A WALK THROUGH BINSCARTH WOODS
Submitted by Malcolm Macrae
After parking in the lay by opposite Baikie's shop in Finstown walk pproximately 100m along the main road to the kissing gate. Having avoided the traffic and got safely through the gate you can now begin to enjoy your walk to the Binscarth Woods. This path is about 2 miles long and will take you through the woods, over to Wasdale Loch and ends at Refuge Corner on the Harray Road to Dounby.
Before the existing main road to Stromness was built this route was the original main road to Harray. If you look up to your left you will see the route of the old Stromness road which goes past the houses and follows the route of the hydro line above the quarry to Stymilders. As you walk across the field to the woods you will see on your right the mill dam and the old mill. On the side of the hill above this is a lovely old building with a walled in paddock. Binscarth Farm many years ago had a great reputation as a breeder of Clydesdale horses. This building was where the Clydesdale stallions were housed.
Binscarth Farm was purchased in the mid 19Century by my Great Great Grandfather Robert Scarth. He was factor to many of the landed estates in Orkney and was considered an agricultural expert of that time. He had miles of dry stone dykes built and the farm is well drained as a result of the hundreds of stone built drains which you can't see in all the fields.
As you walk towards the woods, locally known as the Plantings, you will see a new area of trees. This extension to the woods was planted in 1990 and has about 18 different species including Sycamore, Swedish Whitebeam, Beech, Willow, Alder, Hazel, Hawthorn, Sitka and Larch. It has been a great success with only the wild cherry not surviving as a result of an easterly gale in May 1991. Under the hydro wires I planted Mountain Ash thinking that it would not grow too high. Hydro Electric have already had to prune them back on two separate occasions! Who says trees don't grow in Orkney!
On going through the gate into the woods you enter a different world. This is not Orkney with its flat windswept open spaces that we are all used to, but tall mature trees interspersed with salmon berry. Windblown trees add to the character of the woods as they sprout new branches from the fallen trunks reaching skywards for light. In the spring the bottom end of the woods reverberates to the noise of the rooks as they build their nests.
After crossing the burn there is an interpretation sign and a kissing gate. As an alternative to staying on the main path you can go through the kissing gate and walk in between the trees along the burn. This route can get rather muddy in wet weather and you do have to negotiate climbing over one rather large fallen tree trunk. This path comes out at the top of the wood back onto the main path. During April and May the blue bells in the woods are spectacular.
As you come through the gate at the top of the woods and onto the driveway you can see Binscarth House which was built in 1850. When Robert Scarth was deciding on a site to build his house he put flags on sticks around the farm and left them for a winter. The flag which was least tattered and frayed showed the most sheltered spot and that is why Binscarth House is where it is. This method has been adopted by the Forestry Commission to asses the suitability of sites for growing trees. As you continue up the road you will pass the Quarry Garden where the stone for building the house came from.
At the bend in the driveway fork left onto the track that takes you to Wasdale. Just before you reach a gate on the path you will see a burial mound on the side of the hill on your right. This is called Harpers Howe and the story goes that there is a curse on it which will bring bad luck to anyone who tries to excavate it - be warned!
Once you walk through the gateway you are leaving Binscarth Farm and walking on Wasdale Farm land. The track takes you down towards Wasdale and the Loch. The small island near the side of the loch has the remains of a chapel on it. Some years you will see swans nesting on the island. There is a great opportunity for bird watching as you walk along the lochside especially in the winter months when there are many migratory birds on the loch.
At the end of the loch the road continues for another quarter of a mile to Refuge Corner. There is wetland on the left hand side of the track where again there is the opportunity for spotting wildlife.
If you do not want to retrace your steps back to Finstown it would be a good idea to leave a car at either end.