. By the side of the road is the Brickie Hut – a structure without architectural merit but with an intriguing history – it is one of the many reminders of Sanday’s contribution to wartime defences nearly 70 years ago.

Just off the road is an Interpretation Board encouraging walkers to head out for Tresness, 83 acres (34 hectares) of grassland linked to the rest of the island by an impressive spine of sand – a mobile dune system stabilised by marram grass.

Late autumn is a good time to strike out for Tresness in order to see a good variety of the wading birds for which Sanday is well-known. If that’s your aim, choose your time carefully to make sure the sea is halfway out or more. At low tide, Catasand, an almost completely enclosed inland sea, seems empty; at high tide the birds roost and wait. If you’re coming out from Kirkwall, check the ferry timetable and tide-tables carefully, or ring the Ranger 01857-600-341.

You should pick up Sanday’s Walking Guide from Visit Orkney or from the island Ranger, and you’ll see the route marked clearly. To begin, either follow the grass track next to the beach, or go along the sand. It’s quite safe to make a short cut across Catasand, if you’ve waterproof boots; and even at high tide the trek out is easily negotiable.

At the time of writing (November 2008), the Tresness estate is on the market; farmhouse, outbuildings and land. You will see that the farm buildings must once have housed a thriving little community; apart from the main building, the steading includes the ruins of servants’ cottages, a threshing barn, and a horse-engine ‘shed’ whose hexagonal roof is now in a parlous state. Two hundred years ago, the farm must have occupied several families, and the kelp industry was going strong, as evidenced by the remains of kelp-pits and huts right alongside the coast, especially on the west side.

The main track to the southern tip of Tresness runs very close to the east coast, and here’s where you’ll see the waders. Some of them are birds that regularly breed on Sanday – Redshank, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover; but most are visitors that have bred further north – Sanderling, Dunlin, Turnstone, Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit. Out at sea there are wintering Divers and diving Gannets. 

Halfway to the head of the peninsula is a shallow patch of water. Heron, Snipe, Wigeon, Lapwing are all likely to be here – and you’ll almost certainly see one or two flocks of Greylag Geese. There were fifty here in the November 2008 census, just a fraction of the island total of 2,400.

It’s a little more than two and a half miles (4.25 km) from the Brickie Hut to the tip of Tresness, but if that’s your target, you’ll reach the unexcavated remains of a chambered cairn, on the very edge of the coast, and seriously threatened by erosion.

Serious walkers may like to return on the west side of Tresness. This will take you close to the stony remains of a broch, but it is certainly harder going than the alternative of retracing ones’ steps. Whichever alternative you choose, you will of course return to the Clogg (the narrow entrance from the open sea into Catasand). Do not regard this as a short-cut back towards the island – the current is fast moving and the water deep. It is very dangerous.

N.B. If this brief summary had been written just four months ago, the emphasis would have been much more on flowers and breeding seabirds, and on night-time expeditions to catch Storm Petrels on the beach below the cairn.

2 November 2008

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