Land up in the Hills of Orkney

Deerness East-West

We met at Dingieshowe Beach, Deerness at 10.00 am.


Your fearless corespondent was limping badly with a jammed sacroiliac but using a home made elder walking stick I descided the walk would kill or cure and thus ventured forth to bring you this report. This was to be the second instalment of the earlier Deerness walk, this time covering the East to West sides of the Parish.

The January weather had been set in a wonderful repeating pattern of dry, calm sunny days so I foolishly didn’t dress quite as warmly as advised and the early morning cool breeze started turning some of my extremities somewhat numb.

Fortunately, as we progressed the wind dropped and the walk proceeded with little adverse input from the elements.


East (opposite) of Dingieshowe is St Peter’s Pool, a shallow, muddy bay which often has good numbers of waders best watched on an incoming tide. In late spring waders such as Bartailed Godwit, Knot and Dunlin heading for their breeding grounds in the North use St. Peter’s Pool as a staging post.

In the early spring large flocks of Oystercatcher can be observed here. Although this was late Winter we still saw 20 Oyster Catchers, 2 Bar Tailed Godwits, Ten Wigeon, and a selection of Dunlin, Knot, Turnstones, Curlews and Lapwings.

Further out in the bay we spotted 12 Eiderducks and a lonely Whooper Swan. A Pergrine swooped overhead startling large flocks of Golden Plovers which took some time to settle down following this fright. Showing military like logistics we returned to the cars driving them to Halley Beach on the West side of Deerness, leaving half there, and finally arriving at Beenie Geo, a former Kelp processing location near the Point of Ayre on the East side to start the walk in earnest.

We headed off toward Newark Beach, coming across substantial flocks of Waders including lots of Golden Plovers, Lapwings and Oyster Catchers along with 150 Greylags, five Grey Herons and three Turnstones. On the rocky kelp strewn foreshore a feeding frenzy of Common Gulls and a large flock of ubiquitous Starlings swooped and dived. A Wigeon and two Goldeneyes appeared somewhat bemused amongst all this chaotic activity.


As we headed down the beach toward the newly constructed slipway at the southern end of Newark Bay we saw a further twenty Turnstones, a brief glimpse of 10 Sanderlings and the first of 30 or so Purple Sandpipers who were to join us at the slip for our lunch stop.


As we took advantage of the small cliff face to give shelter from the still chilly breeze and found our spots to graze the Sandpiper flock joined a couple of Long Tailed Ducks immediately in front of us on the concrete foreshore.

They, like us, watched with interest and increasing bemusement as three men, a tractor, and a boat arrived to make use of the launching facilities. This was clearly the first sailing of the season with the clinker built dingy pristine white and glowing with freshly applied paint.

A professional launch was soon achieved and the Captain proudly circled rowing close by the slip. All was well, then a loud “Crack,” resounded and like a broken wing one oar was rendered useless. The boat limped back to shore and was hastily removed from the sea with much mumbling from the assembled crew.

The maiden voyage had lasted less than three minutes. We packed up following the entertainment and struck inland, heading West, back toward Halley.

As we move inland we pass by a small acreage of set-aside planted with bird crops. This field is adjacent to a ruined croft with a rambling clump of Rosa Rugosa and scrubby willows gone wild. As a result it is as mini-birdland, with Reed Buntings and Sparrows aplenty, Redwings, Meadow Pippets joining in and the inevitable big flock of Starlings swooping around overhead.

The walk from here entered a slight environmental desert, a soundless, bird less landscape of well presented but perhaps over manicured farmland. A pair of Snipe were spotted and the remains of a Teal (Peregrines lunch) were stumbled across.

As the Deereness Community Centre came into view we thought we saw a large flock of Greylags in the field directly behind. On closer inspection it became obvious that these were not Greylags but Pink Footed Geese.

The flock numbered in excess of 250 which is very unusual to see here, in fact we were looking at one of the largest collections of grazing pink feet ever seen in Orkney. With this highlight we pushed on down the Noltland Farm track to Horries Farm where a Hen Harrier circled and a smaller flock of 30 Pink Feet merged with 40 or so Greylags. Back at Halley the Bay was populated with a selection of Ringed Plovers on the surf line and further out at Sea, three Great Northern Divers, one Red Throated Diver, six Long Tailed Ducks and two Eiders.

Tim and I were given a lift to our cars back to the Point of Ayre where we were privileged to see a pair of Peregrines circling above in courtship ritual and blessed with a spectacular early start to the setting Sun providing a golden end to a very successful day.

In addition my back had survived, and as it turned out the following day considerably improved as a result of the walk.

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